Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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PUBLIC LANDS OF THE UNITED STATES. The United States has always been favorably situated as regards land, one of the three important factors in production. There has ever been open to the settler an almost unlimited quantity of rich and uncultivated soil, on which he may locate, and take such part as the law allows at a cost which makes it rather a gift than a purchase. The economic effects of this are too evident to require any extended notice. It has permitted an unexampled growth of population capacity of the soil for the necessary food which is so marked in older countries; it has offered to the inhabitants of the more densely settled countries of Europe an opportunity to improve their condition by emigration, little or no capital other than what is necessary to reach the land being required; it has in this way attracted the labor, skill, and accumulated experience from those countries, and thus applied them to developing the internal resources of this nation, permitting an advance in industry and commerce commensurate with the extension of agriculture; it has, in a measure, regulated the wages of labor, maintaining them at a higher level than they would otherwise have attained, not only by furnishing an abundance of cheap food, but by offering to the workingman an opportunity of increasing his returns should his wages in industry fall below what he might obtain from cultivating the land; it has made the United States the cheapest market for food products, and has brought the European nations to its doors for their supplies, and, finally, it has made us a nation of landowners, and thus not only a strong nation, able to assimilate the vast number of immigrants which annually come to its shores, by giving them a direct interest in the stability and maintenance of its institutions, but also a nation in which a marked distinction of classes is impossible, one man being as good as another, and all possessing equal rights. The laws which govern the transfer and disposition of property have also tended to produce this result, and "free trade in land" is almost absolute. This, for the most part, results in placing the land in the hands of those who intend to cultivate and develop its productiveness, and thus insures a rich return from it.


—From the very beginning, there has been an abundance of cheap and fertile land. The original thirteen states contained 341,752 square miles, or 218,721,280 acres, but the claims recognized in the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1783 increased the extent of territory to 830,000 square miles, or 531,200,000 acres. Since that time the national domain has been more than quadrupled. In 1803, 1,182,752 square miles, or 756,961,280 acres, were purchased from France, and in 1819 a further tract of 59,268 square miles, or 37,931,520 acres, was purchased from Spain. The annexation of Texas, in 1845, brought 274,356 square miles, or 175,587,840 acres, and in 1850 a purchase from Mexico added about 522,568 square miles, or 334,443,520 acres. In 1850 lands to the extent of 101,767 square miles, or 65,130,880 acres, were bought from Texas; in 1853, 45,535 square miles, or 29,142,400 acres, from Mexico; and in 1867, 577,390 square miles, or 369,529,600 acres, from Russia. Since 1803 the total area of territory, purchased and annexed, is 2,763,636 square miles, or 1,768,727,040 acres. As many of these various transfers contained matters in doubt or in litigation, the results do not exactly agree with the details.


—The greater portion of this land was unoccupied save by Indian tribes, who subsisted chiefly by hunting and fishing, and therefore had left almost untouched the natural fertility of the soil and the rich mineral deposits beneath it. The original settlers who came to these shores took possession by right of discovery, and claimed exclusive title and possession for the governments they represented, a claim which was, according to the ideas then prevailing, good as against all other individuals or governments. But the Indian tribes, which were at the time settled upon the territory, also claimed exclusive possession and occupancy as sovereign and absolute proprietors. This possession was in a measure recognized. "It was deemed a right exclusively belonging to the government in its sovereign capacity to extinguish the Indian title, and to perfect its own dominion over the soil, and dispose of it according to its own good pleasure. * * This principle, in the view of the Europeans, created as peculiar relation between themselves and the aboriginal inhabitants. The latter were admitted to possess a present right of occupancy, or use in the soil, which was subordinate to the ultimate dominion of the discoverer. They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion. In a certain sense they were permitted to exercise rights of sovereignty over it. They might sell or transfer it to the sovereign who discovered it, but they were denied the authority to dispose of it to any other persons; and until such a sale or transfer, they were generally permitted to occupy as sovereigns de facto. But notwithstanding this occupancy, the European discovers claimed and exercised the right to grant the soil, while yet in possession of the natives, subject, however, to their right of occupancy and the title so granted was universally admitted to convey a sufficient title in the soil to the grantees in perfect dominion" (1 Story Comment., p. 8.) This principle was adopted by the United States, and its exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title, by purchase or conquest, has never been judicially questioned (Kent); and further, no lands already occupied by Indians have been thrown open to purchase or settlement until the title of the tribes has been duly extinguished.


—The ultimate title to the land resided in the sovereign; and when the colonies revolted, this title became vested in the states. The constitution of New York(1846) recognized this principle: "The people of this state, in their right of sovereignty, are deemed to possess the original and ultimate property in and to all lands within the jurisdiction of the state," and the exercise of the right of eminent domain is based upon it. With lands already settled, and subject to private ownership, the states also came into the possession of unoccupied territory, as yet public property, which had been in very general terms granted to individuals or to associations by royal charters. This public land was ceded by the states to the federal government, and formed the nucleus of the public domain. While the national domain contains about 4,000,000 square miles, the public domain which has been acquired by the government of the United States, to be disposed of under and by the authority of the national government, has amounted to 2,894,235 square miles, or nearly three-fourths of the total area of the country.


—The title to this land became vested in the United States, whether it was obtained by purchase, cession or annexation. The federal constitution provides, that "Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting, the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state." (Art. IV., § 2.) But is this absolute? Would congress have the power to dispose of the public land in any way that may appear good at that time? In the short sketch of the history of legislation pertaining to the public lands, it will be seen that almost every conceivable method of disposing of them has been adopted, but the United States has never assumed the position of landlord (save as respects mineral lands, an experiment which ended so disastrously to the interests of the government as to be speedily abandoned). It has rather been a trustee, to whose care the management of this important trust was given. The deed of cession entered into between New York and the United States expressly provided that the ceded lands and territory were to be held "to and for the only use and benefit of such of the states as are , or shall become, parties to the articles of confederation." The cession of Virginia was made on the condition that the lands "shall be considered a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as shall become members of the confederation, * * and shall be faithfully and bona fide disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatever." As regards the purchased lands, they followed the same rule, as they had been paid for out of the national treasury, whose only source of income was from general taxes levied upon the people of the states. The United States was bound to hold and administer these lands as a common fund, and for the use and benefit of all the states, an for no other use or purpose whatever. To waste or misapply this fund, or to divert it from the common benefit for which it was conveyed, would be a violation of the trust.


—The public land is held and disposed of in the expectation that new states will be created. The federal constitution recites that "new states may be admitted by the congress into this Union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state, nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the congress." In the articles of confederation the eventual establishment of new states within the limits of the Union appears to have been wholly overlooked, although the possible admission of Canada was provide for. Under the constitution the power of congress is absolute, save for the above restrictions. "The power to expand the territory of the United States by the admission of new states is plainly given; and in the construction of this power by all the departments of the government, it has been held to authorize the acquisition of territory not fit for admission at the time, but to be admitted as soon as its population and situation would entitle it to admission. It is acquired to become a state, and not to be held as a colony, and governed by congress with absolute authority; and as the propriety of admitting a new state is committed to the sound discretion of congress, the power to acquire territory for that purpose, to be held by the United States until it is in a suitable condition to become a state upon an equal footing with the other states, must rest upon the same discretion. It is a question for the political department of the government, and not the judicial; and whatever the political department of the government shall recognize as within the limits of the United States, the judicial department is also bound to recognize and to administer in it the laws of the United States, so far as they apply." (Supreme Court U. S., in Dred Scott vs. Sandford, 19 How., 393.)


—But land is not valuable without capital and labor to make it productive; though it is one of the important instruments of production, it is not profitable when left to itself. It must be improved and its fertility developed in certain lines by the application of labor or the results of previous labor. At first the public lands were regarded as a source of revenue. "It is now no longer," said the Federalist in 1788, "a point of speculation and hope, that the western territory is a mine of vast wealth to the United States; and although it is not of such a nature as to extricate them from their present distresses, or for some time to come to yield any regular supplies for the public expenses, yet it must hereafter be able, under proper management, both to effect a gradual discharge of the domestic debt, and to furnish for a certain period liberal tributes to the federal treasury." But in time the conservative policy adopted in the first years of the republic was gradually broken down, and the lands ceased to be an object of revenue, and began to be disposed of, chiefly with a view to settlement and cultivation. Originally selling only in townships, congress had disposed of the soil in smaller and smaller portions, until at length it sells in parcels of no more than forty acres. Large grants have been made without compensation to states, corporations and individuals, for all manner of reasons, many of which were of a very questionable character; donations which could not but open the door to abuses, and tempt dishonesty, jobbery and logrolling to secure them. The liberal policy of disposing of the lands has been shamefully abused, and the public lands have ever formed a point of attack from those who profit by the meanest and most corruptible characteristics of the legislator.


—In spite of fraud, the land policy has resulted in making this nation what it is, as its greatness depends upon the products of the soil. There is still an abundance of rich land easy of access and open to the first comer, and the wave of immigration which floods the country proves to how great an extent the privilege is appreciated. Census after census gives evidence of the immense development of the resources of the country; and were it not for a restrictive commercial policy, no nation on the face of the earth could attain the wealth and power that this nation is capable of securing, and no country could afford a better field for enterprises. As it is, this is so now to a great extent, but it is capable of almost indefinite extension. The country is still comparatively sparsely settled, and there is no necessity of offering any special inducements to settlers. The area of settlement, population, and average density of settlement, or number of persons to a square mile, at each decade, are shown in the following table:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


—As to the future, I can not do better than to quote from one of our clearest thinkers and writers on political questions. "If you will think clearly, you will see that what we want, for the future is not more people, but more land. If we should receive no further addition of population from Europe, we are now so numerous and so prosperous that our numerical increase will be very rapid. But we shall constantly receive great numbers of European immigrants, and these, who readily adapt themselves to our customs, are a welcome addition, and quickly become a part of us. For their descendants and ours, it would be a great advantage if we could secure still more vacant or sparsely settled territory, provided that these new lands were, by their climate and productions, fitted for settlement by our own people. * * Thus, as we want land, and not people, sound policy tells us not to annex territory which has already an independent and tolerably dense population." (Nordhoff's "Politics for Young Americans," 198.) It would be impossible even to guess in what direction further supplies of land must be sought. Cuba and San Domingo have been thought of; and our relations with Mexico are becoming very close, and American enterprise and capital are going there. On the north the rich grain fields of Manitoba and the Red River valley are being occupied, so that there is little prospect of any extension of dominion with a view of securing unoccupied land there.


—More than twelve years before the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain the question of boundaries had given rise to discord among the states, and it was due to their jealousy that a public domain, as distinguished from the national domain, was formed; the latter, however, including the former. So long as the colonies were subject to Great Britain, and were governed, directly or indirectly, by parliamentary control, the question of boundaries did not assume any great importance, and whatever conflicts did arise were, as a rule, referred in the last resort to the king and parliament for determination, and their decision was acquiesced in . Moreover, such disputes were local in their character, concerning only the colonies between which the dispute existed, while the other colonies remained indifferent spectators to the contest. But when the colonies became independent states, and assumed the control of the lands within their respective boundaries, and when they came into closer political relations with one another, in which extent of territory and population exerted a great influence in determining the relative importance of the states, then the question of boundaries and extent of royal grants became a burning question; then it was that the congress of the confederation was early forced to take action with a view to settle peaceably what might create feuds and threaten the disruption of the already too loosely connected governments which had succeeded the colonial administrations. Prior to 1781 but six of the original thirteen states, viz., New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, had exactly defined boundaries. Within these geographical divisions all right and title to the public domain became vested in the new states, and this held true in the case of those states whose boundaries were not definitely determined. But here a conflict of authority arose over the vast extent of territory in the west. Some of the states, guided by grants that had from time to time been made to court favorites or others, claimed to extend to the Mississippi river; while others claimed to the Pacific ocean. As little was known of the character of the country, the same territory had been covered by more than one grant, and, being claimed under two or more charters of equal validity, no real determination could be reached, because the terms of the charters were irreconcilable, and each state was determined to maintain its claims. The treaty of 1783 declared the national territory to extend from the Atlantic ocean westward to the Mississippi river, and from a line along the great lakes on the north, southward to the 31st parallel and the southern border of Georgia. This area embraced about 830,000 square miles, of which but 341,752 were included in the thirteen original states.


—The movement to secure a cession to the confederation of the western territory, originated among those states which had no claim or title to such territory, and which regarded with a jealous eye their more extensive and more powerful neighbors which claimed to stretch across the continent. And, when the articles of confederation were presented to the various states for ratification, this question formed one of the most difficult to solve. Thus New Jersey ratified the articles only in the belief that the candor and justice of the states would in due time remove as far as possible the inequality in size that then existed. In February, 1779, the legislature of Delaware memorialized congress on the subject, and desired "that a moderate extent of limits should be assigned for such of those states as claim to the Mississippi or South sea; and that the United States in congress assembled should and ought to have the power of fixing their western limits;" and the suggestion was then made that the states should cede to the confederation such claims, to be a common estate for the good of all. And in December, 1778, Maryland instructed her delegates not to agree to the confederation unless an article was added providing for such a limitation of boundaries and the erection of a public domain. Nor did the congress itself refuse to take any action on the question. For by an act of Oct. 30, 1779, the states were requested to "forbear settling or issuing warrants for unappropriated lands, or granting the same during the continuance of the war," a measure that was called out by the opening of land offices, and the granting of lands and bounties by some of the states. The first state to take any decisive action was New York, the legislature of which, in March, 1780, gave to congress the power to limit and restrict her western boundaries, and furthermore, to assume the title to all lands not included within such boundaries, and to use them for the benefit of the states as it (congress) should see fit.


—This resolve of the New York legislature anticipated congress; for it was not until September, 1780, that any action was taken on the various instructions, acts and resolutions that had been sent in; but the report then presented forms an important point in the history of the public domain. Without undertaking to pass upon the merits of the policies as expressed in the instructions or declarations, the committee conceived "that it appears more advisable to press upon those states which can remove the embarrassments respecting the western country, a liberal surrender of a portion of their territorial claims, since they can not be preserved entire without endangering the stability of the general confederacy"; and "earnestly recommended to those states which have claims in the western country, to pass such laws, and give their delegates in congress such powers as may effectually remove the only obstacle to a final ratification of the articles of confederation." This report was sent to the legislature of the several states, and was followed, in October, 1780, by an act providing for the acceptation and care of such unappropriated lands as might be ceded by the states to the confederation, and for the disposition of the same of the common benefit of the United States. These measures resulted in Maryland's ratifying the articles, and in the acceptance by congress of the cession made by New York. The earlier grants made to the confederation were nominally large in extent, but actually very limited, as they were made subject to existing claims and grants under state laws, and to extensive reservations. The government formed under the constitution succeeded to the title of all territory granted to the confederation, and further cessions were made to it, the last being that of Georgia, in 1802. The areas of these sessions, and also the extent of the public domain as it was on April 30, 1803, are shown by the following table:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.
*64 *65.


—No further increase of territory occurred until the purchase of Louisiana from France. The question of the right to navigate the Mississippi river had come before the congress of the confederation, and while its importance was recognized, a proposition was made to cede the right to a foreign nation for a pecuniary consideration. Spain at that time owned the Louisiana territory, and it was natural to make the offer to that nation, with a further hope that she would then recognize the revolutionary government of this country. And although such a resolution empowering the representative of the United States in Spain to enter into a negotiation of that character was actually passed by congress, it was never acted upon. A treaty was in 1795 contracted between this country and Spain, by which certain commercial advantages were secured by the former; but difficulties between the two nations were continually arising, and threats of closing the Mississippi to all traffic were made. Spain had, in the meantime, extended her territory so as to include what is now comprised in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and a part of Texas and Mexico. In October, 1800, by the secret treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain ceded to France "the colony or province of Louisiana, with the same extent it now has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it should be after the treaty subsequently entered into between Spain and the other states." the stipulations of the treaty were not carried into effect before 1803. The question of allowing Napoleon to gain such a territory in this country was seriously and with no little anxiety considered in and out of congress. The few years during which the trading privileges had been enjoyed, showed how important, if not essential, it was to secure the free navigation of the Mississippi to American merchants. And holding guard over the mouth of that important channel of internal commerce, it was deemed too great a risk to allow the territory to fall under the dominion of a power with which other questions had almost led to open war. During the years 1798-1800 commercial intercourse between France and the United States was almost wholly suspended, and the treaty of 1800, while settling old questions, gave occasion to new difficulties which hinged upon his very question of the Louisiana cession. Mr. Jefferson early recognized the importance of securing the right to navigate the Mississippi. "There is," he wrote to Mr. Livingston in 1802, "on the globe one single spot the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is new Orleans. * * It is impossible that France and the United States can continue long friends, when they meet in so irritable a position. * * The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low-water mark. It seals the union of two nations, who, in conjunction, can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation."


—In 1802 the provincial authorities of Louisiana gave notice that the commercial privileges enjoyed under the treaty of 1795 had ceased, and, contrary to the provisions of the treaty, they failed to provide any means by which, even in a modified form, they might be continued. This action of the Spanish authorities naturally aroused great indignation among the inhabitants of the states bordering the Mississippi, and on a remonstrance by congress the privileges were restored. It was not until December, 1802, that the secret treaty of San Ildefonso became known to Jefferson, who at once took steps to secure possession of at least a part of the territory, the plan at first including only New Orleans, the island of New Orleans, and Florida. But Napoleon, who was at that time too busily engaged in his attack upon England to pay much attention to his schemes of colonization, and was much pressed for money, would sell all or none; and this was finally agreed to, the price named being 60,000,000 livres, together with claims amounting to 20,000,000 livres more. The treaty of cession was signed April 30, and ratified Oct. 19, 1803. Spain at first showed a disposition to oppose the sale, as by the secret treaty the territory was to be first offered to her in case France decided to part with it; but her objections were afterward withdrawn. By an act of congress, March 26, 1804, Louisiana was divided into two territories, one called the territory of Louisiana, which in 1812 became the state of Louisiana, and the other the district of Louisiana.


—Spain now laid claim to what was then known as East and West Florida, under a cession by Great Britain made in 1783; and this territory now became a bone of contention, and continued such till 1819. It would be of little importance to trace the many diplomatic attempts that were made to settle this question, or to trace in detail the various measures that were undertaken both by the national and state governments (notably that of Georgia) to take possession peacefully or by force of arms. Congress even went so far as to occupy and hold the territory in dispute under secret resolutions passed in 1811, but not made known till 1817. In 1817, under pretext of Indian outrages, congress ordered Gen. Jackson to obtain redress, and he construed his orders to mean the acquisition of Florida. His action brought matters to a crisis, and in February, 1819, a treaty of cession was signed, but was not ratified and proclaimed until 1821. The boundaries of the ceded territory were in doubt, owing to difficulties between Mexico and Spain, which prevented the latter from fulfilling her part of the treaty, and they were only determined by a treaty entered into between Mexico and the United States in 1828. The total cost of the Florida cession, in bonds and interest, was $6,489,768.


—The question of the annexation of Texas was intimately connected with that of the extension of the slave power, and with the rapidly increasing interests of the nation in the Pacific states. Since 1821 the United States of Mexico had been independent of Spanish rule, and in 1826 some American immigrants at Nacogdoches declared Texas independent of Mexico, and in the following year Coahuila and Texas, the northeastern provinces of Mexico, framed a constitution. In the same year Mr. Clay instructed the minister of the United States in Mexico, J. R. Poinsett, to offer $1,000,000 for Mexico's territory case of the Rio Grande, but Poinsett never carried out his instructions, pleading the danger of irritating Mexico by an offer that was sure to be rejected. Meantime Mexico had abolished slavery in her territory, and thus the slaveholding states found themselves flanked north and south by free states, and the extent of territory from which future slave states could be formed limited. There had been a free movement of migration between the two nations, and many slaveholders had crossed the border with their slaves, and were now met by the abolition of all slavery. The curious plea was then urged that the United States should reannex the territory of Texas, and, owing to the very indefinite boundary lines, this plea could be supported. In 1829, a second attempt, made by Van Buren, to purchase all the territory east of the Nueces river, failed, and in the next few years the Mexicans passed laws prohibiting immigration, which had no effect. In 1835, after the failure of Santa Anna to extend his power over Texas, Jackson made a third offer, and wished the boundary line to follow the Rio Grande up to the thirty-seventh parallel, and thence on that parallel to the Pacific. The defeat of the Mexicans by the Texans brought matters to a head, and in March, 1836, the constitution of Texas was adopted, and annexation to this country regarded as almost inevitable. Although this scheme of annexation was rejected by the senate in 1844 (16 yeas to 35 nays), in 1845 Texas was admitted as a state. It is noteworthy that the United States never owned public lands in Texas itself; the state retained the disposition of her own lands, opened a land office, made grants to railroads, and for other purposes, and had her own settlement laws.


—In the meantime the desirableness of acquiring California and other Pacific states was being agitated. By purchase or cession the United States claimed all of what is now comprised in its present boundaries, save California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the western portions of New Mexico and Colorado, which were still under the rule of Mexico. Russia was making settlements in California, and agents of England and France were preparing to take steps preliminary to annexing the territory to one of their respective nationalities. Great Britain even had a fleet in the Pacific, for the purpose, it was said, of seizing California as an equivalent for the Mexican debt, due to British subjects. Nor was the United States idle. Jackson, as has been seen, attempted to purchase a part, and the expeditions of Wilkes and Fremont created a desire to secure the whole. In 1845 Mr. Buchanan made an offer to purchase, but it was rejected. In 1846 congress declared that "war existed by the act of Mexico," and there is every reason to believe that this war was intended to secure California, as the possession of Texas even to the Rio Grande could have been obtained without it. The war was successful, and in 1848 all the states named were obtained by treaty; and in 1853, by the Gadsden treaty, a further strip of territory to make a more regular boundary between the United States and Mexico, was secured. Both of these cessions became public domain.


—The final acquisition of territory was made in 1867, when Alaska was purchased from Russia at a cost of $7,200,000. These lands have not as yet been surveyed nor opened to settlement.


—The manner of disposing of these public domains should be noticed. In many cases they were obtained subject to grants made previous to the cession, express stipulations being found in the treaties that such grants should remain good. The public lands proper were received by the United States in trust, to be disposed of for the common benefit of the United States, to be "granted at such time and under such regulations as shall hereafter he agreed upon by the United States in congress assembled, or any nine or more of them." The public domain is thus under the control of congress. Until 1812, the secretary of the treasury acted as the agent in the sale or disposition of the public lands; and when in that year the office of the commissioner of the general land office was created, it remained a bureau of the treasury department, the commissioner being subordinated to the secretary. In 1836 this bureau was reorganized, still, however, remaining a part of the treasury; but in 1846, on the creation of the home or interior department, the bureau of public lands was very properly transferred to and made part of the new executive department. This bureau is charged with the surveying and disposal of the public lands of the United States.


—But as yet all lands are not in the market. Before the land is opened up for settlement it must be surveyed, and since 1876 only certain qualities of lands are surveyed by the government. These lands include: 1, those adapted to agriculture without artificial irrigation; 2, irrigable lands, or such as can be redeemed, and for which there is sufficient accessible water for the reclamation and cultivation of the same, nor otherwise utilized or claimed; 3, timber lands, bearing timber of commercial value; 4, coal lands, containing coal of commercial value; 5, exterior boundary of town sites; and 6, private land claims. As soon as congress authorizes the extension of surveys over a district of country, the commissioner of the general land office directs the district surveyor to see that the work is performed. There are at present (1882) sixteen surveying districts, each in charge of a surveyor general, with a corps of assistants and deputies. All surveys are made in triplicate. The original is temporarily retained in the office of the surveyor, to be ultimately delivered to the state government; the duplicate is sent to the local land office, where it is used in disposing of the land; and the third copy is sent to the commissioner at Washington, for the information of the government.


—The manner of surveying public lands is uniform, and has been so since the committee of congress, of which Mr. Jefferson was the chairman, adopted in 1785 the rectangular system. The committee, in their report, recommended that all public lands should be divided in hundreds of ten miles square, each hundred to be subdivided into plots of one mile square, these plots to be numbered from one to one hundred. On motion of Mr. Monroe, the township (hundred in the report) was reduced to six miles square; and each subdivision was to be one mile square, thus containing 640 acres. This was the system adopted. In the survey, a base line and meridian line are first determined, and from the base line townships of six miles square are established and numbered, counting north and south. From the surveying meridians, ranges (the subdivisions of the township) one mile square are mapped out and numbered both east and west of the principal meridian. The location of even a part of a section is thus a simple matter; and the purchaser who receives a description of his land as the "Southwest quarter of Section 20, Township 30, north, Range 1 east of the third principal meridian." would have no difficulty to locate his purchase on the survey map, and as some boundary marks are always placed at the intersection of divisional lines, his lot would be easily found. It is the simplicity of this system that has recommended its use, and so well has it served its purpose that little change has been made in it since it was first introduced into use, nearly a century ago. The first principal meridian that was established was the line dividing Ohio and Indiana, having for its base the Ohio river, and being coincident with 84° 51' of longitude west of Greenwich. This line governs all surveys of public lands in Ohio. A meridian line may govern the surveys in more than one state. Thus the sixth principal meridian, which coincides with longitude 97° 22' west from Greenwich, controls the surveys in Kansas, Nebraska, that part of Dakota lying south and west of the Missouri river, Wyoming, and Colorado, excepting the valley of the Rio Grande del Norte, in southwestern Colorado, where the surveys are governed by another meridian line. Since 1785, twenty-four initial points (the intersection of principal bases with surveying meridians) have been used in the public surveys.


—The manner of surveying mineral lands differed in no way from that employed in agricultural and timber lands up to 1866. The lead, copper and other mineral districts of Iowa, Michigan Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri, were surveyed under the rectangular system, and when sold the soil carried with it the mineral deposits. In 1866 mineral survey districts were formed, and the extent of ground that could be claimed was limited to not exceeding 200 feet in length for each individual (with one additional claim for discovery), the width of the claim being regulated by local custom. In no case, however, could a location by an association of individuals exceed 3,000 feet. In 1872 the mineral survey districts were discontinued, and surveys are now made by deputies under the surveyor-general of the district. In all cases the claimants bear the expense of the survey, and mining claims may be formed from the public lands, whether surveyed or not.


—Several qualities of lands are noticed in the laws. Mineral. Lands valuable for minerals are reserved from sale except as otherwise expressly directed by law. Such lands, whether surveyed or unsurveyed, are open to exploration and purchase by citizens of the United States, or those who have declared their intention to become such. The law covers claims for lands bearing gold, silver, cinnabar, lead, tin, copper, or other valuable deposits, and titles to such claims may be secured from the United States under the existing laws at $5 per acre. No vein or lode claim can exceed a parallelogram 1,500 feet in length by 600 in width, but the size of a claim below this maximum is governed by state laws or the rules of the mining district. No state or territorial law can limit a claim, located since May 10, 1872, to less than 1,500 feet in length by 50 feet in width, unless rendered necessary by existing rights, so that the maximum claim under the United States law is about 20.66 acres, and the minimum 1.72 acres. Costs of survey, etc., are paid by the claimants. Placer locations are sold for $2.50 per acre, and can not exceed twenty acres for one person; no location by an association can exceed twenty acres for each person. Coal lands. The act of March 3, 1873, gave a pre-emption right of 160 acres of coal land to a person, and 320 acres to an association, upon payment of not less than $10 per acre, where the lands lie more than fifteen miles from a completed railroad, and $20 per acre where the lands lie within fifteen miles of such a road; and further provided that when any association of not less than four persons have expended $5,000 in working and improving any mine, located within limits as above, they may make an additional entry of 640 acres at the several limits prices. Lands that are valuable chiefly for timber and stone, and are unfit for cultivation, are sold for $2.50 per acre. Only citizens, or those who have declared their intention of becoming such, can secure the benefits of this law, and no one person or association of persons can enter more than 160 acres of such land. Saline lands, or lands on which are situated any known salines or mines, are first offered at public sale to the highest bidder at a price of not less than $1.25 per acre; and if not then sold are subject to private sale at a price not less than $1.25 per acre in the same manner as other public lands are sold. Town site lands. The laws relating to this subject are very liberal, and not only provide for the entry of land already settled upon for purposes of trade, for the benefit of the citizens of the town, but also provide for the selection and reservation of land, whether surveyed or unsurveyed, for town sites "on the shores of harbors, at the junction of rivers, important portages, or natural or prospective centres of population," in advance of its settlement or of the surrounding country. There are two methods of acquiring a title to town sites: 640 acres may be laid off into lots, and a copy is filed in the office of the recorder of the country in which the town is situated, or in the general land office. The lots (not to exceed 4,200 square feet) are then offered at public sale to the highest bidder at a price not less than $10 per acre; whatever is not thus disposed of is subject to entry at this minimum price. Or, the Untied States may grant to the inhabitants of cities and towns, through the corporate authorities of said cities or towns, or the judges of the country courts acting as trustees for the occupants, the privilege of entering lands occupied as town sites at a minimum price of $1.25 per acre. The quantity of land allowed varies with the number of inhabitants. If more than 100 and less than 200, 320 acres from the maximum; if more than 200 and less than 1,000, 640 acres; if over 1,000, 1,280 acres, and for each additional 1,000 up to 5,000, a further quantity of 320 acres is allowed. Desert lands, which are unfit in their existing condition for cultivation, may be entered by any citizen to the extent of 640 acres, on a payment of twenty-five cents per acre, and the filing of a sworn statement that the buyer intends to reclaim the tract within three years from the date of entry by conducting water thereon. If he fulfills this condition he obtains a full title to the land on the further payment of $1 per acre. All other lands are known as agricultural lands, and are taken in tracts of from 40 to 160 acres under the pre-emption, homestead and timber-culture acts, or purchased at public sale or private entry. There are two classes of agricultural lands; the one class, situated within prescribed limits of works of internal improvements, is held at $2.50 per acre, and is designated as double minimum; the other class is minimum land, and is sold for $1.25 per acre. Any person who is the head of a family, a window or single man over twenty-one years of age, a citizen of the United States or about to become such, who does not own 320 acres of land within the United States, and has not abandoned his land in any state or territory in order to reside upon the public lands, may take advantage of the pre-emption laws. Such a person may, on payment of a fee for registering the claim, occupy for a limited period a tract of not less than 40 nor more than 160 acres of land, with the obligation of paying to the United States at the end of that period $1.25 per acre, when a patent for the land is given him. Credit of from twelve to thirty-three months is given to the pre-emptor by residence on the land, and it must be shown that the settlement his made for the exclusive use and benefit of the pre-emptor, and not for purpose of sale or speculation. The essence of the homestead law and the amendments is embodied in the conditions of actual settlement, dwelling on and cultivation of the soil embraced in an entry. It gives for a nominal fee, equal to $34 on the Pacific coast and $26 in the other states, to a settler—a man or women over the age of twenty-one years, a citizen of the United States or having declared an intention of becoming such—the right to locate upon 160 acres of unoccupied public land in any of the public land states and territories subject to entry at a United States land office, to live upon the same for a period of five years, and, upon proof of a compliance with the law, to receive a patent therefore free of cost or change for the land. But to obtain a final title full citizenship is required. Under the timber-culture act a person may enter from 40 to 160 acres of land. One-fourth part of the tract entered must be devoted to timber for eight years; after eight years, on suitable proof that the necessary conditions have been complied with, a patent will be issued. A clause in the homestead act (Rev. Stat., § 2317) also offers a bounty for planting timber. All lands to be sold must be offered at public sale before they may be entered at private sale. (See the Revised Statutes, §§ 2207-2490.)


History. As soon as the cessions of lands had been made by the states, congress took steps to determine the manner of disposing of them, a task that was far from easy. Many of these cessions were burdened with claims which must be passed upon before the lands could be sold. For example: Virginia in her act of cession expressly reserved the right to enter upon the lands in case they should be needed to fulfill the obligations of the state in respect to military bounties. The cession of North Carolina was subject to a great variety of claims, and the act of session contained as many as ten conditions. The result was, that, when the Indian title was extinguished, the North Carolina claims absorbed the greater part of the eligible lands, and what was left was in 1841 given to Tennessee; while that of Georgia was complicated by the famous "Yazoo claims," which proved in the end a very costly experience for the government. Even the lands purchased from foreign powers were not absolutely free. Much of the land (and this holds true of lands ceded by the states) was already occupied by Indians. Could they be ousted by the first comers, and deprived of their holdings without any compensation? By right of discovery and of conquest it was claimed that an absolute title to the land became vested in the crown; but this title was made subject to the Indian right of occupancy, which could be extinguished by the crown alone. The federal government, on acquiring the title to these lands, without looking into the justice of the original claim, recognized this condition, and before even attempting to survey and dispose of such lands, it was purchased the occupancy right of the Indians for a sum greater than the use of the lands is worth to them. The only exceptions to this practice have been where rebellions tribes have been put down, and, as a price of peace, compelled to part with the lands they occupied. In addition to Indian titles, the lands were subject to grants made by the former rulers, and large portions had been successively under the sway of several foreign powers: what is now Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, belonged first to France, and then to England; a part of Mississippi had passed through periods of French, English and Spanish possession; while Louisiana had acknowledged the rule of France and of Spain. To quiet the claims that had arisen under these various governments, congress created eight boards of commissioners, to examine into all claims, reject such as were unfounded or fraudulent, and confirm such as were just; and also to secure in their possessions all the actual settlers who were found on the land when the United States took actual possession, although they had only a right of occupancy. (Gallatin.)


—The early steps to dispose of this public domain were tentative, and it was many years before they led up to a well-considered and efficient system. Under the confederation an ordinance in 1785 directed the secretary of war to draw by lot certain townships in the surveyed portion for bounties to the continental army, and the remainder was to be drawn by lot by the board of treasury in the name of the western states, to be sold by them at public sale at not less than "one dollar per acre, payable in specie, or loan office certificates reduced to specie value according to a scale of depreciation, or certificates of liquidated debts of the United States, including interest, besides the expenses of survey and other charges thereon," which were estimated to be $36 per township. This measure was a failure, and it was intimated that the states which had any lands of their own to dispose of, took pains to make it inoperative. Meanwhile a new difficulty, unauthorized entries upon the public lands, was to be met, and force was necessary. Gallatin recalls, in his correspondence with Jefferson, that from 1783 to 1786 immigration into the territory north of the Ohio was encouraged by the peacefulness of the Indians; and that a company was kept going up and down the Ohio from the Pennsylvania line to Cincinnati, burning every cabin, and in some instances laying down or burning the fences. This operation had to be repeated, and he knew of persons "whose cabins were burnt and settlement destroyed three times." (Writings, vol. i., p. 188.) In 1787 the price per acre was reduced to 66 2/3 cents per acre, and in the following year, the clauses regulating the drawing of land being repealed, power was given to the board of treasury to move about the United States and sell surveyed lands at pleasure. The low price soon attracted purchasers, and in 1788 a party from New England, under the lead of Rufus Putnam, settled at the mouth of the Muskingum river, while another party, made up chiefly in New Jersey, and among which was John C. Symmes, who had been a delegate to congress, aimed at the acquisition of the territory west of the former grant, and included between the Ohio and the Great and Little Miami rivers. Without waiting, however for congress to act upon their petition, Symmes and his associations began the sale of lands, issued warrants of locations, and even made settlements. Differences arising between Symmes and the board of treasury, no satisfactory arrangement was made until 1792, when, under Hamilton's administration, a patent was issued, in September, 1794, for as much land as had been paid for, amounting to about 310,000 acres, although 1,000,000 acres were called for by the contract. The difficulty of settling this claim arose from the general ignorance respecting the topography of the country; for when the surveys were made, it was seen that no tract of 1,000,000 acres could be included within the bounds named without cutting into former Indian or military reservations. The patent of 1794 was not regarded as final by Symmes, for in 1803 he issued a circular in which he expresses the belief that in the end he would receive the full 1,000,000 acres. On the other hand, congress accepted the patent of 1794 as a full settlement of Symmes' claims, and this involved the latter in difficulties from which he never entirely extricated himself. The fault in this matter appears to have rested entirely with congress. In addition to these two sales of lands, a third tract of 202,187 acres (now included in Eric county, Pa.) was sold to Pennsylvania, and was the last transaction which occurred before the constitution was adopted. These lands were paid for in evidences of the public debt of the United States, and in military land warrants.


—Among the important questions which were presented to the first congress under the constitution was that of the public domain. In the first debate on the subject (May 28, 1789) it was urged that the existing system tended to favor speculators and to discourage actual settlers; the land therefore ought to be sold in quantities to suit the applicants, and not in large quantities only. In this way settlement would be encouraged, and the public income from this source be greater and more certain. On the other hand, it was urged, that, if lands were offered on much more favorable terms, the eastern states would be depopulated. The situation was complicated by other circumstances. Some of the states were in the market with lands. Connecticut was offering her "Western Reserve" lands at forty cents per acre; Virginia advertised her Kentucky, and North Carolina her Tennessee, lands; both Pennsylvania and Georgia were inviting purchasers, while Massachusetts had reduced the price of Maine lands to fifty cents per acre, with the intention of checking western emigration. Moreover, the Spaniards in Illinois were at this time bidding for settlers under even more advantageous terms: lands without charge, exemption from taxation, provision, and the implements of husbandry. In order to arrive at some determination, congress called upon Hamilton, now at the head of the treasury, to submit a plan, and in July, 1790, he communicated it to the house. Hamilton's report forms an important contribution to the history of the public domain, for many of its features have been retained to the present time. In his estimation, two objects were to be considered: to increase the facility of effecting advantageous sales, and the accommodation of those who were already settled in, or might in the future emigrate to, the western country. The land should be so offered as to accommodate three classes of purchasers "moneyed individual and companies who will buy to sell again; associations of persons who intend to make settlements themselves; single persons or families now resident in the western country, or who may emigrate thither hereafter." He recommended that a general land office should be established at the seat of government, and at least two subordinate offices opened in the western lands, each office to be under the control of three commissioners; that the land should be set apart for sales in townships of ten miles square, after certain reservations had been made for actual settlers, and for the subscribers to the proposed loan in the public debt; that no credit be given for any quantity less than a whole township, nor more than two years' credit be allowed for any greater quantity, and security, "other than the land itself," shall be required of the purchaser to whom credit is given; that the price shall be thirty cents per acre, payable either in specie or in public securities; and finally, that it might be advisable to "vest a considerable latitude of discretion in the commissioners of the general land office." (Hamilton's Works, vol. iii., p. 84.)


—Congress, however, was slow to act, and it was not until 1796 that any decided step in advance was taken. It was then that the rectangular system of surveying lands was in substance adopted, and provision made for the public sale of lands in sections one mile square at a price not less than two dollars per acre. This price was determined upon in order to include all costs of surveying and disposition. It will be of interest to note the valuation of land in some of the original states, as estimated two years after, in 1798:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.

(American State Papers, Public Lands, vol. iii., p. 264.)


—Up to the year 1800, when an important changes was made in the land laws, all sales were made from the territory now included in the state of Ohio, and amounted to 1,484,047 acres, realizing 1,201,725.68.


—The act of May, 1800, introduced several new features, and may be said to be the first serious attempt to systematize the manner of disposing of the public lands. Registers, having offices within defined districts, were created, and at each land office there was to be a bonded officer known as the "receiver of public moneys." But the most important modification made, and one that was pregnant with consequences, was that governing the terms of payment. The lands were, as before, to be offered at public vendue, and to be sold at a price not less than two dollars per acre, payment to be made in specie or evidences of the public debt. But only a fourth part of the purchase money was required at the time; the payment of the balance was to be spread over three years, one-fourth of the original purchase money to be paid in each year, with interest at 6 per cent. per annum from the day of sale. A discount of 8 per cent. was allowed for the prepayment of any of the last three installments. In case the full payment was not made within one year after the last installment was due, the lands were to be resold, or were to revert to the United States. The opportunities afforded by this extension of credit were too tempting to be resisted, and a great increase in the sales of land at once occurred. While in 1799 nothing was turned into the treasury from this source , and in 1800 but $443, in the following three years the receipts were respectively, $167,726.06, $188,628.02, and $165,675; and it is reasonable to suppose that in the larger number of instances full advantage was taken of the credit offered, and that these sums were therefore but the first payment on the purchases. And this conclusion is further supported by the receipts for the years 1804-1806, when the arrears and final installments were falling due, being, in round figures, $487,500, $540,200, and $765,250 respectively. In fact, it was soon evident that the long term of credit allowed, was inducing excessive purchases, and that, in their eagerness to secure lands, purchasers were assuming debts which only a long continuation of the most favorable circumstances would enable them to discharge. For, on lands sold before 1803, amounting to 900,000 acres, and sold under the provisions of the act of 1800, but $800,000 had been paid, while $1,100,000 remained due. Nor did the results of the following years tend to prove the wisdom of the credit system, as in 1804 the unpaid balance was $1,434,212, and in 1805, $2,094,305, the increase being due both to increase of sales and to an accumulation of arrears. The lands might be forfeited, and put up at public sale, but such attempts were rarely attended with success, and the lands reverted to the government, encumbered by the occupancy of a tenant. Speaking of the increasing indebtedness on account of land purchases, Gallatin said: "Great difficulties may attend the recovery of that debt which is due by nearly 2,000 individuals, and its daily increase may create an interest hostile to the general welfare of the Union." For this reason he recommended a shortening of credit, and also to allow the land to be sold in tracts smaller than quarter sections. Nothing, however, was done with respect to these recommendations, and in 1806 congress still further complicated matters by refusing to receive in payment for purchases of public lands any more certificates or evidences of public debt. The demands for relief now became more urgent, and congress was flooded with petitions, resolutions, legislative enactments and personal applications, all seeking to obtain relief from burdens which a little foresight would have originally prevented. From 1809 to 1824 hardly a year passes without a "relief act" being adopted, by which the operation of the general provisions of the law was suspended or mitigated. Many of these measures were but partial remedies, and only served to complicate matters, while offering little toward a final and satisfactory solution of the problem. It was difficult to see how the situation could be helped by merely extending the term of credit. If the back interest was remitted for one set of purchasers, others petitioned for a like favor; if an advantage was given to the purchasers in one state, arguments were adduced for extending the same advantage to other states. So that a privilege or relief measure granted to apply to a special, and it may be an exceptional, case, became the basis for demands from other quarters. One of the most common pleas for demanding relief was the expediency of interesting the purchaser in the Union by giving him a full and complete ownership in a portion of the soil, and not weakening his attachment by making him a debtor. "It is believed that a government founded on the general sentiment of the community can not, with safety to itself, hold as debtors the citizens of any considerable portion of the country." But special reasons were not wanting to those who applied for some favor. In 1809 it was the embargo, which "had suspended the foreign trade of the country, ceased that demand for domestic produce, and that exchange of produce for specie, so necessary to produce a general circulation of it, that , while a redundant moneyed capital has accumulated in the commercial towns and cities, its circulation is proportionally diminished in the interior and remote parts of the country." In 1812 it was the war which prevented the payment of debts; and in that year a report was made in congress advocating some favor. "The present system can not be continued, and the laws rigidly executed, without occasioning great injury to the purchasers. Men are seduced by the temptation, which the credit held out to them, to extend their purchases beyond their means of making payments; the unfavourable fluctuations of commerce can not be foreseen; and the pretty general disposition in men to anticipate the most favorable results from the produce of their labor, are the general causes of the failure of purchasers in making payments."


—Yet, in spite of the fact that the buyers of land were during these years so cumbered with debt, attempts were made to induce congress to give even greater opportunities for running into debt. Thus, a petition presented to congress in 1814 recited that there were many thousands of poor, industrious inhabitants and faithful citizens of the United States, suffering for want of a portion of the soil of the country; and from the scarcity of money, and the high price of lands, they were prevented from purchasing; they therefore prayed that every person above the age of eighteen years may be allowed to hold 160 acres of the public lands by virtue of settlement, at the price of 12½ cents per acre, payable within the term of seven years, without interest. Furthermore, during the period between 1817 and 1819, when commerce was prosperous, price of produce high, and speculation, aided by excessive issues of bank notes, was rampant, large purchases of public lands were made under the credit system; and when in the following years the buddle of prosperity had burst, few who had entered into these purchases were able to discharge their obligations. Again was appeal made to congress, and, in addition to granting relief measures, it passed an act in April, 1820, abolishing the credit system, authorizing the selling of land in half quarter sections, or 80-acre lots, and reducing the minimum price of $1.25 per acre. The credit system was prevalent, and left its traces in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan. Relief acts were, however, still in demand, for the amount of indebtedness had largely increased, being, in December, 1820, $21,213,350.17. The fluctuations in the prices of commodities, the issues of paper money, Indian hostilities, which required the personal service of land cultivators, and many others such excuses, were, from time to time, urged upon congress as reasons why relief should be granted. And through the influence of these successive acts, coupled with the repeal of the credit system of purchasing lands, the amount of indebtedness was decreased through payment of arrears and through a relinquishment of the lands. In 1828 the general land office reported that under the relief laws 4,168,941 acres had been relinquished, discharging $13,778,347.37 of debt; in 1830 this land debt was wholly discharged.


—In the meanwhile, however, a new difficulty was taking form by reason of the dissatisfaction openly expressed by the states with the method of disposing of the lands. The states which had large tracts of public lands, within their limits, and were known as the "land states," as distinguished from the original states, chafed under the apparent injustice of the land laws to themselves, and even threatened to resort to measures of force if relief was not provided for. As all lands, irrespective of their quality and situation, were in the market at the same minimum price, it naturally followed that the best lands, those that at that time presented the most promising results to the cultivator at the least expenditure of labor and money, were taken first, and the lands of inferior quality were passed by. It is true, that in many cases these lands were increased in value by the mere accession of population and increase of wealth in the neighborhood. But scattered throughout the land states, and indeed, in almost every section where public lands had existed, there remained tracts which were not at that time worth the minimum price, and which could not have made any return to the cultivator in proportion to the expense necessary to purchase and cultivate them. The result was, these tracts remaining public lands, bore no share of state or local taxation, and were even a source of expense to the state, as were the lowlands of the south, which were subject to an annual inundation. As early as 1824 these complaints became frequent, and Benton introduced into congress a measure for graduating the price of lands that had been in the market for a certain length of time, and for granting pre-emption rights to actual settlers. The introduction and rejection of this measure only served to urge the states to new endeavors. In 1827, Illinois stated, that if the present minimum price be adhered to, "it must be several hundred years before all the soil of the state can be passed out of the hands of the federal government and be subjected to the laws and jurisdiction of the state." "The question is one which, if seriously presented, must involve questions of the highest importance to a state, and of the most intense interest to its citizens—no less than of the deprivation of some of the essential attributes of its sovereignty; the control of the internal concerns and police of a free state by a power other than its own; a prohibition to regulate and improve the settlement of lands within its own limits and acknowledged boundaries, according to its own views of its prosperity and happiness; a deprivation of the collection of revenue from vast bodies of soil within such limits until the general government shall choose to assent thereto by the disposition of the soil—whether the citizens of such states shall be subject to the operation of the laws of the United States, confessedly purely municipal, which have no existence in the older states, and which they along have the right to pass, and to which no other power is competent without the consent of their own legislative powers; whether in reality the compact under which the general government claims these extraordinary powers, is consonant to the rights reserved to the states, respectively, by the constitution of the United States, or have, in any wise, been granted by that instrument, and finally, whether the tenure by which they hold the public lands is valid and binding on the new states." The legislature of Missouri went even further, and declared, that in persisting in its land policy congress was infringing the compact between the United States and the State; "that the state of Missouri never could have been brought to consent not to tax the lands of the United States while unsold, and not a tax the lands sold until five years thereafter,*66 if it had been understood by the contracting parties that a system was to be pursued which would prevent nine-tenths of those lands from ever becoming the property of persons in whose hands they might be taxed." Indiana declared that "this state, being a sovereign, free and independent state, has the exclusive right to the soil and eminent domain of all the unappropriated lands within her acknowledged boundaries," this right being reserved in the deed of cession of the northwestern territory to the United States, and confirmed and established by the articles of confederacy and the constitution of the United States.


—Another circumstance that led to these complaints by the states was the great desire to effect internal improvements, which had during these years become prevalent. These states were deprived of the right of eminent domain where the public lands were situated, and were further debarred from what might be a very profitable source of revenue; for their revenues were almost wholly derived from a tax upon land. As the population was much scattered by reason of the situation of the best lands, the policy of maintaining a minimum price for all lands was fastened upon as the cause. "The tide of population is thus diverted into a thousand channels, and suffered to roll over immense regions, creating feeble and thinly scattered settlements, and leaving extensive tracts of wilderness behind." (Illinois, 1825.) "In a scattered population public institutions are seldom established; systems of education can not be matured; moral restraints are tardily enforced; laws are feebly executed, and revenue raised with difficulty." "It is the policy of enlightened legislation," said the legislature of Indians, "to curtail this unlimited range, and by social allurements to reclaim our wandering tribes to the blessings of humanity and refinement." But the climax of absurdity was reached by Mr. Richard Rush, the secretary of the treasury, in his annual report for 1827, in which he makes a plea for further protection to manufactures through the tariff, on the ground that the land laws were protecting agriculture. "It can not be overlooked that the prices at which fertile bodies of land may be bought of the government under this system, operate as a perpetual allurement to their purchase. It must therefore be taken in the light of a bounty, indelibly written in the text of the laws themselves, in favor of agricultural pursuits. Such it is in effect, though not in form. Perhaps no enactment of legislative bounties has ever before operated upon a scale so vast, throughout a series of years, and over the face of an entire nation, to turn population and labor into one particular channel, preferably to all others. * * It has served and still serves to draw, in an annual stream, the inhabitants of a majority of the states, including among them at this day a portion, not small, of the western states, into the settlement of fresh lands lying still farther and fathers off. * * And, as it is the laws that have largely, in effect, throughout a long course of time, superinduced disinclinations to manufacturing labor, by their overpowering calls to rural labor, in the mode of selling off the public domain, the claim of further legal protection to the former kind of labor, at this day, seems to wear an aspect of justice no less than of expediency."


—In December, 1827, the secretary of the treasury reported that, while more than 261,000,000 acres of land lying within the states and territories had become the absolute property of the United States free from Indian claim, since the organization of the government but 19,000,000 had been sold to individuals. At that rate it was estimated that a period of more than five centuries must elapse before the whole of the public domain then under the unrestrained control of congress would become the property of individuals. In 1880 the land commission reported, that, at the present rate of absorption, all the surveyed arable land would be taken within three years.


—Still another cause for agitation on this subject was the rapid decrease in the national debt, to provide for which the lands in a measure stood pledged. As early as 1806, in view of the ultimate payment of the debt, Jefferson had suggested the appropriation of the proceeds of the sales of the lands to works of internal improvement and to the support of education. And between the years 1825 and 1832 many schemes for disposing of the lands by sale or gift were advanced in congress, many of which were very questionable in character. Indeed, in December, 1829, it was stated in the house, that "it seemed as if the four quarters of the Union were striving with one another which should get the most out of these lands. The appetite for them appeared to be insatiable and uncontrollable." Claims that had been rejected at the land offices were readily allowed by congress. During the session of 1827-8 congress actually gave away to states and individuals not less than 2,300,000 acres of choice lands, the donations of internal improvements alone exceeding the sales. In order to check further concessions it was proposed to give the states a direct interest in the income arising from the sales of the public lands. Some states laid claim to the lands themselves. In 1831 Madison expressed himself in forcible terms against a claim "so unfair and unjust, so contrary to the certain and notorious intentions of the parties to the case, and so directly in the teeth of the condition on which the lands were ceded to the Union." No account seems to have been taken of the practical difficulties connected with a donation of lands to the states: the creation of rivals in her own land markets, the difficulty of locating divisions of equal value, and the establishments of as many systems of land sales as there states.


—In December, 1829, a resolution was offered in the senate by Mr. Foot, of Connecticut, that the committee on public lands should inquire into the expediency of limiting the sales of the public lands to those then in the market, and to suspend further surveys. A spirited debate followed, which led up to the famous argument between Webster and Hayne, which involved a general examination of the principles of the constitution. No action was taken. The secretary of the treasury, in his report for 1831, "submitted to the wisdom of congress to decide upon the propriety of disposing of all the public lands, in the aggregate, to those states within those territorial limits they lie, at a fair price, to be settled in such a manner as might be satisfactory to all," and the president raised the question of public lands in his message for 1832. In the meantime the legislatures of six of the new states had memorialized congress in favor of a reduction in the price of lands, and a cession of them to the states in which they were situated, being substantially the proposition of the secretary. The senate instructed the committee on manufactures to report upon these propositions.


—This able document, prepared by Mr. Clay, embodies the debates of the previous years, and clearly states the actual status of the question. For this reason a summary is here given of its arguments. A reduction of price, it asserted, if called for by the public interest, must be required either because the government now demands more than a fair price for the public lands, or because the existing price retards injuriously the settlement of the new states and territories. While it was true that much of the land then offered might not be intrinsically worth the minimum price fixed by law, there was also much that was unquestionably worth more. If the government was intent upon accelerating the sales of the lands, some alteration in the price might be made; but, under the existing regulations the acquisition of a home was placed within the reach of every industrious man; and that the established price was not too high was demonstrated by the rapidity with which the land was taken when offered. In fact, the returns given by the secretary of the treasury proved this assertion by showing that the receipts from lands "had gone beyond all former example." Moreover, if any reduction was made in the price of the lands, the value of land throughout the country, and especially of that in the states which contained, or were nearest to, the public lands, would be affected. There would be danger of offering encouragement to speculation, and lastly, a reduction would affect injuriously the interests of the states, by decreasing the value of the liberal grants of land made to them for various purposes, much of which was still in the market. That large quantities of the public lands remained unsold was due to the fact that immigration, and the progressive increase of population, were not sufficient to absorb all that was offered; and if the quantity thrown upon the market had been quadrupled, the probability is that not much more would have been annually sold than had been actually sold. On the second point, the increase of population in the states where the public lands were situated clearly showed that no fresh impulse to immigration was required. The population of the seven states embracing the public lands had increased by 85 per cen. between 1820 and 1830, that of Illinois alone showing an increase of more than 185 per cent.; whereas the population of the seventeen states which embraced no public lands within their limits had, in the same period, increased but 25 per cent. Furthermore, while the population of the country was increasing at the rate of 3 per cent. a year, the demand for public lands increased at the rate of 23 per cent. per annum. To the complaint made by some of the states, that by reason of the exemption of lands from taxation an undue proportion of the expenses of government was thrown upon the resident population, it was answered, that congress had in many ways made a liberal compensation for this apparent injustice: it had appropriated toward internal improvements 5 per cent. of the net proceeds of all sales of public lands within their limits; that a section of land in each township, or one thirty-sixth portion of the whole of the public lands, had been reserved for purposes of education; and that liberal grants had been made for local and special purposes. Still, the committee would recommend a further grant for internal improvements, to the states having within their boundaries public lands, of 10 per cent. of the net proceeds of land sales, and for a limited time a division of the residue among all the states.


—As to ceding on reasonable terms the public lands to the several states in which they might be situated, it would practically involve a cession of the whole public domain of the United States; for as new states were created, similar cessions must be made to them. This would mean the relinquishment of an aggregate of 1,090,871,753 acres, or, at the minimum price, upward of $1,400,000,000. "If such a measure could find any justification, it must arise out of some radical and some incurable defect in the construction of the general government properly to administer the public domain. But the existence of any such defect is contradicted by the most successful experience. No branch of the public service has evinced more system, uniformity and wisdom or given more general satisfaction, than that of the administration of the public lands." The states are not more competent than the government to dispose of the lands, for the regulations would lack uniformity, and might lead to contests among themselves. "Each state would be desirous of inviting the greatest number of emigrants, not only for the laudable purpose of populating rapidly its own territories, but with the view to the acquisition of funds to enable it to fulfill its engagements to the general government. Collisions between states would probably arise, and their injurious consequences may be imagined. A spirit of hazardous speculation would be engendered. Various schemes in the new states would be put afloat to sell or divide the public lands. Companies and combinations would be formed in this country, if not in foreign countries, presenting gigantic and tempting but delusive projects; and the history of legislation, in some of the states of the Union, admonishes us that a too ready ear is sometimes given by a majority, in a legislative assembly, to such projects." A decisive objection to such a transfer for a fair equivalent was that it would establish a new and dangerous relation between the general government and the new states, that of creditor and debtor; and would involve much the same consequences, save in higher degree, that existed between the general government and individual debtors under the credit system. The states would not be able to pay for their lands at once, and must incur heavy debts. If the debtor state failed to pay when the debt matured, how could it be forced to pay? War is the last remedy between independent nations, but the relations between the general government and the members of the confederacy excluded all idea of force and war. Nor would the judiciary be efficient. "On what would their process operate? Could the property of innocent citizens residing within the limits of the defaulting states be justly seized by the general government, and held responsible for debts contracted by the states themselves in their sovereign capacity? If a mortgage upon the lands ceded were retained, that mortgage would prevent or retard subsequent sales by the states, and if individuals bought, subject to the incumbrance, a parental government could never resort to the painful measure of disturbing them in their possessions" "Delinquency on the part of the debtor states would be inevitable, and there would be no effectual remedy for the delinquency. They would come again and again to congress, soliciting time and indulgence, until, finding the weight of the debt intolerable, congress, wearied by reiterated applications for relief, would finally resolve to sponge the debt; or, if congress attempted to enforce its payment, another and a worse alternative would be embraced. * * Upon full and thorough consideration, the committee have come to the conclusion that it is inexpedient either to reduce the price of the public lands, or to cede them to the new states."


—This report was not, of course, satisfactory to those who desired to distribute freely the land or proceeds among the states, and the bill reported by the committee on manufactures was promptly referred to the committee on public lands, which but for political reasons would have had cognizance of the matter from the first, and a very different report was made. The report of Mr. Clay was declared to be "founded in error both in its principles and its details;" its recommendations were rejected, and, in place of them, the committee recommended the minimum price of one dollar per acre, such lands as remained in the market more than five years to be sold at fifty cents per acre, and finally, the distribution of 15 per cent of the proceeds among the states. A bill embodying Mr. Clay's recommendations was passed by both houses of congress, but was vetoed by the president, and in such a way as effectually to prevent its being passed over his veto, a sufficient majority in both houses being in favor of the bill. His main objection to it was, that it prevented any reduction in the price of land. In 1835 Mr. Clay again passed his bill through the senate, but it was lost in the house.


—Now occurred one of the most curious episodes connected with the history of the public lands. Owing to a number of causes, the chief of which was the condition of the currency and of banking, an era of speculation and inflation was introduced, and was at its height in 1835. Curiously enough, the public lands became an object of speculation, although the supply was practically unlimited, and the expectation of any marked rise apparently too distant to tempt investment for merely speculative purposes. Furthermore, while the prices of all other commodities were rising, an abundance of lands could be had at the minimum price fixed by law. In 1834 the sales amounted to $4,800,000; in 1835, to $14,700,000; and in 1836, to $24,800,000. During the fourteen months between July, 1835 and October, 1836, the sales were extraordinary. Yet in 1835 neither the president nor the secretary of the treasury appeared to realize that there was on foot any great speculation in the public lands. Jackson appeared to regard the increase as a proof of the prosperity of agriculture, and even hinted at a reduction in the minimum price; while the secretary of the treasury was so little impressed with the real situation that he estimated the probable receipts for 1836 at $4,000,000, whereas in fact they were more than eight times as large. "The receipts for the lands consisted largely of notes of irresponsible banks. Land speculators organized a 'bank,' got it appointed a deposit bank if they could, issued notes, borrowed them and bought land; the notes were deposited, they borrowed them again, and so on. There was, of course, little specie in the west, on account of the flood of paper money." In congress Benton attempted to pass a bill that nothing but gold or silver should be taken for public lands, but failed. But on July 11, 1836, the president issued the famous "specie circular" which made this requirement.*67 It is not only caused great inconvenience and discontent in the west, but also precipitated a crisis by drawing specie from the eastern banks, already hard pressed by the speculative period, which had then reached its culmination. In February, 1837, Calhoun introduced a measure for ceding the public lands to the new states, but the reason he gave will not bear serious criticism: "to place the senators and representatives from the new states on an equality with those from the old, by withdrawing our local control, and breaking the vassalage under which they are now placed." In the same session a bill for graduation the price of unsold lands passed the senate, but failed to be acted upon in the house. A new factor now appeared. Many of the states had emerged from the period of speculation with heavy debts, which were chiefly held in England. About two hundred millions of dollars were due from states and corporations to creditors in Europe. (Benton.) "These debts were in stocks, much depreciated by the failure, in many instances, to pay the accruing interest; in some instances, failure to provide for the principal. These creditors became uneasy, and wished the federal government to assume their debts. As early as the year 1838 this wish began to be manifested; in the year 1839 it was openly expressed; in the year 1840 it became a regular question, mixing itself up in our presidential election, and openly engaging the active exertion of foreigners." This was Benton's statement, and it is certain that he made too much of the proposition. In January, 1840, Mr. Grundy, of Tennessee, presented a report on it, which contained the following: "We, therefore, conclude that the application of the moneys arising from the sales of public lands to the payment of said debts, or their distribution among the states for such purposes, is as unjust, inexpedient and unconstitutional as a similar application of any other portion of the public revenue; and, moreover, in direct violation of the terms and spirit of the compacts of the cession." Mr. Webster stated that he did not know of a man in congress who held that the government had any more right to pay the debts of a state than those of a private individual. Some color was given to the charge by the first message of President Tyler. Although repudiating any assumption by the government of the debts of the states, he recommended a distribution among the states of the proceeds of the sales of the public lands; and intimated that such a measure would cause an immediate advance in the price of the state securities. A measure embodying such a distribution, with many other features, such as a gift of 500,000 acres of land to the new states, and pre-emption rights to settlers, was passed in l841, and spite of the fact that the condition of the national finances was not such as to warrant the loss of the land revenue. A further provision connected it with the tariff. "If, at any time during the existence of this act, duties on imported goods should be raised above the rate of the 20 per centum on the value as provided in the compromise act of 1833, then the distribution of the land revenue should be suspended." In like manner the tariff act passed in the same session provided that if any duty exceeding 20 per centum on the value shall be levied before June 30, 1842, it should not stop the distribution of the land revenue as provided for in the distribution act. Both tariff and distribution acts remained in force less than a year. The progress from relief acts to a distribution of proceeds of the sales of lands was logical, but the principles embodied in these many acts were bad, and undoubtedly strained the constitutional powers of the government. Propositions of a like character are met with in after years, but as they never reached an issue , there is no necessity for special mention. The results of such measures were so clearly pointed out by Jackson, in his eighth annual message, as to warrant its quotation. "All will admit that the simplicity and economy of the state governments mainly depend on the fact that money has to be supplied to support them by the same men, or their agents, who vote it away in appropriations. Hence, when there are extravagant and wasteful appropriations, there must be a corresponding increase in taxes; and the people, becoming awakened, will necessarily scrutinize the character of measures which thus increase their burdens. By the watchful eye of self interest, the agents of the people in the state governments are repressed and kept within the limits of a just economy. But if the necessity of levying the taxes be taken from those who make the appropriations and thrown upon a more distant and less responsible set of public agents, who have power to approach the people by an indirect and stealthy taxation, there is reason to fear that prodigality will soon supersede those characteristics which have thus far made us look with so much pride and confidence to the state governments as the main-stay of our Union and liberties. The state legislatures, instead of studying to restrict their state expenditures to the smallest possible sum, will claim credit for their profusion, and harass the general government for increased supplies. Practically there would soon be but one taxing power, and that vested in a body of men far removed from the people, in which the farming and mechanic interests would scarcely be represented. The states would gradually lose their purity, as well as their independence; they would not dare to murmur at the proceedings of the general government, lest they should lose their supplies; all would be merged in a practical consolidation, cemented by wide-spread corruption, which would only be eradicated by one of those bloody revolutions which occasionally overthrow the despotic systems of the old world."


—Coupled with propositions for graduating the price of the public lands, for ceding the lands to the states, or distributing the proceeds from sales among the states, were measures for extending the privilege of pre-emption to actual settlers. pre-emption gives a settler the first right or preference to purchase as against those who may wish to purchase and hold for investment or speculation. It is a premium to those who make a permanent settlement on the land with the intention of cultivating it and making a home. "The essential conditions of a pre-emption are actual entry upon, residence in a dwelling, and improvement and cultivation of a tract of land." The right or privilege thus conferred was first exercised in the case of those who had suffered from the Symmes purchase, but between the date of the first pre-emption act and the year 1841 no less than sixteen such acts were passed. In fact, some such measure was necessary in order to prevent injustice to those who had entered upon and cultivated public lands before they had been surveyed and opened to settlement. In its eagerness to secure the best lands the population tended to overpass the surveyed lands and settle in the wilds, and this tendency was greatly aggravated by the speculation in lands in 1835-7, when nearly all the best lands that were in the market were controlled by companies or single proprietors, who had purchased for purposes of speculation. Thus in 1838, " in that part of Wisconsin which lies west of the Mississippi, there are supposed to be from thirty to fifty thousand inhabitants. Over this region congress has extended civil government, established courts of law, and encouraged the building of villages and towns; and yet the land has not been brought into the market for sale, except it may be small quantities for the sites of villages and towns. In other parts of Wisconsin a similar state of things exists, especially on and near the border of Lake Michigan, where numerous settlements have been made and commercial towns erected, some of them already of considerable importance, but where the title to the land still remains in the government. Similar cases exist in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, and probably also in the southwestern states." (Webster.) To oust these settlers from their holdings appeared to be gross injustice, and yet any favor shown to them would only open the door to future abuses. It was said that pre-emption encouraged squatters, that it enabled a man to settle upon a tract of land and not pay for it until forced to, and that it was a bounty to the speculator and intruder. On the other hand, it was urged that the privilege of pre-emption served to invite the immigration of foreigners, and to encourage the actual settlement and cultivation of the land, and that it was not a bounty, gratuity or donation, but merely a right of previous purchase at a fixed price. Up to the year 1840 the privilege of pre-emption was generally conferred only by special enactments, and such laws, being chiefly of a temporary nature and supplying only to a certain class of settlers who had made entry upon land before the date mentioned in the law, were in fact but relief acts. In 1840 a movement toward a permanent pre-emption law was started, and under the stimulus of the presidential campaign of that year, in which the log cabin—the symbol of frontier life—played an important part, the act of September 1841, which was supplemented by the act of March 5, 1843, was passed by congress. The right of pre-emption was, however, confined to surveyed lands only. By laws passed in 1853 and 1854 the privilege was extended to unsurveyed lands, thus giving every facility to the speedy settlement of the public domain. It will be well to speak here of the origin and result of thus offering the special privilege pre-empting lands, even if we have to anticipate somewhat. " The pre-emption system arose from the necessities of settlers, and through a series of more than fifty-seven years of experience in attempts to sell or otherwise dispose of the public lands. The early idea of sales for revenue was abandoned, and a plan of disposition for homes was substituted. The pre-emption system was the result of law, experience, executive orders, departmental rulings, and judicial construction. It has been many phased, and was applied by special acts to special localities with peculiar or additional features, but it has always, and to this day contains the germ of actual settlement, under which thousands of homes have been made and lands made productive, yielding a profit in crops to the farmer, and increasing the resources of the nation." (Report of land commission, p. 215.)


—The next important move in respect to the disposing of the public lands was taken in 1850. As early as 1802 a grant of land for public improvements in Ohio had been made to that state, and in later years grants for wagon roads, for internal improvements and for canals, were from time to time allowed. Between 1824 and 1866 more than four millions of acres of land had been given to five states for canal purposes, and all of this but some 700,000 acres was ceded prior to 1853. But a more important agent of transportation—the railroad—was being introduced, and in a few years superseded all other agencies. In 1833 congress authorized the state of Illinois to divert a canal grant and to apply it to the construction of a railroad, but it was not utilized by the state. As showing the small beginning made in these grants, it is interesting to note, that, in a grant made two years later, only thirty feet on each side of the line of the road through the public lands, with use of timber within 300 feet on either side and ten acres at terminus, were given. This was little more than the right of way. In 1836 another grant only a little more liberal was made to a projected southern line. Easements were granted for necessary depots, water stations and workshops, in blocks of not more than five acres on the line of the road, and adjacent, and at least fifteen miles apart. Material for construction (earth, stone or timber)might be taken from the public lands. These early acts, however, received and indeed called for little attention. It was not until 1850 that congress was again called upon to aid in the construction of railroads, but its action was then very different from what it was in 1835-6. The important points of the act of September 1850, which made a grant to Illinois of land to aid the construction of a railroad (the Illinois Central)were as follows: Alternate sections(even numbered) for six sections in width on either side of the road and branches were granted; and if any of this land was already legally occupied the road could in lieu take a like amount of unoccupied land within fifteen miles of the road. This is known as the indemnity practice. The price of lands situated within the grants and retained by the government was raised to $2.50 per acre (douoble minimu), the former price being $1.25 per acre(single minimum). This was to indemnify the government for the lands granted, and was believed to be just on account of the advantage accruing to the purchaser of having the means of reaching the markets with his produce. It was further stipulated that the road was to be a public highway, to be used by the government free of toll or other charges, and the mails were to be carried at prices to be fixed by congress. The whole expense of construction was defrayed from the proceeds of the land sales, and, in lieu of the charter and franchises received from Illinois, the railroad stipulated to pay to the state from 5 to 7 per cent on its gross receipts. "The state thus far has received, interest alone (the Illinois Central railroad's gross income being a perpetual source of income to the state), more than $3 per acre. The state debt of Illinois, Sept.14, 1880, was $265,000, which will be paid Jan. 1, 1881 from cash now in hand; and thus the state will be free from debt, and the income from this railroad will constitute a fund for state expenses, doing away, to a great extent, with the necessity of taxation for state purposes. The income from this source in 1879 was over $325,477.38." The total number of acres given under this grant was 2,595,053.


—In 1852 grants for railroads were made to Missouri, and in 1853 to Arkansas. In June, 1854, a cession was made to the territory of Minnesota (an unusual act, as a territory was not a sovereignty), a but it was repealed two months later. In 1856 and 1857 further grants were made, in every case to the states themselves.


—As early as 1845 steps were taken to secure government aid for the construction of a transcontinental road, but little was accomplished till California was admitted into the Union, in 1850. From 1850 till 1862 the debates of Congress contain the record of a large number of bills, resolutions, petitions and report upon this project, and the war department organize and executed a series of surveys from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean in order to determine the most practicable and economical route for a such a road. The political parties took up the subject. In 1856 the democrats, in a national convention at Cincinnati, adopted a resolution asserting that it was the duty of the federal government to exercise all its constitutional power to aid in building the railroad, to the Pacific, and the democratic plat form of 1860 declared that the party stood pledged to aid the construction of the road by such means as were constitutional. The republicans took a like stand. In July, 1862, the Union Pacific railroad, was incorporated by a direct act of congress, and the grant of land was made to the corporation, thus making a complete change in the system. The company was given right of way, allowances for shops, stations, etc., and in aid of construction, every alternate section of public land (odd numbered), unless previously disposed of, reserved or mineral (without indemnity provision), to the extent of five alternate sections per mile on either side of the road. It would take too much space to trace the subsequent legislation on this subject, or even to summarize the results. That more properly belongs to the subject of railroads. From 1850 to 1872 a total of 155,504,994 acres was granted for railroad construction of which more than half was given in the years 1862 and 1864. Willis Drummond, Jr. (in Major Powell's Report in the "Lands of the Arid Region," 1878( established, that if the lands embraced in limits of grants to railroads to June, 1880, were all available, and if the corporations, state and national, built their roads and complied with the laws, it would require 215,000,000 acres of land to satisfy their requirements, or only 6,000 square miles less than the area of the original thirteen states. This estimate was, however, too large, and the figures we first gave are nearly correct. Many of those grants have lapsed, and by appropriate legislation the land may revert to the United States.


—To go back a little, not content, with a pre-emption law, in 1854 a graduation act was passed to "cheapen the price of lands long in market for the benefit of actual settlers and for adjoining farms." Lands which had been in the market for more than ten years were sold to actual settlers at prices ranging from 12½ cents to $1 per acre, according to the time they had been offered without being taken. Lands of ten years ' standing were appraised at $1 per acre; of fifteen years, 75 cents; of twenty, 50 cents; and so on. The act was repealed in 1862; but under the law 23,696,419 acres were disposed of.


—About 1852 a homestead law, or the granting of free homes and on the public domain, became a national question, and was pushed by the "free-soil democracy "In the years that elapsed between 1852 and 1862, when a homestead bill was passed, the contest was severe and bitter, and was marked by a good deal of foolish rant on the subject of land ownership. The free-soil democrats in national convention in 1852 inserted the following in their platform: "that the public lands of the United States belong to the people, and should not be sold to individuals, nor granted to corporations, but should be held as a sacred trust for the benefit of the people, and should be granted in limited quantities, free of cost, to landless settlers." In 1859 the contest in congress centred upon a homestead bill which gave heads of families the right to enter free of cost, 160 acres of public lands. The bill passed the house, but failed in the senate. In 1860 a measure passed both houses of congress by which a head of a family might enter upon a quarter section of land, and after the expiration of five years might purchase the same at twenty-five cents per acre. The bill further provided that "all lands lying within the limits of a state, which have been subject to sale at private entry, and which remain unsold after the lapse of thirty years, shall be * * ceded to the state in which the same shall be situated." President Buchanan vetoed the measure, on the ground that it was unequal and unjust. In 1862 a homestead bill was passed, and this, with the amendments since adopted, forms the law as it stands to-day. Concerning it, the land commission says: "The present homestead law contains all the beneficial features of the pre-emption act, with the addition suggested by experience and the changed condition of national life. The eighth section of the act contains the substance of the pre-emption act in the matter of purchase. * * It contains one feature as broad in its terms and as beneficial in its principle as the domain it covers. It is as follows: 'No land acquired under the provisions of this act shall, in any event, become liable to the satisfaction of any debt or debts contracted prior to the issuing of the patent therefor.' The homestead act is now the approved and preferred method of acquiring title to the public lands. It has stood the test of eighteen years, and was the outgrowth of a system extending through nearly eight years; and now, within the circle of a hundred years since the United States acquired the first of her public lands, the homestead act stands as the concentrated wisdom of legislation for a settlement of the public lands. It protects the government, it fills the states with homes, it builds up communities, and lessens the chances of social and civil disorder by giving ownership of the soil, in small tracts, to the occupants thereof. It was copied from no other nation's system. It was originally and distinctively American, and remains a monument to its originators."


—Such, in brief, has been the history of the public lands in this country. There are a number of other important measures that have been adopted for preserving and disposing of these lands, such as the land bounties for military and naval service, the 2, 3 and 5 per cent. funds granted to the states out of the proceeds of sales of lands, the Indian and military reservations, scrip lands, timber and timber-culture laws and a flood of donations, public and private; but they need only be mentioned here, as many will be treated in other parts of this work.


Statistics. According to estimates the aggregate area of the public lands of the United States disposed of and remaining of June 30, 1880, was 2,894,235.91 square miles, or, 1,852,310,987 acres. The territory now included within the limits of Tennessee was not disposed of under the direction of the executive department of the general government, and deducting this, the actual public domain is 1,821,700,922 acres. Up to June 30, 1880, there have been surveyed in the land states and territories, 752,557.195 acres of the public domain, and there remain to be surveyed, 1,069,143,727 acres. The surveyed, lands yet undisposed of are estimated at 204,802,711.12 acres, which with the unsurveyed, make a total of 1,273,946,438.12 acres of land still the property of the United States, and subject to disposition; from which must be deducted the grants to railroads and private land claims. Since the passage of the ordinance of 1785 to June 30, 1880, a total net sum of $200,702,849.11 has been realized by the national government from the sales of lands, fees, etc., as follows:

1787. Sold at New York, 72,974 acres (cash)... $117,108.24
1790. Sold at Pittsburgh, 148,446 acres (certificates and land warrants)... 100,427 53
1792. To state of Pennsylvania (certificates of public debt)... 151,640 25
1792. To John Cleves Symmes, 272,540 acres (army warrants)... 189,693.00
1792. To Ohio Co., 892,900 acres (certificates and army warrants)... 642,856.66
  Total... $1,201,725.68

Subsequent of June 30, 1796.
1796... $4,893.13
1797... 83,540.60
1798... 11,963.11
1799... ...
1800... 443 75
1801... 167,726 06
1802... 188,628.02
1803... 165,675 69
1804... 487,536.79
1805... 540,123 80
1806... 765,245.73
1807... 466,163.27
1808... 647,939 06
1809... 442,252 33
1810... 696,548 82
1811... 1,040,237 53
1812... 710,427.78
1813... 835,655 14
1814... 1,135,971 09
1815... 1,287,959.28
1816... 1,717,985.03
1817... 1,991,236.06
1818... 2,606,564.77
1819... 3,274,422.78
1820... 1,635,871.61
1821... 1,212,966.46
1822... 1,808,581.54
1823... 916,523.10
1824... 984,418.15
1825... 1,216,090.58
1826... 1,393,785.09
1827... 1,495,845.26
1828... 1,018,308.73
1829... 1,517,175.13
1830... 2,329,356.14
1831... 3,210,815.48
1832... 2,623,381.03
1833... 3,967,682.55
1834... 4,857,600.69
1835... 14,757,600.75
1836... 24,877,179.86
1837... 6,776,236.62
1838... 3,730,945.66
1839... 7,361,578.40
1840... 3,411,818.63
1841... 1,365,627.42
1842... 1,835,797.52
1843... 898,158.18
1844... 2,069,939.80
1845... 2,077,022.30
1846... 2,694,452.18
1847... 2,498,355.20
1848... 3,328,642.36
1849... 1,688,959.55
1850... 1,859,894.25
1851... 2,352,305.30
1851... 2,043,299.58
1853... 1,667,084.99
1854... 8,470,798.39
1855... 11,497,049.07
1856... 8,917,644.93
1857... 3,829,486.64
1858... 3,513,715.87
1859... 1,756,687.30
1860... 1,778,557.71
1861... 870,658.51
1862... 152,203.77
1863... 167,617.17
1864... 588,333.29
1865... 996,353.31
1866... 665,031.03
1867... 1,163,575.76
1868... 1,348,715.41
1869... 4,620,344.34
1870... 3,350,481.76
1871... 2,388,646.68
1872... 2,575,714.19
1873... 2,882,312.38
1874... 1,852,428.93
1875... 1,413,640.17
1876... 1,129,466.95
1877... 976,253.68
1878... 1,079,743.37
1879... 924,781.06
1880... 2,283,118.65
Total... $208,059,657.14

From which must be deducted the amounts paid to the states ($7,356,808.03), making a net total of $200,702,849.11. The total cost of the public domain, purchases and cessions, surveying and expenses of disposition, extinguishing Indian titles, etc., has been $302,049,595.96, so that to June 30, 1881, the public domain had cost $121,346,746.85 more than it had realized. It is estimated that the value of the lands yet to be disposed. of is, under existing laws, $1,159,921,661.


—The land has been in part disposed of as follows:

Cash sales, including preemptions, etc., and probably 30,000,000 or more acres accounted for under other acts, and commutation of homesteads... 169,832,364
Donation acts, Florida, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico... 3,084,797
Land bounties, military and naval service... 61,028,430
State selections (act of 1841) for internal improvements... 7,806,334
Salines granted to states... 539,965
Town sites and county seats... 148,916
Railroad land grants patented... 45,650,025
Canal grants... 4,424,073
Military wagon-road grants... 1,301,010
Mineral lands sold since 1868... 148,621
Homesteads (other than commuted)... 55,667,041
Scrip lands... 2,893,011
Coal lands... 10,750
Stone and timber acts, 1878... 20,782
Swamp and overflowed lands to states... 69,206,322
Graduation act, 1854... 25,696,419
Schools, seminaries and agricultural colleges... 78,659,439
Area held under the timber culture act... 9,346,660
Desert land act... 897,160


—AUTHORITIES. American State Papers, vols. on Public Lands; Benton's Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, and the Congressional Globe and Record; the Reports of the General Land Office, and later, of the Secretary of the Interior; Works of Hamilton, Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Adams. The most complete record of legislation respecting public lands is to be found in the Report of the Land Commission, Exec. Doc. 47, part 4, H. of R., 46th congress, 3d session. There are also a number of reports on the same subject to be found among the public documents.


Notes for this chapter

This area was also claimed by Virginia, and was included in her cession
These western reserve and fire lands, amounting in all to about 4,300,000 acres, were also ceded by Virginia. By "fire lands" are meant such as were donated by Connecticut to those of her citizens who had suffered by fire and raids during the revolution.
This exemption from local taxation was part of the credit system, its intention being to prevent any part of the means of the debtor from being drawn from him by taxation during the time given him to comply with his engagement to the government.
A similar law was passed in 1816.

Footnotes for RENT

End of Notes

882 of 1105

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