Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews




LANDS, 1789-1837. By Malcolm Rohr-

bough. (New York: Oxford University

Press, 1968. xiii??331p.; introduction,

illustrations, bibliography, and index.


Recognizing that any complete study of

American land policy "would be a stag-

gering task," Malcolm Rohrbough has

wisely focused on a limited aspect of the

topic. While interested in describing the

evolution of the administrative machinery

that Congress and officials of the General

Land Office devised to dispose of the pub-

lic domain, he is also concerned with the

forces which influenced the development

of that apparatus. Americans, he concludes,

were fascinated by land, and few obstacles

were capable of restraining their desire to

own land. The interaction between men

who wanted land--speculators, planters,

yeoman farmers, squatters, and eastern

businessmen--and the government admin-

istrators who tried to control the distribu-

tion of the public domain is the central

theme of the book.

Several topics discussed by Rohrbough

should appeal to readers interested in Ohio

history. The first attempts by the govern-

ment to provide for an orderly disposition

of public lands, for example, were dis-

rupted by the purchases of the Ohio Com-

pany of Associates, the Scioto Company,

and John Cleves Symmes. In these pur-

chases, the success of speculators in in-

fluencing government policies and admin-

istration established a precedent which af-

fected all future sales of public lands.

Rohrbough's analysis of the pressure ex-

erted by large-scale speculators is informa-

tive and complete. His description of the

yeoman farmer as a speculator, however,

seems inadequate. He contends that the

small farmer was in fact a speculator but

presents little convincing evidence to sup-

port his case. Granted this is difficult to

prove, but perhaps a more detailed discus-

sion of increasing land value, particularly

in settled areas such as Ohio, and the pro-

pensity of small farmers to move frequent-

ly would have helped to make his point.

Not all Ohio residents were interested

in the speculative aspects of the land busi-

ness. Such men as Elijah Hayward, Edward

Tiffin, and Thomas Worthington were

actively involved in the administration of

land laws either as surveyors or as the

head of the General Land Office. Others,

such as William Henry Harrison, were

more active in influencing the legislation

that dealt with the public domain.

One disconcerting weakness of the book,

perhaps, is its organization. Chapters deal-

ing with the administration of land offices

are chronologically arranged. Each at-

tempts to analyze and describe develop-