Scandal, corruption, and political intrigue—no, this is not another blog post about the 2016 presidential election. The scandal under discussion in this blog dates back to the 1780s and 1790s. The Yazoo Land Fraud centered around the issue of what Georgia should do with its vast western territories which spanned most of modern-day Alabama and Mississippi. The territory was dubbed Yazoo after the river running on its western border.
There was some discussion about selling the land to the U.S. Congress and several failed sales to land companies before the Georgia legislature passed the controversial Yazoo Act on January 7, 1795. The act sold 35 million acres to three companies for $500,000. The sale was immediately condemned by those who felt that too many members of the legislature and others connected to Georgia government profited from the sale while average Georgia citizens did not.
James Jackson, then U.S. Senator, strongly opposed the sale and led the effort to repeal the law. Jackson’s skillful politicking led to the 1796 Rescinding Act and Jeffersonian Republican domination of Georgia politics. The aftermath also led to a United States Supreme Court case, the first land lotteries, and set the stage for the forced removal of the Creek and Cherokee from Georgia. For more background information on the Yazoo Land Fraud and the political aftermath, visit the article on the New Georgia Encyclopedia or watch relevant Today in Georgia History episodes.
Primary sources help illuminate this complicated and important story from Georgia’s past. Below are several digitized primary sources from the Georgia Historical Society collection. None of these resources would be available without archives and the professionals who work every day to collect, care for, and share primary source material. Celebrate Archives Month in October by innovating your teaching with primary sources.
Primary Sources From the Georgia Historical Society
James Jackson Papers. MS 422
GHS is home to the James Jackson Papers, MS 422. James Jackson (1757-1806) was born in Devonshire, England. He fought for Georgia during the Revolutionary War, after which he became a member of the Georgia legislature. A member of the U.S. Senate since 1793, he left this position after the Yazoo fraud of 1795 and returned to Georgia’s state legislature and organized an anti-Yazoo campaign. His efforts resulted in the Georgia legislature rescinding the Yazoo Act and destroying its records. In 1798, Jackson won the gubernatorial election. While in office (he held the position until 1801), Jackson ensured Georgia’s political party status as a Jeffersonian state.
The collection includes letters to and from James Jackson, other writings of James Jackson and a letter book. The full collection was published in Collections of the Georgia Historical Society, Volume 11, including a transcription of the two documents below.
Burning of the Yazoo Act by C.H. Warren, MS 1675
Yazoo Land Records, MS 888
This entire collection is available through the GHS Image Catalog. You can link directly to the digitized items, including the ones featured in the gallery below, from the Yazoo Land Records finding aid.