Ordinance of 1785
he Ordinance of 1785 is the first of three early documents that established a legal tradition for federal ownership of lands. The ordinance fixed a minimum price for public land and established the rectangular system of survey and its 36 square-mile grids -- a system that remains in use to this day. This ordinance also provided that each state would receive ownership of section 16 in every township in order to support schools.
"Public Lands, States' Rights, and the National Forests" by Dennis M. Roth, The Forest Service History Line, Fall 1980 (History Section, USDA-FS).