Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Clyde A. Milner II


Clyde A. Milner II


David R. Lewis


F. Ross Peterson


Anne M. Butler


Carol A. O'Connor


This thesis examines the evolution of public land law during the early 1930s. It focuses specifically on the development of a federal grazing policy on the remaining public domain located in the eleven western states. This period of intense intellectual conflict, concerning the relationship between private enterprise and the federal government, was a pivotal moment in the history of land law.

To explain the profound shift from the entrenched states' rights attitudes of the 1920s to the acceptance of federal control inaugurated by the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, this thesis explores the emergence of a powerful profederal contingent from 1929 to 1934. Led by Utah politicians, businessmen, and academicians, this profederal group of westerners, USDA officials, and conservationists ultimately defeated the movement to cede the remaining public domain to the states. A series of public-policy-making events, including the Hoover Committee, the National Conference on Land Utilization, and the hearings of the House Committee on Public Lands and the Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, provided these pro-federal advocates with the opportunity to consolidate their efforts and solidify their arguments.

Pro-federal proponents used the Hoover Committee to establish valuable communication links and raise a nascent voice against states' rights. The next year, during the National Conference on Land Utilization, this group promulgated the first nationally recognized plan for federal ownership of the public domain. Finally, the persuasive testimony of pro-federal witnesses before the House and Senate public lands committees divided the states' rights supporters into bitter factions and subsequently convinced the legislators to reject the bills favoring state control.

By early 1934 these events had molded a formerly disconnected group of individuals into a synergistic force that ultimately afforded Don Colton and Edward Taylor with the momentum to pass the Taylor Grazing Act. Previously scholars have neglected the critical prelude to the Taylor Grazing Act. This thesis attempts to contribute an important piece to the historiographical puzzle of public land law.



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