The General Mining Act of 1872: Impact on the California Gold Rush - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1853 Words
Date:  2023-08-14


The General Mining Act of 1872 is a federal regulation in the United States that governs and controls all activities involving the mining of economic minerals like gold, silver, and platinum, among others on public land (Brown 579). The California Gold Rush occurred between the 1840s to 1860s, whereby James Marshall discovered the mineral, leading to the influx of people into the country (Anderson 610). Thus, it was critical to protect and acquire mining claims on public land. According to the law, any United States citizen above the age of eighteen has a right to locate a hard rock or gravel mining claim of federal property that is certified for mineral entry (Lopez 55). The General Mining Act of 1872 governs the transfer of rights to mine precious minerals like gold, silver, platinum, and uranium, among others that are found on federal property.

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During the mid-19th century, there was the emergence of western mining booms, and the California Gold Rush was one of the main events. During that period, various people discovered the presence of a variety of minerals on federal land, but there were no laws or regulations governing transfer rights from public ownership to private entities (Lopez 55). Thus, miners implemented and formulated their own rules and regulations, which were later codified by Congress, leading to the General Mining Act of 1872. The law gave insight over the use of public land resources to the private sector.

The laws and provisions of the mining act still remain to date. First, the mining laws give United States citizens the right and power to explore for minerals. Citizens can establish rights to federal property without requiring any authorization from any government agency in the country. Thus, the mining act promotes free access to federal land. For instance, if a person discovers a site with minerals on it, they enjoy the “rights to mine” claim if the substance can be marketed effectively (Giordano 47). The right is granted regardless of the current use of land, its value, and any alternative use. In the past, claimants were required to satisfy a yearly work requirement to maintain their rights. However, in 1992, Congress amended the requirement, stating that claimants must pay a $100 holding fee for every claim they make (Lopez 55). After that, claimants are required to obtain a mineral patent that is charged per acre so that they can acquire outright titles that cover both the federal land and the minerals that they discover on it. The cost per acre for the mineral patent ranges from $2.50 to $5 (Giordano 57).

Mining companies strongly support the general mining act of 1872 for many reasons. First, the regulation guarantees low-cost access to federal property that contains minerals. However, various critics do not support the provisions of the act (Mayer 624). The first claim is that the regulation encourages opportunists and speculators who invade public lands, which have summer homes, garbage, and bhang farms, among other usages (Anderson 609). Secondly, the act limits the ability of the federal government to administer pubic land, and finally, exploration is subsidized.

There are three primary issues that are the center of discussion regarding the general mining act of 1872 today. First, it is argued that the private sector has too many options over the decisions of the use of public land resources. For instance, according to the law, private entities are permitted to discover and explore minerals and claim rights on federal property without being authorized by any federal agency (Giordano 81). Thus, reformers want the act to be amended so that administrative control by the relevant government authorities is increased.

The second issue is that the current provisions by the federal, state, and local laws do not promote environmental conservation and protection (Rosenthal 555). True to the claim, the mining act does not contain any rules about environmental protection (Brown 581). However, the exploration and development of minerals are significant issues that are covered by the act (Mayer 630). For instance, there are laws that are established and enacted by the bureau of land management and the forest service. According to the reform, the general mineral act should give the forest service and the bureau of land management, and other federal agencies the right to determine and control explorations on federal lands to prevent environmental pollution and the destruction of public and federal lands (Anderson 615). Critics propose that there should be tougher environmental laws that affect mining activities, but mining companies tend to disagree.

The third issue is about the number of mining interests that mining firms should pay to have the right to extract minerals on public and federal land. Currently, the mining act does not contain any royalty provisions. According to critics, billions of federal resources can be passed into private entities through patenting procedures. Patent holders do not have the right to mine in federal resources but can use the land in whichever manner they like. Although changes in payments to the federal governments are inevitable, having high royalties will force currently active projects to be closed prematurely while the potential ones will be indefinitely halted or stopped.

The Working Mechanism of the General Mining Act Of 1872

Federal lands in the United States are the primary mineral holders. Thus, the mining act governs all the mineral exploration activities on any public domain in the state. However, not all federal land in the United States is accessible for various reasons. For example, landholding historical monuments, national parks, wilderness, and power facilities cannot be accessed by the general public (Mayer 635). The allocation of mineral rights by the federal government is influenced by many factors. For instance, the sate sells the right to extract common variety minerals like sand, gravel, and stones. However, the federal government leases rights to people who mine fossil fuels and hard rock minerals that are acquired on public lands (Anderson 610). The primary function of the systems explained above is to transfer mineral rights from the federal government to private entities.

A systematic procedure is followed during the mining and development of hard rock minerals. The first step involves a survey of the land and the identification of the site where mining will take place. After that, it is determined whether the property belongs to the federal government and that it has not been withdrawn from access by the mining law (Brown 579). Claimers often stake bigger pieces of land since the maximum land size that can be claimed for a mining operation is twenty acres. Claimants are required to pay annual holding fees of $100 to maintain their mining rights. The claim rights can only be removed through legal processes and procedures.

The next step involves the obtaining of sample drillings. Geological information must be acquired before any mining activities begin. If the sampled land looks promising to a mining company, a feasibility study is conducted to assess the land’s technological and geological characteristics (Brown 585). Moreover, an evaluation of the prevailing marketing and political factors is also performed. The study of the area may consume about 5% of a project’s total budget cost.

Claim rights can only be granted if the minerals discovered are economically viable. The claimant is not required to showcase the discovery unless they want to obtain a patent or in case the federal government doubts the validity of the claim (Mayer 634). All the processes take place in a court of law (Mohanty 283). The claimant is required to prove discovery by providing evidence during administrative hearings to prove that the discovered minerals are economically viable (Giordano 47). Several factors like market prices and forces, quality and quantity of the minerals, estimated mining, processing, marketing, reclamation, and environmental protection costs are considered before claim rights are fully granted to a claimant (Rosenthal 555).

Land administrators have the right to discredit existing claims that do not meet the conditions given by the mining laws regarding discovery requirements. The second way in which a claim can be discredited by government officials is if a particular claim is used for non-mining purposes (Mayer 629). The Interior Department continues to challenge many claims, but the process is costly and time-consuming. All hearings are held by an administrative judge, but claimants have the right to appeal to the Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (Anderson 612). When the right process is followed, claimants hold their claim rights for many years.

In some selected cases, the federal government buys claim rights from private entities instead of contesting and challenging them in court (Mohanty 283). One of the historical cases hereby the federal government bought claim rights was between 1986 and 1987 when the Yucca Mountain was identified as a potential ground for waste respiratory.

Individuals take advantage of the lengthy and costly claim right procedures to get opportunistic staking. In 1990, a report was produced depicting all the mining claims that were used for non-mining purposes (Anderson 610). Some of the unauthorized mining activities included illegal dumping, investment scams, residential buildings, and marijuana farms.

Once a claimant has satisfactorily demonstrated their rights, the federal government can buy them if it wants to use the land for other purposes. Old sites are also permitted to re-mine due to technological innovations (Mayer 634). Even with immense pressure from environmental groups to stop such operations, the federal government does not have the power to invalidate the claims. However, according to the mining act, the federal government is permitted to purchase the rights if it negotiates a deal with the claimants (Rosenthal 555). Upon discovery, the mining laws allow an individual to acquire an outright title to the federal land on which the mineral was discovered.


In summary, the general mining act of 1872 governs the transfer of rights to mine precious minerals like gold, silver, platinum, and uranium, among others that are found on federal property. Citizens can establish rights to federal property without requiring any authorization from any government agency. Claim rights are granted regardless of the current use of land, its value, and any alternative use. However, a systematic procedure is followed during the mining and development of hard rock minerals, and they include the identification of the site, sample drilling, and the conducting of a feasibility study.

Works Cited

Anderson, Robert C. "Federal mineral policy: The General Mining Law of 1872." Natural Resources Journal 16.3 (1976): 601-619.

Brown, Christopher. "Economy as Instituted Process: The Case of Hard Rock Mining in the United States." Journal of Institutional Economics 14.4 (2018): 579-593.

Giordano, P. "Mining on Federal Land: Policy and Costs of Doing Business." The Environmental Politics and Policy of Western Public Lands (2019).

Lopez, Michael. "Tribal Rights: The 1872 Mining Law's Past and Future." Natural Resources & Environment 34.3 (2020): 53-55.

Mayer, Carl J. "The 1872 Mining Law: Historical Origins of the Discovery Rule." The University of Chicago Law Review 53.2 (1986): 624-653.

Mohanty, Rohan. "Mining for Answers: The Supreme Court of California Addresses the State's Ability to Exercise Its Police Powers on Federal Land in People v. Rinehart." Vill. Envtl. LJ 29 (2018): 283.

Rosenthal, Jonathan. "People v. Rinehart: No Preemption of State Environmental Regulations under the Mining Act of 1872." Ecology LQ 44 (2017):...

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