Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2

[Volume 4, Page 555]

Document 3

St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries 1:App. 283--86


During the revolutionary war, congress recommended to the several states in the union, having claims to waste and unappropriated lands in the western country, a liberal cession to the United States of a portion of their respective claims, for the common benefit of the union. In consequence of which, the state of Virginia ceded to the United States, for the common benefit of the whole confederacy, all the right, title, and claim which the commonwealth had to the territory northwest of the river Ohio, subject to the terms and conditions contained in her several acts of cession, viz. January 2, 1781 . . . Acts of October session, 1783, c. 18, and of December 30, 1788. One of the conditions of the latter act, being, that the said territory should be divided into not more than five, nor less than three states, whose boundaries are therein prescribed, of which we have already had occasion to make mention. It appears by a late document, that the tract of country thus ceded, probably contains about 10,894,447, acres, within the line of the Indian boundary, of which 1,059,120, acres have been either located or set apart for military claims, 575,268, have been sold, or otherwise granted, and about 9,260,089, remained unsold on the first of November, 1801. The acts of 4 Cong. c. 29, and 6 Cong. c. 55, providing for the sale of these lands, contain many wise, and wholesome regulations, the principal of which, are, that they shall be laid out into townships six miles square, by north and south lines, according to the true meridian, and by others crossing them at right angles; that one half of those townships, taking them alternately, shall be subdivided into sections of six hundred and forty acres, which shall be numbered in order; that fair plats of these townships shall be made; that four sections at the center of every township, and every other section upon which a salt spring may be discovered shall be reserved for the use of the United States; that all navigable rivers shall be deemed, and remain public highways; and all lesser streams, and their beds shall become common to the proprietors of the lands on the opposite banks; and that no part of the lands shall be sold for less than two dollars per acre. A former secretary of the treasury estimated the value of these lands at twenty cents per acre, only. Those which have been already sold pursuant to the act of congress, have averaged two dollars and nine cents; or, more than ten times that valuation. The celebrated Doctor Price, in his observations on the importance of the American revolution, recommends the reserving the whole, or a considerable part of these lands, and appropriating a certain sum annually to the clearing unlocated lands, and other improvements thereon; and computes that 100,000l. thus expended, with fidelity, would produce a capital of one hundred millions sterling, in about eighty years. This hint is probably worthy of attention to a certain extent: but it might well be questioned, whether, if the measure were adopted as far as he seems to have thought advisable, it might not lay the foundation of so large a revenue, independent of the people, as to be formidable in the hands of any government. To amass immense riches to defray the expences of ambition when occasion may prompt, without seeming to oppress the people, has uniformly been the policy of tyrants. Should such a policy creep into our government, and the sales of land, instead of being appropriated to the discharge of former debts, be converted to a treasure in a bank, those who can at any time command it, may be tempted to apply it to the most nefarious purposes. The improvident alienation of the crown lands in England, has been considered as a circumstance extremely favourable to the liberty of the nation, by rendering the government less independent of the people. The same reason will apply to other governments, whether monarchical or republican: whenever any government becomes independent of the nation all ideas of responsibility are immediately lost: and when responsibility ceases, slavery begins. It is the due restraint, and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty; as the power to oppress, though never exercised, does a state of slavery.

The disposal of the whole of the western lands, at so low a rate as even that now established by congress, as a minimum, is a measure of the policy of which, doubts may be entertained. . . . The western territory ought to be regarded as a national stock of wealth. It may be compared to bullion, or coin deposited in the vaults of a bank, which although it produces no present profit, secures the credit of the institution, and is ready to answer any emergency. This supposes the lands, like bullion, to remain always of the same value; but the lands must increase in value at the rate of compound interest, whenever population becomes considerable in those parts of the union. This we see is daily encreasing with great rapidity; and the value of the lands can not fail to keep pace with it. The most fertile spots upon the globe are of no more value than those which are covered by the ocean, so long as they continue remote from population; as the most barren spots are rendered valuable by its progress, and approach. A reserve of one half, or some other considerable proportion of the lands remaining unsold, therefore, seems to be recommended by many prudential considerations.

Other considerable cessions have been made to the United States by other states in the union. The state of Connecticut, made a cession which appears to have been accepted by congress, September 14, 1786. The act of 6 Cong. c. 38, authorises the president of the United States to release the soil of a tract lying west of the west line of Pennsylvania, and extending one hundred and twenty statute miles, westward, and from the completion of the forty-first, to the latitude of the forty-second degree and two minutes, north, which was excepted by the state of Connecticut out of their cession, provided that state shall cede to the United States certain other lands, and relinquish her right of jurisdiction over the territory, the soil of which shall be thus released to that state. . . .

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2, Document 3
The University of Chicago Press

Tucker, St. George. Blackstone's Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1803. Reprint. South Hackensack, N.J.: Rothman Reprints, 1969.