The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
PRESQUE ISLE

AS AN AREA Pennsylvania has been well endowed with valuable natural resources; and throughout most of her history their development has been marked by periods of intensive expansion and speculation. Before the discovery and wide usage of coal and oil, businessmen seeking sources for capital investment, made heavy speculative ventures into what was then the chief promotional field, a large and rich expanse of public lands.

In general outline the developmental procedure was relatively simple: the speculator merely bought large amounts of land at the lowest possible cost and then attempted to hold them until an influx of settlers raised the price. This general simplicity, however, was often complicated by factors extraneous to a simple business transaction. Since much of the land was bought outright from the State, the administration in power was often subjected to political pressure -- on the one hand by speculators who constantly sought more and better opportunities, and on the other, by home seekers who claimed victimization through the land disposal system. Politics and land policies were thus bound together. In addition, problems attendant upon the development of large land tracts often involved ramifications of a national and even international nature. Finally, the projection of settled areas westward, through ambitious land purchasing and development schemes, occasionally irritated various Indian tribes and precipitated border trouble.

As an example of a development scheme that introduced problems of a general political and military nature, the attempted founding of a town at Presque Isle in 1794 affords an interesting and profitable case for study. In addition, it exemplified the friction that existed between the State and Federal administrations at a time when western excise disturbances had produced marked differences of opinion between the two administrations. Also, it precipitated questions as to the legitimate functions -- their nature and extent -- of the two governments. The newness of the national government, and the unprecedented issues involved in its impact on the States, lend a peculiar significance to this last aspect of the subject.

During the latter part of the eighteenth century, both the states of New York and Massachusetts claimed possession of a tract of land now

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