Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/Our Public Land System and Its Relation to Education in the United States

Oregon Historical Quarterly Volume 1 (1900)
Our Public Land System and Its Relation to Education in the United States by Frances Fuller Victor
2394402Oregon Historical Quarterly Volume 1 — Our Public Land System and Its Relation to Education in the United States1900Frances Fuller Victor


Local historians seem inclined to overlook some of the most interesting subjects included under the general term of history. One of these is the origin of land titles. I do not propose in this article, limited as to space, to do more than indicate by slight touches the growth of land titles on the earth, and the steps by which we as a nation became endowed with the ownership of land in parcels large or small. Further, the object of this brief review is to fix in the mind of the student of history, and especially of Oregon history, the connection between land and educational privileges in his state.

By way of introduction I would put forth the proposition, by no means original, that God-made things are eternal, and belong to the children of men equally and forever. Such is man himself. There can be no human ownership of men except that of brotherhood. The dominion of man over all other life is for his use only. He cannot claim collective ownership of any particular genus or species, but only individual ownership by conquest. Of the great divisions of inanimate nature, earth, air, and water, individual man cannot own more than he uses, because they belong equally to all men, and to all living things. For the needs of these they were created, without preference for races or single representatives of races.

Men in their primordial condition blindly recognized this principle as to the earth, and for thousands of years133 did not become owners of land in severalty. Divided into tribes they contended with each other for the possession of certain countries because they were born there, or because it held the graves of their fathers. To "sleep with their fathers," or to continue to breathe the air which had borne abroad over the land the sacred ashes of their ancestors was with them a religion. The same earth furnished pasturage for the animals upon whose milk and flesh they subsisted, and nourished the fruits they found most agreeable. Hence they contended for its use against the covetousness of other tribes. The long and persistent war carried on by the descendants of Abraham to regain the land which held his burial place is an example of the ancient sentiment of ownership in land, a sentiment which we honor most highly under the name of patriotism. Metes and bounds could not be closely observed in a pastoral country, neither could they in a wooded one where game furnished the chief subsistence of the inhabitants. Everything depended upon the strength and valor of the predatory and the resisting tribes, and the division of lands acquired in war was settled, as in this world most things still are settled, by the most active securing to themselves the most desirable places.

The common desire to save from invasion the country of their birth, and the necessity of captains in war, led to chieftainship, and chieftainship led to the accumulation of such wealth as the conquered lands afforded, whether in flocks and herds, in other subsistence, or in such personal property as the subjugated nation possessed. War makes a people nomadic in their habits. The young and the strong were trained to fight, the feebler remained in such homes as they were able to maintain in a state of continual dread of the enemy. The cultivation of the ground at this stage of civilization was as uncertain as it was unscientific. To the majority the land could have only a sentimental value; to the higher classes it was a source of income through the enforced labor of the enslaved class by whose toil they were enabled to pay their military taxes to petty Kings.

Continental Europe was at this stage of development centuries after the Christian era, and England long after the crusades. It was in the eleventh century that the Norman conqueror, William, having fixed himself upon the English throne, in order to secure the military tax in its entirety, caused the lands held by the feudal lords to be surveyed, and a description of them recorded in his Domesday Book. Hitherto lands were held under grants from barons or lords; but the Conqueror claimed that, as the representative of the people, he, and he only, could give a legal title to land, thus indirectly recognizing its ownership by the people. Under William, all land owners, great and small, were known as "the King's men," a policy which made the feudal lords his supporters. In return for their support he gave them offices. An office presupposed property, and property insured office. The first social effect of this was to lower men hitherto free, although in time it tended to raise the condition of the slave class to that of freemen by removing the distinction between these two classes. But it left a peasantry attached to the soil with no voice in its disposal. A law of primogeniture prevented the division of the great estates conferred upon "the King's men," who could neither sell nor give away their landed property.

How much of the colonizing spirit of Englishmen is due to this exclusive occupation of England by a class, we might very naturally inquire. But that is aside from the subject under consideration. It was my intention to point out that the land system of the United States is directly descended from the practice of William the Conqueror, whose policy of binding the most active and influential men of the Kingdom to his throne by gifts of land was imitated by his successors down to the period when English subjects began to colonize America.[1]

At the time when Englishmen made this important movement, Spain and France had already laid claim to extensive tracts of country lying upon the great rivers debouching into the Gulf of Mexico in a southern latitude, and into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in a northern latitude, which ultimately became possessions of the United States, either by purchase or treaty, after our war of independence. Between these two indefinite boundaries the English colonies were located. Wherever the Englishman went he carried his loyalty to his King and his country's laws. His presence on the soil of Virginia made it English soil, conveying to it the sovereignty of England, and the King's right to confirm to him whatever he had already taken, provided both of them together could hold it against the native occupants.[2] The grants from James and Charles I were described in terms more imaginative than accurate, the "South Sea," or Pacific Ocean, being the western limit of some of the earliest charters. But when the thirteen commonwealths on the Atlantic Coast asserted their right and ability to govern themselves, proving it by the arbitrament of the sword, and securing a treaty of peace with the mother country, such discoveries had been made, and so many remained to be made, that it was thought expedient to adopt the apparently natural boundaries of the United States, namely, the Saint Lawrence and Great Lakes on the north, the Mississippi on the west, the Spanish possessions in Florida on the south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east.

In 1779, three years after the declaration of independence, and four years before the treaty of peace, the American Congress recommended to the several states in the union to make liberal cessions of their respective claims for the common benefit of the union, including the state making the cession. Thus early did our government assert the principle that the lands not held by occupancy belonged to the people for their use. The people on their side were quite willing to assist the union, burdened as it was with the debt of the revolutionary war, and other claims. But the unsettled boundaries of the several states made it a matter of some difficulty to convey land to the government in definite measure, some of the older grants, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, extending "from sea to sea." Disputes had arisen between the colonies over their boundaries, as when the Dutch had established New Netherlands on the Hudson River, cutting in two the grant of Connecticut. It was not until 1733 that the boundary of New York (formerly New Netherlands), was settled, and Connecticut still claimed the lands west of New York. From Maine to Georgia there were boundaries to be settled.

New York was the first to respond to the suggestion of congress, in 1781, by ceding all her title to lands west of a line drawn north and south twenty miles west of Niagara River, without conditions. Virginia followed, and on March 1, 1784, conveyed her territory west of the Ohio River to the United States. Massachusetts, in 1785, also renounced her claim, unconditionally, to any lands west of the Hudson River. Connecticut, in 1786, ceded to the United States all the lands claimed by her west of a north and south line drawn one hundred and twenty-five miles west of the western boundary of Pennsylvania.

Virginia's first charter having been withdrawn, the second, dated in 1609, gave this colony all the territory for two hundred miles north and south of Point Comfort, on the Atlantic Coast, and westward to the "South Sea," or Pacific Ocean, with all islands lying within one hundred miles of either coast. The extension westward only to the Mississippi of the northern line of Virginia, by the Treaty of Peace, left nearly half of that state on the northwest side of the Ohio River. This territory Virginia, in 1783, offered to cede to the United States, upon condition that it should be divided into states of not less than one hundred nor more than one hundred and fifty miles square, "or as near thereto as circumstances will admit, and that the states so formed shall be distinct republican states, and admitted members of the federal union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other states."[3] The expenses incurred by Virginia "in subduing British posts, or in maintaining forts and garrisons within or for the defense, or in acquiring any part of the territory so ceded or relinquished" should be fully reimbursed by the United States. The French and Canadian inhabitants, and other settlers who had professed themselves to be citizens of Virginia, were to have their possessions confirmed to them, and be protected in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties. A quantity of land, not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand acres, was required to be granted "to General George Rogers Clarke and the officers and soldiers of his regiment, who marched with him when the post of Kaskaskia and Saint Vincent were reduced, and to the officers and soldiers that have been since incorporated into the said regiment," to be laid off in one tract in such shape as the officers should choose. Also, in case the land reserved by law on the southeast side of the Ohio River for the bounties of the Virginia troops should prove insufficient or of poor quality, then the deficiency should be made up from the lands on the northwest side of that river. All the land within the ceded territory, not reserved or appropriated to the purposes named, was to be a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as had become, or should become, members of the confederation, "according to their respective proportions, in the general charge and expenditure."

In July, 1786, congress recommended to Virginia to revise her act of cession so far as to empower the United States to divide the territory northwest of the Ohio River into not more than five nor less than three states, as the situation of that country and the circumstances might require, which states were to become in the future members of the federal union.

In September of the same year, Connecticut ceded to the union the lands she still claimed west of the State of New York, known as the Western Reserve, extending one hundred and twenty miles west of the western boundary of Pennsylvania. In accepting the gift congress required a deed relinquishing the jurisdictional claim of Connecticut to the Western Reserve to be deposited with the deed of cession in the office of the Department of State of the United States; and provided that nothing contained in the deed of cession should involve the government in the dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut which had been settled in the federal court. Neither should anything contained in the deed pledge the United States to extinguish the Indian title to the ceded lands. All of this being agreed to, the Western Reserve was added to the Northwest Territory. On the other hand the "military tract" was reserved, and even added to, but did not become United States donation lands. They were considered as Virginia's bounty to the men who had defended and preserved the country. The jurisdiction, however, was in the general government.

In 1787 South Carolina ceded unconditionally such land as she laid claim to between the mountain range by which her territory was traversed, and the Mississippi River. In 1790 North Carolina made her cession similarly, except that neither the lands nor the inhabitants west of the mountains should be "estimated" for the expenses of the Revolutionary War; that soldiers should receive the bounty lands promised them; that certain entries already made might be changed; that the ceded territory should be formed into a state or states, with all the privileges set forth in the ordinance of the late congress for the government of the Western Territory of the United States; provided, always, that no regulations made, or to be made, by congress should tend to emancipate slaves. The inhabitants of the ceded territory were to be liable to pay their proportion of the United States debt, and the arrears of the debt of North Carolina to the Union. The laws of this state should be in force in the territory until repealed or altered, and nonresident proprietors should not be taxed higher than residents.[4]

For various reasons Georgia was not ready to renounce any territory claimed by her before 1798, and the deed of cession was not made until 1802. Georgia, like North Carolina, desired to have the state formed from her territory enjoy the privileges granted to the Northwest Territory by the ordinance of 1787. Out of the lands relinquished to the general government by the states south of the Ohio, and the territory subsequently acquired by treaty and purchase from France and Spain, were formed, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the several territories afterwards admitted as states with the rights and privileges guaranteed in the compact between the United States and the people of the Northwest Territory.

Hitherto I have sketched the political history of the lands of the United States with the object only of pointing out the change that had occurred in men's ideas of natural rights in the soil. They had also progressed greatly in their understanding of political rights. The struggle of the American colonies to achieve independence had served as an object lesson of immense importance even to the colonies themselves, and they were prepared to guard their new-found freedom with a jealous care. Next to the Declaration of Independence in justice and dignity stands the compact entered into between the people and congress in giving and accepting the territory first ceded by the original states to the United States, and known as the Ordinance of Seventeen Eighty-Seven. By this ordinance the people of the Northwest Territory were assured that no person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, should ever be molested on account of his mode of worship, or religious sentiments. The people should always be entitled to the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus, and trial by jury; of proportionate representation in the legislature, and of judicial proceedings according to the course of common law. All persons should be bailable, except for capital offenses, the proof of which was evident, or the presumption great. All fines should be moderate, and no cruel or unusual punishments inflicted. No man should be deprived of his liberty but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land. No man's property should be taken for the public service without full compensation. Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government, and the public happiness, schools and the means of education should be forever encouraged. The utmost good faith should always be observed towards the Indians. Their lands and property should never be taken away from them without their consent, nor their rights and liberty invaded except in lawful war, but laws for their protection should be enacted. There should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the territory, otherwise than for the punishment of crimes whereof the person should have been duly convicted.[5]

Comparing this noble framework of the new state with the laws and the restrictions imposed upon the colonies from their beginning, our admiration cannot be withheld. But it is to its effect in furnishing the means of education to the whole people that attention is here directed. Schools and education were "forever to be encouraged." It is true that under the colonial system a few colleges had been established. Six years after the settlement of Massachusetts, Harvard College was founded. Virginia and Connecticut were equally in haste to provide educational advantages for their young men; but it was only the sons of clergymen and the best families who in those early days found admittance. Humble people had to be content if they could read, write, and cipher; and rules of grammar, with the sciences, were beyond their ambition.

In 1785, two years only after our independence was secured, and six years after the congress of the states had suggested to the several commonwealths the propriety of contracting their boundaries in order to enable the United States to clear themselves of debt, and to be possessed of a public domain, when only New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia had ceded any territory, an ordinance was passed providing for the survey of these lands, and the uses to which they should be put. One seventh part was to be drafted for "the late Continental army," and the remainder allotted among the states. The only reservations made were for the officers and soldiers entitled to bounties from the lands of Virginia; four lots in each township for the United States, and "lot No. 16 of every township for the maintenance of public schools within the said township; also one-third part of all gold, silver, lead, and copper mines to be sold or otherwise disposed of as congress shall hereafter direct."[6]

As the other states made their contributions to the public domain, changes were made in the appropriation of land for educational purposes, but without affecting the reservation first determined upon of one thirty-sixth part of all the government lands for school purposes. As our land system developed, and states were parceled off one after another, the propositions offered to them more and more contained large donations for schools of different grades. The proposition to the State of Ohio, and the appropriations actually made in 1803, named the sixteenth section in every township in that part of the territory purchased of the Indians; the thirty-sixth part of the United States Military Tract; fourteen townships in the Connecticut Reserve; one thirty-sixth part in the Virginia Military Tract, and also one thirty-sixth part of all the United States lands in the State of Ohio to which the Indian title had not yet been extinguished, to be purchased of the Indians, to consist of the sixteenth section in each township. One entire township in the District of Cincinnati was offered for the establishment of an academy. John Cleve Symmes and his associates, who had purchased a tract in Ohio supposed to contain one million acres, received from congress, in addition, one entire township "for the purpose of establishing an academy and other public schools and seminaries of learning."

When the public lands in Louisiana were offered for sale there was excepted "section number 16 in every township, and a tract reserved for a seminary of learning." When Tennessee relinquished her claims to certain lands, the state was required to appropriate one hundred thousand acres in one tract for the use of two colleges, one to be located in East and one in West Tennessee. Another hundred thousand acres was to be appropriated for the use of an academy in each county in the state, the land not to be sold for less than $2 per acre; and the state should, in issuing grants and perfecting titles, locate one section in every township for the use of schools for the instruction of children forever. Mississippi was required to reserve section 16 in each township for the support of schools within the same, "with the exception of thirty-six sections, to be located in one body by the Secretary of the Treasury, for the use of Jefferson College." Other grants were made for religious purposes, and for military services. Lewis and Clark, for their services in exploring the continent to the Pacific, received land warrants calling for one thousand six hundred acres of land each, and the men who accompanied them three hundred and twenty each, to be located on any of the public lands offered for sale west of the Mississippi. None of these donations could be made except by the consent of the representatives of the people in congress assembled. Thus our government set out with the highest ideal then possible of community rights in land. If since then we have gambled away our common heritage, or sold it to non-resident speculators, we have in so far departed from that ideal.

The largeness of the subject prohibits any attempt to furnish a history of the land laws of the United States in a single article. It is in fact the history of this nation. Our land system settled the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It drew to us all the nations of the earth; it gave them homes, and educated their children; it was "Liberty enlightening the world." But just because the government was so rich in lands, it grew careless, speculative, even profligate. It lavished soil enough to make several states upon corporations without honor, forgetting that it was only the trustee of the people, whose consent had never directly been asked. It sold to adventurers, who never intended to make homes, immense tracts contiguous to watercourses, from which the buyers excluded citizens of the United States. It winked at the wrongful acts of its agents in selecting swamp and overflowed lands, and mineral lands. One thing it never did, however; it never permitted the school lands to deteriorate in value, but when the legal sections fell upon worthless ground, lieu lands were permitted to be selected from any unappropriated good land most contiguous.[7]

  • * * * *

In the first quarter century of the republic there was added to its public lands, by treaty and purchase, the Floridas and all the vast region known as the Louisiana Territory, reaching north to the British Possessions and west to the Rocky Mountains. One of our navigators had discovered the mouth of the mythical Oregon River, and a party of our explorers had discovered the headwaters of the same, following its course to the sea. An American fur company had erected a fort near the mouth of the river, which it lost, first through the treachery of the British members of the company and a second time by the fortunes of war, and finally recovered through the victory of our arms on the high seas. These were wonderful achievements for a nation in its infancy. But the people were prosperous and satisfied, pressing undauntedly forward, and filling up the new states. The secret of the prosperity and content was the equal distribution of land, at a price within the reach of any, and the reservation in all the townships for common schools.

We claimed by right of discovery and first occupation, the Oregon Territory. Great Britain disputed our claim with enough show of rights to furnish some ground for the contention. Neither government was prepared to go to war over it, and for nearly thirty years after the convention of 1818 by which a joint occupancy was agreed upon, a perpetual irritation was kept up between the two countries through the determination of the western pioneers to stretch their boundaries to the Pacific, taking the land surveyor along with them. In 1846 the question was finally settled, and not unjustly.

The pioneers who for several years had been toilsomely journeying across two thousand miles of wilderness to reach the Land of Promise, now looked for immediate congressional action to be taken which should give them formally the territorial rights and privileges conferred by the Ordinance of 1787. But in this they were disappointed. That same ordinance, it was, which delayed the organization of a territorial government, the people of Oregon having expressly petitioned to be organized under it in the same manner as the Northwestern States. The opposition to their petition came from the representatives and senators of the slave states, who saw in the rapid increase of northern free states a loss of the balance of power in congress, and the threatened destruction of slavery, or of the Union. The struggle had been begun a quarter of a century earlier, when by a compromise between the north and south, Missouri had been admitted as a slave state under a compact that no more slave states should be organized north of the parallel of 36° 30´.

The prospect of a large body of free states being formed above that line, extending even to the Pacific, was one to which southern senators opposed their most skilled diplomacy, their object being to gain time, by statecraft or otherwise, to extend slave territory westward at an equal rate. But the friends of Oregon in congress, who cared not overmuch about the question of slavery or of free soil, were touched by the fidelity to the government of the United States of the Oregon settlers, and anxious to have them rewarded as congress had, year after year, proposed to do—by liberal donations of land. The Linn bill had done its work in populating the Wallamet Valley, and the population of this valley had determined the title to the country. So much was granted. Thomas H. Benton had written his congratulations on the settlement of the boundary, and promised the early organization of the territory under the most favorable conditions. President Polk had spoken most flatteringly of the loyalty and patriotism of the pioneers. Stephen A. Douglas had drawn up a bill containing everything for which the pioneers had ever asked, and something more. That something more was the thirty-sixth section of land in every township for school purposes, in addition to the sixteenth.

I am aware that there are some writers who represent that this addition to school land was a special favor to Oregon; and at least one Oregon man who claimed to have secured it by his personal efforts.[8] But the records of congress disprove such pretensions. It was sometimes objected in congress that the new states were receiving too much land gratuitously.[9] In a speech on this subject by Woodbridge, of Michigan, delivered April 29, 1846, that gentleman said: "Now, a very great error prevails on this subject. It is a common opinion, I believe, that the school lands, amounting, as the gentleman from Connecticut says, in some instances, to an enormous amount, are gratuitously conveyed to the new states. Sir, I do not so read my books at all. There is no gratuity about it! This appropriation of section sixteen was made in order to secure an accelerated sale of your wild lands. I do not say that there were not other and higher motives, but this was one, and an efficient one. * * * You published to the world your terms of sale. You pledged your faith to all who should buy land of you in any surveyed township, that one thirty-sixth part of it, namely, section number sixteen, should forever afterwards be applied toward the support of schools. * * * It is true that you afterwards affected to transfer these school lands to the states; but what passed by that transfer? Nothing, sir, but the naked title only, subject always to the use, and I am not prepared to admit the competency of your doing even that." So there were in congress, in 1846, men who contended that the western people, and not the government which had solemnly renounced it, held the right to the educational reservations in the public lands from the beginning.

In August, 1846, a bill being before congress to enable Wisconsin to form a state government, it passed through the usual routine, and was reported from the territorial committee by Douglas, February 9, 1847. On the fifteenth, the question of engrossing the bill was about being put, when John A. Rockwell of Connecticut, moved to amend by adding the following: "And be it further enacted, That in addition to section numbered sixteen, section numbered thirty-six, in each township of the public lands of the United States in said state, not heretofore otherwise disposed of, be, and the same is hereby appropriated to the support of education in the said state." Certain conditions were attached, which need not be here quoted, as the amendment failed.[10]

That it failed was not owing to any strong opposition so much as to the fact of its not being incorporated in the original bill. Congressmen and senators have to be urged somewhat to make changes by which their districts gain nothing. Rockwell's amendment was crowded out by other business concerning the disposition of the public lands then claiming attention.

Nothing in the circumstances of the case goes to show that Mr. Rockwell was the first to propose the additional school section. The Wisconsin and the Oregon bills were in the hands of the same committee of the house, and at the same time. Yet the Douglas bill contained the two school sections in every township, and the Wisconsin bill did not. The Douglas bill passed in the house and was sent to the senate in January, 1847, whereas the Wisconsin bill was not reported until February, which gives Mr. Douglas precedence in proposing the change to congress. The question might arise why, since he was chairman of the committee which presented both bills, he withheld the additional section from one and gave it to the other. Did he wish to show favor, or seem to do so, to Oregon, as a reward for her long and loyal waiting? It might well be so, and probably was so.

But Oregon was not receiving a special gift in the appropriation of her school lands, as some suppose. In November, 1846, James H. Piper, Acting Commissioner of the General Land Office, made a report to Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, "on the expediency of making further provision for the support of common schools in the land states."[11] The Secretary, in his report to the house of representatives, referring to the proposed donations of land to settlers in and immigrants to Oregon, recommended, also, "the grant of a school section in the center of every quarter of a township, which would bring the school house within a point not exceeding a mile and a half in distance from the most remote inhabitant of such quarter township."[12] In his report for 1847–48 the Secretary of the Treasury again referred to this subject as follows: "Congress to some extent adopted this recommendation, by granting two school sections instead of one, for education in Oregon;[13] but it is respectfully suggested that even thus extended the grant is still inadequate in amount, while the location is inconvenient."[14]

William M. Gwin, Senator from California, remarking on the transfer of the public lands from the Treasury Department to the Department of the Interior in 1849, says: "When a territorial government was established over Oregon, some able men contended for four sections for each township, and they succeeded in getting two," and quotes from Walker's report.[15] He also referred, in a speech before the State Convention of California in 1850, to Piper and Walker as authors of the movement to increase the amount of school land in the new states. Although not important in themselves, these facts are interesting. It is a pleasure to the properly constituted mind to know to whom to give credits. It is also a satisfaction to remove from history falsehoods, whether deliberate or accidental, which blind our vision as to the verity of so-called history.[16]

As a matter of fact, from 1803 to 1848, in each of the twelve territories organized from the public lands, the sixteenth section in every township was reserved for school purposes, Oregon being the first to receive the addition of the thirty-sixth. There has been no fixed rule of appropriation, much depending upon the people and their representatives. In 1812, and again in 1824 congress ordered a survey of certain towns and villages in Missouri, reserving for the use of schools one-twentieth part of the whole survey. When sold these town reservations produced large sums, as in the case of St. Louis. Down to 1880 seven states and eight territories had received the thirty-sixth section in each township. Twenty-four states had received two townships each for the use of universities. Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida had taken more. Previous to 1882 the appropriation of land for common schools in the land states aggregated sixty-seven million eight hundred and ninety-three thousand nine hundred and nineteen acres; for university purposes, one million six hundred and fifty thousand five hundred and twenty acres; for agricultural and mechanical colleges, nine million six hundred thousand acres—a total of seventy-nine million one hundred and forty-four thousand four hundred and thirty-nine acres devoted to the support of education in the United States.

From time to time it has been necessary to make changes in the land laws, as when the discovery of mineral lands, reserved by congress called for the substitution of lieu lands, but there has been no diminution in quantity or value.

Oregon has less vacant or public land than from its area might be expected. The bounty of government in donating to the pioneer settlers six hundred and forty acres to a family—three hundred and twenty to the husband, and the same amount to the wife—and to single men and women three hundred and twenty each, provided they lived upon or improved their claims, disposed of most of the cultivable area west of the Cascade Range. The school lands which passed with the territorial act occupied two thirty-sixths of every township. The act of admission passed to the state the usual endowment of five hundred thousand acres for its public uses,[17] with twelve salt springs and six sections adjoining each; ninety thousand acres for the endowment of an agricultural college, and seventy-two sections for the use and support of a state university. Subsequent grants to railroads and public highways, with military and Indian reservations, absorbed large bodies of land, both in the valleys and the mountains. The state devoted the net proceeds, with the accruing interest of the five hundred thousand acres, as an irreducible fund for the support of common schools, and for the purchase of libraries and apparatus.[18] It also added to this fund all gifts to the state whose purpose was not named.

The actual quantity of land allowed by congress to Oregon for common school purposes is three million two hundred and fifty thousand acres, at a minimum price per acre of $1.25, the management of the income being left to a board, of which the Governor is one. I am informed by the clerk of this board that the fund now amounts to $3,000,000, which is securely invested at ten per cent.

In 1850 congress passed a swamp land act, the intention of which was to enable the states subject to overflow by the Mississippi, to construct levees, and drain overflowed lands. The law was subsequently extended to other states. Oregon, however, had no rivers requiring levees, nor any swamp lands. This fact did not prevent beaver-dam lands, the most valuable in the state, from being taken up as swamp lands. The scandal attached also the meadow lands about lakes in the interior, and even to lands included in Indian reservation lands. Nor is congress quite guiltless in this respect, since it has recklessly granted principalities in the public soil to aid enterprises designed by private companies for their own benefit, these grants being obtained by representations, wholly unfounded, of the public utility in the undertaking.[19] The hand of the lobbyist is visible in these matters, while suspicion attaches to both state and national legislators, who too frequently have other than the people's interest at heart.

The vacant public lands of the United States are still nine hundred and eighty thousand three hundred and thirty-seven square miles in extent, or one-third of our total area, exclusive of Alaska. Indian reservations and forest reservations together occupy five and forty-three hundredths per cent. The State of Texas comprises eight and eighty-three hundredths per cent. of the area of the United States, and owns all the public lands within its borders. Thus there remains open to settlement the vacant one-third, exclusive of Alaska, Texas, and the Islands. Almost all of the vacant lands are west of the Missouri River, and include much that is of but little present value to the agriculturist from its aridity. Yet not one rod of it is valueless in the eyes of the political economist. Forests and mines are as necessary to advanced civilization as grain fields and orchards. But even were this not true, the earth needs waste places where pure air and pure water are generated to be furnished to the lower plains. Men will gradually accustom themselves to deserts, and will cause them to blossom like the rose. Wherever they go, the foundation of a home is awaiting them, and the common school is provided for their children. It is thus we are educating the nations.

It can hardly be superfluous to revert to the obligation of the general government and the individual state to remember and guard the people's rights in the public domain. A wastefulness which tends to contract free acreage beyond the convenient demands of settlement and use, is to deprive the nation of strength and elasticity. When we have no longer anything to offer the coming generations, it will be a pity if they come. The power of the great land owner over the man who has inherited nothing, and is too poor to purchase at the landlords' prices, will be, to all intents and purposes, the same which the landlords of Europe exercise over the peasant classes there. The ladder by which our people have climbed to happy heights of prosperity will be withdrawn, and the poor man will have become the slave of the rich man. It is doubtful if the universal intelligence which we are at so much pains to cultivate will be, in such circumstances, an unmixed blessing, since the enlightened mind has requirements which are not felt by the ignorant, the absence of which inflicts pain, and frequently leads to crime.

  1. The lands not held as private estates in Great Britain were known as the "Crown lands," the revenue from which was the income of the sovereign. This continued down to the accession of George III. This custom continued down to Victoria, who, renouncing the crown lands, accepted for herself and her children a fixed sum annually, but this annuity does not descend to her grandchildren.
  2. The history of the early voyages, and of the immigration to America of different nationalities, including the Dutch, is too familiar to be repeated here, and a period of nearly three hundred years, from 1497 to 1783, is passed over. With independence, the American states received an inheritance of which they hardly understood the value at the time, except for its political importance.
  3. It would seem from this demand of Virginia that this state assumed to lay claim to all the Northwest Territory. However, it could make no difference, since the other states had ceded whatever rights they had, except to strengthen the title of the general government.
  4. There is much that is confusing and contradictory in the act of North Carolina, as in the reference to the ordinance of 1787, and the clause forbidding the passage by congress of an act tending to emancipate slaves.
  5. The Constitution of the Provisional Government of Oregon was formed on the ordinance of 1787, and the above extract is taken, somewhat abbreviated, from Articles I, II, III and IV of that document. When the organic act of Oregon Territory was framed by congress, it was agreed that the laws already in operation in Oregon should be recognized as the laws of the territory. The adoption of the ordinance of 1787 as their Constitution by the pioneers of the state, was due to the statesmanship of Jesse Applegate, one of the "men of 1843." Its author was Nathan Dane, LL. D., of Massachusetts, member of congress in 1787.
  6. Subsequently the reservation of gold, silver, and copper mines was discontinued, and lead mines and salt springs substituted. The income from these sources at that period would have been greater than from other mines. But no change was ever made from 1785 to the present date in the grant of the sixteenth section for school purposes.
  7. A great deal of unwise criticism has been declaimed and written upon the government's dealings with the Indians in the matter of their reservations. But human wisdom has seldom been able, however sincere the endeavor, to bridge over with peace the gulf between savagery and civilization. The United States began by binding the government in the ordinance of 1787 to "observe the utmost good faith towards the Indians." During the first ten years of its existence, treaties were made with half a hundred tribes. It was declared a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment, for any persons, not acting for the government, to treat with, or purchase lands from an Indian nation—an inhibition meant to prevent trouble with the natives, as well as frauds against the government. But Indian wars were not prevented, and continue to this day. The United States has supported an army to defend its citizens against savage outbreaks. Every congress appropriates large sums for the support of its Indian wards, and for their education. According to recent reports, the Indians of New Mexico cost the government, in 1897, for each pupil in the Indian schools, $167, or a lump sum of $41,750, over and above the pay of the superintendent, and other expenses. The Indian school at Salem, Oregon, for the same year, cost the treasury $50,100, and the support of the establishment, $71,700. The Indian reservations, including Indian Territory, comprise four and forty-three hundredths per cent. of our public lands, exclusive of Alaska. The whole Indian population of the United States is officially stated at two hundred and ninety-seven thousand. Of these forty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-seven can read; over fifty-three thousand can converse in English. The government has built for them twenty-six thousand three hundred and eighty-nine dwelling houses, besides schoolhouses, and there are three hundred and forty-eight churches on the reservations. Religious and other societies have contributed large amounts for school and church purposes. The money collected in 1899 for the instruction and advancement of "the nation's wards" was $261,515; for general church work, $119,407. New York this year contributed for an Indian school in that state $16,016. The senate bill this present year for an Indian school at Riverside, California, proposed to appropriate $75,000. Another Indian school at Perris, California, gets $167 per pupil for one hundred and fifty pupils. The whole appropriation for the support and education of Indians in 1900 is $8,414,000. At this rate is the nation still paying for its public lands.
  8. Mr. J. Quinn Thornton, who came to Oregon late in 1846, was appointed a judge under the provisional government by Governor Abernethy, and was sent as a delegate to Washington late in 1847, arriving there May 11, 1848, several times during his lifetime publicly asserted, in written articles and in addresses delivered before the Pioneer Association, that he was the author of the Douglas Bill. By comparing dates it will be seen that he could have had nothing to do with the bill, which was introduced in the house December 23, 1846, soon after the boundary treaty. It passed the house January 16, 1847, was sent to the senate, amended, and laid upon the table March 8, 1847. In 1848 Douglas was a senator, and Chairman of the Committee on Territories. On the tenth of January the Oregon bill came up, was referred to Douglas' committee, and reported, without amendments, February 7. This was the identical bill over which senators wrangled in so dramatic a fashion until the last hour of the session, in August, 1848. A compromise bill was devised by the southern members, by which Oregon could come in in company with New Mexico and California, but congress would have none of it. There was no opportunity during Thornton's stay in Washington to alter or amend the Oregon bill, which, when it passed the senate, was in all essential features, including school lands, the same bill which was published in the Oregon Spectator of September 16, 1847, more than a month before Thornton set sail for his destination. As the Spectator was the only newspaper in Oregon at that time, and owned and controlled by the Governor, it is fair to presume that it was read by the Governor's appointee. Notwithstanding these adverse circumstances and conclusions, Mr. Thornton never ceased to claim the authorship of the organic act of Oregon, nor to congratulate himself upon having bestowed upon this and other new states the priceless benefit of school lands. "I will frankly admit," he says in his autobiography, "that when to this section (the sixteenth) of the public lands, the thirty-sixth was added by the passage of this bill, the thought that Providence had made me the instrument by which so great a boon was bestowed upon posterity filled my heart with emotions as pure and deep as can be experienced by man;" and goes on to anticipate being recognized as a benefactor of his race when his toils and responsibilities should be over. See Transactions of the Oregon Pioneer Association for 1874, and some later numbers, for these false claims. Also the Portland Oregonian of May 15, 1885, in which he distinctly denies the facts of history, and relates incredible occurrences with such minuteness of detail and loftiness of expression as to deceive any but the well informed in public affairs. The ordinary reader could not conceive such mendacity and dissembling.
  9. The older states made such provision as they could for education. Connecticut reserved some of her lands for popular education, and any state had the same right, but the "land states," as they were called, offered lands for seminaries of learning, and universities, two entire townships being the usual amount granted for this purpose, besides the thirty-sixth part set aside by compact.
  10. Rockwell had given notice of this amendment on the tenth of May, one day before the arrival of Thornton in Washington. See his "Oregon and California," vol. 2, p. 248. Therefore Mr. Rockwell's idea did not originate with Mr. Thornton. In his article in the "Transactions," for 1883, he makes Mr. Rockwell prophesy that he "will not get the Oregon bill so amended as to set apart two sections in each township, instead of one, as already provided for in the Oregon bill"—forgetting in this instance to claim paternity to both.
  11. Says the commissioner: "The expediency of making further provision for the support of common schools in the land states has attracted much attention, and certainly is worthy of the most favorable consideration. Those states are sparsely settled by an active, industrious and enterprising people, who, however, may not have sufficient means independent of their support, to endow or maintain public schools. To aid in this important matter, congress at the commencement of our land system, and when the reins of government were held by the sages of the revolution, set apart one section out of every township of thirty-six square miles. At that early day this provision doubtless appeared munificent, but experience has proved it to be inadequate. It is obviously necessary that at least one school should be established in each of those townships, and to do this they have only the section of land above mentioned, worth about $800. To invest this sum safely it cannot be made to yield more than $48 per annum, which will not pay the salary of a teacher for a single month; and the whole of the principal would not enable a township to erect a suitable common school edifice, and employ a teacher for one year. It is evident therefore, that this provision does not go far to accomplish the original design, and that without the aid of other means the citizens of those growing states cannot obtain the advantages of a general system of education. I would therefore recommend that further grants of land be made for that object, and wherever the lands reserved for the use of schools are found to be valueless, that the proper officer of the state be authorized to select others in lieu of them. * * *
    With great respect, your obedient servant,
    Acting Commissioner.
    Secretary of the Treasury.
    House Ex. Doc. 9, Vol. II, Twenty-ninth Congress, Second Session.
  12. Ex. Doc., First Session, Thirtieth Congress, Vol. 1, 1847–48.
  13. This statement that congress "granted Oregon two school sections" calls for explanation. It was only in the Northwest Territory, subject to the ordinance of 1787 by compact, that these sixteen sections belonged, as Woodbridge of Michigan contended, to the states formed out of that territory. Where other states received them it was by grant of congress.
  14. The Secretary urged other reasons for the additional grants. "Even as a question of revenue," he says, "such grants would more than refund their value to the government, as each quarter township is composed of nine sections, of which the central section would be granted for schools, and each of the remaining eight sections would be adjacent to that granted. Those eight sections thus located and each adjoining a school section, would be of greater value than when separated by many miles from such opportunities, and the thirty-two sections of one entire township, with these benefits, would bring a larger price to the government than thirty-five sections out of thirty-six, where one section only, so remote from the rest, was granted for such a purpose. The public domain would thus be settled at an earlier period, and yielding larger products, thus soon augment our exports and our imports, with a corresponding increase of revenue from duties. The greater diffusion of education would increase the power of mind and knowledge, applied to our industrial pursuits, and augment in this way also the products and wealth of the nation. Each state is deeply interested in the welfare of every other, for the representatives of the whole regulate by their votes the measures of the union, which must be more happy and progressive in proportion as its councils are guided by more enlightened views, resulting from more universal diffusion of light and knowledge and education."—Ex. Doc., Second Session, Thirtieth Congress, Vol. II, 1848–49.
  15. Gwin's Autobiography, Mr. Bancroft's Hist. Cal. VI, 298.
  16. I must be pardoned if I once more call attention to the willful perversion of truth by the talented but unscrupulous J. Quinn Thornton. In the transactions of the Pioneer Association for 1874, speaking of the Oregon bill and the school-land grants: "Up to the time of the passage of this bill, congress had never appropriated more than the sixteenth section for the support of common schools; and the late Nathan Dane, LL. D., had labored long before he succeeded in inducing the government to appropriate that portion of the public lands." The italics are mine: the word "late," to call attention to the fact that Doctor Dane had been dead for thirty-nine years, having passed to his reward in 1835, after a useful and honorable life; the word "that," because in another place Thornton claims himself to have induced the government to make this appropriation. It is difficult to deal with such constant shuffling with the intention to deceive. A different unintentional error occurred in the course of my investigations, when, in 1882, I wrote to the Department of the Interior for information as to the first act of congress reserving the thirty-sixth section in each township for school purposes, and was informed by the commissioner that "the act was approved March 3, 1849 (U. S. Statutes, Vol I, page 154), entitled an act to establish the Territorial Government of Minnesota." He had overlooked the fact that the organic act of Oregon, which passed on the fourteenth of August, 1848, contained the same appropriation. This was probably because it was in 1849 that the affairs of the land office were turned over to the interior department, and he had not searched the previous records.
  17. Act of Congress of September 4, 1841.
  18. The canal and locks at Oregon City were built out of the first proceeds of the five hundred thousand acres, when it was converted to the school fund to prevent its appropriation to local schemes of minor importance.
  19. By act of July, 1864, congress granted to the State of Oregon, to aid in the construction of a military wagon road from Eugene to the eastern boundary of the state, alternate sections of the public lands designated by odd numbers, for three sections in width on each side of the road, the United States to share in it as a military post road. The land was to be sold in quantities at one time of thirty sections on the completion of ten miles, and within five years, failing which, the land reverted to the United States. The grant amounted to one thousand nine hundred and twenty acres per mile for a distance of four hundred and twenty miles—or more than all given to the state on its admission by one hundred and fifty thousand acres. The company was allowed a primary sale of thirty sections with which to begin surveying. A road was opened from Eugene to and over the mountains in 1867, which was little used or useful. In 1873 the land grant was sold to a San Francisco company, and this immense government gift passed to private ownership in another state.