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- Great Fortunes from Railroads - 5/57 -
defray the expense of surveying. This they took care not to pay, or only to pay as fast as they could sell tracts to some purchasers, on which occasions they paid the surveying fee and obtained deeds for the portion they sold. In this way they have held millions of acres for speculative purposes, waiting for a rise in prices, without taxation, while the farmers in adjacent lands paid taxes." [Footnote: "Labor, Land and Law": 338-339.]
Phillips passes this fact by with a casual mention, as though it were one of no great significance.
It is a fact well worthy of elaboration. Precisely as the aristocracies in the Old World had gotten their estates by force and fraud, and then had the laws so arranged as to exempt those estates from taxation, so has the money aristocracy of the United States proceeded on the same plan. As we shall see, however, the railroad and other interests have not only put through laws relieving from direct taxation the land acquired by fraud, but also other forms of property based upon fraud.
This survey, however, would be prejudicial and one-sided were not the fact strongly pointed out that the railroad capitalists were by no means the only land-graspers. Not a single part of the capitalist class was there which could in any way profit from the theft of public domain that did not wallow in corruption and fraud.
The very laws seemingly passed to secure to the poor settler a homestead at a reasonable price were, as Henry M. Teller, Secretary of the Interior, put it, perverted into "agencies by which the capitalists secures large and valuable areas of the public land at little expense." [Footnote: Report of the Secretary of the Interior for 1883. Reporting to Secretary of the Interior Lamar, in response to a U. S. Senate resolution for information, William A. J. Sparks, Commissioner of the General Land Office, gave statistics showing an enormous number of fraudulent land entries, and continued:
"It was the ease with which frauds could be perpetrated under existing laws, and the immunity offered by a hasty issue of patents, that encouraged the making of fictitious and fraudulent entries. The certainty of a thorough investigation would restrain such practices, but fraud and great fraud must inevitably exist so long as the opportunity for fraud is preserved in the laws, and so long as it is hoped by the procurers and promoters of fraud that examinations may be impeded or suppressed." If, Commissioner Sparks urged, the preŽmption, commuted-homestead, timber-land, and desert-land laws were repealed, then, "the illegal appropriation of the remaining public lands would be reduced to a minimum."--U. S. Senate Documents, First Session, Forty-ninth Congress, 1885-1886, Vol. viii, Doc. No. 134:4.] The poor were always the decoys with which the capitalists of the day managed to bag their game. It was to aid and encourage "the man of small resources" to populate the West that the Desert Land Law was apparently enacted; and many a pathetic and enthusiastic speech was made in Congress as this act was ostentatiously going through. Under this law, it was claimed, a man could establish himself upon six hundred and forty acres of land and, upon irrigating a portion of it, and paying $1.25 an acre, could secure a title. For once, it seemed, Congress was looking out for the interests of the man of few dollars.
VAST THEFTS OF LAND.
But plaudits were too hasty. To the utter surprise of the people the law began to work in a perverse direction. Its provisions had read well enough on a casual scrutiny. Where lay the trouble? It lay in just a few words deftly thrown in, which the crowd did not notice. This law, acclaimed as one of great benefit to every man aspiring for a home and land, was arranged so that the capitalist cattle syndicates could get immense areas. The lever was the omission of any provision requiring _actual settlement_. The livestock corporations thereupon sent in their swarms of dummies to the "desert" lands (many of which, in reality, were not desert but excellent grazing lands), had their dummies get patents from the Government and then transfer the lands. In this way the cattlemen became possessed of enormous areas; and to-day these tracts thus gotten by fraud are securely held intact, forming what may be called great estates, for on many of them live the owners in expansive baronial style.
In numerous instances, law was entirely dispensed with. Vast tracts of land were boldly appropriated by sheep and cattle rangers who had not even a pretense of title. Enclosing these lands with fences, the rangers claimed them as their own, and hired armed guards to drive off intruders, and kill if necessary. [Footnote: "Within the cattle region," reported Commissioner Sparks, "it is notorious that actual settlements are generally prevented and made practically impossible outside the proximity of towns, through the unlawful control of the country, maintained by cattle companies."--U. S. Senate Docs., 1885- 86, Vol. viii, No. 134:4 and 5.
Acting Commissioner Harrison of the General Land Office, reporting on March 14, 1884, to Secretary of the Interior Teller, showed in detail the vast extent of the unlawful fencing of public lands. In the Arkansas Valley in Colorado at least 1,000,000 acres of public domain were illegally seized. The Prairie Cattle Company, composed of Scotch capitalists, had fenced in more than a million acres in Colorado, and a large number of other cattle companies in Colorado had seized areas ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 acres. "In Kansas," Harrison went on, "entire counties are reported as [illegally] fenced. In Wyoming, one hundred and twenty-five cattle companies are reported having fencing on the public lands. Among the companies and persons reported as having 'immense' or 'very large' areas inclosed . . . are the Dubuque, Cimarron and Renello Cattle [companies] in Colorado; the Marquis de Morales in Colorado; the Wyoming Cattle Company (Scotch) in Wyoming; and the Rankin Live Stock Company in Nebraska.
"There is a large number of cases where inclosures range from 1,000 to 25,000 acres and upwards.
"The reports of special agents show that the fraudulent entries of public land within the enclosures are extensively made by the procurement and in the interest of stockmen, largely for the purpose of controlling the sources of water supply."--"Unauthorized Fencing of Public Lands," U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, Forty-eighth Congress, 1883-84, Vol. vi, Doc. No. 127:2.] Murder after murder was committed. In this usurpation the august Supreme Court of the United States upheld them. And the grounds of the decision were what?
The very extraordinary dictum that a settler could not claim any right of preŽmption on public lands in possession of another who had enclosed, settled upon and improved them. This was the very reverse of every known declaration of common and of statute law. No court, supreme or inferior, had ever held that because the proceeds of theft were improved or were refurbished a bit, the sufferer was thereby estopped from recovery. This decision showed anew how, while the courts were ever ready to enforce the law literally against the underlings and penniless, they were as active in fabricating tortuous constructions coinciding not always, but nearly always, with the demands and interests of the capitalist class.
It has long been the fashion on the part of a certain prevalent school of writers and publicists to excoriate this or that man, this or that corporation, as the ringleader in the orgy of corruption and oppression. This practice, arising partly from passionate or ill- considered judgment, and in part from ignorance of the subject, has been the cause of much misunderstanding, popular and academic.
No one section of the capitalist class can be held solely responsible; nor were the morals and ethics of any one division different from those of the others. The whole capitalist class was coated with the same tar. Shipping merchants, traders in general, landholders, banking and railroad corporations, factory owners, cattle syndicates, public utility companies, mining magnates, lumber corporations--all were participants in various ways in the subverting of the functions of government to their own fraudulent ends at the expense of the whole producing class.
While the railroad corporations were looting the public treasury and the public domain, and vesting in themselves arbitrary powers of taxation and proscription, all of the other segments of the capitalist class were, at the same time, enriching themselves in the same way or similar ways. The railroads were much denounced; but wherein did their methods differ from those of the cattle syndicates, the industrial magnates or the lumber corporations? The lumber barons wanted their predacious share of the public domain; throughout certain parts of the West and in the South were far-stretching, magnificent forests covered with the growth of centuries. To want and to get them were the same thing, with a Government in power representative of capitalism.
SPOLIATION ON A GREAT SCALE.
The "poor settler" catspaw was again made use of. At the behest of the lumber corporations, or of adventurers or politicians who saw a facile way of becoming multimillionaires by the simple passage of an act, the "Stone and Timber Act" was passed in 1878 by Congress. An amendment passed in 1892 made frauds still easier. This measure was another of those benevolent-looking laws which, on its face, extended opportunities for the homesteader. No longer, it was plausibly set forth, could any man say that the Government denied him the right to get public land for a reasonable sum. Was ever a finer, a more glorious chance presented? Here was the way open for any individual homesteader to get one hundred and sixty acres of timber land for the low price of $2.50 an acre. Congress was overwhelmed with outbursts of panegyrics for its wisdom and public spirit.
Soon, however, a cry of rage went up from the duped public. And the cause? The law, like the Desert Land Law, it turned out, was filled with cunningly-drawn clauses sanctioning the worst forms of spoliation. Entire trainloads of people, acting in collusion with the land grabbers, were transported by the lumber syndicates into the richest timber regions of the West, supplied with the funds to buy, and then each, after having paid $2.50 per acre for one hundred and sixty acres, immediately transferred his or her allotment to the lumber corporations.
Thus, for $2.50 an acre, the lumber syndicates obtained vast tracts of the finest lands worth, at the least, according to Government agents, $100 an acre, at a time, thirty-five years ago, when lumber was not nearly so costly as now.
The next development was characteristic of the progress of onsweeping capitalism. Just as the traders, bankers, factory owners, mining and railroad magnates had come into their possessions largely (in varying degrees) by fraud, and then upon the strength of those possessions had caused themselves to be elected or appointed to powerful offices in the Government, State or National, so now some of the lumber barons used a part of the millions obtained by fraud to purchase their way into the United States Senate and other high offices. They, as did their associates in the other branches of the capitalist
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