Monday, May 21, 2012

How the West Was Really Won

The May 19 weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by historian Fergus M. Bordewich celebrating the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Homestead Act, signed into law by mass murderer Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.  The writer points out how the law helped America become an economic super power by distributing 270 million acres of land for free to those willing to live on and work it.  Yeah, well, that's just great, unless you happen to be one the folks that were living there before Lincoln signed the bill.  Bordewich even mentions that many blacks were able to take advantage of the program to build new lives in the west.  And he is nice enough to mention in one paragraph that the original owners of all that property, and much, much more, had been reduced to having a claim to only 52 million acres of the least valuable land in 1934.

In exchange for money and debt forgiveness adding up to $233 million in 2011 funds, Jefferson acquired for the infant US 828,000 square miles or 23% of the present land mass of the country, 42 cents an acre.  This transaction was made with the French, who had obtained the land from the Spain.  While citizens of both countries had a limited physical presence in the area, neither had any kind of effective control over the indigenous population, composed of many tribes with differing economies and alliances and with intermittent hostility to the European invaders.  The idea that those aliens had the right to dispose of this property and the people living on it would dismissed out of hand today.

The Louisiana Purchase and subsequent acquisitions of land by the US government illustrate an important point about that government and all other governments.  What the state can do to them, can be done to you as well.

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