Reply To: Public Land


In the era of the American Revolution and the generations immediately following, squatters’ rights were widely respected. Thus, for example, in LIBERTY MEN AND GREAT PROPRIETORS, Taylor shows how the design of well-connected absentee landlords for Maine — that it would become an entirely hierarchical society with a few near-lords occasionally visiting tenants who rented small areas and maintained the landlords in great luxury — was thwarted by Lockeans who insisted that not some Massachusetts legal title, but actual possession of the ground via farming and building houses conferred morally legitimate ownership. When the Jeffersonians came to power in Massachusetts (of which Maine was still a part) in the 1810s, they ratified the squatters’ claims.

The same kind of process was replicated in several parts of Trans-Appalachian America at the same time and thereafter. For example, take a look at the description of early Ohio in Cayton’s FRONTIER REPUBLIC.

When President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, he rejoiced that now Americans would be able to remain primarily agricultural “to the thousandth and the thousandth generation.” The Federal Government’s later decision not to privatize that land, but to keep it forever as a socialist storehouse of resources, has had a marked effect on the sociology and politics of the United States — one opposite of that for which Jefferson hoped. I think that we ought to demand that the Federal Government sell virtually all of its landholdings, as Jefferson envisioned.