Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
Home Essential Documents Themes All Documents Authors Glossary Links Contact Us


Homestead Act

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 2: A Short History of Capitalism (pages 15-32)

In the years since European settlement, America developed its own relationship with the commons, which in our case included the vast unfenced lands we took from native people and Mexico. Some Americans saw our commons as the soil from which to build a nation of educated small proprietors. They passed laws such as the Land Ordinance of 1785, the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grant College Act, and the Reclamation Act, which allocated family-size plots to settlers and financed schools to educate them. Many also cherished these lands for their wildness and beauty; they created national parks and wilderness areas.

At the same time, others in America lured Congress into endless giveaways, acquired huge chunks of the commons for themselves, and made fortunes. Two vignettes, occurring more than a century apart, illustrate this continuing process.

In 1877, Congress passed the Desert Land Act, which removed several hundred square miles from settlement under the Homestead Act. The lands were said to be worthless, and were to be sold for 25 cents an acre to anyone promising to irrigate them. In fact, much of the land was far from worthless. A chunk of it eyed by James Haggin and Lloyd Tevis — two cronies of California Senator Aaron Sargent — was located near the Kern River, and was partially settled already. By hiring vagabonds to enter phony claims, and then transferring those claims to themselves, Haggin and Tevis acquired 150 square miles before anybody else in California had even heard of the Desert Land Act. Oil was later found beneath the land, conferring a huge windfall on the heirs of the two land-grabbers. ... read the whole chapter



To share this page with a friend: right click, choose "send," and add your comments.

related themes: see_also
Red links have not been visited; .
Green links are pages you've seen

Essential Documents pertinent to this theme:

Top of page
Essential Documents
to email this page to a friend: right click, choose "send"
Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper