The Pre-emption Law in Action
IT MIGHT SEEM that the victory of the settlers in securing passage of the general pre-emption law would have made claim clubs unnecessary, and that after 1841 they would have ceased to exist, but this supposition is far from the truth: claim clubs flourished in the twenty-year period prior to the Civil War. These clubs were used to supplement the Pre-emption Act. The hunger for land was difficult to appease: the more the pioneer obtained, the more he wanted.
The terms of the pre-emption law limited the amount of land one could take to 160 acres, although the standard squatter claim had come to be 320 acres, and in some areas 640 or more acres were claimed. The first reason for continuing the claim clubs after the Pre-emption Act of 1841 was to secure more land than the law permitted. After 1841 the settlers pre-empted 160 acres legally and secured another 160 acres by claim-club devices. To enable its members to hold twice the legal amount of land by pre-emption, a Boone County, Iowa, claim club about 1850 placed this bylaw on its books:
Resolved, That the filing of any intention to pre-empt in contravention of the right of any member hereof, shall be regarded as an attempt to deprive one member of his rights under the eternal fitness of things, and we pledge ourselves, one to another, to meet the offender on the homestretch with logic of life or death.1
The land officers had become accustomed to frontier opinion and made no objection to the claim-club program. In May, 1857, for example, before the sale at Osage, Iowa, the register urged everyone to maintain harmony and "advised that the settlers' rights be respected." What he had in mind we cannot be sure, but certainly it was something more than carrying out the legal plan of pre-emption. It would seem that he meant each settler____________________