Public Land

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    I just heard about people living on public land (Lake Mead area). If the government were to sell some of the land to pay off debt, what could happen to the people living on the land? Can’t it be said that they have acquired the land through homesteading? When has this happened in the past? I just don’t know how I feel about the government being able to sell land; perhaps, abdicate the land to those who homesteaded it and not prevent people from cultivating it but to actually sell it, I don’t know.


    That’s a good question. I’m not sure what the right way to think about this is.


    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.

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