Without the now-obscure land investment affair, Georgia might have been a "super state."
- Few people today are familiar with the Yazoo Land Scandal, which broke in the mid-1790s.
- Yet it sent shockwaves through American public life, influencing politics, law, and even geography.
- Without it, Georgia could have been a "super state" — and the Trail of Tears might not have happened.
Seven of the original 13 states had extensive territorial claims, mainly toward the west.Credit: Library of Congress via public domain
There are no good old days.
Travel back, say, to the presidency of George Washington himself. Yes, the father of the nation, he who could tell no lie. Even under POTUS #1, there was corruption so venal and egregious that it changed the very map of America. In other words, without the Yazoo Land Scandal, the political geography of the United States might have looked quite different. Yet despite its catchy name and far-reaching consequences, few now remember the affair.
The scandal centered on Georgia, the last holdout in the process of state cessions. Of the original 13 colonies-turned-states, seven had entered into the Union with vague, contested, and often overlapping land claims, mainly in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
The six states without claims did not want to be overshadowed by their expanding neighbors. And the federal government did not want them to get into fights where their claims overlapped. So the U.S. government spent its first few years convincing and cajoling those seven states to abandon their claims. When New York relinquished its claim to Vermont in 1790 (for a mere $30,000), that process was complete. With one exception.
Yazoo Land Fraud
Georgia continued to claim territory all the way to the Mississippi River. For various reasons, the state was loath to give up its interest in these so-called Yazoo Lands, corresponding to the larger part of the present-day states of Mississippi and Alabama. Not least because of money. Land developers were eager to acquire large chunks of the country, their guiding principle being: bribe high, pay low.
In 1794, four companies, set up especially for the purpose, paid half a million dollars for about 40 million acres of land. Even taking into account all the bribes — another half a million — that was a ridiculously low amount: four acres to a dollar.
Following the Rescinding Act, Georgia's governor and legislators burn all copies of the Yazoo Act (except one).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Infuriated by the deal, Georgians booted out the legislators who had their palms greased to approve the Yazoo Act, by which Georgia had sold all that land on the cheap. In 1795, a new state legislature voted a Rescinding Act, overturning the sale. All extant copies of the original Act were collected and burned at high noon on the grounds of the state capitol under construction, then in Louisville. (One copy escaped destruction — the one sent to President Washington).
The Yazoo hits the fan
But that was far from the end of the unpleasantries. In fact, this is where the actual scandal started. For the land companies did not admit defeat. They continued printing bonds that were being traded and sold on the financial markets of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, raking in tidy profits.
Thousands of bond buyers acquired a stake in the Yazoo Lands. Eventually, though, the market smelled a rat. Investors started to worry: had they thrown away their money on a fraudulent land scheme?
Georgia paid back some of the duped buyers, but unable to handle the escalating scale of the scandal, the state eventually did surrender its claims to the Yazoo Lands to the federal government. Under the so-called Compact of 1802, the U.S. paid Georgia $1.25 million, took over any remaining liability for the Yazoo Lands, and promised to rid Georgia of any remaining Native American land claims.
So, the duped investors could now sue the federal government instead of Georgia. The land companies, for their part, wanted the U.S. to uphold their claims, which they continued to consider legal and valid. Who was right?
In 1810, the case reached the highest court in the land. Pronouncing on Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rescinding Act was unconstitutional and the original land deals remained legal. For although those deals were corrupt and not in the best interest of Georgians, the contracts were made by the Georgia legislature, which had the authority to do so. The Supreme Court ordered the U.S. government to pay out $4.5 million in compensation to the claimants.
Overview of the four separate Yazoo Act land deals that together constitute 40 million acres of land, sold for just $1 million (including bribes).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Yazoo changed the course of American history
Fletcher v. Peck was a landmark case in more ways than one. For the first time ever, the Supreme Court had ruled against a state law, that is, Georgia's Rescinding Act. This established the principle that federal laws were supreme over state laws. The case also firmly established that a legal contract could not be nullified by a later law, which became an important principle in contract law.
The Yazoo Land Scandal had two further, major consequences for the United States. Without the scandal, Georgia might conceivably have managed to hold on to its western lands. This hypothetical Greater Georgia, running from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, would have comprised most or all of the current states of Mississippi and Alabama. That would make it one of America's most populous states, its 20 million inhabitants on par with Florida and New York and surpassed only by Texas (30 million) and California (40 million).
Georgia could also have avoided one of the most ignominious events in its history. In 1830, the federal government fulfilled its promise in the Compact of 1802 to rid Georgia of all extant Native American land claims by the Indian Removal Act. Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, the Act led to the "Trail of Tears," the forcible removal of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw tribes — about 100,000 people in all — to reservations west of the Mississippi, in what would later become Oklahoma.
Although now largely forgotten, the Yazoo Land Scandal helped shape the territory, laws, and institutions of the early United States. But the affair has another lesson for our times. If there are no good old days, then our current ones perhaps aren't so bad either.
Strange Maps #1079
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In business and in technology, just because you can doesn't mean you should.
The states with golden stars on them are extra intriguing.
- Barnes & Noble reported a 57% increase in political book sales compared to 2017.
- The top three best-selling political books of 2018 have been mostly critical of President Donald Trump, though each state varies in which political books it buys most.
- Despite the boost in sales, Barnes & Noble could put itself up for sale in the near future.
Americans are buying more political books in 2018 than in recent years, though which books they're picking up seems to depend largely on the political persuasion of their state.
Barnes & Noble recently released data to CNBC showing a 57-percent spike in political book sales compared to 2017, as well as a map that shows how the political book sales of each state are strongly correlated with how that state voted in the 2016 presidential election. In other words, red states buy more books favorable of President Donald Trump, while blue states seem more interested in books critical of Trump—although there are five outliers. Book sales in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and Pennsylvania contradicted how they voted in 2016. It's unclear why.
Source: Barnes & Noble
The top three bestselling books for the company were all mostly critical of Trump. At the top, by far, was Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's Fear: Trump in the White House, which sold more than one copy per second (upward of 750,000 copies) on its release day, Barnes & Noble said. Trump called this book, which included many incendiary interviews with high-level officials, a "work of fiction" shortly after its release.
Coming in second was Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, and third was James Comey's A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.
Gregg Jarrett's The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump, which, needless to say, painted Trump in a favorable light, came in at number four on the list. John McCain's book, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, also made the top 10 list, but was not focused on the president.
Despite the boost in sales, Barnes & Noble executives have been considering selling the company, which is the nation's largest brick-and-mortar bookstore, for more than a year. Last week, the company announced it was naming a special committee to review bids of prospective purchasers, CNBC reports.
Yale professor Amy Chua on the identity of nations, why hardened tribes end up in civil wars, and why you can't just replace dictators with democracy.
Yale professor Amy Chua has two precautionary tales for Americans, and their names are Libya and Iraq. "We're starting to see in America something that I've seen in other countries that is not good," says Chua. "We don't want to go there. We don't want to get to the point where we look at people on the other side of the political spectrum and we see them not just as people that we disagree with but literally as our enemy, as immoral, "un-American" people." Tribalism is innate to humanity, and it is the glue that holds nations together—but it's a Goldilocks conundrum: too much or too little of it and a nation will tear at the seams. It becomes most dangerous when two hardened camps form and obliterate all the subtribes beneath them. Chua stresses the importance of "dividing yourself so that you don't get entrenched in just two terrible tribes." Having many identities and many points of overlap with fellow citizens is what keeps a country's unity strong. When that flexibility disappears, and a person becomes only a Republican or a Democrat—or only a Sunni Muslim or a Shia Muslim, as in Iraq—that's when it's headed for danger. In this expansive and brilliant talk on political tribes, Chua explains what happens when minorities and majorities clash, why post-colonial nations are often doomed to civil war, and why you can't just replace dictators with democracy.
Norway’s decision to push drug felons through treatment is a huge step forward.
The question of whether to punish criminals or attempt to reform them is not new. While some are for maximum enforcement, including solitary confinement and the death penalty, others take the more humane route of trying to rehabilitate criminals to integrate back into society.
This question is especially heated when discussing drugs. America’s war has been a continual failure, from crack in the eighties through to opioids today. Defining what a drug is, how it can and can’t be used, and who can use it has proven to be more about politics and corporate interests than biology. Sugar is the most potent and deadly drug on the planet today, yet it is widely available, cheap, and celebrated.
So integrated into the fabric of society has sugar become that even the mention of it as a “drug” is certain to incite scoffs and sneers. We know alcohol is a drug, yet since it’s also wildly sanctioned (and wildly taxed) we consider it not to be that bad. Ditto cigarettes, even if those two kill hundreds of thousands more people a year than marijuana. Pull back far enough and everything we ingest is a drug, since everything results in a chemical reaction in our bodies.
Some countries are realizing this. Norway recently voted to completely decriminalize illegal drugs, as well as send offenders through treatment instead of prison. While parliamentary support for this bill has passed, it still must find its way through the government.
Sveinung Stensland, a deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, commented on the decision:
The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.
This is no sudden decision; Norwegian politicians have been debating this for years. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drugs, which has resulted in a drastic reduction in HIV infections, overdoses, and drug-related crime. In 2001, for example, HIV infection affected 104.2 new cases per million; by 2015 that number had dropped to 4.2 cases.
Another big reaction was in social stigmatism. As The Guardian reports:
The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies)—became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders.” This, too, was crucial.
João Goulão was one of two men behind Portugal’s first CAT (Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, a rehab facility) in 1988. He helped draft legislation for decriminalization in 1997. He notes that Portugal is a conservative country. The decision was more financial and social than about liberty and freedom. But drug use in the eighties and nineties had spread to affect every family in the nation:
There was a point when you could not find a single Portuguese family that wasn’t affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: ‘We have to do something.’
Twenty years later American families are struggling with an opioid epidemic that is still gaining force—fentanyl deaths increased 540 percent between 2014-2016. The 2017 data so far are not promising.
It is well known that Richard Nixon tied addiction to crime in order to suppress minorities and political radicals in the seventies. That mindset forced American legislators—and the American public—to relate certain substances as bad and others as good, or least benign. Since opioids are tied to the white working class, there has been much criticism of opioids being treated as an opportunity for compassion and understanding while crack, an inner city problem, was seen as a blight to be eradicated.
Full decriminalization might be the only way to sift through the scattered and conflicting reports on how substances act in our bodies. By understanding what drugs do and how they are either helpful or harmful, we can make appropriate decisions on how to treat their users.
Psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD—all considered Schedule One substances, meaning they supposedly have no medical value—are proving to be clinically relevant for treating anxiety, depression, and end-of-life care. Marijuana is quickly becoming decriminalized on a state-by-state level as the positive effects of cannabinoids continue to roll in.
Norway’s decision to push felons through treatment is a step forward, though hopefully more detailed consideration of what drug each person is caught with will be taken into consideration. Heroin makes for a good candidate; marijuana, not so much, unless abuse level is truly crippling. That’s the problem with blanket regulations on disparate substances: you’re unfairly equating dissimilar drugs.
That said, progress is progress. Let’s hope America follows suit. First decriminalization, then a government-funded increase in technology and sugar addiction centers to combat our two main culprits.
One can dream.
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.