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The New York Times and the 1872 Mining Law

By: David Bond, The Silver Valley Mining Journal

-- Posted 30 August, 2007 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

The Wallace Street Journal


By David Bond, Editor

The Silver Valley Mining Journal


Wallace, Idaho – Presidential candidate and erstwhile New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani paid a visit to  our friend John Magnuson's home in the Wallace suburb of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho the other day to raise money and press the flesh. Because John, who with his lovely partner Holly Houston knows how to throw a serious bash, and also because Rob Elder's crew from the Hot Rod Cafe were cooking, we joined the festivities at Laissez Faire, John and Holly's lake place built by the late, great Hank Day.


In the unlikely event that Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, fails to win the Republican nomination for president, we could take a yen to Rudy for the simple reason that he is utterly contemptuous of the New York Times. A lesson he learned from Ronald Reagan, Giuliani said, was to read the Times every morning and then just do the opposite of whatever its editorialists urged.


Ah yes, the New York Times, which brought cover for Joe Stalin and brought us plagiarist and inventor-of-stories Jayson Blair, Weapons of Mass Destruction mistress Judith Miller, and real-time liberal media bias which for our purposes includes a hatred of any and all extractive industries, especially mining, opined the other day that the 1872 Mining Law should be relegated to history's dust-bin.


Inveighed the Times:


“The General Mining Law of 1872 is among the last statutory survivors of the boisterous era of westward expansion. Essentially unchanged since Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law, it sets the basic rules for mining hard-rock minerals like gold, copper and uranium on public lands. Useful in its day, it is a disaster now. It requires no royalties from the mining companies and contains no environmental safeguards, allowing mines to wreak havoc on water supplies and landscapes.


“Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat, has been trying to bring this law into the modern era since 1985. He will try again this fall, and Congress’s Democratic leadership should help him out. The bill would require mining companies to pay royalties on minerals extracted from federal land, just as coal and oil producers do. It would place sensitive wilderness lands and other “areas of critical environmental concern” off limits to mining, require reclamation afterward and create a fund to clean up the law’s most unattractive legacy — the estimated 500,000 abandoned mine sites that continue to leak cyanide, lead, mercury and other toxic wastes.


“Mr. Rahall’s latest effort could not be more timely. An exhaustive report last week from the Environmental Working Group and the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining” [fine impartial entities, those] “noted a dramatic jump in mining claims throughout the West, from 207,540 at the beginning of 2003 to almost 376,500 today. An alarmingly high number have been staked within five miles of 11 major national parks and monuments, including Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Death Valley National Park in California.

“Much of this increase appears to have been driven by a quintupling in uranium prices over the last several years, which in turn is driven by a renewed interest in nuclear energy as an alternative to dirtier fuels like coal and increasingly costly fuels like natural gas.

“The mining industry has long argued that because it is covered by other environmental laws, like the Clean Water Act, its does not need special safeguards. But it does. The Clean Water Act, for instance, does not cover subsurface water. And of course the companies do not like the idea of paying royalties. Even so, prices are so strong now that some of the big companies are beginning to sense that there is a point at which opposition begins to look ridiculous.

“Which leaves one enduring obstacle: Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, whose home state of Nevada depends far more on mining than any other state. Mr. Reid now seems willing to listen, as he should. One can live in the 19th century for only so long.”


Laid up against our current corrupt monetary system, our vacant treasuries, our debt- and death-shrouded foreign adventures, and what passes for normal ethics in the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches of our federal government these days, there might could be a case made that the 19th century the Times disparages was a period of comparative enlightenment.


The Times of course misses the entire point of the General Mining Law of 1872, in both spirit and intent. The 1872 law was an attempt to codify and consolidate court-case law and mining district rules into a single act whose primary purpose was to protect a prospector's discovery from intruders – “finders keepers” – essentially. To discourage speculation, the law requires prospectors to prove up mineral value before a claim can be staked.


Notes the Congressional Research Service, in a recent report:

“The right to enter the public domain lands and prospect for and develop minerals is the feature of the claim-patent system that draws the most vigorous support from the mining industry. Modern hardrock mineral exploration requires a continuous effort using vast tracts of land and sophisticated and expensive technology. Industry officials argue that being able to obtain full and clear title to the land enhances a company's ability to bring an economic deposit into production; financing the project, for example, may be more feasible. They contend that restrictions on free access and security of tenure would curtail exploration efforts among large and small mining firms. In their view, the incentive to develop would be lost, long-run costs would increase, and the industry and the country would suffer.”


Arguments over who owns the mineral wealth of this nation have been going on since at least the California Gold Rush, when a cabal of East Coast congressmen wanted to usurp the gold- and silver-fields of the West to pay off their Civil War debt. Even before then, Tammany Hall's first New York City mayor and former New York City mayor and then congressman Fernando Wood, a Democrat, proposed sending the U.S. Army out West to confiscate the mines in California, Colorado and Arizona “by armed force, if necessary,” and hand over their ownership and operation to the United Snakes for the benefit of the Treasury. (Wonder how miners in the former Soviet Union would feel about such a proposition.) In June 1865, Rep. George Julian of Indiana, a Republican introduced a bill for the government to take the western mines from their discoverers, and sell them at public auction to pay off the Civil War debt.

So the agenda of the environmentalist pressure group movement and the New York Times is nothing new. But those 19th century efforts to take private property away from its rightful owners were at least transparent in their goals, not shrouded behind cloaks of concern for furry critters and fish or the alleged ridiculously low price paid for patented claims (which the Klintons put a halt to a decade ago, anyway). The scoundrels of 150 years ago illuminated what is really the central issue over the General Mining Law of 1872: whether or not we commoners have the right to travel upon the King's land in search of wealth, and to keep what we find. The issue is not about the price paid, or the environment. It's about who owns this country: a government and its subjects, or individual free men and women. About who is servant and who is served.

How ironic that the original proposal to usurp the private property rights of legitimate claims owners in the West would come from Tammany Hall. After all, it was its exposure of William “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall that brought the New York Times to fame and glory. (The other 12 newspapers publishing in the New York boroughs were in the sack with Tweed.) The Times has come full-circle. Mineral policy, which is nothing more than individual and private property rights, must not.

-- Posted 30 August, 2007 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

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