Light-Houses of the United States, The


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by Charles Nordhoff

(reprinted from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1874)

The first act of Congress relating to light-houses was passed August 7, 1789. It provided that "all expenses which shall accrue from and after the 15th day of August, 1789, in the necessary support, maintenance, and repairs of all light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers, erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act at the entrance of or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the Treasury of the United States." Seven months later, March 26, 1790, the same words were re-enacted, but with a proviso that "none of the said expenses shall continue to be so defrayed by the United States after the expiration of one year from the day aforesaid, unless such light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers shall in the mean time be ceded to and vested in the United States by the State or States respectively in which the same lie, together with the lands and tenements thereunto belonging, and together with the jurisdiction of the same." Before this the States which possessed sea-ports had controlled and supported each its own light-houses; by these two acts Congress prepared to assume the control of these aids to navigation and commerce, as the Constitution required; and ever since the Federal government has not only maintained and supported the light-houses, but it has also owned them, and a sufficient space of ground about them for all necessary ends. And thus it was that in the first proclamation of Mr. Lincoln, in 1861, he announced his purpose to recover and maintain possession of all forts, light-houses, etc.

32 pages


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