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Committee on Public Lands is created, Dec. 17, 1805
Posted by Committee Staff on December 17, 2010

Committee on public lands is created, Dec. 17, 1805
December 17, 2010
Andrew Glass

On this day in 1805, the House created a Committee on Public Lands to help manage the vast, newly acquired territory of the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition in 1803 from Napoleonic France covered all or part of 14 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces — nearly 830,000 square miles.

It contained present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado east of the Continental Divide and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. It also contained small portions of land that eventually became part of the Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The initiative to set up the panel came from Rep. William Findley, an anti-Federalist member from Pennsylvania. The Irish-born Findley served in the House from 1791 to 1799 and from 1803 to 1817.

The Public Lands Committee was charged with considering “all such petitions, and matters or things, respecting the lands of the United States, as shall be presented, or shall or may come into question, and be referred to them by the House; and to report their opinion thereupon, together with such propositions for relief therein, as to them shall seem expedient.”

With the new territory under federal control, the committee asserted its jurisdiction over land sales and grants to railroads and sought to dampen speculation. Over the ensuing decades, it held sway over national parks, conservation efforts, forest management and mineral and water rights.

Under the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act, the Public Lands Committee absorbed the roles of a host of other committees created to oversee the nation’s expansion during the 19th century, including Private Land Claims and Mines and Mining.


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