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Public domain represents governmental stewardship of all lands not owned by private individuals or corporations. In the early American republic, this concept provided the nascent government with income sources, enabling it to fund the nation's operations. These policies developed after independence when lands comprising the Northwest Territory—lands personally settled and owned by individuals—were sold for two purposes: garnering funds for the federal coffers and encouraging settlement in the direction of the Mississippi River. Concern for English and French encroachment directed the nation's foreign policy.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 opened the Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin territories to settlement. One section of each 640-acre grid was devoted to education. Land-grant colleges appeared in all states, providing assistance and federal funds to aid a growing population. ...