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THE PUBLIC LAND SYSTEM.
THE public land system of the United States was inaugurated as early as the year 1785, and by the experience of many years has been brought to great perfection. It is conducted upon the same comprehensive and liberal principles which distinguish all the beneficent institutions of the government-institutions looking always to the benefit of the many, favoring especially the middle classes and the poor, and that stand forth as imperishable monuments of the profound wisdom and enlarged philanthropy of the great statesmen who organized and established them.
The scope and magnitude of the land system of the United States will be more fully comprehended by a brief retrospect of its history.
The territory northwest of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi rivers, known as the Northwestern Territory, being within the limits of the United States as defined by the treaty of 1783, which terminated the revolutionary war, was conveyed to the general Government, with certain reservations, by the State of New York, in 1781; by Virginia, in 1784; by Massachusetts, in 1785; and by Connecticut, in 1786. The territory acquired by these several cessions embraced the extent of country which constitutes the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and that part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi river.
In 1802, Georgia conveyed to the United States that
portion of the present States of Mississippi and Alabama lying north of the 31st degree of north latitude.
By the treaty of 1803, the United States acquired from the French Republic the Territory of Orleans and Louisiana, embracing that portion of the States of Mississippi and Alabama south of the 31st degree of north latitude, and the vast country which now constitutes the States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon, and that part of Minnesota west of the Mississippi river; also the Territories of Nebraska, Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and the Indian Territory.
The State of Florida was acquired by treaty with Spain in 1819, and the States of California and Nevada, and the Territories of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah were obtained by treaty with the Republic of Mexico in 1848.
Extending over 23 degrees of latitude and stretching away over 45 degrees of longitude, this vast public domain embraces eighteen states and nine territories, the smallest of which contains an area greater than that of England and Wales, and the largest twice as many square miles as the whole of Great Britain.
The aggregate area of this vast extent of country is 1,446,716,072 acres, of which 485,311,778 acres had been surveyed by the government prior to the 1st day of July, 1867. In Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, the public surveys have been finished excepting some small islands and fragmentary strips of land along the margins of rivers, bayous, etc. The surveys are also nearly completed in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Florida.
Within the territory acquired by the United States there were numerous private claims, the titles to which were derived from the former governments. Where, upon proper investigation, the titles have been found to be valid, these claims have been segregated from the public
lands and patented to the claimants, the area of such private grants already confirmed and patented amounting in the aggregate to 14,770,351.
The public domain was first opened to public sale and then to private entry. Congress, in 1830, passed a law allowing actual settlers to secure titles to their locations on very liberal terms and without being subjected to compete at auction with outside bidders. The preemption system underwent various modifications from 1830 down to 1841, growing more and more liberal and beneficent towards the settler, until 1862, when the whole public domain, surveyed and unsurveyed, offered and unoffered, was thrown open to actual settlement at the lowest price and upon the most accommodating terms. Under the operation of this law the enterprising pioneer could select his homestead of 160 acres from the choicest fields of this extended country and commence his improvements without having to pay anything for his land until one year after the public surveys were extended over it, and with a certainty that his rights would be recognized and respected by the government.
But there was yet another step to be taken in the direction of a still more liberal policy towards the western pioneer. Congress, in 1862, passed the Homestead Law, giving to each settler who entered upon and cultivated the land, 160 acres, for which he has only to pay ten dollars to the government and four dollars as compensation to the officers for making out the necessary papers.
The acts of the National Legislature have uniformly encouraged emigration and afforded the industrious poor man an opportunity to secure for himself a farm and a comfortable home. Upwards of four hundred millions of acres of as choice land as can be found in any country have passed to the ownership of individuals, and some fifteen hundred thousand families are to-day living in the