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Yazoo Fraud

YAZOO FRAUD

YAZOO FRAUD. The Yazoo Fraud was one of the most spectacular and significant acts of land speculation in American history. In 1795 the Georgia legislature sold 35 million acres of its western lands, comprising the present states of Alabama and Mississippi, to four land companies for $500,000, or 1.5 cents an acre. The sale soon became a public scandal because nearly all the Georgia legislators who voted for the law had been bribed by agents of the land companies. In 1796 the newly elected Georgia legislature revoked the sale.

Georgia's repeal of the corrupt sale became a national political and legal issue for nearly twenty years. The land companies had quickly unloaded their dubious titles to speculators throughout the East. Many of these speculators, including leading politicians from both the Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties, organized themselves into the New England Mississippi Land Company and applied great pressure on the U.S. Congress and federal courts to award compensation for the land they claimed to have bought in good faith. In 1802 Georgia agreed to transfer its western lands to the United States for $1.25 million. But the Yazooists, as they were called, continued to push their campaign through a contrived legal case, Fletcher v. Peck (1810). This case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the Georgia 1796 repeal act violated the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States. The legal doctrine of this decision helped to protect business interests from state regulatory actions until well into the twentieth century. Four years after the Fletcher decision, Congress enacted legislation providing $4.2 million to compensate the claimants, and the Yazoo land issue finally disappeared from the national scene.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Coulter, E. Merton. Georgia: A Short History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947.

Elsmere, Jane. "The Notorious Yazoo Land Fraud Case." Georgia Historical Quarterly 51 (1967): 425–442.

Magrath, C. Peter. Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1966.

C. PeterMagrath/c. r. p.

See alsoFletcher v. Peck ; Georgia ; Land Speculation .

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Yazoo land fraud

Yazoo land fraud, name given to the sale in 1795 by an act of the Georgia legislature of vast holdings in the Yazoo River country to four land companies following the wholesale bribery of the legislators; the territory comprised most of present Alabama and Mississippi. The companies involved were the Georgia, Georgia Mississippi, Upper Mississippi, and Tennessee companies. Spain's acceptance, in the same year, of lat. 31°N as the northern boundary of West Florida (see West Florida Controversy) enhanced the value of the lands, which had formerly been claimed by Spain, and the companies set about reselling them. However, the corruption that accompanied the passage of the act was soon detected, and in 1796 a newly elected legislature rescinded it. Georgia offered to restore the purchase price to the companies, but large numbers of investors declined to accept payment and pressed their land claims. In 1802, Georgia ceded all its lands W of the Chattahoochee River to the United States for $1,250,000. By the terms of the cession agreement the Yazoo claimants were to receive 5,000,000 acres (2,025,000 hectares) or the money received from their sale, an arrangement they rejected. The Yazoo frauds came to be a vexing issue in national politics. Congress, prodded by John Randolph, declined to give the speculators any relief. But in 1810 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Fletcher v. Peck, held that their land claims were valid since the Yazoo act of 1795 constituted a contract binding on Georgia even though it was conceived in fraud. Bolstered by this decision, the speculators were later awarded more than $4,000,000 by Congress.

See C. H. Haskins, The Yazoo Land Companies (1891); C. P. Magroth, Yazoo (1966).

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