Do Indians Rightfully Own America?

The implications for the Indian question are straightforward.  Namely: In the extremely unlikely event that any particular Indian can show that he personally is the rightful heir of a particular Indian who was wrongfully dispossessed of a particular piece of property, the current occupants should hand him the keys to his birthright and vacate the premises.  Otherwise the current occupants have the morally strongest claim to their property, and the status quo should continue.  Anything more is just the doctrine of collective guilt masquerading as a defense of property rights.
Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View
Herein, Murray Rothbard (from his The Ethics of Liberty) outlines precisely a methodical and plausible system (legal and ethical tests) that should be applied to sorting out the ownership of the so called “public lands.” It would not be as hard as most people perceive it to be. — jtl, 419
A Handbook for Ranch Managers
Critics of libertarianism occasionally claim that, if libertarians are correct, the entirety of America rightfully belongs to the Indians.  After all, we stole it from them, didn’t we?
Unfortunately, the preceding question is missing a lot of scare quotes.  Yes, “we” stole it from “them.”  (And much much worse).  But both the “we” and the “them” have been dead for centuries.  Many of “us” aren’t even descended from either side.  In any case, the last time I checked, both libertarians and virtually all of our modern critics reject the doctrine of inherited guilt.  So barring abundant scare quotes, we stole nothing from them.Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual

But what about the Locke/Nozick historical theory of justice?  Isn’t anyone who fails to return stolen property to the Indians violating their property rights?  While I’m not a big fan of Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty, he has a methodical and plausible response to all questions of this form.  I almost never post lengthy blockquotes, but here I’ll make an exception:

Combat Shooter's HandbookIt is true that existing property titles must be scrutinized, but the resolution of the problem is much simpler than the question assumes. For remember always the basic principle: that all resources, all goods, in a state of no-ownership belong properly to the first person who finds and transforms them into a useful good (the “homestead” principle). We have seen this above in the case of unused land and natural resources: the first to find and mix his labor with them, to possess and use them, “produces” them and becomes their legitimate property owner. Now suppose that Mr. Jones has a watch; if we cannot clearly show that Jones or his ancestors to the property title in the watch were criminals, then we must say that since Mr. Jones has been possessing and using it, that he is truly the legitimate and just property owner.

Reconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps Institute Or, to put the case another way: if we do not know if Jones’s title to any given property is criminally-derived, then we may assume that this property was, at least momentarily in a state of no-ownership (since we are not sure about the original title), and therefore that the proper title of ownership reverted instantaneously to Jones as its “first” (i.e., current) possessor and user. In short, where we are not sure about a title but it cannot be clearly identified as criminally derived, then the title properly and legitimately reverts to its current possessor.

The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other MisfitsBut now suppose that a title to property is clearly identifiable as criminal, does this necessarily mean that the current possessor must give it up? No, not necessarily. For that depends on two considerations: (a) whether the victim (the property owner originally aggressed against) or his heirs are clearly identifiable and can now be found; or (b) whether or not the current possessor is himself the criminal who stole the property. Suppose, for example, that Jones possesses a watch, and that we can clearly show that Jones’s title is originally criminal, either because (1) his ancestor stole it, or (2) because he or his ancestor purchased it from a thief (whether wittingly or unwittingly is immaterial here). Now, if we can identify and find the victim or his heir, then it is clear that Jones’s title to the watch is totally invalid, and that it must promptly revert to its true and legitimate owner. Thus, if Jones inherited or purchased the watch from a man who stole it from Smith, and if Smith or the heir to his estate can be found, then the title to the watch properly reverts immediately back to Smith or his descendants, without compensation to the existing possessor of the criminally derived “title.” Thus, if a current title to property is criminal in origin, and the victim or his heir can be found, then the title should immediately revert to the latter.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)Suppose, however, that condition (a) is not fulfilled: in short, that we know that Jones’s title is criminal, but that we cannot now find the victim or his current heir. Who now is the legitimate and moral property owner? The answer to this question now depends on whether or not Jones himself is the criminal, whether Jones is the man who stole the watch. If Jones was the thief, then it is quite clear that he cannot be allowed to keep
it, for the criminal cannot be allowed to keep the reward of his crime; and he loses the watch, and probably suffers other punishments besides. In that case, who gets the watch? Applying our libertarian theory of property, the watch is now – after Jones has been apprehended – in a state of no-ownership, and it must therefore become the legitimate property of the first person to “homestead” it – to take it and use it, and therefore, to have converted it from an unused, no-ownership state to a useful, owned state. The first person who does so then becomes its legitimate, moral, and just owner.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2)  But suppose that Jones is not the criminal, not the man who stole the watch, but that he had inherited or had innocently purchased it from the thief. And suppose, of course, that neither the victim nor his heirs can be found. In that case, the disappearance of the victim means that the stolen property comes properly into a state of no-ownership. But we have seen that any good in a state of no-ownership, with no legitimate owner of its title, reverts as legitimate property to the first person to come along and use it, to appropriate this now unowned resource for human use. But this “first” person is clearly Jones, who has been using it all along. Therefore, we conclude that even though the property was originally stolen, that if the victim or his heirs cannot be found, and if the current possessor was not the actual criminal who stole the property, then title to that property belongs properly, justly, and ethically to its current possessor.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) To sum up, for any property currently claimed and used: (a) if we know clearly that there was no criminal origin to its current title, then obviously the current title is legitimate, just and valid; (b) if we don’t know whether the current title had any criminal origins, but can’t find out either way, then the hypothetically “unowned” property reverts instantaneously and justly to its current possessor; (c) if we do know that the title is originally criminal, but can’t find the victim or his heirs, then (c1) if the current title-holder was not the criminal aggressor against the property, then it reverts to him justly as the first owner of a hypothetically unowned property. But (c2) if the current titleholder is himself the criminal or one of the criminals who stole the property, then clearly he is properly to be deprived of it, and it then reverts to the first man who takes it out of its unowned state and appropriates it for his use. And finally, (d) if the current title is the result of crime, and the victim or his heirs can be found, then the title properly reverts immediately to the latter, without compensation to the criminal or to the other holders of the unjust title.

The implications for the Indian question are straightforward.  Namely: In the extremely unlikely event that any particular Indian can show that he personally is the rightful heir of a particular Indian who was wrongfully dispossessed of a particular piece of property, the current occupants should hand him the keys to his birthright and vacate the premises.  Otherwise the current occupants have the morally strongest claim to their property, and the status quo should continue.  Anything more is just the doctrine of collective guilt masquerading as a defense of property rights.

Reconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteAll unclassified Army and Marine Cops manuals and correspondence courses are products of the US Federal Government. They are NOT subject to copyright and can be freely copied and redistributed.

The Marine Corps Institute (MCI) develops correspondence courses for Marines with all kinds of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) on all manner of subjects. This is one of those courses.

The print is relatively small because that is the way it was in the original and this is an exact reproduction. Also, as a tribute to the individual (and a touch of reality), you will notice that the editorial pencil marks and underlined passages that were put there by the Marine that took this course. They were intentionally left in the reproduction.

This version of the course was authorized in September of 1984. With the exception the development of Infrared technology, it contains information and techniques that have changed very little since the Vietnam war. These battle proven tactics are as valid today as they were in Quang Nam province in 1968.

They will maintain their validity during the upcoming inevitable event of total economic, political and social collapse. Yours for freedom in our lifetimes. jtl, 419

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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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