How the West Was Lost

The story of how many Americans have been cheated out of their land

One of the strongest held beliefs of the Founders was that "Life and liberty are secure only so long as the right of property is secure." In The 5000 Year Leap, Dr. Skousen explains this principle as follows:

"Under English common law, a most unique significance was attached to the unalienable right of possessing, developing, and disposing of property. Land and the products of the earth were considered a gift of God which were to be cultivated, beautified, and brought under dominion. As the Psalmist had written:

"... even the heavens are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men."

Mankind Given the Earth "In Common"

John Locke pointed out that the human family originally received the planet earth as a common gift and that mankind was given the capacity and responsibility to improve it. Said he:

"God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience."

Development of the Earth Mostly by Private Endeavor

Then Locke pointed out that man received the commandment from his Creator to "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over it.

But because dominion means control, and control requires exclusiveness, private rights in property became an inescapable necessity or an inherent aspect of subduing the earth and bringing it under dominion.

It is obvious that if there were no such thing as "ownership" in property, which means legally protected exclusiveness, there would be no subduing or extensive development of the resources of the earth. Without private "rights" in developed or improved property, it would be perfectly lawful for a lazy, covetous neighbor to move in as soon as the improvements were completed and take possession of the fruits of his industrious neighbor. And even the covetous neighbor would not be secure, because someone stronger than he could take it away from him. (W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, NCCS, pp. 169-170)

Land belongs to the people, not the government

With the belief that the land and its resources were given to man to develop, use, and enjoy, it was repulsive to the Founders that a ruler like King George would claim the land as his realm and set severe restrictions for the ownership and use of it. They felt so strongly about limiting and controlling the power of government that they gave Congress absolutely no power to acquire or hold land in the Articles of Confederation.

Of course, the Articles of Confederation was a very weak document. It was the main reason we almost lost the Revolutionary War. And events in the four years following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 proved it. Much to the dislike to some, they realized there needed to be more energy to the federal government. The big question was how to limit the power so as not to let the federal government overpower the states. One of these areas had to do with the authority of the federal government over land within a state. The Founders carefully worded the limitation in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution as follows:

".to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;.."

In The Making of America, Dr. Skousen paraphrases this clause and adds his comments as follows:

The people of the states empower Congress to exercise complete jurisdiction and authority over all lands or facilities purchased within a state, providing it shall be with the consent of the legislature of that state. Such lands shall be used for the "erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings."

This provision gives the Congress the right to exercise complete jurisdiction over lands or facilities which it has purchased with the consent of the state legislature for the purposes specified.

It would also appear that this provision gives each state the right to assume title to all lands within its boundaries which the federal government is not using for the purposes specified in this section.

But what about new states coming into the Union where most of the territory consists of federal public lands? The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 declared that all new states would come into the Union on a basis of complete equality or equal footing with the original thirteen states. Therefore it was assumed that as soon as a new territory was granted statehood, the people of that state would acquire title to every acre of land other than a very small percentage granted to the federal government for the "erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings."

The Founders thus declared their intent that the federal government could only hold land if it were used for one of four purposes, namely, for the erection of forts, magazines and arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings such as post offices and perhaps federal courts, etc. But even these uses had to be with the consent of the state legislature.

But Congress did not allow this to happen. When Ohio was admitted into the Union in 1903, the government retained title to all of the public lands but assured the people that Ohio would acquire jurisdiction as soon as these lands could be sold to help pay off the national debt . This, then, became the established policy for new states:

  1. The federal government would retain all ungranted public lands.

  2. The government guaranteed that it would dispose of these lands as soon as possible.

  3. The new state would acquire jurisdiction over these lands as fast as they were sold to private individuals.

As a result of this policy, all of the states east of the Mississippi, and those included in the Louisiana Purchase, eventually acquired all but a very small percentage of the land lying within their state boundaries.

However, when the territory of the western states was acquired from Mexico, Congress radically digressed from the Constitution by virtually eliminating the sale or disposal of federal lands. The general policy was to permanently retain major portions of each of the western states for purposes not listed in the Constitution. This policy resulted in the government becoming the permanent owner and manager of over 35 percent of the American landmass. At the present time, vast areas within the boundaries of these states are permanently designated as part of the federal domain for national forests, national parks, national monuments, coal and oil reserves, lands leased for profit to ranchers or farmers, and huge tracts of land with valuable resources completely locked up as "wilderness areas."

Here is the amount of land in each of the western states still held by the federal government (this does not include Indian reservations):



New Mexico






















The most flagrant example of all, however, is found in the conditions under which Alaska was admitted to the Union in 1959. The people were only allowed to occupy approximately 4 percent of their state.

Of course, the government should have exclusive jurisdiction over those lands acquired for the purposes listed in the Constitution. As Madison stated:

"The public money expended on such places, and the public property deposited in them, require that they should be exempt from the authority of the particular State. Nor would it be proper for the places on which the security of the entire Union may depend to be in any degree dependent on a particular member of it. All objections and scruples are here also obviated by requiring the concurrence of the States concerned in every such establishment."

It is obvious that the federal government is currently occupying millions of acres within certain states without the concurrence of those states. (The Making of America pp. 458-459)

How is this precious resource of liberty disappearing?

NCCS is making available to our supporters a monumental book entitled How the West Was Lost. This 446 page book documents the sad story of America's land resource and how the federal government continues to gobble it up and remove it from the people. The author, William Hayward, writes:

The title of this book, if taken without its sub-title, "The theft and usurpation of state's property rights," is deceptive. An ancillary question is presupposed: "How did the Federal Government supplant itself in the place occupied by the states and guaranteed as such by the 10th Amendment?" Along with this and other questions, this book traces the history of the westward expansion of the United States from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Ocean as well as the disposition of the vast stretches of land this expansion encompassed. But more important to the core theme of this book is the underlying shift of the accepted ownership of the land from state to federal, its disposal, the method of disposing of it, in what quantities, and why. In short: In doing this, how did the federal and judicial branches of our government accomplish acts that were totally abhorrent to the beliefs and standards of our founding fathers?--acts that spill over into every walk of our lives today-the bending of the Constitution-- not just land ownership.

The book traces the dominion and sovereignty (the basic underlying title to all land within a state's borders) that was possessed by the original 13 colonies, to which all subsequent states were to possess in like manner (on an "Equal Footing") after statehood; how this basic land-title possessed by the original 13 colonies was denied subsequent states that joined the union of states-the United States of America; how this foundational requirement of land ownership by all new added states was usurped as the country expanded westward. Such expansion westward resulted from treaty (the land west to the Mississippi River, then still further westward as the result of the Louisiana Purchase), by annexation (Texas), and by war with Mexico (most of the remainder of the land clear to the Pacific Ocean).

It took over 200 years for this expansion from the 13 original states to the 50 states that today compose the United States-each joining the Union "on an equal footing with the original 13 states." The westward expansion, as traced by this book, belies this very statement. According to the history related in this book, the states that joined the Union after the original 13 colony-states did not do so on a equal footing: Their basic land ownership ended up in retention by the Federal Government in perpetuity. It wasn't intended that way by our Founding Fathers, but that is the way it ended up.

Exactly how and when this retention took place is unfolded as one reads the book. In a way, this book is a historical mystery story from start to finish, except that it is real people, real time, real places and real events of the past.

This book is scholarly researched, extensively footnoted, and indexed. It is the shocking story of the usurpation and expansion of power that has either been given to, assumed by, or simply been taken by the different agencies or bureaus of the Federal Government over the years and aided and abetted by a sympathetic court. The book traces how this power began and what has become of it. Moreover, it tells the impact different Supreme Court decisions have had upon this expansion of power, how some of these decisions have been ignored, others have been "bent" to serve the "exigency of the moment," while still others have been taken as supportive of this expansion. The level "playing field" the U. S. Constitution was designed by the Founding Fathers to insure was tilted at will by different governmental bureaus as well as the Supreme Court.

As Nevada rancher, Bert Smith, has said: "This book is the most complete book on how the federal government took over and held the land in the western states. Besides the history this book relates, this book is a law reference book on federal land law, and should be in the hands of every western rancher or any federal land user. It should be in all public libraries, law libraries and certainly in any land law attorney's library."

Click here to order How the West Was Lost and save 45% while quantities last.



Earl Taylor, Jr.