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Historical Documents from the Early GLO

Many of the documents about the operation of the General Land Office, from its creation through its first century, can be found on the Internet.  Many of the links below go to scanned copies in the Library of Congress under its "American Memory" project, under the "Century of Lawmaking" collection.

An Act for the Establishment of a General Land-Office in the Department of the Treasury--The original 1812 Act that created the GLO.

Reports of the Commissioner of the General Land Office

Congressional documents and debates from 1833 through 1873 were recorded in the Congressional Globe, the predecessor of the Congressional Record. Prior to 1860, the reports of the Commisioner of the General Land Office were included in the proceedings of the House and Senate. 

December 8, 1935

December 16, 1844

November 29, 1845

November 30, 1847

November 30, 1848

November 3, 1850

November 30, 1853

November 30, 1853

November 29, 1856

November 30, 1858

In 1861, the GLO began issuing its own Annual Report.  Here's a web version of the 1861 Annual Report compiled by the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum. The railroad received a land grant from the GLO in 1862.

Annual Reports of the Commissioner of the General Land Office

These detailed reports documented the distribution of millions of acres of land every year.  The 1881 report, for example, is more than 700 pages, describing the disposition of more than 14 million acres and returning more than $8.3 million to the U.S. Treasury. Most of these documents have been scanned by Google and are hosted by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization best known for its "Wayback Machine." The 1885 Annual Report was scanned by the BLM Library and is hosted by the Internet Archive.















Clerks Wanted: $100 per Month

A Bill to Reorganize the Clerical Force of the General Land Office (1872)--On March 4, 1872, Congressman Ketchum introduced a bill to "Reorganize the Clerical Force of the General Land Office." Among the provisions:

"The clerical force of the General Land-Office shall be as follows: One chief clerk, at an annual salary of two thousand six hundred dollars; nine clerks, in charge of divisions, at an annual salary of two thousand four hundred dollars each; eleven clerks of class five....ten clerks of class four...forty clerks of class three...forty clerks of class two...and fifty clerks of class one, at an annual salary of one thousand two hundred dollars each." 

In addition, the bill authorized the hiring of six messengers, eight laborers, and two packers. 

In the following year (1873), the GLO distributed more than 13 million acres and surveyed over 30 million acres, and returned over $3.4 million to the U.S. Treasury.

 Centennial Speech, 1912

"The Problems of the Land Office are the Problems of the Nation" (1912)

The Land Office in its 100 years of history has had problems of the most difficult kind to meet and has them yet....It has lived through storms, and those who have had the honor of service in it have been confronted with harsh criticism, but I say without hesitation that, when the last patent to public lands has been written and the books closed, it will be to finish a history of deeds done and problems confronted and overcome; and the volumes that are written in the future will contain tributes to the services of as faithful in class of employees as ever labored for a Government, and who, out of the past, have built traditions which will call forth the commendation of those who reap the reward of a West prosperous and developed to its highest  extent.

--GLO Commissioner Fred Dennett, on the 100th Anniversary of the General Land Office, 1912

GLO Commissioner Fred DennettOn the centennial of the General Land Office in 1912, Fred Dennett, Commissioner of the GLO, gave a remarkably frank and honest evaluation of the GLO from its earliest days through its first century.  The speech covers the difficulty of selling land to pay for debts from the American Revolution; the struggles with homesteading and encouraging western expansion; and the need for conservation of forests and water resources.

Photo of Fred Dennett courtesy of Reid Miller, BLM  National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, Casper, Wyoming