I just wonder if all private land in the US traces its origin to a patent, or if the patents were established on property people already owned on the frontier as the governed area expanded, so the government could say they granted it. I don't think there was any mass eviction once local governments were established so I'm inclined to think the latter.

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    @Machavity A deed from the government to the first private owner of land received from the government is called a "patent". For example, a homesteader who went to a government land office got a deed called a patent from the Land Office once the terms necessary to homestead the land were met. – ohwilleke Oct 12 '18 at 20:08
  • @ohwilleke Ah, I had not heard that term before. Either way, this might be a better question for History.SE – Machavity Oct 12 '18 at 20:11
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    @Machavity I think it is fair here because it goes to the relationship as a matter of political theory and practice between private rights and government sources for those rights. – ohwilleke Oct 12 '18 at 22:15

Not all land rights originate from patents from the U.S. Government.

A famous example, Manhattan was purchased by Dutch colonists from Native Americans in 1626. See https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h2122.html

I would further hazard a guess that most original land records in the first 13 states have very little to do with the federal government. The U.S. Constitution recognized under section 2 the rights of state citizens, including the right to hold and dispose of property, either real or proper. Similarly as new states entered the union (e.g. Texas) the land records of the state would generally be considered to be appropriate and sufficient without any federal action.

All of this makes good sense when you consider that virtually all of the "founding fathers" were in fact land owners before the revolution of 1776.

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    There are also some places where some private title has roots in Spanish patents or French patents or Dutch patents or British patents or Russian patents, rather than U.S. patents, and historical title in Hawaii is beyond my knowledge but predates joining the U.S., but very little land title in the U.S. does not originate in some government grant. As a legal doctrine adverse possession does not run against a sovereign, so a mere squatter on land subject to a sovereign doe not gain marketable title to it. – ohwilleke Oct 12 '18 at 22:13
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    Very good point. I'd expect that those are very different. Records in Louisiana for example seems based on parishes rather than the English system of counties. – Burt_Harris Oct 12 '18 at 22:16
  • More generally, the sovereign title to a lot of land in the U.S. is by purchase (Louisiana Purchase, Gadsden Purchase, Alaska), or by affiliation via treaty with the U.S. (e.g. Florida, Hawaii), and much of the source of that sovereign title is claimed by conquest. – ohwilleke Oct 12 '18 at 22:18
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    I believe the OP's question was to distinguish weather or not the U.S. government recognized existing private land ownership from prior to its governance being established. I think such recognition is the case, George Washington didn't loose out. The government may act as if it granted the land, but as the U.S. government was established by, of, and for the people, that really seems like a legal fiction to make the feudal tradition of ownership work post 1776. – Burt_Harris Oct 12 '18 at 23:25
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    Post revolutionary war France recognized aboriginal title. Clearly the Native Americans the lost out after the Louisana purchase in a way the founding fathers did not. At least Manhatten was purportedly paid for, and so remains my strongest example. – Burt_Harris Oct 12 '18 at 23:42

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