Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts






On August 8, 1846, Congress granted the Territory of Iowa a parcel of land for the purpose of facilitating a project to improve the Des Moines River. Iowa in turn sold the land to pay for improvements on the Des Moines River in the hopes of seeing the river become a transportation route that connected markets and people. The Des Moines River Land Grant was not the first of its kind in American history, rather it resulted from an emerging national awareness and focus on internal improvements. Although internal improvements played a part in the development of the nation from the beginning, the stress of increasing populations and their movement westward brought the issue onto the national stage. Traditional literature portrayed the project as a failure due to controversies arising from an ambiguous land grant, adversarial titles, conflicting land grants, and the arrival of railroads. Although undoubtedly the realization of a navigable Des Moines River that served as a great thoroughfare for the transportation of midwestern produce never occurred, the Des Moines River Improvement Lands Grant was far from a failure. Nineteenth century America underwent numerous changes in response to evolving social, political, and economic forces. Those changes often presented new challenges to individuals, corporations, and state and federal governments. The Des Moines River Lands Grant and improvement project served as one such agent of transformation and change. The first chapter begins by exploring the Congressional conveyance of the Des Moines River Lands Grant and the Iowa General Assembly's experimentation with administrative hierarchies while pursuing the vigorous completion of the project. The second chapter explores the federal government's struggle for authority. Throughout the nineteenth century, the federal government underwent many changes. The final chapter examines the role of the Des Moines River Lands Grant in aiding the transformation of the American legal system


Copyright Owner

Rick L Woten



OCLC Number


File Format


File Size

121 pages