The Measurement That Built America

The little-appreciated U.S. public-land survey not only opened up our frontier but made possible our freedoms

LOOK OUT THE AIRPLANE WINDOW ON A flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, and you can see below one of the most astonishing man-made constructs on earth. It is more extensive than the Great Wall of China, yet it remains almost invisible unless you’re looking for it.

 
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Does The West Have A Death Wish?

Before there were Western states, there were public lands—over a billion acres irrevocably reserved for the people of the United States. The Sagebrush Rebels are the most recent in a series of covetous groups bent on “regaining” what was never theirs.

So, at the very moment when the West is blueprinting an economy which must be based on the sustained, permanent use of its natural resources, it is also conducting an assault on those resources with the simple objective of liquidating them. The dissociation of intelligence could go no farther, but there it is—and there is the West yesterday, today, and forever. It is the Western mind stripped to the basic split. The West as its own worst enemy. The West committing suicide.

—Bernard De Voto “The West Against Itself” Harper’s Magazine, January, 1947 Read more »

“To A Distant And Perilous Service”

Westward with the course of empire Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson took his way in 1846. With him went the denizens of New York’s Tammany wards, oyster cellars, and gin mills—the future leaders of California.

The lumpy peninsula now called San Francisco was humanized at some unrecorded moment of prehistory by brown-skinned Californians of the Costanoan strain.Read more »

“full Speed Ahead And Damn The Tomorrows”

Our Frontier Heritage of Waste

Historians of the future, looking back on the twilight years of the twentieth century, may designate the mid-1970’s as worthy of that supreme accolade accorded only the most significant dates in history: to serve as a dividing point between chapters in their textbooks.Read more »