Federal Statutes -- The Public Lands


There is a self-evidence to the laws of the land that makes them suggestive of many things at once: records of asserted national identity, the practical answers to questions that urge a nation toward not only what it hopes to be but what it thinks it is; the framework of a nation, in regard both to its legal bounds as well as to its explicitly sanctioned moral norms; institutional records, the tracks of its attempt to keep up with the society it governs, and to contain the social and economic forces in directing them as national purpose.

The following are given as an indication of how federal laws attempted to apply structure to the sense of geographical bounds within the United States during the 19th century, as it developed from the protean confusion of who owned what and where, to the increasingly directed and clarified sense(s) of purpose regarding the establishment--in legal, economic, and cultural terms--of the West.

An Introductory Note
Regarding the relevance of law to the myth of Virgin Land.




The 12th Congress

  • 1812: April 25--The establishment of The General Land Office.

    The 25th Congress

  • 1838 June 22--Regarding Pre-emption Rights.

  • 1841--Regarding Pre-emption Rights.

    The 37th Congress

  • 1862: May 15--The formation of The Department of Agriculture.
  • 1862: May 20--The Homestead Act.
  • 1862: June 14--Regarding property of 'civilized' Indians.




    American Studies at UVA
    Scott Atkins: October 1995; February 1996.