To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

By Neala Schleuning | Go to book overview

territorial governors and the federal government with the formation of new states, instead of the people directly.92

By the close of the eighteenth century, three groups emerged as primary players in formulating the new American landownership system-- land speculators, squatters and settlers, and the government. From the very beginning, the government played a major role in shaping subsequent policy by establishing legislative controls over the settlement, buying and selling of land, and as a holder and seller of land itself. The government took an active role in land management and policy development for several reasons: the ongoing need for formal agreements with the various American Indian communities, the need to raise revenue to finance the federal government which could be accomplished through the sale of land to speculators and individual settlers, and the need to guide and control the orderly settlement pattern of developing states. After the Revolution the federal government controlled all land sales and distribution, but by the nineteenth century this task was turned over to the states, with several noteworthy exceptions. The federal government continued to actively administer holdings and oversee the sale or the use of land through the Homestead Act of 1862, the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, and general land policy in the West, where the government retained ownership and administrative control of large tracts of land and their resources. In the twentieth century, public policy supported the use of federal funds to underwrite large scale land projects on Western lands such as dam building and irrigation systems, the private leasing and management of public rangelands, and commercial forestry enterprises.93 In general, we can conclude that from the very beginning, American land policy has been fragmented and contradictory and, at best, ambiguous. Paul Gates, the preeminent historian of United States landownership policy and practices, summarized the development of the American land policy in this way: "The evolution of our national land system has consisted of a series of slow and bungling changes to which may be ascribed the large-scale speculation in lands, the early development of tenancy, uneconomic farm units, misuse of the lands, reduction in carrying capacity to the range, wasteful treatment of the timberlands, misguided settlement, and misery for thousands of farm families."94


NOTES
1.
Joel S. Migdal, Peasants, Politics, and Revolution: Pressures Toward Political and Social Change in the Third World (Princeton, 1974), 68-69.
2.
Migdal, 72-73.
3.
Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution ( Montreal, n.d.).
4.
Kropotkin, 124-25.
5.
Kropotkin, 251.
6.
J. Donald Hughes, "Mencius' Prescriptions for Ancient Chinese Environmental Problems", Environmental Review 13, 3-4 (Fall-Winter 1989): 17.
7.
Hughes, 18.
8.
Victoria Lockwood Joralemon, "Collective Land Tenure and Agricultural Development: A Polynesian Case", Human Organization 42, 2 (Summer 1983): 97.

-55-

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To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - What is Property? 1
  • Notes 31
  • 2 - Who Owns the Land? 35
  • Notes 55
  • 3 - Who Owns the United States? Part I 59
  • Notes 80
  • 4 - Who Owns the United States? Part II 83
  • Notes 100
  • 5 - The Meaning of Ownership 103
  • Notes 124
  • 6 - Consuming as Owning 127
  • Notes 149
  • 7 - Woman as Possession: Images of Owning 153
  • Notes 177
  • 8 - Beyond Consumerism: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness 181
  • Notes 209
  • Selected Bibliography 213
  • Index 235
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