The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

XI

Internal Improvement Lands

THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT gave land to encourage the construction of internal improvements -- roads, canals, and railroads. In earlier times such grants were made to the states to be used as the officials might direct, but later the grants were often made directly to companies to encourage the building of transportation systems which would benefit the nation. Since the land in such grants to states or companies was intended eventually to come into the hands of the people, the status of the land until the settlers secured title is discussed in this chapter.

With the admission of Ohio to the Union -- the first state that contained government land -- 5 per cent of the money derived from the sale of public lands was allocated by the federal government for use in laying out roads in the new commonwealth; and the same policy applied when Indiana, Louisiana, and other states were admitted.1 This policy was followed by the granting of further aid to new states in the form of land. One of the earliest such gifts was a grant to Ohio in 1832 for a wagon road that was to be laid out from Lake Erie through the Connecticut Western Reserve tract. The grant ceded a 120-foot right-of-way and the equivalent of two strips of land a mile wide on each side of the projected road.

With the second decade of the nineteenth century the fever to dig canals seized the people of the Old Northwest. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1823 reduced freight rates between Buffalo and New York City from $100 to only $15 a ton and cut the transit time from twenty-eight days to eight. The canal made a tremendous difference in the lives of the people; it was a twofold benefit in that it raised the price of settlers' farm produce but lowered the cost of their consumer goods. The success of the Erie Canal was so phenomenal and immediate that the imagination of the entire Northwest was aroused. Enthusiasts pointed out that the advantages

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1
Kenneth W. Colgrove, "The Attitude of Congress Toward the Pioneers of the West", Iowa Journal of History and Politics, VIII, No. 1 ( January, 1910), 115.

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