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The Land Department as an Administrative Tribunal1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2013

Charles R. Pierce
United States Forest Service, now Practicing before the Interior Department


If, for the moment, we can conceive of Uncle Sam as being Andrew Carnegie, of Carnegie's millions as unimproved real estate, and of Carnegie's intention to die poor, as Uncle Sam's liberal land policy, we can perhaps best picture to ourselves the public land administration in the United States in a nutshell. The government, like Carnegie, is unloading its vast wealth in a manner calculated to do the most good, and it is guarding itself continuously, although often futilely, from being imposed upon and cheated. The ownership of the public domain by the United States is of the highest possible title. There is no one to dispute the government's absolute ownership of it. There are no taxes to pay. The government is subject to no obligation to dispose of its land. It can keep or dispose of the land as it chooses.

In 1789 the United States government started as owner of practically all of the Northwest Territory. Later it acquired, what some geographers call the Southwest Territory, by further cession from the States. By purchase, discovery, annexation and conquest the United States acquired further holdings, so that with the exception of Texas and private holdings the government's fee simple title in the public domain extended from the thirteen colonies to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of Florida to the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 1916

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1 A paper read at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D. C., December 29, 1915.