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LECTURES ONE HUNDRED AND ONE TO ONE HUNDRED
Modern Economic Progress and Problems, 1865—1916
101. The Public Land System
THE UNITED STATES
THE PUBLIC LAND SYSTEM,
The transformation wrought by westward immigration since Civil War Ending of the public sales period in
1841 - The Homestead Law - The Timber Culture Act Land entries to 1908 -- Area of public domail: in 1900 --- Average acreage of farms — Tendency toward individual ownership of small holdings.
URING the four and a half dec- between 1800 and 1860, but most of
ades after the Civil War, the these were of transitory character.
disposition of the public lands All were based upon the idea of sales, proceeded more rapidly and more sys- by which the Government should draw tematically than ever before. An in- money into the Treasury. The first creasing population spread over the plan of selling on credit was not sucentire West and Alaska, and more cessful, and the cash system adopted land was taken up than in the preced- in 1821 resulted in wild land specuing 80 years of the Republic. The lation and little actual settlement. laws which mostly affected the public The preëmption act of 1841 marked domain subsequent to the ordinance of the end of the public sales period. 1783 were enacted after 1860 and Thereafter the land was in theory operated to transform what was once open to actual settlers only, at a minia vast desert territory into a land of mum of $1.25 per acre, and under this cities and towns, flourishing farms, system there was a steady and healthrich mining districts and seats of ful progress in sales and settlements manufacturing industries. That is the one overwhelming fact in the land his- The very considerable failure of tory of the country in this period. these early laws to accomplish all that
In the first 60 years of the land was desired in the making over of this policy of the United States the settle- new territory, provoked constant agiment motive gradually superseded the tation in Congress for more than a financial motive which at first con- quarter of a century prior to the Civil trolled the disposition of the public War. As early as 1852 the project of domain. Various laws were passed a homestead law was agitated and
for 20 years.
shortly became a question of National Land Act accomplished the ends for politics. The Free Soil Democracy which they were designed, being made that one of its leading political among the many causes of the land principles. For eight years legisla- frauds so conspicuous in this period. tion to this end was bandied about Laws existing in the opening decade from one branch of Congress to the of the Twentieth century for the sale other, but not before 1860 was a home- and disposition of the public domains stead bill actually passed, and then permitted entries and locations by inonly to be vetoed by President dividuals, associations and corporaBuchanan.
tions. Several classes of land were In 1862 the Homestead Law was recognized, as follows: mineral, timfinally adopted. Under this law any ber and stone, saline, town-site, desert, actual settler could secure a section of coal, and agricultural. In this period 160 acres for nothing, provided only contention became rife over the minhe should live upon and cultivate the eral, coal and timber lands, and their land. This principle of dividing and preservation in the interests of the distributing the land free of cost in general public was a problem that order to promote general settlement loomed large in the administrations of has been adhered to as a definite Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, who governmental policy ever since. Its would keep them from the hands of success in populating and developing promoters and corporations. a domain of princely proportions Land entries in acres to the close of and in contributing to enrich and the fiscal year June 30, 1908, were: strengthen the Nation, despite failures homestead, 11,424,828; timber and and abuses that have been connected stone, 11,832,131; desert, 4,869,368; with it, has far exceeded the most ex- coal, 474,834. The acreage set apart travagant prophecies made concern- from National forests was 167,974,886. ing its probable effects.
The unappropriated acreage was 754,From 1863 to 1891 the Timber Cul- 895,296, and there were 655,040,084 ture Act was in effect. This measure acres of unsurveyed lands. In the provided specifically for the planting two decades 1890–1910 the public lands and cultivating of timber as a method continued to be taken up rapidly. In of acquiring individual ownership of 1890 there remained unappropriated land sections. In 1873 a Desert Land and unsurveyed 955,746,461 acres, Act was passed by Congress. This which in 1910 had been reduced to had liberal provisions intended to en- 711,986,409. This area was largely in courage the taking up of large tracks Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Neof undesirable land requiring irriga- vada, New Mexico, California, Colotion to make them productive. Neither rado, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. the Timber Culture Act nor the Desert More than one-half of it, 368,014,735 acres, was in Alaska. It is interesting 105; Western, 386. This record is to note that some of it still remains in especially interesting as an illustraa few of the older States — Alabama, tion of the gradual breaking up of Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, large estates into small holdings. In Mississippi and Louisiana. Land the East this began early in the Eighoffices are established in 28 States and teenth century, when the feudal propTerritories.
erties and large land patents of thouThe total area of the public domain sands of acres were disintegrated and in 1900, grouped in five divisions and came into the hands of many small expressed in square miles, was: North owners. In the South and the West, Atlantic, 162,103 ; South Atlantic, 268,- owing to the abundance of land in pro
; 620; North Central, 753,550; South portion to the population, the moveCentral, 610,215; Western, 1,125,742. ment was later in starting, but it came In the same year the farm acreage, inevitably with the increase in popuimproved and unimproved, in these lation. In the North Central and the five sections was, respectively, 65,409,- Western regions the larger farm acre 089, 104,297,501, 317,349,474, 257,738,- average remained in 1900 what it was 845 and 93,796,860; total, 838,591,774. in 1850.
. In preceding decades the farm acre- The acreage of the Western farms age, improved and unimproved, was: was double and treble that of other 1850, 293,560,614; 1860, 407,212,538; sections, and yet it was much smaller 1870, 407,735,041; 1880, 536,081,835; than in the years immediately follow1890, 623,218,619. During this half- ing the Civil War. In the latter century (1850–1900) the improved period came the great grazing ranches, acreage showed a large and steady in- thousands of acres in extent, and the crease, from 113,032,614 acres in 1850 attempts of the cattle and sheep men to 414,793,191 acres in 1900. In the to fence in tracts of land equal to small North Central section there was the States. For at least two decades there greatest advance in improved farm was a steady warfare between the acreage, due in large measure to the herdsmen on the one side and the Gov. phenomenal agricultural development ernment, State and National, and the of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and public on the other, in regard to this neighboring States.
monopolizing of the public domain; From 1850 to 1900 there was an the question of ownership by alien almost regular decrease, decade by landlords entered considerably into decade, in the average size of farms. the consideration of the subject. At In 1900 the average acreage of farms the end of the first decade of the in the different sections was: North Twentieth century large ranches were Atlantic, 96; South Atlantic, 108; still in existence. Many of them have North Central, 144; South Central, since disappeared, however, and the