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confederation; and under this compact the union of the colonies was complete.
The cession of New York was accepted October, 1782. One of its conditions was, that the lands ceded should “be and inure for the use and benefit of such of the United States” as should "become members of the federal alliance," and for “no other use or purpose whatever.”
In March, 1781, Virginia's cession was executed and accepted. One of its conditions was, that the lands ceded should be
"Considered as a common fund for the Use and benefit of such of the United States as have becoine, or shall become, members of the confederation or federal alliance of the United States, Virginia inclusive, according to their usual respective proportions in the general charge and expenditure, and shall be faithfully and bona fide disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever."
In 1785, '86, and '87, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina made cessions of their lands on similar conditions.
Our present government was organized on 5th of March, 1789. The only allusion made to the public lands in the constitution was:
"The 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 considered as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular Staie."
North Carolina's cession of land was accepted in April, 1790, and Georgia's in June, 1802. These cessions, almost in the terms of those of Virginia, except that Georgia's omitted the clause, “according to their usual respective proportions in the general charge and expenditure,” were, like those of all the other colonies, a response to the recommendation of the confederation, and adopted by, and made binding upon, the government, to guard them as a common fund for the common benefit of all the States.
In May, 1785, within a year after the cession by Virginia, and before that froin any other State, except New York, Congress passed an ordinance regulating the survey of the public domain, which is the basis of our present system. From this, it has been gradually built up by a long course of executive direction and congressional legislation.
On the 18th May, 1796, Congress passed the first law for the sale of the public lands.
The first land offices were opened at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The price fixed was $2 per acre-one-half cash, the residue in one year. On the 10th of May, 1800, Congress extended the credit to one-fourth cash, the residue in four years. The credit granted induced excessive purchases, and in 1805 and '6, and at different perio is subsequently up to 1820, Congress passed relief laws in mitigation of the system. In 1820, the present cash system was adopted, and the price reduced to $1 25 per acre.
Appeals to Congress for relief now ceased. This was the first decided improvement in the system.
After this, acts of pre-emption were, at various times, passed by Congress, but limited and remedial in their character, until the 4th September, 1841, when our present prospective and general pre-emption law was passed. This was the second great improvement in the system.
A graduation bill, founded upon the exercise of the discretion a proprietor exhibits--discriminating in price according to the value of his lands — I consider the third great improvement in the system. This, although often urged upon Congress as a constitutional and wise mode of disposing of the large tracts of nearly worthless land owned by the general government within the limits of the land States, has never yet become a law. A bill of this ebaracter, introduced by the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. COBB), passed this House a few weeks since, and now awaits the action of the Senate.
SUCH IS THE HISTORY OF THE ORIGINAL ACQUISITION OF THE PURLIC LANDS BY THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT, AND THEIR ORGANIZATION UNDER OUR PRESENT LAND SYSTEM.
The machinery for their administration was inaugurated in the idea that the public lands were common property, pledged for the common debt, under the exclusive, but not unlimited, control of the general government, and to be used for the common benefit. It acted upon them as a surrender in the common interest, surrounded by the same checks, and to be disposed of subject to the same constitutional limitations, as the funds of the common treasury. Their management was placed under the Treasury Department; their proceeds paid into the common fund; and, except in the discrimination imposed by a proprietorship in kind, rather than in money, the same principles were to govern their administration.
Under these views, the machinery of the system has been devel. oped from a single room in the Treasury Department, at an annual expense in 1802, in Washington, of $1,754, and throughout the country $4,765 26–total, including land offices and surveyors, $6,519 26-into a General Land Office, created in 1812, with a Commissioner, appointed by the President, and elevated, in 1848, into almost a distinct branch of the government, under the Secretary of the Interior, at a cost, according to the estimate of this year, of $189,875 for the Land Office at Washington, and $842,640 or the other land offices and surveying departmentsin all $532,515, exclusive of California. The land system began its operation upon the land Acres.
in the Territories alone, amounting to ............ 243,990,821 Acquired from Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut........
.............158,660,299 From Georgia.................. ............ 58,898,522 From North and South Carolina....... 26,432,000 And has extended to those since acquired, amounting to .........
Acquired from France, 1804............ 751,363,501
Making in all..........,
..1,409,380,562 within the Territories and thirteen States of the Union.
It had in 1802, eleven era ployés throughout the Union. It has now in the Territories and thirteen land States 336 federal officers, operating upon interests purely local, and of the highest importance to the citizens of the States-all controlled by, and in direct correspondence with, the general office at Washington.
Under its administration there had been surveyed, up to June 30, 1853, 336,202,587 acres—leaving then unsurveyed, 1,073,177,975 acres.
The expenses of all the branches of the government have increased in the same time, from $3,737,080 in 1802, to about $50,000,000 in 1853.
The population of the United States at the time of the system's organization, in 1800, was 5,305,925; in 1850, 23,191,876.
THE BILL THAT I HAVE OFFERED AS A SUBSTITUTE TO THE ONE BEFORE THE HOUSE, IS IN THE IDEA THAT THIS SYSTEM HAS BECOME UNWIELDY; AND FROM A DEVELOPMENT, UNANTICIPATED AT ITS INSTITUTION, FAILED TO ACCOMPLISH THE PURPOSES OF ITS CREATION.
It proposes to take nothing from the present land system which experience has shown to be valuable; but freeing it of incumbranccs, to make permanent its three great improvements, and render them more effective.
It does not propose to sell or give away the public lands to the States within which they lie, but simply to transfer to them their administration, on conditions highly just and equitable to all the States-insuring greater attention to local interests, contravening no mooted constitutional point, simplifying the system, curtailing executive patronage, and confining its operation, as originally, to the Territories
The amount of public lands within the States, [excluding California, which has 113,682,436 acres,] the administration of which will be conferred upon the States, is 168,178,818 acres; the amount of public land in the Territories, upon which the present system will continue to operate, is 864,069,170 acres.
Mr. Chairman, the vast importance of this public domain to the future interests of the country carnot be appreciated. While in Great Britain proper and equal distribution of land would give a little over two acres to each individual, in the United States it would give 105 acres. This is the great peculiarity of our country. It is our security, and a magnificent basis upon which to erect our future greatness. We should not basten to destroy it,
but leave its settlement and reduction to cultivation to the operation of natural causes, aided by permanent laws.
I HAVE SAID THE SUBSTITUTE I OFFER IS DIRECTED AGAINST A VICE OP ORGANIZATION, AND NOT OF PRINCIPLE. I will be better understood, perhaps, if I say the evils of our present land system result chiefly from its organization. These evils will be best considered in connexion with the remedies proposed. WHAT IS THE SUBSTITUTE ?
PROVISIONS OF THE BILL. It provides for the cession of the public lands in the States of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and California, to these States respectively, on certain conditions.
The said States are to pay into the United States treasury 75 per centum on the gross amount of their sales of such lands.
“That the minimum price, as now fixed by law, shall remain unchanged until the 30th day of June, 1855; but, after that period, the price may be reduced by the States respectively, according to the following scale: all lands theretofore of fered at public sale, and then remaining unsold ten years or upward preceding the 30th day of June, 1855, aforesaid, may be reduced by said States to a price not less than one dellar per acre; and all lands that may have been offered at public sale, and remaining unsold fifteen years or upward foreceding the said 30th day of June, 1855, may thereafter be reduced to a price not less than seventy-five cents per acre; and all lands that may have been offered at public sale, and remaining unsold twenty years or upward preceding the said 30th day of June, 1855, may then be reduced by said States to a price not less then fifty cents per acre, and all lands that may have been offered at public sale, and remaining unsold twenty-five years or upward preceding the said 30th day of June, 1855, may thereafter be reduced by said States to a price not less than twenty-five cents per acre; and all lands that may have been offered at public sale, and remaining unsold thirty years or upward preceding the said 30th day of June, 1855, shallle ceded immediately to the States in which said lands are situated: Prorided, That all lands which shall remain unsold after having been offered at public sale for ten years, and which do not come under the above provisions, shall be subject to the provisions of pre-emption, graduation, and disposition aforesaid, at the respective periods of ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, and thirty years after said sale, commencing from the expiration of ten years aster the same had been offered at public sale."
The lands are to be subject to the existing legal sul divisions, reserving for each township and fractional township the sixteenth section for the use of schools.
Land sold at public auction to be subject to entry for cash only, according to a fixed gr: duation.
Acts of Congress in force at the time of the passage of this act to remain unchanged, unless modified by this act.
Lands after private entry may be sold, at the option of the purchaser, in quarter-quarter sections. This disposition of lands to the States shall be in full of the five per cent. fund not already accrued to any State-said State to be liable for all the expense of sales and management of said lands, and for extinguishing Indian titles,
On failure to comply with the provisions of this act, the cession of lands to any delinquent State to be void ; and all grants or titles thereafter made by any such State to be also void.
After every reduction in the price of the lands by the States, as provided for, the State legislatures may grant to the settlers on such lands rights of pre-emp. tion, to last for 12 months, at such reduced rates; lands not taken by settlers at the end of that time may be entered by any other person, until the next reduction takes place, when, if not previously purchased, they shall be subject to the right of pre-emption for 12 months; and so on, from time to time, as said reductions take place.
The President to close the land offices, surveyor's office, &c., in any State included in this act, that shall, as provided, accept the provisions of this act; and
the commissions of said land officers and surveyors to expire at a period not beyond six months after the time for the law to take effect.
That from the passage of this act the States accepting the transfer under the terms offered, shall be relieved from all restrictions to tax any land by the authority subject to the sale thereof; and all maps, papers, books, and accounts, relative to said lands, now in the General Land Office at Washington, shall be subject to the order of the Executives of the accepting States.
This was the bill as originally introduced by Mr. Speaker Boyd. To this I have added two amındments. The first amendment is % proviso to the first section, and is designed to authorize the States to grant alternate sections of land for railroad purposes. It is as follows:
“ Provided, That the State may, on the payment of the price fixed by this bill for the land along any railroad line, indemnity itself for the grant of alternate sections of land to such railroad by disposing of the remaining sections along the line at double the price fixed by this bill.”
This amendment embraces the question of granting alternate sections of land for railroads, and transfers the question to the States within which the lands are situated.
It authorizes the States to grant alternate sections of land along railroad lines within their borders, and idemnify themselves by disposing of the remaining sections along the line at double the price fixed by the bill.
By it each State may grant, at its discretion, that aid to railroad interests within its borders that is now asked of the general government. Under its operation, the general government is guarantied by the State against any loss in the grant of alternate sections, and each State is made the judge, under the responsibil. ity of a pecuniary interest, in what cases the grant should be made; for, as soon as a grant is made of alternate sections to any railroad, the State pays the regular per centage that would be due, upon the sale of those lands, to the general government, and is reimbursed, as already stated, by the sale of the remaining sections at double price. The other amendment extends the time for right of pre-emption, in the second section, from ninety days to twelve months, and is for the benefit of actual settlers.
The lands in Territories are not affected by the provisions of the
Under this bill the railroad interest is amply protected, the gen. eral government is more than reimbursed for the purchase and survey of the public lands, and relieved of an onerous and annoying agency in their disposal, while the citizens of all the States are guarantied the advantages of a graduation in their price.
The States are benefitted by having settled within their borders all those annoying land claims and conflicting titles that come up to Washington from all quarters, to be decided frequently upon imperfect testimony.
Most of the western States have already State as well as federal land offices within their limits. Under this bill the State land of. fices will do the work of both.