Stephen Arnold Douglas.

A brief treatise upon constitutional and party questions and the history of political parties, as I received it orally from the late Senator Stephen A. Douglas online

. (page 9 of 11)
Online LibraryStephen Arnold DouglasA brief treatise upon constitutional and party questions and the history of political parties, as I received it orally from the late Senator Stephen A. Douglas → online text (page 9 of 11)
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President and the seal of the United States, written
on parchment, which becomes the title deed of the

When any tract of land is thus offered by the
Eegister, and nobody present bids one dollar and a
quarter per acre, the tract is struck off to the United
States, and the next tract is offered in its order.
The sales continue in this manner from day to day,
until all the lands specified in the President's
proclamation have been offered for sale, when the
sale is declared to be closed, and all further business
in the office is suspended for a certain number of
days, to enable the land officers to make up their
records, and transmit their returns of sales in due
form to the General Land Office ; which being done,
the land office, upon proper notice by the Register,
is again opened, and all the lands are exposed from
that time to private sale, with the privilege on the
part of any person who wishes to purchase, to do so
by applying to the Register for a certificate to the
Receiver for any tract or tracts he may select, at
one dollar and a quarter per acre, the minimum
price fixed ; and upon delivering that certificate to
the Receiver, and paying his money, he receives his
duplicate, as in the case of a sale made at public


auction. But in case two or more persons apply to
the Register at the same time, and for the same tract
of land, the Register receives bids from each in the
presence of the others^ and issues his certiiicate to the
highest bidder, specifying the rate per acre, the
number of acres, and the amount of money to be

Prior to 1820 the public lands were sold on a
credit of one, two, three, four, and five years, at two
dollars per acre, and that fact gave rise to the pro
vision in the compacts between the United States,
and the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and
Louisiana, and in short all the States admitted into
the Union previous to 1820, by which each of said
States pledged their faith, in consideration of certain
grants of land for schools and internal improve
ments, not to tax the lands of the United States
within their respective limits for the period of five
years after the date of sale. The object of this stipu
lation was to prevent any person from obtaining a
tax title under the authority of the State, before
the United States had received the full amount of
the purchase money.

The credit system, for tjie sale of the public
lands, produced the most ruinous consequences in
stimulating s\3eculation and inducing people to pur-


chase vast quantities, for which they were not able
to make payments in cases of pecuniary revulsions.
This was partly the case in 181T-'18, and 1819, when
the settlers upon the public lands, and others who
were speculating in them, found themselves indebted
to the United States for many millions of dollars
which they were unable to pay, and being unwilling
to forfeit the installments which they had paid, they
petitioned Congress for relief, and a compromise, by
which they might be permitted to receive a quantity
of the land purchased equal to the payments they
had made, and be released from the remainder, was
asked for. The relief was granted, and the land
system was changed so far as to abolish the credit
system entirely, and to reduce the price from $2 to
$1.25 per acre.

A few years ago Congress passed an act known
as the " Graduation Bill," to the effect that all lands
which had been offered at public sale, and remained
unsold at private sale for the period often years, should
be reduced in price to one dollar per acre ; over ten
years and less than fifteen, seventy-five cents ; over
fifteen and less than twenty, fifty cents ; over twenty
and less than twenty-five, twenty-five cents ; and
over twenty-five years, twelve and a half cents per
acre, provided that no person was permitted to enter


any land at these reduced prices, unless lie was an
actual settler upon the same, and should make oath
that he purchased the same for his own use and cul
tivation, or that the lands were adjoining the farm
upon which he did reside, and that the purchase
was made for the purpose of enlarging his farm and
for his own use, and not to be transferred to another ;
and that in no case should any one person purchase
more than one quarter section at the reduced prices.
Under this law the most shameful abuses were per
petrated by men making false oaths, entering vast
tracts of lands, in some instances in the names of
their infant children and grandchildren not even
three weeks old, oftentimes by connivance of the
public officers, and by hiring persons to enter lands
in different districts.

By reference to the compacts between the United
States and the several new States admitted into the
Union, it will be observed that the section numbered
sixteen in each township throughout the entire State
has been granted for the purpose of public schools ;
seventy-two sections, equal to two entire townships,
for the purpose of establishing a State University,
and five per cent, of the gross proceeds of all the
sales of the public lands within such State, together
with all the salt springs, not exceeding twelve in


number, and one section to each, were granted to
the State for the purposes of education and internal
improvements, which grant was deemed and held
to be in consideration of the surrender by such State
of any equitable claim it might have to tax the lands
and property of the United States within their limits.
Some thirty years ago Congress granted to Ohio,
Indiana, and Illinois, the alternate sections for five
miles on each side of the lines of certain canals,
which said States proposed to make, to aid in their
construction. No other reason seems to have actu
ated or induced the action of Congress in these cases,
except to aid those States in the construction of their
works. In 1850 a Senator from Illinois introduced
a bill granting to that State the alternate sections
for six miles on each side of the line of the Illinois
Central Railroad and its branches, on condition that
the said State should make or cause said railroad to
be made, within ten years from the date of the grant,
and that the United States mails should be forever
transported on the same, under the direction of the
Post-office Department, at a fair compensation ; and
in the event of a disagreement Congress should fix
the same; and on the further condition that the other
alternate sections should be sold at $2.50 per acre,
so as to enable the United States to receive for the


reserved half as much as they claimed for the whole,
and which thirty years' experience had shown that
she could not get for the whole these lands hav
ing been in the market during that period at $1.25
per acre, and remaining unsold. The bill passed,
and the State granted the lands to the Illinois Cen
tral Railroad Company, on condition that the com
pany would complete the road within six years in
stead of ten, and forever comply with the terms and
conditions of the act of Congress in all respects.
The -company completed the road in four years, and
the United States sold all the lands within a few
months at prices ranging from $2.50 to $7.25 per
acre. All the grants which have been made to other
States for railroads were founded upon ^the same
principles as the Illinois case, ~but candor forces the
admission that the same results have not been pro
duced in any of the other cases.


THE Homestead Bill, as it is called, has been
advocated by its friends upon the principle that the
United States had the power, under the express
clause of the Constitution, to dispose of the public
lands for any purpose which would promote the in
terests of the United States, and that those interests
would be more advanced by granting a quarter sec
tion of land to every citizen who would build a
house upon it and reside there with his family, and
cultivate a crop each year for five years, than by
keeping them out of market waiting for a purchaser,
and then permitting them to go into the hands of
speculators in vast quantities, to be held at prices
ranging from $10 to $20 per acre, as is now the case
with many millions of acres in the new States. My
own idea is that the true policy to stop the
public sales altogether, and to grant the lands or sell
them at advanced prices to actual settlers only, and


that in quantities not exceeding one quarter sec
tion. Experience has proven that wherever the lands
were surveyed and brought into market before the
country was settled, the majority of the lands, com
prising the timber, water privileges, and most val
uable portions, have been purchased by capitalists
and speculators in the old States, who have imme
diately raised the price to $5- and $10 per acre, and
waited until the few scattered settlers, by their im
provements, should create demand and increase the
value ; while in those portions of the country where
the Government failed to complete the surveys, and
bring the lands into market, for several years after
the Indian title was extinguished, emigrants poured
into the country in the mean time, and each settler
occupied one quarter section for the use of his own
family, and the country became more densely popu
lated before the lands were offered in market than
those other portions of the country were in twenty
years after the lands were sold. This fact accounts
for the denser population in the southern counties
of Minnesota, and in the northern counties of Illi
nois, as also for the sparse settlements in a large por
tion of Iowa.

The public lands stand on a "different footing
from money raised by taxation, and the discretion


of Congress only controls the mode and manner of
their disposition ; but Congress is bound by a moral
obligation to exercise the power for the good of the

Reverting to the system of survey, I here call
your attention to the fact that all persons must pur
chase " legal subdivisions '." No one can buy by the
single acre, unless that happens to be a legal sub
division that is, a fractional quarter section con
taining only that amount.

Figure 6 is designed to show what is done with
the fractions. It represents part of a township lying
on the Illinois River. ,It will be observed that sec
tion 16 is complete, and that sections 14, ABC, 15,
C B D G H, 22, H G K, and 21, G F M N K, are
fractional and incomplete.

ABC not being a fraction within any section,
constitutes a section by itself, and would do so if it
only contained a single acre, and would be described
as fractional section 14, and so on. In the same
figure we have a similar fraction, ]ST O P, which
does lie within a section, and if small in area, as we
suppose in the present case, would be added to the
!N" E fractional quarter, K G S P, and the whole
would be described as the east fractional half of
section 21, and so in any similar case.



H G K in the figure is a fractional section.

If the fraction N O P were large enough to be
surveyed, it would then be the S. E. fractional quar
ter of section 21.

If, in the case of B K H, the smaller portion were

added to the greater, it would be indicated by dots
(n) on its line, as in the figure, and it would be the
east fractional half of section 15 ; so also the dots
in G S P 1ST O would indicate this addition of the
smaller part, N O P. These marks are sometimes


fraudulently erased, or accidentally omitted by the
surveyor, and great speculations are sometimes made
in these fractions. A case occurred some years ago
where a man applied to enter five or ten acres in
Cincinnati, which were built upon, and were im
mensely valuable, and the commissioner refused, on
the ground that not knowing whether the dots had
been there or not he would suppose them to be there,
and Congress subsequently passed a law confirming
the title of the other proprietors.

So also there was a case in Chicago involving
the question whether these dots were on the line C
D in figure 7 or not.

If the dots ( 1 1 ) were on the line C D, then C E
F D was included in the fractional quarter section,
section 10, 1 believe ; so that it was included in the
entry and purchase made by a man named Kinzie
in 1815 or 1820. About 1835 Murray McConnell,
being familiar with land speculations, came to Chi
cago, and, on looking over the map, concluded that
C E F D was not so included, and he entered it.
The people raised a mob and compelled him to give
up his duplicate, and the land office rescinded the
entry, and Congress subsequently passed a law con
firming the Kinzie title. The lots had been sub
divided by him, running down to the river as in the



figure. A suit lias now arisen between other parties
involving title, and McConnell steps forward and
claims it on the ground that he had entered it, and
of being compelled by force to give it up, that the

Fig. 7.


land office could not rescind the purchase, and that
the subsequent act of Congress divesting title was
unconstitutional, and therefore that the land is his.
This case involves the question of the dots, and illus
trates to you the speculations in fractions.

The Illinois Central Railroad case involves this
principle again, arising out of the same tract of land.
(See figure 8.)



Fig. 8.



In the first place, were these dots or cross lines
on the line C D, as in the last case ?

The Chicago River formerly took a bend, leav
ing the sand-bar F H. An appropriation being
made for the improvement of the Chicago River
and harbor, the engineer cut right through this bar
as indicated above, and it was subsequently washed
away. M N" O P \vas a military reservation. The


Illinois Central Railroad brought their road into the
city, in front of Michigan Avenue, on the lake, as
indicated by the dotted lines, and bought of the War
Department the small tract M R S P, so as to secure
the water right, and then built out, by filling in, the
square K S T Y, on which they located their depots,
and which comprises several acres, and is worth two
millions of dollars.

A Mr. Bates bought the portion D C E F,
which would include the sand-bar. I advised the
railroad at the time of this fact, but they paid no
attention to it. The sand-bar would be included in
Mr. Bates' purchase. McConnell interposes his
claim as already explained, and in all probability the
railroad will have to pay either the one or the other.

I have stated that a man buys legal subdivision,
but it is to be added that they are subdivisions ac
cording to the maps and surveys of the United
States, which, though often inaccurate, are yet
taken to le true, and no proof is admitted to the
contrary. So that a man must buy according to
their surveys, and consequently pays for whatever
the maps show, and gets whatever there actually is,
whether more or less than the maps indicate. The
following figure will serve to show you the inac
curacies in the surveys :


Fig. 9.

Suppose, first, a winding river, as they often are,
and navigable.

The surveyor fixes upon A, as a point from
which to measure his actional line A B, one mile in
length, divides at C, and makes his survey as far
toward the river as the dotted line, excluding the
other as marsh land, and not worth any thing, and
calling it fifty acres. A man buys this marsh land,
and there is in reality one hundred acres. He pays
for fifty and gets a hundred. Again, the river takes
a bend, and the surveyor imagines a line M O, as
if it took that direction, and calls M N P one


hundred and fifty acres, and there are but one hun
dred. Generally speaking, there is more land in
these fractions than the maps show.

A preemption right not entered and paid up is
not transferable, or, in other words, all transfers of
preemption rights made before the patent issues are
void. Good, of course, afterwards.


After the close of the Mexican war, Congress
passed a law granting one hundred and sixty acres
of land to each volunteer for his military services,
in addition to his pay, in the same manner as Con
gress had previously done for the soldiers in the war
of 1812 with Great Britain. Since the Mexican
war Congress had also made grants of bounty lands
to all soldiers, whether in the war of 1812 or the
Mexican war, or any of the Indian wars, of one
hundred and sixty acres each, to all who had served
a certain length of time, three months, as I recollect,
or of eighty acres for a less period, which, I think,
extended to at least fourteen days. A paper called
a land warrant was issued to each soldier, specify
ing the particular service for which it was issued,
the act of Congress authorizing it, and the amount


of land to which he was entitled, which warrant he
was at liberty to locate upon any of the surveyed
lands of the United States which had been offered
at public sale, and still remained unsold. By a
subsequent act of Congress these land warrants were
made assignable by endorsements upon the back, ac
cording to the form prescribed by the department.
The warrants thus became a subject of speculation,
the same as State bonds or any other securities, and
were located by the holder in his own name, as the
assignee of the soldier, and when presented at the
land office were received in payment for the amount
of lands specified in the warrant, in lieu of money,
and the land officers were required in their reports
to specify each tract of land thus paid for by war
rant, in contradistinction to the lands sold for cash.
These grants of land proved of no service to the
poor men who were intended to be benefited. The
land warrants were bought up for a song by land
agents and speculators.


When Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were Terri
tories, there were several salt springs in different
portions of them, which were deemed valuable for
the manufacture of salt, and which for that reason


were reserved from public sale by the United States,
and were leased to persons who wished to work
them. When these States were admitted into the
Union, the Government having found the manage
ment of the salt springs inconvenient, and costing
more than the rents obtained for them, ceded them
to the States in which they were situated. Since
that time the grant of the salt springs in each new
State has been made for no other or better reason
than that there were precedents on the statute-book,
and that each State claimed them, although the
springs have ceased to be of any considerable value,
and have nearly all been long since abandoned for
salt works. In the grant to each State the number
is limited to twelve, because, wherever there was
brackish water, the State might undertake to con
sider it a salt spring, and on this pretext claim many
entire sections of land.


One of the principal bad results has been, that
they have produced great corruption in Congress in
procuring the grants. It having been supposed that
the Illinois Central Railroad would make immense
profits in consequence of the great value of the lands
granted, combinations were formed in other States


where the public lands were situated, to procure
charters from those States for the construction of
railroads on certain specified lines, and containing
clauses transferring to the companies all lands
granted or to be granted by Congress in aid of the
construction of the said roads. The corporators in
these companies immediately acquired large pecu
niary interest in procuring large grants from Con
gress, which would enure to themselves the mo-

O 7

ment they were granted, and, in order to procure
these grants, would make combinations in Con
gress, by which they would convey in advance large
tracts of land to the friends of the members of Con
gress as a compensation for their influence in pro
curing the grants.


THE Illinois bill was the pioneer bill, and went
through without a dollar, pure, uncorrupt, and is
the only one which has worked well.

As early as 1835 the Illinois Legislature granted
to D. B. Holbrooke a charter for the Illinois Central
Eailroad, and also for the construction of a city at
the mouth of the Ohio Eiver, called Cairo, and vari
ous other charters for enterprises connected with his
proposed improvements at Cairo. Before Mr. Hol
brooke had taken any steps to construct the road,
the Illinois Legislature, at the session of 1836 and
1837, commenced a system of internal improve
ments at the expense and under the control of the
State, which system embraced the construction of
the Illinois Central Eailroad among other works,
and they repealed the charter granted to Mr. Hol
brooke for that road. After spending a large


amount of money on these various works, including
over a million of dollars upon the Illinois Central
road, the credit of the State failed during the pecu
niary revulsion in 1837, 1838, 1839, and 1840, and
the works were all abandoned. Mr. Holbrooke
again applied to the State for a charter to construct
the road, which was granted to him and to his asso
ciates, together with all the work that had been
already done, on condition that he would proceed
and construct the road. Mr. Holbrooke, through
his friend and partner Judge Breese, Senator from
Illinois, applied to Congress for a preemption right
to enter all the lands at any period within ten years,
on each side of the line of said road, at one dollar
and a quarter per acre, and Senator Breese reported
a bill to that effect from the Committee on Public
Lands of the Senate, and urged its passage. His
colleague, Mr. Douglas, denounced the proposition
as one of extravagant speculation, injurious to the
interest of the State, inasmuch as its effect would
be to withhold eight or ten million acres of land
from settlement and cultivation for the period of ten
years, until they should become valuable in conse
quence of the improvements made by the settlers
upon the adjacent lands, without imposing any obli
gation on the company to make the road, or to pay


for any of the lands, except those which they should
in the mean time sell at advanced prices the bill,
in fact, creating a vast monopoly of the public lands.
Mr. Douglas then introduced into the Senate a
counter-proposition, which was to make the grant
to the State of Illinois, of alternate sections. For
details see the bill itself. Mr. Holbrooke and his
agents used their influence to defeat this bill, be
cause the grant was made to the State, instead of to
the company. Mr. Douglas succeeded in passing it
through tne Senate, with almost a certain prospect
of its passage in the House. When it was supposed
that the grant was certain to become a law, Mr.
Holbrooke and his agents went directly to Illinois,
when the Legislature was in session, but at a time
when no person in Illinois supposed that the bill
would pass Congress, and procured the passage of a
law making several important amendments to his
charter. After the Legislature adjourned, and after
the land grant had been defeated in Congress,
fortunately, but unexpectedly, by two votes, Mr.
Douglas returned home, and upon examining the
manuscript acts of the Legislature before they were
printed, discovered that a clause had been surrepti
tiously inserted into the amendments of Mr. Hol
brooke's charter, conveying to his company all the


lands -granted or which should be granted to the
State of Illinois, to aid in the construction of rail
roads in that State! This act purported to have
passed the Illinois Legislature on the very day on
which the final vote was taken in Congress upon the
grant of lands. Upon inquiry of the Governor,
Secretary of State, and members of the Legislature,
they all denied any knowledge of this particular
clause in the act, and no one could account for its
being in the act, nor did any one know at what

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Online LibraryStephen Arnold DouglasA brief treatise upon constitutional and party questions and the history of political parties, as I received it orally from the late Senator Stephen A. Douglas → online text (page 9 of 11)