by Noelle Boggs, Special Collections student worker
Hi-Noelle here again! Recently, I have been processing a collection that consists of several Alabama land grants ranging from 1884 to 1914. When I first started to work through this collection, I was struck by the fact that all of the grants had the signature of the President during that time. For example, there are grants signed by Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, and even a few signed by Woodrow Wilson. I thought that it was pretty cool that I was holding documents that had the signature of so many former presidents of the United States, so I decided to do a little bit of research on why the president would need to sign land grants.
I found, somewhat to my dismay, that the signatures on these land grants were most likely not authentic. In my research I found that Congress passed a bill on March 2, 1833 “prescribing the mode by which patents for purchase of lands shall be signed and executed.” Congress had concluded that the tremendous increase in the responsibilities and duties of the president gave him little time to personally sign every land grant. In recognition of this problem, the bill stated that the presidential Secretary would be authorized to sign all land grants. In effect, Andrew Jackson was the last president to personally sign a land grant, and all land grants after 1833, including the ones I had in my hands, were signed by a secretary. 🙁
I felt a bit disappointed about the fact that these signatures weren’t legitimate, but it was really interesting to find out about this bill and land grant history.
For more information on the bill and a subsequent appeal see: Signing patents &: repeal laws for relating to public lands as requires the signature of president 526 CONGRESS-SESSION: 30-1 (1847-1848) SESSIONAL-VOLUME: 3