Yazoo land scandal


Yazoo land scandal

The Yazoo Land Scandal, Yazoo Fraud or Yazoo Land Fraud was a massive fraud perpetrated by several Georgia governors and the state legislature from 1795 to 1803 by selling large tracts of land to insiders at ridiculously low prices.

The Yazoo Land Fraud is often conflated with the Pine Barrens speculation which occurred at about the same time and also involved corrupt land deals in Georgia.

The Yazoo Land Scandal itself had two chapters. It had its origin in 1785 when Governor George Mathews signed the Bourbon County Act which organized Bourbon County, Georgia on the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, an area which contained the site of the present day city of Natchez, Mississippi. At the same time a secret society called the Combined Society was formed with the single purpose of making money by selling land and using influence with politicians to accomplish that end.

Georgia appointed civil and judicial officers, but under pressure from the U.S. government, Georgia dissolved Bourbon County in 1788. The U.S. government opposed Bourbon County for several reasons. At the time, a portion of the land was also claimed by Spain, and
Native Americans' claims to the area had not been extinguished. The Combined Society eventually faded away.

The second chapter began in 1789 when three companies, The South Carolina Yazoo Company, The Virginia Yazoo Company, and the Tennessee Company were formed in order to buy land from the Georgia legislature. Governor Telfair signed a deal to sell 20,000,000 acres (80,000 km²) of land to the Yazoo companies for $207,000, or about 1 cent per acre ($2.50/km²). The deal fell through when the companies attempted to pay with worthless old currency. The Virginia Yazoo Company was headed by Patrick Henry.

In 1794, four new companies — the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the new Tennessee Company — managed to convince the Georgia state assembly to sell more than 40,000,000 acres (160 km²) of land for $500,000. Many Georgia officials and legislators happened to be stockholders in these companies. On January 7, 1795, Governor George Mathews signed into law a bill agreeing to sell the 40 million acres (162,000 km²).

There was widespread public outrage when the details were revealed, reaching all the way to the U.S. capital. U.S. Senator James Jackson and Jared Irwin led the reform efforts: Irwin was elected Governor and less than two months after taking office signed a bill nullifying the Yazoo Act on February 13, 1796.They burned all copies of the bill except for one that had been sent to President George Washington.Jackson resigned as Senator to be elected Governor of Georgia and took office two years later.

But the matter was not over. The state refunded money to persons who had purchased land, but some refused the money preferring to keep the land. But the state did not recognize the claims and the matter was to wind through courts for the next decade. However, the state ceded all claim to lands west of its present border, along with the legal disputes, to the U.S. in 1803.

The matter reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1810, and the "Fletcher v. Peck" decision ruled that the sales were binding contracts and could not be retroactively invalidated.

ee also

*Political scandals of the United States
*Historic regions of the United States

References

[http://www.utulsa.edu/law/classes/rice/USSCT_Cases/FLETCHER_V_PECK_1810.HTM Fletcher v. Peck decision (with timeline)]

Further reading

* Cadle, Farris W. "Georgia Land Surveying History and Law" (1991). Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press.
* Magrath, C. Peter. "Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic. The Case of Fletcher v. Peck." (1966). Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press.


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