The Yazoo Land Fraud - Fletcher v Peck

The Yazoo Land Fraud - Fletcher v Peck

I have started and stopped articles about the Yazoo Land Fraud several times for more than a year.

A massive scandal that consumed the politics of post-Revolutionary Georgia for the better part First of all, it was a very complicated series of events with dozens of moving parts. Furthermore, which Founder’s perspective do I look at it from?

I decided the best way to go about things is to just give a basic, general overview of the scandal. This will leave me the opportunity to go into further detail in the future when I discuss the lives of the Georgia Founders that I have passed over simply because I had not yet published anything on the Land Fraud.


Georgia Sells Land

In the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution, many of the States were looking for a way to raise money.

Georgia, the youngest and most sparsely populated State, claimed vast tracts of land all the way west to the Mississippi River. The State Government made the decision to sell this land.

Unfortunately, this same land was claimed by the United States, Spain, several Native American nations and, to a lesser degree, neighboring States.

Coinciding with the first year of the George Washington’s Administration, this became one of the earliest issues the President and his Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson) had to contend with.

The sales were quickly halted.


The Yazoo Land Act

Five years later, in 1794, Georgia passed the Yazoo Land Act which sold most of these same lands to four companies. The companies then quickly sold the property off to individuals.

It was quickly realized that MOST of the members of Georgia’s government had taken bribes in order to pass this law.

The two political parties which would dominate the State’s government for the next twenty years grew out of this scandal, each led by one of Georgia’s two US Senators.

Senator James Gunn, a member of one of the companies who bought the land supported the sales as good business for the State.

Senator James Jackson shouted that this corrupt deal was an attempt to secure the power of government in the hands of a few people.


Rescinding the Land Act

The following year, Jackson had resigned from the Senate and received election as Governor of Georgia, running almost entirely on an anti-Yazoo platform.

After his inauguration, Jackson was able to rescind the Land Act.

There was one problem, however.

Much of the land had already been sold to private individuals.


Fletcher v Peck

The Yazoo Land Act was the cause of many legal battles until 1810 when it was decided in the Supreme Court.

In the case of Fletcher v Peck, the Marshall Court decided that the original Yazoo Land Sales were valid. The theory was that a State law could not eliminate a binding contract when a legitimate transaction had taken place. 

The bribery of the Georgia Representatives was deemed irrelevant to the sales themselves.


Aftermath

The decision in Fletcher v Peck essential invalidated the law passed under Governor James Jackson which revoked the Yazoo Land Act.

Essentially, the SECOND law was unconstitutional even though the FIRST law was morally wrong.

Because the Supreme Court’s ruling made the Land Act acceptable, this was the first time the Federal Government overruled a State law.


Want to learn about some of the members of the Marshall Court?

Great! Try one of these stories:

Making Cases - The Rise of Henry Brockholst Livingston

Congress Impeaches Samuel Chase

Bushrod Washington Interprets Privileges and Immunities

The Yazoo Land Fraud was one of the important early cases of the Supreme Court?

‘The Great Yazoo Land Sale’ looks at the transaction, influence and fallout of this often overlooked scandal in early American history.

Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same) .

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