Working the Range: Essays on the History of Western Land Management and the Environment

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

II
LAND SPECULATION

"Everyone was imbued with a reckless spirit of speculation. The
mania, such as it undoubtedly was, did not confine itself to one
particular class, but extended to all. Even the reverend clergy
doffed their sacredotals, and eagerly entered into competition
with mammon's votaries, for the acquisition of this world's
goods."

Levi Beardsley, New Yorker-gone West,
Reminiscences, 1852

The largess of lands in North America provoked numerous responses from their inhabitants and their would-be occupants. Environmental considerations entered the minds of but a small minority, and rules and regulations created by absentee governments touched many, but it was to the speculator that the lands first fell. The introduction of agriculture, whether subsistence farming or modern ranching, inevitably had to endure the initial investor and the subsequent on-the- scene consolidator.

Land speculation in North America was strongly influenced by the first English settlers. Benjamin H. Newcomb suggests that large landholders in colonial New York and New Jersey were able to protect their thousands of acres from divestiture by political action in their respective legislatures. It appears that manor lord families in New York, such as the Livingstons or the Nicolls, and proprietors in New Jersey, such as the Morris family, played important political roles but

-57-

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