« PreviousContinue »
COMMISSIONER OF THE GENERAL LAND OFFICE.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
November 1, 1877. SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith the annual report of this office, showing the business during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1877, under the several laws relating to survey and disposal of the public lands and the condition of business at the close of said year.
The sales of public lands for cash are about one hundred thousand acres more than the sales for the fiscal year next preceding, while the number of acres entered under the homestead and timber-culture laws is 2,698,771.56 acres less.
Daring the fiscal year there were certified for railroad purposes 700,791.96 acres, showing a decrease, as compared with the previous Sear, of 300,986.58 acres ; certified for wagon-roads, 61,543.18 acres. The list of selections now awaiting examination cover 714,758 acres.
During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1877, 14,103 acres of land were entered under the provisions of the mining laws, and 13,243.92 acres were patented, involving a large amount of clerical labor in the exam. ination of each claim and the preparation of the patent, owing to the numerous conflicts which exist. Seventy-one more patents were issued during the past fiscal year than the year preceding, varying in area, the smallest being 157 of an acre.
During the fiscal year there were certified to the State of Louisiana under the act of March 2, 1849, (such certificate having the force and. effect of a patent,) 39,353.54 acres, being an increase over the preceding year of 32,011.36 acres. And during the same period there were patented to the various States under the act of September 28, 1850, (Revised Statutes, sections 2479 and 2480,) 375,064.82 acres, being an increase over the preceding year of 281,526.16 acres.
The total disposals of public lands under existing laws for the past fiscal year amount to 4,849,767.70 acres, less by 1,674,558.66 acres than the disposals in 1876.
Up to June 30, 1877, the public surveys have been extended over 713,572,737 acres, 10,847,082 acres having been surveyed the past fiscal year, leaving a total of unsurveyed lands of 1,101,197,183 acres.
CLERICAL FORCE AND WORK OF THE GENERAL LAND OFFICE.
By reference to the statements of the condition of the work in the several divisions of the bureau, it will not escape your observation that a very large arrearage is shown, much of it the accumulation of former years, while a considerable percentage has been added during the year in consequence of the insufficiency of the clerical force to keep up with the constant press of the current business. Year after year my predecessors in this office have urged upon Congress the necessities of the public service in this regard, and since my induction as Commissioner I have labored with renewed effort to the same end. Thus far, however, it does not appear to have reached the judgment of Congress that a paramount need of the country is daily sacrificed upon the altar of a false economy, and the most sacred interest of the hardy pioneers of civilization, that of speedy acquisition and security of their homes and hearthstones, is continually ignored and disregarded.
By the regular appropriations for the current fiscal year, provision is made for one Commissioner, one chief clerk, one recorder, one law clerk, three principal clerks, five clerks of class four, twenty-two clerks of class three, forty clerks of class two, seventy clerks of class one, one draughtsman, one assistant draughtsman, two messengers, three assistant messengers, eight laborers, and two packers, to which an additional allowance was made by a clause in the sundry civil act to the amount of the expenditure of ten thousand dollars, available from March 3, 1877, to enable me to bring into market the vacant lands in the Southern States under act of June 22, 1876.
These allowances and provisions were greatly reduced from the estimates submitted, and have not sufficed, as before stated, to keep up the current work of the bureau.
As an illustration, I would mention the fact that the correspondence in the public lands division is six months behindhand, not only causing great inconvenience to the office; but absolute wrong to individuals, who, addressing the Government upon important matters, are obliged to wait months for reply, instead of receiving answer at once, as would be the case were private individuals concerned in the same manner as the Department. It would seem to be a matter of the merest and commonest courtesy, as well of individual right, that letters received by the office, often involving matters of great moment to the settlers and others interested in acquiring the public lands, be speedily and properly answered, in such reasonable time as will enable parties to take advantage of the season in the preparation for crops and the making of homes and improvements, without risk of an adverse decision tardily rendered, and often doubly vexations and burdensome on account of the added time, labor, and expense devoted to the improvement of the lands of which they are deprived.
The contests relating to conflicting claims are still further in arrears. The examination of these conflicts cannot be undertaken by mere nov. ices in official life, nor by men possessing even the highest order of clerical ability, without legal training and the acquisition of those habits of care, research, and judicial observation which enter into the judg. ments of courts. No ordinary tests of admission to departmental clerkships will properly fill these positions. It is in consequence of these facts that this office is at present so far from efficient organization.
The compensation allowed to the classes of clerks necessarily assigned to the making up of official decisions in all branches of the bureau is too small to secure first class men, acquainted with law, and especially with land statutes, and with the current and routine of departmental practice, and possessing the requisite tact, discretion, and power of discrimination to act upon these important questions, covering the ele. ments of title to the entire body of lands disposed of by the Govern. ment.
The number of clerks should be largely increased in all the higher grades. Into these classes should then be introduced men of first class talent and legal acquirements, ready versed in the law, and familiar, as far as possible, with the practice in land cases. The salaries of the heads of divisions appointed to superintend the work of these classes, including the recorder and law clerk, should be raised to twenty-five hundred dollars each, and the chief clerk, who is required by law to act as Commissioner in the sickness or absence of the head of the bureau, or in case of vacancy in that office, and must, therefore, be fully quali. fied for its duties, should receive not less than three thousand dollars per annum.
With ten heads of division, including the recorder, law clerk, and three principal clerks, at twenty-five hundred dollars each, ten clerks of class four as assistants at eighteen hundred each, a principal draughtsman at two thousand dollars, and an addition of teu to each of classes three and two above the number allowed by the last appropriation, I could so arrange the work as to double the efficiency of the office in a very short time. Without some additional assistance of this kind it must remain for an indefinite period in its present very unsatisfactory condition.
I have not in the foregoing set before you any statement whatever respecting the recent interruption to the work caused by the late disastrous fire. It is safe to assert, and this will be found within the facts, that at least two months have been taken from the time of the whole office by the delays and interruptions incident to the casualty. This will in effect consume one-sixth of the annual appropriation for the regular salaries, and a much greater portion of the contingent fund. Of course it will be no more than mere repairing to add sufficient to the present force to make up this item of actual loss. The service of the Land Department is too valuable to the country to be allowed to suffer from such causes, especially at a time when it is already largely in arrears, in spite of its every effort to keep pace with the current busi. ness. The increase asked for is only sufficient to put the office on a sound working basis for regular service. To this estimate should be added appropriations for special service in various departments, such as swamp land adjustments, timber trespass investigations, and other matters taken up in their regular connection elsewhere in this report.
The force of messengers and laborers is also insufficient to secure the proper dispatch of the public business. The former should be increased one-half and the latter one-fourth in order to subserve the reasonable convenience of the bureau and those doing business before it. As now organized, the lack of messengers frequently compels the interruption of the work of clerks of every grade, from the lowest to the highest, and the consumption of much valuable time in communicating with distant rooms, which could be more economically paid for at the proper salary than by devolving it upon the clerks and heads of divisions at the present rates of compensation.
I would also recomiend legislative provision for a competent stenog. rapher, at a salary of sixteen hundred dollars per annum. The necessity for the service of such a person in this bureau must be equally as obvious as it is for other departments and bureaus of the Government for which provision is made.
LAW LIBRARY. Questions of the utmost importance, involving vast interests requiring the most thorough and careful research and examination, are continually before this office. They involve the construction of laws relative to the disposal of the public domain, and in this connection the application of the general principles of law as defined by the leading authors and reports of judicial decisions. The number of law books in the possession of the whole Department is very small, the libraries of the Department proper and the various bureaus containing not all of the text books most commonly used, and only a very limited number of the State reports. The library of this bureau contains, perhaps, half a dozen text books, a broken set of the decisions of the Supreme Court, and of the opinions of the Attorneys General, and no State reports. An extended examination of authorities requires a visit to the library of the Supreme Court or of the Attorney General's Office, necessitating loss of time and great inconvenience; and such visits are in fact in most cases im practicable, because each employé should be at his desk during office hours, as it is not known at what moment his personal services will be required; and in leaving the office he is separated from the records and papers to which he should have access in connection with his examination of authorities.
Of many of the law books there is only one copy in the whole De. partment, and the use of the same book is often necessary by different parties at the same time. In consequence of this condition of affairs, decisions are rendered involving the largest interests, in many instances affecting the determination of the courts, without a sufficient examination of authorities, because they are not available.
I therefore respectfully urge that the attention of Congress be called to this subject, with a view to adequate appropriation to enable this bu. reau to purchase such books as are absolutely necessary to the proper administration of its affairs.
JUDICIAL TRIBUNAL-CODIFICATION AND REVISION OF LAND LAWS.
The subject of revising and codifying the entire land laws of this country, and the establishment of a proper judicial tribunal for the determination of questions arising before this office, is one of such preeminent importance that it seems a little remarkable that it has not been made the subject of legislation.
When we consider the vast number of decisions which in the courts and this Department have been made, and acts of Congress, involving questions of land titles, and the number of cases daily arising in this bureau, to which all of this great amount of precedent and authority is more or less applicable, it becomes evident that there should be a care. ful codification and revision of the law upon this subject, and some tri. bunal established whose especial duty it should be to determine the questions here arising, and in accordance with the nicest distinctions of the law, and with a view, also, to the establishment of a consistent line of drecedent which should not only be a guide to the Department but an aid and authority to the courts.
Perhaps there is no one who has had occasion to be brought into familiar contact with the decisions and rulings of this branch of the Government who has not remarked the conflicting expression of opinion and want of any clearly defined exposition of the law with reference to the important questions continually arising before it. I do not say this in disparagement of my predecessors or any one connected with the business of the office. This state of things results naturally and neces. sarily. It is impossible that any Commissioner of the Land Office, how. ever eminent a lawyer he may be, should give the personal, patient, and
thorough consideration to the many important and complicated ques. tions of law and fact continually arising before him that should be given to them. He must almost entirely rely upon his heads of divis. ions, who in turn must largely rely upon their subordinates; neither of the latter can always be selected with a view to their legal attainments.
It may be safely premised that no court in the land decides a larger number of difficult and important cases each year than does this bureau. A court especially appointed for that purpose, who should hold daily sessions, would not be more than equal to the task of disposing of the vast amount of business that would properly come before it. Indeed, it bas become a necessity that the heads of bureaus should be relieved of the burden of this great labor.
Not only should this be done on account of the impracticability of the labor being properly done by them, considering the great amount of other business daily brought before them, but because of the impolicy of allowing them to do it. The questions arising before this bureau are such that should bave the most impartial decision.
The heads of bureaus are the officers of the Government who feel, and as a matter of fact too often act upon the supposition, that they are only the guardians of the public interest. Besides this, they may not always be uninfluenced by a question of responsibility, which has the effect to delay if not defeat the justice due the citizen. The judicial power should be vested in an impartial tribunal, and the Government, like the individual, only be represented before it by an attorney or solicitor.
I can only use space here to suggest the subject and some of the reasons of its notice. This mere suggestion, however, it seems to me, will be sufficient to induce favorable action upon it.
The attention of the Department is called to the suggestion in my last annual report looking to an amendment of the second paragraph in section 2238, Revised Statutes, page 394, chapter 2, which reads as follows:
Second. A commission of one per centum on all moneys received at each receiver's office.
The necessity for a cbange in the phraseology was urged in the following terms:
The act of Congress approved April 20, 1818, (Stats., vol. 3, p. 466,) from which the above is taken, answered the purpose for which it was then intended, as at that time no sales were made of the public lands except for cash, and in addition to a yearly salary of $500, allowed to each register and receiver, they were allowed an additional compensation of one per centum on the moneys received, provided the whole amount did not exceed $3,000 for any one year.
Since the passage of the act of 1818, the homestead and pre-emption system has been established, and a schedule of fees and commissions adopted, in accordance with the provisions of various laws governing the disposal of the public lands. As the law now reads, incorporated in the Revised Statutes and above quoted, the registers and receivers, aside from the fees and commissions allowed them under the homestead, pre-emption, and other laws, and the one per centum on all cash sales, would be entitled to one per centum on all moneys received, which would include one per centum on their fees and commissions. The second paragraph above quoted admits of such a construction, and has been so construed by some of the registers and receivers, and an attempt made to collect a commission not contemplated by the law.
To remove all doubt as to the meaning of the paragraph in question, I would recommend that it be amended to read :
Second. A commission of one per centum on all moneys received from cash sales at each receiver's office.