John J. (John Joseph) Lalor.

Cyclopædia of political science, political economy, and of the political history of the United States online

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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, yield-
ing a profit in crops to the farmer, and increas-
ing 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 1803 a grant
of land for public improvements in Ohio bad
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. Be-
tween 1834 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 im-
portant 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being introduced, and in a few years superseded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 constriiction of a railroad, but it
was not utilized by the state. As showing the
small beginnings made in these grants, it is inter-
esting 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 nec-
essary 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 1885-6.
The important points of th'e act of September,
1850, which made a grant to Illinois of land to
aid the construction of a raih-oad (the Illinois Cen-
tral) 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 occu-
pied, 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 re-
tained by the government was raised to $2.50 per
acre (double minimum), the former price being
$1 .25 per acre (single minimum). This was to in-
demnify the government for the lands granted,
and was believed to be just on account of the ad-
vantage 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 Illi-
nois, the railroad stipulated to pay to the state
from 5 to 7 per cent, on its gross receipts. " The
state thus far has received, in 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, v?hich -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), 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,
hut little was accomplished till California was ad-
mitted into the Union, in 1850. From 1850 till
1862 the debates of Congress contain the recor&
of a large number of bills, resolutions, petitions
and reports upon this project, and the war depart-
ment organized 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 such a road. The political
parties took up the subject. In 1856 the demo-
crats, 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 platform 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 marking a complete change in the system.
The company was given right of way, allow-
ances for shops, stations, etc., and in aid of con-
struction, every alternate section of public land
(odd numbered),unless previously disposed of, re-
served 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.
Prom 1850 to 1873 a total of 155,504,994 acres was
granted for railroad construction, of which more
than half was given in the years 1863 and 1864.
Willis Drummond, Jr. (in Major Powell's Report
on the "Lands of the Arid Eegion," 1878) esti-
mated, that if the lands embraced in limits of

grants to railroads to June, 1880, were all availa-
ble, and if the corporations, state and national,
built their roads and coiiiplied 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 these
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 12i 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 35,696,419 acres were
disposed of. — About 1853 a homestead law, or the
granting of free homes from and on the public
domain, became a national question, and was
pushed by the "free-soil democracy." In the
years that elapsed between 1853 and 1863, 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 individ-
uals, 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. Con-
cerning it, the land commission says: "The pres-
ent homestead law contains all the beneficial
features of the pre-emption act, with the addi-
tions 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 tlie 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
eighty 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 serv-
ice, 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
on June 30, 1880, was 3,894,235.91 square miles,
or, 1,853,310,987 acres. The territory now in-
cluded within the limits of Tennessee was not dis-
posed of under the direction of the executive de-
partment of the general government, and deduot-
' ing this, the actual public domain is 1,821,700,922
acres. Up to June 30, 1880, there have been sur-
veyed in the land states and territories, 753,557,195
acres of the public domain, and there remain
to be surveyed, 1,069,143,727 acres. The sur-
veyed lands yet undisposed of are estimated at
304,803,711.12 acres, which, with the unsurveyed,
make a total of 1,273,946,438.13 acres of land
still the property of the United States, and sub-
ject 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:





Sold at New York, 72,974 acres (cash) % 117,108.24

Sold at Pittsburgh, 143,446 acres (certifi-
cates and land warrants). 100,427.53

To state of Pennsylvania (certificates of
public debt) 151,640.25

To John Cleves Symmes, 272,640 acres
(army warrants) 189,693.00

To Ohio Co., 892,900 acres (certificates
and army warrants) 642,856.66

Total $1,201,725.68

Subsequent to June 30, 1796.

801 -.
805- .
809- .
814- .
815- .
817- .
819- .




.834 -


,635,871 .
,803,581 .
,623,381 .

1839 S 7,361,676.

1840 3,411818

1841 1,365,627

1842 1,335,797.

1843 898,158.

1844 2,059,939.

1845 2,077,088.

1846 2,694,46!!,

1847 2,498,355.

1848 3,328,642.

1849 1,688,969.

1850 1,860,894,

1851 2,352,805.

1852 2,043,239.

1853 1,667,084.

1854 8,470,798.

1855 11,497049.

1856 8,917,644.

1857 3,829,486.

1858 3,613,716.

1859 1,756.687.

1860 1,778,667.

1861 870,668.



1866 665,081.

1867 1,163,575,

1868 1,348,715.

1869 4,680,344.

1870 3.350,481,

1871 2,388,646.

1872 2,675,714.

1873 2882,812,

1874 1,862,428.

1875 1,413,640.

1876 1,129,466.

1877 976,253.

1878 1,079,748.

1879 934,781.

1880 8,283,118.

Total 8208,069,667.14

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 do-
main, purchases and cessions, surveying and ex-
penses of disposition, extinguishing Indian titles,
etc., has been $332,049,595.96, so that to June 80,
1880, 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, un-
der existing laws, $1 ,159,931 ,661. — The land has
been in part disposed of as follows :

Cash sales, includingpre-emptions, etc., and prob-
ably 30,000,000 or more acres accounted for under Acres,
other acts, and commutation of homesteads... 169,832,564
Donation acts, Morida, Oregon, Washington and

New Mexico - - 3,084,i97

Land bounties, military and naval service 61,028,430

State selections (act of 1841) for internal improve-
ments ■ 7,806,554

Salines granted to states 659,965

Town sites and county seats — 148,916

Railroad land grants patented ■45,660,086

Canal grants 4,434,073

Military wagon-road grants - l,301,0w

Mineral lands sold since 1866 148,621

Homesteads (other than commuted) 56,667,044

Scrip lands 8.893,034

Coal lands 1".^

Stone and timber acts, 1878 30,783

Swamp and overflowed lands to states 69,206,533

Graduation act, 1854 25,696,419

Schools, semmarics and agricultnrsil colleges ''^'"^''iSn

Area held under the timber culture act ^''^'^

Desert land act 897,160

— Authorities. American State Papers, vols, on
Public Lands; Benton's Abridgment of the Debates




cf Congress, and the Congressional Globe and Bec-
ord; the Reports of the General Land Office, and lat-
er, of the Secretary of the Interior; Works of Mamil-
ton, Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Adams. The most
complete record of legislation respecting public
lands is to be found in the Beport of the Land Com-
mission. Exec. Doc. 47, part 4, H. of R., 46th con-
gress, 3d session. There are also a number of re-
ports on the same subject to be found among the
public documents. Worthington C. Foed.

PUBLIC LANDS, Office of. This bureau of
the interior department at Washington is in charge
of an ofScer styled the commissioner of the gen-
eral 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 secre-
tary of the interior at the creation of that depart-
ment in 1849. The duties of the commissioner
are to discharge or supervise all executive acts
appertaining to the surveying and sale of the pub-
lic 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 tiihber-culture entry, pre-emption
■claims, entry 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, like-
wise appointed by the president and senate, and
three principal clerks (of surveys, of public land's,
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 $387,820 in
1882. The commissioner is required to make an
annual report to congress, embracing all the statis-
tics 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 in-
formation 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 pur-
chase or to become interested in the purchase of
My of the public lands. All the accounts con-
nected with the public lands are audited in the
general land office. The large number of clerks
requhed for the current business of the land office
•are in the interiot department building.

A. R. Spopfobd.

PUBLIC OPINION. The power of public
opinion has vastly increased in the civilized world
in the last century. Even those who affect to
scorn it, can not deny this, and the statesman is
compelled to take this new "great power "into
consideration. It has become the authority of the
uneducated masses as well as the study of philos-
ophers. What, then, is public opinion? Whereon
does its power rest ? Where are its organs ? At
what does it aim ? — When a religious impulse
takes hold of the masses, as in times of the found-
ation of new, or the reformation of old, religions,
and carries them in a definite direction, we do not
call the expression of this common religious sen-
timent "public opinion "; but we are inclined to
characterize the general, though sometimes bois-
terous, utterance of a popular political desire, as a
demand of public opinion. Whence this differ-
ence? Public opinion always supposes free judg-
ment, which is possible in political affairs, but un-
usual in religious emotions. Therefore, without
cultivation of the reasoning powers and the capa-
bility of judging, there can be no public opinion;
it can onl)' thrive in freedom. The ancients knew
it well and esteemed it highly. Vox popuU wx
Dei. — In the middle ages public opinion could
make but little progress. Barbarians knew noth-
ing of it, and despoKsm stifled it. It is neither
the opinion of the mighty nor that of a few sages:
it is principally the opinion of the great middle
classes. In the same proportion as the middle
classes give their attention to public affairs and
form an opinion on their political interests, the
power of public opinion prevails; and the more
influential the middle classes become, the more
respect public opinion commands. Hence its great
significance in the present : for the influence of
the middle classes has never been greater in the
state than now. — It is a radical exaggeration to
declare public opinion infallible, and to ascribe
mastery to it as a matter of right. Men with a •
deep insight into public life and its requirements
have never been very numerous, and it is very
uncertain whether they can succeed in making
their opinion public opinion. The minority of
learned men and philosophers seldom agrees with
the large majority of the middle classes. The
common judgment of the educated classes, even,
is almost always superficial. It is impossible for
them to know all the particulars and discover all
the causes on which the decision of important
affairs depends. Public opinion may be disturbed,
or may even be artfully misled by the momentary
'passions of the multitude. A single prominent
individual may judge aright where every one
about him judges falsely. But, preposterous as
such overrating of public opinion may be, the
haughty contem'pt with which many, doctrinarians
look down upon it, and the vam scorn for it of
petty minds, are no less foolish. Even if public
opinion is misguided and falls into error, it should
not be treated with contempt and sneered at,^ be-
cause it is an intellectual power which has an irre-
sistible influence on the rise and downfall of



leading statesmen and on the destiny of nations.
It is almost impossible, with the representative
constitutions of to-day, that a system opposed to
public opinion should long remain dominant. But
the value of public opinion has a deeper cause
than the external influence it exercises. Do not
all political order and all law, in the last analysis,
rest upon the common consciousness of nations?
and in this is not the wisdom of the Creator mani-
fest, who has given human nature a moral con-
science as well as logical intellectual power, so
that it may understandingly and morally discrim-
inate between right and wrong, and decide what
is useful or injurious to the public welfare? The
public conscience, and particularly public opinion,
are chiefly developed in the middle classes, and
hence so much importance is to be attached to
their judgment, where there is question of the
interests of the community, i. e. , of the state. —
"Public opinion," writes Niebuhr, "is that opin-
ion which arises in minds uncontrolled by per-
sonal influence — an influence which might mislead
those in power — that opinion which, in spite of the
difEerence in individuals and of the very different
conditions or situations in which they are placed,
is so unanimously expressed, and not merely re-
peated by one man after another, that it may be
taken as an utterance of universal truth and rea-
son, and even as the voice of God himself." Pub-
lic opinion may be compai-ed to the chorus in
ancient tragedy, which, observing the actions and
sufferings of the dramatis peraonm, gives expres-
sion to the emotions and opinions of the common
consciousness of all. On the whole, it is equiva-
lent to the verdict of a jury in a case of law. —
Public opinion is formed by innumerable impres-
sions and observations, by deliberations in the
various spheres of society. But it is always con-
trolled and determined by the public conscience
and the established principles of the nation. It
manifests itself in the most varied forms, in free
public speech, in the family, in the drawing room
and the tavern, in meetings of every kind, and,
above all, in the press and the national representa-
tions of the people. In the latter it becomes even

Online LibraryJohn J. (John Joseph) LalorCyclopædia of political science, political economy, and of the political history of the United States → online text (page 123 of 290)