James Wilson Yazoo land document

James Wilson Yazoo land document

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
Creator: Hampton, Wade, 1752-1835
Creator: Jones, Seaborn, 1788-1864
Creator: McAllister, Matthew
Creator: Wilson, James, 1742-1798
Title: James Wilson Yazoo land document
Dates: 1794
Quantity: 1.0 folder
Coll. Number: ms1042

Biographical/Historical Note

James Wilson was born in Scotland in 1742. He was a colonial American lawyer and political theorist, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Immigrating to North America in 1796, Wilson taught Greek and rhetoric in the College of Philadelphia and then studied law under John Dickinson, statesman and delegate to the First Continental Congress. Wilson's fame spread with publication in 1774 of his treatise Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament. In this work he set out a scheme of empire in which the British colonies would have the equivalent of dominion status. In 1774 he became a member of the Committee of Correspondence in Cumberland County, Pa., and he served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In 1779 he was appointed advocate general for France and represented that country in cases rising out of its alliance with the American colonies. He became a champion of the Bank of North America and an associate of merchant-banker Robert Morris in his struggle for currency reform after 1781. As a member of the federal Congress (1783; 1785-86), he pressed for an amendment to the Articles of Confederation to permit Congress to levy a general tax. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Wilson helped to draft the U.S. Constitution; he then led the fight for ratification in Pennsylvania. In 1790 he engineered the drafting of Pennsylvania's new constitution and delivered a series of lectures that are landmarks in the evolution of American jurisprudence. He was appointed an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789-98), where his most notable decision was that on Chisholm v. Georgia. In the winter of 1796-97 financial ruin brought on by unwise land speculation shattered his health and ended his career. New Georgia Encyclopedia (Retrieved November 18, 2008)

The Yazoo land fraud was one of the most significant events in the post-Revolutionary history of Georgia. The bizarre climax to a decade of frenzied speculation in the state's public lands, the Yazoo sale of 1795 did much to shape Georgia politics and to strain relations with the federal government for a generation. Georgia was too weak after the Revolution to defend its vast western land claims, called the "Yazoo lands" for the river that flowed through the westernmost part. Consequently, the legislature listened eagerly to proposals from speculators willing to pay for the right to form settlements there. In the 1780s the state supported two unsuccessful speculative projects to establish counties in the western territory and in 1788 tried, again without success, to cede a portion of those lands to Congress. In 1789 the legislature sold about 25 million acres to three companies, only to torpedo the sale six months later by insisting that payment be made in gold and silver rather than in depreciated paper currency. Pressure to act continued to build on legislators until, by mid-November 1794, a majority reportedly favored sale of the western territory. On January 7, 1795, Georgia governor George Mathews signed the Yazoo Act, which transferred 35 million acres in present-day Alabama and Mississippi to four companies for $500,000. To bring off this speculative coup, the leader of the Yazooists, Georgia's Federalist U.S. senator James Gunn, had arranged the distribution of money and land to legislators, state officials, newspaper editors, and other influential Georgians. Cries of bribery and corruption accompanied the Yazoo Act as it made its way to final passage. Angry Georgians protested the sale in petitions and street demonstrations. Despite the swelling opposition, the Yazoo companies completed their purchases.

Learning of the circumstances surrounding passage of the Yazoo Act, Georgia's leading Jeffersonian Republican, U.S. senator James Jackson, resigned his seat and returned home, determined to overturn the sale. Making skillful use of county grand juries and newspapers, Jackson and his allies gained control of the legislature. After holding hearings that substantiated the corruption charges, Jackson dictated the terms of the 1796 Rescinding Act, which was signed by Governor Jared Irwin and nullified the Yazoo sale. He also arranged for the destruction of records connected with the sale; ensured that state officials tainted by Yazoo were denied reelection and replaced by his own anti-Yazoo, pro-Jefferson supporters; and in 1798 orchestrated a revision of the state constitution that included the substance of the Rescinding Act. To prevent those claiming lands under the Yazoo purchase from receiving a sympathetic hearing in a Congress dominated by Federalists, Jackson and his lieutenants blocked any cession of the western territory until the Republicans were in control. Then in 1802, commissioners from Georgia, including Jackson, transferred the land and the Yazoo claims to the federal government: the United States paid Georgia $1.25 million and agreed to extinguish as quickly as possible the remaining claims of Native Americans to areas within the state. Georgia politicians used the "Yazoo" label to bludgeon opponents for almost twenty years following the congressional settlement. A more tragic legacy of the Yazoo fraud grew out of the 1802 cession to Congress. As cotton culture spread across Georgia, the national government proved unable to extinguish quickly enough for land-hungry Georgians the claims of the Creeks and Cherokees to lands within the state. Anger over this matter fueled the development of the states' rights philosophy, for which Georgia's leaders became notorious in the 1820s and 1830s as they prodded the United States to complete the process of Indian removal. In a sense, Yazoo led to the "Trail of Tears" in 1838. New Georgia Encyclopedia (Retrieved January 28, 2009)

Scope and Content Note

A four-page manuscript memoranda of James Wilson (1742-1798) and others relating to the Yazoo Land sales. The manuscript includes: 1. Power of attorney from James Wilson to Matthew McAllister and Seaborn Jones, authorizing them to act for him in buying land in Georgia - dated November 20, 1794; 2. Receipt of Matthew McAllister and Seaborn Jones to James Wilson for $25,000; 3. Receipt of Seaborn Jones to Matthew McAllister for $25,000 "in bank bill, which the Honourable James Wilson hath placed in his & my hands ..." - dated November 20, 1794; 4. Record of release by Matthew McAllister "as a grantee," to Colonel Wade Hampton of South Carolina, giving answerable bond [transcribed from the Washington (Georgia) Monitor of September 24, 1803]; 5. Page of memoranda referring to "Pamphlet."

Index Terms

Land speculation--Georgia.
Powers of attorney.
Real property--Georgia.
Receipts (financial records)
Releases (permissions).
Yazoo Fraud, 1795.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

James Wilson Yazoo land documents, ms 1042. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

11Yazoo land documents, 1794