WHO OWNS THE UNITED STATES?
HENRY M. HYDE
Article and Illustrations from Technical World Magazine
WHEN “Coal Oil Johnny” bought all the champagne in New York and emptied it into a plunge bath, so that he might take a swim in the sparkling wine, he was by comparison a mean and penurious miser. The only real, genuine, open-handed and free-hearted spendthrift in the tides of time is the government of the United States. For instance :
When Jay Cooke and his colleagues were projecting the Northern Pacific Railroad they took off their hats and made a bow to Congress.
“We’re thinking of building to the Pacific coast,” they said. “Can’t you give us a little help?”
“Why, certainly,” the Congress replied enthusiastically. “Just take the State of New York and go to work.” “Oh!” said the railroad promoters in a pained voice, “is that all? Why, we really expected something substantial.”
“Well,” Congress answered, swelling with philanthropy and putting its hand into the public pocket, “of course if you feel that way about it you can put Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware on the string, too. Now run along and get busy.”
Still the Promoters stood and looked pathetically at that tender-hearted aggregation of statesmen.
“Why certainly,” sobbed Congress, finally, vainly endeavoring to conceal its emotion, “we’ll have the people lend you what money you need, too. Please don’t look at us in that tone of voice any longer.”
In other words, the land grant of forty-four millions of acres made as a free gift to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company by the national Congress more than equals in extent the total area of the States of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware.
Up to twelve years ago Congress had given away the public domain to railroad and other corporations to the extent of 266,000,000 acres, a bit of territory not far in extent from the total area of France and Germany, two countries which support between them a population much greater than the whole population of the United States when the last census was taken.
When one gets this terrific fact clear in his mind he is in a condition to realize that it is full time for Uncle Sam to make a determined effort to save what few scraps and remnants of
his patrimony are still left in his possession.
This movement, of which President Roosevelt stands at the head, is no attempt to resurrect the corpse of railroad subsidies. It is a bugle call to a man whose pocket has been picked, whose jewelry and valuables have been stolen, to wake up and defend himself before the thieves carry off his underclothes and leave him naked.
Like the negro question and other unsolved public problems, the railroad subsidy is a heritage of the Civil War. Nearly nine-tenths of all the vast land grants were made during that period of reckless and prodigal expansion which marked the decade which saw the beginning and end of the rebellion. The one great argument in their favor is that, without public aid, private capitalists could not be persuaded to invest their money in opening up a wild and unsettled country. And the one everlasting answer to that argument lies in the fact that the only trans-continental road which has never been in the hands of a receiver and never failed to pay all its promised dividends to stockholders is the Great Northern, which James J. Hill pushed through from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, over the wildest and most unsettled region on the continent, without the aid of a cent from the public treasury.
Land is the greatest of all natural resources. It contains and covers or
bears on its surface all the others. Once get a clear idea of who owns the land and the question of who controls the natural resources is answered. Unfortunately land titles in the United States are so involved that it is impossible to make a comprehensive statement on the subject. It is easy, however, to give specific examples which are sufficient proof of the fact that if the people are to save anything of their birthright immediate action and permanent watchfulness are absolutely necessary. First of all, let it be understood that the great railroad companies are the least of land offenders. They merely took with open hands what a nation of spendthrifts allowed its reckless or dishonest servants to throw away. It remained for a small army of shrewd and unscrupulous men, some by taking advantage of loose land laws and some by bribing public officials, to segregate and set apart to their own use and possession vastly greater portions of the public land. Eighty years ago a
poor boy was born in Wurtemburg,
Germany. He came to this country in a sailing ship, drifted across country to California and went to work as a butcher’s boy, with nothing but his day’s wages to depend on. At the present time, grown old and gray, this butcher’s boy, whose name is Henry Miller, owns and controls fourteen and one-half million acres of rich and fertile land—22,500 square miles—equal in round numbers to the aggregate .area of the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Try to grasp what that means ! And then turn over in your mind all the fairy stories and wonder tales that have ever been dreamed and written and then see how this true story of the penniless German butcher boy, who in fifty years became the absolute owner in fee of a magnificent empire, twice as large as Belgium, makes the wildest of them sound commonplace !
How did Henry Miller get possession of all this land? Ask any man from the Pacific coast and he will wink a knowing wink. “Why, from the government, of course—most of
it,” is as far as he cares to go for publication. They are fast learning out on the Pacific coast, where most of the fat and fertile territory is divided up among a few great land kings, that the crime of lese majesty is a serious one. Where one hundred men hold title to 17,000,000 acres in the valley of the Sacramento, alone, how shall a common subject find the courage to defy them by pointing out the open and unblushing frauds by which some titles are acquired? When United States Senators, Congressmen, a Commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington, and scores of subordinate officials are proved to be in the pay of the land grafters, a plain American citizen-subject may be pardoned if he hesitates to call down on himself the wrath of the King!
One hears much of the evils of landlordism in Ireland. Henry Miller, a single American land-owner, is lord of the land over an area two-thirds as large as the whole of the Emerald Isle! One pities the condition of the down-trodden Irish peasants. Listen
to this incident of daily life on one of the Miller ranches :
One day Henry Miller, aforesaid, drove up to the ranch house. Since his last visit rats had eaten a brood of young chickens.
“Rats, heh !” snorted Miller. “Sign of decay! Where’s that damned tramp of mine?”
How long will it take to develop the servile and cringing spirit of peasants, when one man can refer to any of the people who live in his kingdom—which is three times as large as the State of New Jersey—as “that damned tramp of mine?”
Go back to Ireland and recall how the hand of absentee landlordism has crushed the life out of that unhappy people. But how about absentee landlordism in America? Suppose the same dukes and earls and lords and barons who own the soil of Great Britain own as much more of the territory of the United States? To most people that supposition will sound like an absurd and impossible jest. They are invited to read the following incomplete list of landlords in the
United States, who are not only absentee but foreign landlords and most of whom bear titles of English
Name. acres owned.
Duke of Bedford ......... 51,085
Earl of Brownlow ........ 57>799
Earl of Carlisle........... 78,540
Earl of Cawdor .......... 51,538
Earl of Claveland......... 106,650
Earl of Derby ........... 56,698
Duke of Devonshire....... 148,626
Lord of Londonsboro ..... 52,655
Duke of Northumberland . . 191,460
Duke of Portland ........ 55,259
Earl of Powls ............ 46,095
Duke of Rutland ......... 70,039
Lady Willoughby ......... 59,212
Sir W. W. Win .......... 91,612
Earl of Yarborough....... 54,570
Baron Tweeddale ....... 1,750,000
Byron H. Evans ....... 700,000
Duke of Sutherland ....... 422,000
W. Whaley, M.P........ 310,000
Robert Tenant ......... 530,000
Lord Dunmore........... 120,000
Benjamin Neugas ....... 100,000
M. Ellerhousen ......... 600.000
Lord Houghton ......... 60,000
Lord Dunraven ......... 60,000
A Peel, M.P............ 10,000
Alexander Grant......... 35,000
The above list, which was made twelve years ago, is most incomplete and imperfect. At that time there were fifty-six foreign individuals and corporations which owned in the United States land aggregating more than 26,000,000 acres, a territory much larger than the State of Indiana and including four-fifths as much land as all England. Kept in the public domain and divided up into homesteads it would have furnished 140,000 families with farms of 160 acres each.
Since the list was compiled foreign landlords have been the object of discussion and legislation both in Congress and in several State Legislatures. But any lawyer can explain how simple it is to evade laws against foreign landlordism. And the fact remains—no matter how titles at present may be involved in trusteeships and local holding corporations—that, in one way or another, a whole splen-
did empire which once belonged to the people has passed into the ownership of foreign noblemen and capitalists.
Even more significant is the rapid growth of enormous land holdings by resident capitalists and corporations. In 1870 there were only three thousand four hundred farms in the United States which embraced more than
1.000 acres each. In 1880, this had been multiplied by nine—nearly thirty thousand landholders held more than
1.000 acres each in fee simple. In 1900, when the last census was taken, the number of farms containing more than 1,000 acres had jumped to nearly 50,000, an increase of about 66 per cent. And, in addition, the recently organized trusts have, in almost every case, got control of vast tracts of the most valuable land in the country, holding in the aggregate millions upon millions of acres. Thus the Standard Oil Company counts among its assets considerably more than a million acres of oil lands ; the Steel Trust holds in one tract coke lands valued, on the authority of Charles M. Schwab, at $60,000,000, and the
United States Leather Company boasts title to 500,000 acres of hemlock timber. This list might be multiplied indefinitely, nor does it mention even the corporations which are the largest land holders. The lumber companies dominated by Frederick Weyerhaeuser, of St. Paul, for instance, own and control timber areas covering in the aggregate more than 30,000,000 acres, or almost the amount of territory included within the State of Wisconsin.
Lest it should be gathered that the more or less fraudulent land barons of the Pacific coast are the only great individual land owners of the country it may be mentioned in passing that the late Col. D. C. Murphy, of New York State, held title, when he died, to more than four million acres of farm lands; that the late United States Senator Farwell, of Illinois, his brother and one or two other men. owned three million acres of land in Texas, and that Mrs. Virginia Ann King, of Greenville, Texas, owns so much land in one great ranch that it is a drive of nearly fifty miles from the porch of her manor house over the flat, black prairies to the front
gate of her door-yard. These persons are named merely as notable examples of a large and impressive class of great capitalists who in one way or another have got possession of great tracts of land, which once belonged to the people. It is no part of the intention of this article to charge or to insinuate that they or any of them got title through fraudulent or extra-legal means. They are cited simply to illustrate in how reckless a way the public domain has been dissipated and to rouse, if possible, the people to a realization of the vital necessity of scrupulously safeguarding the remnant which still remains.
Less than one hundred years ago the public lands of the Lmited States embraced one billion, eight hundred million acres. More than one-tenth of the whole—and this of the choicest —was granted, ofif hand, to railroad and other corporations. Eighty million acres went in grants to agricultural and other schools and colleges, more than sixty millions were disposed of by the gift of soldiers’ scrip —a large part of which was bought up for little or nothing by capitalists —and seventy millions were given
back to the several States as swamp lands.
The balance sheet of the national government in account with the people on the subject of the public domain may be roughly put as follows :
To the PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES.
To the Public Domain ........................l,800,ÜO0,(J0C
By railroad and corporation
Bv grants for schools and
colleges ........................ 80,000.000
By grants on soldiers’ scrip 61,000,000 By grants of swamp lands to states ........................ 70,000,000
Total .............................. 403,500.000
On hand 1908 ................... 755,000,000
Taken up by actual settlers and land grafters ....................................... 641,500,000
At first sight the grand total of 755,000,000 acres still remaining in the public domain is most impressive. It looks not at all like a desperate situation. It would furnish, if divided into 160-acre tracts, farms for neárly five million families. All this talk, then, of a land famine is merely the attempt of a reckless muckraker to start another unfounded sensation !
But wait! We desire first of all, as
the side-show barker remarks, to call your attention to the large animal in the. first cage to your right ! That is Ah ska, with a total area of 270,000,000 acres, which is not likely to be homesteaded by farmers for some aeom. Subtracting that, one finds the public domain cut nearly in two, with four Fundred millions of acres remaining. From that must be taken the millions permanently locked up in government forest reservations, national pares and other reserves. From it must be taken also thousands of square miles of mountains and deserts which neither irrigation nor improved dry farming \\ ill ever bring under the plow.
In the end the people find themselves much in toe position of the spendthrift, who after running through his patrimony, still boasts himself rich, because half of his safety-deposit vault is piled high with wild-cat oil stock and other worthless securities.
Stepping into the next tent your careful attention is called to some strange and wonderful statistics, collected at vast expense and pains by the daring hunters and exploréis of the census bureau.
In 1880 twenty-five out of every hundred farmers in the United States were tenant farmers—owning no land of their own—working for a landlord on shares or paying rental in some other way. Twenty years later the total number of farmers had increased by more than a million, but the number of tenant farmers had increased even more rapidly. In 1900 more than thirty-five and a half out of every hundred were working land that belonged to somebody else—and that in a country where fifty years ago the refrain of a popular song ran:
Uncle Sam has land enough
To give a farm to each of us!
Never mind the fact that outside of the farms two-thirds of all the families in America are paying rent for
the roof over their heads—that doesn't matter in the present discussion. The fact of significance is that there were in 1900—the number is much greater now-—no less than three million families of American tenant farmers— peasants in the making if the proper definition of a peasant be an agricultural laborer who works the land of another. In down-trodden Ireland, when it was most populous, there were never more than 800,000 tenant farmers.
Speaking generally, there are two plans along which most of the great landed estates in the United States are managed. One method is that followed by Samuel W. Allerton, of Chicago, who, in addition to other great interests, owns more than 40,000 acres of improved farm lands in the great central States of Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. Mr. Allerton has adapted trust methods to agriculture. Each of his farms is a model of its kind and all are operated under the general direction of a central office in Chicago. Each farm is directly managed by a resident superintendent, wtk, is held strictly responsible tor results. All the latest scientific methods are employed and the estate as a whole closely resembles a great industrial corporation, with many widely scattered plants, yet all enjoying the benefit of collective buying in huge quantities under the general direction of a highly efficient executive, who cultivates a spirit of rivalry among the various farms and sees that all the superintendents are kept up to the highest pitch. This method, of course, does away with even the quasi-independence which the average tenant farmer enjoys and makes all the residents employes on wages. When it is considered that Mr. Allerton also owns the stockyards in several large cities about which his farms are grouped, it will be realized that he is logically applying trust methods to farming more completely than in any other instance which can be cited.
Another method of managing a great land estate is that which was followed by the late Lord William Scully, of London, who owned, in addition to other great tracts, 40,000 acres in one piece in Logan County, Illinois. He rented all his lands for cash, compelling his tenants to erect all buildings and to make all other improvements at their own expense, at the same time forcing them to pay all taxes on the land. The net annual income from his Logan County land was for some years about $150,000.
Both methods tend towards the creation of that monopoly in land which last year drove half a million of the youngest, sturdiest and most ambitious of United States farmers across the border into Canada, v,here there is still free land to be had by those who will take the oath of allegiance to King Edward and settle down to honestly till the soil.