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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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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, Office of. This bureau of the interior department at Washington is in charge of an officer styled the commissioner of the general land office, which is his legal title, although he is generally known as commissioner of the public lands. The first official designation of such an office was by act of April 25, 1812, which established it in the department of the treasury; but the duties were greatly enlarged in 1836 (5 Stat. at Large, P. 107), and the commissioner was placed under the immediate direction of the president. The office was placed under the secretary of the interior at the creation of that department in 1849. The duties of the commissioner are to discharge or supervise all executive acts appertaining to the surveying and sale of the public lands of the United States. He is to record and issue all patents for land under the authority of the government, whether on private claims, homestead or timber-culture entry, pre-emption claims, every by land warrants, or congressional grants to states or corporations for education or public improvements. Being thus charged with the care of the entire public domain, the office involves great responsibility and legal knowledge. Besides the commissioner, whose salary is $4,000, there is a recorder of the general land office, likewise appointed by the president and senate, and three principal clerks (of surveys, of public lands, and on private land claims), besides a secretary to the president to sign land patents under the seal of the office, all of whom are appointed by the president. The general land office employs a total force of 218 clerks, costing $287,820 in 1882. The commissioner is required to make an annual report to congress, embracing all the statistics of surveys and sales of public lands during the year. These reports make a valuable series of volumes. Extensive maps of the United States, showing the public domain unappropriated, are issued from time to time; also, circulars of information regarding the method of purchase or free entry of any of the public lands, which may be had on application to the commissioner. The commissioner, and all officers and clerks in the general land office, are forbidden by law to purchase or to become interested in the purchase of any of the public lands. All the accounts connected with the public lands are audited in the general land office. The large number of clerks required for the current business of the land office are in the interior department building.


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