How significant was land expropriation as a source of US federal, state, and local government revenue between 1790 and 1846?

I chose 1846 as the breakpoint because of the Walker Tariff; feel free to critique that choice.

Related questions: What were the sources of US government revenue from 1790 to 1846?


I have found sources sufficient to establish that public land sales and the exercise of eminent domain were significant; these are listed below. However, I have not found enough to give me an idea of their relative magnitudes.

  1. (h/t to Brian Z) This article says that public land sales contributed about 14% of federal revenue prior to 1863. This paper, in turn (table 1 on p6), helps estimate the percentage of US revenue that went to the federal government versus state versus local. However, I have not done the necessary work to determine whether I can reasonably "glue together" these sources. If we accept that US government units obtained some of their public land by expropriating it from indigenous people, this suggests that expropriations contributed substantially to government revenues.

  2. This survey (which I will call "Wallis 1") motivates the question in two ways (p3 of the pdf):

    a. It identifies public lands as an important source of government income.

    b. It identifies infrastructure investment as an important source of government income. This infrastructure depended in part on eminent domain; see, e.g., this paper (p1, not paywalled). To the extent that some exercises of eminent domain power can be interpreted as land expropriations, this agains suggests that expropriations contributed.

    Wallis 1 makes the above two statements in discussing state government finance between about 1790 and 1842, which lines up pretty well with my period of 1790-1846.

    Wallis 1 also gives a partial indirect answer by estimating the relative share of property taxes for state governments from 1835 through the end of my period (p8 of the pdf).

  3. According to wikipedia, US government units continued confiscating British property until the Jay Treaty of 1795. Maybe some of it was land?

  • Thanks! It's not quite the same, but if the answer to the linked question goes beyond the precise scope of what is asked, then it might. – capet Sep 27 '20 at 2:14
  • Per a suggestion by Brian Z, I took an original unfocused question and split it into a bunch of pieces to be more precise. This question and the linked question are two of the resulting pieces. – capet Sep 27 '20 at 2:15
  • @Pieter Geerkens Given edits to this and the linked question, do you still consider this a duplicate? – capet Oct 4 '20 at 18:43
  • @Pieter Geerkens Can you explain why you think that the question about land expropriation is the same as a question about federal/state/local revenue? Would it be appropriate to combine the two questions? I want to do better but I'm stuck. – capet Oct 10 '20 at 5:40
  • Thanks @Tom Sol for voting to reopen! I'm trying to learn how to ask better questions; to that end, may I ask what changed your mind about this question? – capet Oct 11 '20 at 19:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.