“Distributive politics and congressional voting: public lands reform in the Jacksonian era”
Sean Gailmard, Jeffery A. Jenkins
During the 1830s, Congress passed a series of laws reforming U.S. policy on acquiring public lands. These laws established a federal land policy of preemption, under which squatters on public land obtained legal title to it in exchange for payment of a minimum (and low) price per acre. Preemption significantly liberalized the terms of land ownership in the U.S. We analyze roll call voting on the preemption acts in Congress from a distributive politics perspective. The key finding is that a member’s region of the country consistently adds explanatory power on top of that provided by ideology or party: members of Congress from the original thirteen states were less supportive of preemption on Western lands, all else constant. Moreover, this effect is much stronger in the House of Representatives than in the Senate. This is inconsistent with explanations of a West-South coalition vs. the North often found in the historical literature, but is consistent with a distributive politics perspective based on rent seeking by Western landholders.
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