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The American Revolution had begun, and by 1782 the war was costing Britain £20 million a year. The loss of trade with its former colony caused exports in Britain to fall by 18 percent. Bankruptcies for English trading companies increased. On February 27, 1782, surveying the wreckage of its plans and hopes in North America, the English Parliament voted to suspend the war by a slim margin of 234 to 215. American independence was ratified formally by a peace treaty signed in Paris on September 3, 1783. If the war had done a great deal of damage to the British economy, it had done little good to the American economy. The new national government had debts estimated at $40 million. To make matters worse, the Continental Congress was unable to impose taxes, and the states refused to permit the Congress to raise money by imposing tariffs on foreign goods coming into the country. The only other possible source of finance was the sale of land in the Northwest Territory, which consisted of present-day Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the northeast part of Minnesota. However, this territory was subject to overlapping and conflicting claims of the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, as well as a lingering British presence, that were not resolved until the War of 1812. On March 1, 1784 those state delegations relinquished their claims, and this territory became property of the United States. On that same day Thomas Jefferson was appointed chairman of a committee to report on, among other things, the best way of surveying and selling the land. To prevent speculators from acquiring the best land, as settlers had done in the original colonies for more than 150 years, the committee ruled out the metes and-bonds survey system with its irregular shapes and gaps. Instead, the country was to be surveyed before occupation and divided into simple squares aligned with each other so that no land would be left vacant. At Jefferson’s insistence, these squares were to be called “hundreds” and their sides were to run due east and west, and north and south. The committee also reported that the, [The Western Territory] shall be divided into Hundreds of ten geographical miles square, each mile containing 6086 feet and four tenths of a foot, by lines to be run and marked due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles …these hundreds shall be subdivided into lots of one mile square each, or 850 acres and four tenths of an acre, by marked lines. (Jefferson 1784) Jefferson’s fellow legislators may not have realized that in addition to the opportunity to raise money by the sale of land in the territory, he was offering the United States the chance to have the first decimalized system of measurements in the world. As previously mentioned, pursuit of science led Jefferson to becoming the architect of a self-regulating, land-owning democracy. No shape could be simpler than the square, and no calculation more straight forward than in 10s. This land was proposed to be surveyed in rectangles and measured in decimals. That, at least, was the rational, scientific conclusion; however, a portly fellow by the name of Rufus Putnam voiced a different argument.

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