Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A really crappy law.

Are you familiar with the Guano Islands Act of 1856?

Apparently, when a US citizen sets foot on an island rich in bird crap deposits, and the island is not claimed by anybody else, the island may, at the discretion of the president, be annexed by the USA. Further, should you be the unlucky citizen who washes ashore on this avian outhouse, you have some responsibilities, too, apparently:
The discoverer shall, as soon as practicable, give notice verified by affidavit, to the Department of State, of such discovery, occupation, and possession, describing the island, rock, or key, and the latitude and longitude thereof, as near as may be, and showing that such possession was taken in the name of the United States; and shall furnish satisfactory evidence to the State Department that such island, rock, or key was not, at the time of the discovery thereof, or of the taking possession and occupation thereof by the claimants, in the possession or occupation of any other government or of the citizens of any other government, before the same shall be considered as appertaining to the United States.
Which is a bummer, because suppose I wanted to claim it for the greater glory of myself? The best I could hope for, according to §1414, would be an exclusive right to the guano concession for myself and my heirs or assigns, but I could only sell the guano to the US. Which, if your lifelong goal has been to be the robber baron governor of a colonial feces farm, would be pretty swell, I guess.

Oh, one of the islands claimed under the Guano Act is causing us a little minor border squabble with New Zealand. And they had an American queen.

Oh, well, if Peak Phosphorus really happens, we'll be glad our elder statesmen had such foresight! Or something.


Tim said...

The minor border squabble seems to be more of a local matter, the natives having grown independently-minded.

Good luck to the new Tokelau, may her democracy prosper as does ours.

TJIC said...

> if your lifelong goal has been to be the robber baron governor of a colonial feces farm, would be pretty swell

Indeed. By all accounts, Deval Patricks is truly enjoying being governor of Massachusetts.

K said...

So what's New Zealand going to do about it, lob intercontinental ballistic cows at us? Their "military" has less muscle than the NRA. In Vermont.

Tam said...


It seems to be a pretty laid-back border dispute.

Anonymous said...

While I have no desire to be a bird poop magnate, I HAVE always had a desire to be a munitions king.

JD said...

Well the act has the right name as it's bat shit crazy...

Anonymous said...

Does the law have a reverse provision, to be invoked when a territory is part of the US but becomes so full of poop we don't want it anymore?

'Cause I'm thinking Chicago.

Carmel IN

Anonymous said...

Hey , back then nitrates were a BIG deal. Chile made a lot of money shipping ship loads to the Western Powers in WWI

Fertilizer & Munitions.
Butter and guns.

Then the Germans went and invented nitrogen fixing chemical technologies in WWI to, you know, try to stop running out of munitions and thus ending the slaughter.

After that guano islands and deposits became less critical. Chemical plants more so.

Joe in PNG said...

When you go to war over bird crap, everyone loses- even if you win. Just ask Bolivia or Chile.

K said...


What's the advantage to being an evil imperialist militaristic world power if we can't even use an aircraft carrier or two to grab a disputed island from time to time?

I hope they at least deployed the Seal Lawyer Team 6 on this operation.

Tam said...

Anon 5:54,

Yes,I know that.

The Raving Prophet said...

Can we include "Send lawyers, guns, and money" if it appears our crap-covered island might be desired by anybody else?

Given the recent activity of the, it seems like lawyers are always plentiful, and we've been handing out guns and money like candy, so hey, it's worth a shot.

Guffaw in AZ said...

And here I thought Dr. Julius No was on to something!

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about being arm-twisted into claiming unclaimed land for the USA, 'cause there ain't any left. Aside from the occasional volcano, they ain't making unclaimed land anymore and what little is isn't covered in crap.

Ah the good old federal government, its laws extend around the world but any requirements for it to be restrained by the Constitution ends at gitmo.


Firehand said...

I don't know, if you could find such a little island... Peru's first real export crop(after the Spanish looted the place) was bird crap from some islands off the coast, made fortunes on it. With all the ORGANIC FOODS & STUFF!! excitement, being able to sell bags of Genuine Certified Pure Natural Fertilizer might well make you a small-scale robber baron.

mikee said...

It is a good idea to exercise and train your troops on small, inconsequential, very hard to lose missions like this island dispute with an ally, so that when something like the invasion of two or more middle eastern countries comes up, your troops are somewhat more ready for it.

Or you could do it the other way, first invading two middle eastern countries to train your troops, then worrying over the squabble with an ally over a guano speck, and watch your troops laugh themselves half to death as they head to New Zealand.

Tam said...


For more interesting reading on Peru and guano wars, read here.

Firehand said...

Damn, I'd forgotten that one! Thanks

I remember reading, about said export, that one seaport had records of locals saying "You could always tell when a load was coming in; you could smell the ship two days before it arrived." I wonder, would you have to, ah, clean up the product somewhat or would the organic smell be a selling point nowadays?

Anonymous said...

Have you been reading about potato(e)s?