|Revisiting wealth on the American frontier: the distribution of land in Kansas, 1860-1940|
|The Land Ordinance of 1785 established a land allocation system for the American interior that historians see as the basis of a wide distribution of landed wealth and entrenched property rights in the wider society. A Cartesian grid that projected coordinates for 6 mile square townships, and subdivided the townships in 36 square mile sections, spread out over the continent. The social leveling expanded further when, freed of southern opposition during the Civil War, the Congress passed legislation to offer prospective settlers free land grants. However, our knowledge of how land distribution changed once land shifted into private hands is more limited.
This paper picks up the story in Kansas, drawing on a sample of 25 townships across the state. This unique longitudinal database links population and agricultural census records over time, containing over 210,000 person observations and 25,000 farm observations. The paper will examine how land distribution changed in relation to population turnover, patterns of land use, and demographic change. The paper will demonstrate how a ‘founder’s effect’ persisted over several generations, but that the enforcement of egalitarian norms broke down in challenging environmental settings, and where population turnover brought outsiders into the community.