Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Pike Creek Squatters Adopt a Constitution

[This is the third and final installment in a series of posts, which starts here.  It is the preamble and some provisions from the constitution of the Pike River Claimants Union.  The preamble figures centrally in Willard Hurst's argument in Law and the Conditions of Freedom.  I also like how the provisions for demonstrating a claim embody Locke's labor theory of property and at least one of its provisos (no waste).  The document originally appeared in the appendix to Wisconsin's Assembly Journal (1858), 2: 472-75.]

[“At a meeting of the inhabitants of Pike River, at the store of Bullen & Co., on the 13th day of February 1836, Austin Kellogg was chosen moderator, and William C. Etheridge clerk, when the following preamble and Constitution were presented by the committee appointed to draft the same, were unanimously adopted:”]

Whereas, a union and co-operation of all the inhabitants will be indispensably necessary, in case the preemption law should not pass, for the securing and protecting of our claims: And whereas, we duly appreciate the benefit which may result from such an association, not only in regulating the manner of making and sustaining claims, and settling differences in regard to them, but in securing the same to the holders thereof against speculators at the land sale, and being well aware that consequences the most dangerous to the interests of settlers will follow, if such a union not be formed; and as Government has heretofore encouraged emigration by granting preemption to actual settlers, we are assured that our settling and cultivating the public lands is in accordance with the best wishes of Government; and knowing that in some instances our neighbors have been dealt with in an unfeeling manner, driven from their homes, their property destroyed, their persons attacked, and their lives jeopardized, to satisfy the malignant disposition of unprincipled and avaricious men; and looking upon such proceedings as unjust, calculated to produce anarchy, confusion and the like among us, destroy our fair prospects, subvert the good order of society, and render our homes the habitations of terror and distrust – these homes, to obtain which we have left our friends, deprived ourselves of the many blessings and perilous journey, advancing into a space beyond the bounds of civilization, and having the many difficulties and obstructions of a state of nature to overcome, and on the peaceable possession of which our all is depending: We, therefore, as well meaning inhabitants, having in view the promotion of the interest of our settlement, and knowing the many advantages derived from unity of feeling and action, do come forward this day and solemnly pledge ourselves to render each other our mutual assistance in the protection of our just rights, and in furtherance of these views, we adopt and agree to abide by and support the following Constitution:

Art. 1. The name and title of this Society shall be the “Pike River Claimants’ Union, auxiliary to the County Union,” for the attainment and security of titles to claims on Government lands.

Art. 2. Besides a Chairman and Clerk, a board of twelve Censors shall be appointed for the purpose of deciding on all cases of dispute between claimants coming before them [and] chosen without favor to name or party; five from the twelve to constitute a quorum to act as a Board…

Art. 3. To constitute a claim, there shall be a house body or frame of sufficient dimensions for a family to dwell in, or half an acre ploughed, or a piece enclosed with at least 100 rails – either of which shall constitute a claim; and be entered on the map kept by the Clerk for that purpose, giving the name and time of making the same.

Art. 4. Any person complying with the above shall be allowed to hold one quarter section, and as much more as the Committee shall say when the question comes before them; and shall be allowed to act as agent for others, which agency shall in all cases be made satisfactory to the Censors.  

Art. 5. The claimant to secure the protection of the Union, shall, within thirty days after signing the Constitution or making the claim, have the same entered on the Clerk’s map.