Skip to main content

Property Rights and Institutions: Congress and the California Land Act 1851

  • Karen B. Clay (a1)

Governments frequently establish institutions to govern the transition in property rights when they acquire territory or experience radical changes in political regimes. By examining a specific example—the United States' acquisition of California from Mexico in 1848, this article investigates general questions about these institutions and institutional choice. The article fmds that the specific institution that Congress chose for California best balanced the interests of the federal government, American owners of land grants, and American squatters and settlers. Further, despite the lobbying, litigation, and delay associated with the institution, the institution was more efficient than prior institutions.

Hide All
American State Papers, Public Lands. Washington, DC, 18321861.
Alston Lee J., Libecap Gary D., and Schneider Robert. “The Determinants and Impact of Property Rights: Land Titles on the Brazilian Frontier.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organizations 12, no. 1 (1996): 2561.
Bancroft Hubert Howe. History of California. San Francisco: History Company, 18741890.
Bean Walton, and Rawls James J.California: An Interpretive History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
Besley Timothy. “Property Rights and Investment Incentives: Theoiy and Evidence from Ghana.” Journal of Political Economy 103, no. 5 (1995): 903–37.
Bowman J. N. “The Indians and the California Private Land Grants.” Berkeley, CA: Bancroft Library, 1966.
Bradfute Richard Wells. The Court of Private Land Claims: The Adjudication of Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Titles, 1891–1904. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975.
Briceland Alan V.Land, Law, and Politics on the Tombigbee Frontier, 1804.” The Alabama Review 33, no. 2 (1980): 92124.
California State Agricultural Society. Transactions of the Calfornia State Agricultural Society. Sacramento, 1866.
Clay Karen B. “The Cost of Uncertainty: Squatters, Contracts, and Conflict in Frontier California.” Unpublished manuscript, 1997.
Cleland Robert Glass. The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern Calfornia, 1850–80. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1941.
Colton Walter. Three Years in California [1846–1849]. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1850. Congressional Globe, various dates.
Cowan Robert G.Ranchos of California: A List of Spanish Concessions 1775–1822 and Mexican Grants 1822–1846. Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California, 1977.
Cummings Homer S., and McFarland Carl. Federal Justice: Chapters in the History of Justice and the Federal Executive. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937.
Ebright Malcolm. Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.
Fritzche Bruno. “San Francisco 1846–1848: The Coming of the Land Speculator.” California Historical Society Quarterly 51 (1972): 1734.
Gates Paul Wallace. “Private Land Claims in the South.” Journal of Southern History 22 (1956): 183204.
Gates Paul Wallace, History of Public Land Law Development. Washington, DC: Zenger Publishing, 1978.
Gates Paul Wallace, Land and Law in Calfornia. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1991.
George Henry. Our Land and Land Policy. New York: Doubleday and McClure Company, 1871.
Greaser Galen D., and de la Teja Jesus F.. “Quieting Title to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Trans-Nueces: The Bourland and Miller Commission, 1850–1852.” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 95, no. 4 (1992): 444–64.
Gwin William “Speech of Mr. Gwin, of California, in reply to Mr. Benton. Senate, Thursday, 2 January 1851.” San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1851.
Hague Harlan, and Langum David J.. Thomas O. Larkin: A Life of Patriotism and Profit in Old California. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Halleck Henry W. “Report.” House Ex. Doc., 31 Cong., 2 sess., 5, no. 17, serial 573 (1850).
Hamilton Holman. Prologue to Conflict, The Crisis and Compromise of 1850. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1964.
Hittell , Henry Theodore. History of Caltfornia. San Francisco: N.J. Stone & Company, 1898.
Jackson SheldonA British Ranchero in Old Calfornia: The Life and limes of Henry Dalton and the Rancho Azusa. Glendale and Azusa: CA, The Arthur H. Clark Company and Azusa Pacific College, 1977.
Jones William Carey. “Report of the Secretary of the Interior.” Senate Ex. Doc., 31 Cong., 2 sess., 3, no. 18, serial 589 (1850).
Jones William Carey, Condition of Real Properly in California. San Francisco: Gideon, 1855.
Larkin Thomas Oliver. The Larkin Papers: Personal, Business, and Official Correspondence of Thomas Oliver Larkin. Berkeley: University of California, 19511968.
Paul Rodman W.. “The Beginnings of Agriculture in California: Innovation vs. Continuity.” California Historical Society Quarterly 52 (1973): 1627.
Richardson Lemont K., “Private Land Claims in Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 50, no. 2 (1956): 132144, 271286, 387399.
Robinson W. W.Land in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948.
Surveyor General. “Report of the Surveyor General of California.” Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office for the Year 1871. Washington, DC: GPO, 1871.
Swisher Carl Brent. The Taney Period, 1836–1864. New York: McMillan, 1974
Treat Payson Jackson. The National Land System, 1785–1820. New York: Russell & Russell, 1910.
Whatley George C., and Cook Sylvia. “The East Florida Land Commission: A Study Frustration.” Florida Historical Quarterly 50, no. 1 (1971): 3952.
Wright Doris Marion. A Yanhee in Mexican Calfornia: Abel Stearns, 1798–1848. Santa Barbara, CA: Wallace Hebberd, 1977.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 5 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 92 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.