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Yazoo Land Fraud

In 1795 one of Georgia’s worst political scandals took place - the Yazoo Land Fraud. At that time, Georgia’s legal boundary extended west to the Mississippi River. Many state leaders wanted to open this area to settlement, but Creeks, Cherokees, and other Native Americans lived there. If they could be persuaded to leave, then whites could settle the large expanse of land, greatly increasing Georgia’s population, and bringing profit to those who sold the land.

Land speculators had formed companies and started trying to buy some of this land as early as 1789. But the efforts began in earnest in 1794, then reached their height in 1795. Representatives from four private land companies bribed many Georgia politicians to pass a law with a noble sounding title of:

An Act supplementary to an Act entitled ‘An Act for appropriating a part of the unlocated territory of this state for the payment of the late state troops, and for other purposes therein mentioned, declaring the right of this State to the unappropriated territory thereof, for the protection and support of the frontiers of this State, and for other purposes.

But in reality this law allowed the companies to buy 35 million acres of land at an incredibly low price of less than two cents an acre! The companies then sold the land (making huge profits) to either other speculators or to innocent civilians hoping to move to these frontier territories.

Most Georgians were outraged when they learned of the Yazoo Land Fraud. Many of the legislators who had been bribed fled the state. The following year - 1796 - a newly elected legislature repealed the Yazoo Act and had the paper it was written on burned publicly on the statehouse grounds, then ordered that all copies of the Yazoo legislation be destroyed. Naturally the people who had purchased land under the act did not want to give up their claims, so they took the matter to court, and the case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court. The scandal finally ended in 1814 when the federal government took control of the lands in dispute and paid off all of the Yazoo claims.

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Burning of the Yazoo Act
Source: A History of Georgia for Use in Schools, Lawton B. Evans