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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
This manual, “Acquisition of Property for War Purposes” represents the culmination of studies initiated in the Lands Division of the Department of Justice in April 1939.
T'he United States has engaged in six wars. In each one the expropriation of property was a major element in achieving ultimate victory, but aside from isolated special studies 1 no comprehensive examination of legal procedures for acquisition of property for war purposes had been made. As the legal arm of the Government in conducting all condemnation proceedings to acquire sites for military and all other Federal purposes, and in the writing of all opinions of the Attorney General approving the validity of title upon the acquisition of any real property, the Lands Division of the Department of Justice has a vast amount of accumulated legal experience in acquiring property. It therefore seemed the appropriate agency to take inventory of the available legal machinery for acquiring property in time of war.
In the past, the military arm of executive power in time of war has very largely appropriated the necessary property without much regard to invoking orderly legal procedures, leaving the settlement of claims to future litigation. The resultant hardships to property owners and excessive costs to the Federal Government could very largely have been avoided if adequate legal procedures had been employed."
In time of war the military have always felt that there is no time for the tedious processes of the law in the presence of a national emergency. This view has been conclusively answered in the present war in the acquisition of thousands of sites by the Lands Division of the Department of Justice. Even before Pearl Harbor, legal procedures had been streamlined and put on an assembly line basis. At that time, opinions of the Attorney General as to the validity of title were being written in an average time of 6 days, and the filing of condemnation proceedings was so accelerated that sites anywhere in the United States or the territories were acquired in the average time of 4 days, 4 hours and 12 minutes, counting from the time the request was received in the Lands Division to the time when title or the right to immediate possession was vested by court order in the United States Government.
This speed has been maintained throughout the largest land acquisition program in the history of this or any other country. (There are pending 7,400 condemnation cases embracing over 75,000 separate properties or tracts.) Due largely to this speed in filing court proceedings under the Second War Powers Act, administrative takings were practically nil. Numerous concomitant advantages of this court procedure are: The exact property taken is described, rather than left to future
1 See Bibliography.
3 The War Powers Act and the Declaration of Taking Act, used in conjunction with each other throughout the war effort, are discussed in c. V.
argument and dispute; the owners are in court in the jurisdiction where the property is located and need not institute a case in the court of claims in Washington, D. C.; title disputes, if any, can be adjudicated as a matter of local law with title records readily available; estimated compensation is usually deposited in court for the use of the owner, and the amount of the just compensation can be judicially determined if the case is not settled (over 90 percent are amicably settled); cases may be concluded within a reasonable time after the taking 4 and not 10 to 25 years later with concomitant hardships imposed upon dispossessed property owners as in the case of administrative takings 5 during World War I and without the payment by the Government of enormous sums in accumulated interest.
There was, therefore, good reason to take inventory of legal machinery for acquiring all kinds of property. The first volume completed in 1940, entitled "Expropriation of Property for National Defense” filled a long-felt need. The head of one war agency told the writer that this volume was a "Bible," a ready reference to the law as it existed prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also helped to expose a number of deficiencies in the existing statutes, certain of which constituted obstacles to the war effort which had to be removed by emergency legislation. .
The present volume “Acquisition of Property for War Purposes” is more accurately named than its predecessor, "Éxpropriation of Property for National Defense,” for there is no longer any danger of being charged with “war-mongering” as was true in 1939-40 when the first volume was written. Then, opinion in the country was sharply divided as to whether there was any real danger of war, and any steps, such as the preparation of a manual contemplating the possibility of war, elicited sharp attack. History settled that argument. The present volume not only brings the former up to date by embracing legislation passed during the war period, but also deals with the available voluntary methods of acquisition as well as with expropriation. The authority to exercise discretion in the use of executive power is also more fully considered than in the original study.
All problems could not be dealt with in a work of this brevity, and the question of what should be included and what excluded has been of necessity to some extent arbitrarily decided. It is hoped that this work may speed access to sources where pertinent materials can be found bearing upon special problems which require more exhaustive examination.
This study does not represent the views of the Department of Justice or of any other agency of the Government, but only those of its authors. It was prepared by Dr. Lawrence Vold; Mr. J. Edward Williams, General Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General of the Lands Division; Mr. Frank Chambers, Chief of the Legislation and General Section; Mr. Ralph J. Luttrell, Chief of the Condemnation Section; Mr. Robert R. MacLeod, Assistant Chief of the Condemnation Section; Mr. L. L. Yost, Assistant Chief of the Condemnation Section; and the writer. Dr. Lawrence Vold carried the primary burden of research and authorship, with the assistance of the earlier study, “Expropriation of Property for National Defense,” and a considerable mass of research material available in the Lands Division. I wish to express my appreciation of the fine work of these men and also of that of Miss Alma M. Winningham in the preparation of the bibliography and
4 The process of paying property owners in World War II was materially expedited by bills drafted in the Lands Division and passed by Congress. (See acts referred to in "Report of the Attorney General," 1940, pp. 124–5, 1942, pp. 126, 7, 8, 9), but could have been greatly speeded by the passage of two bills still pending, H. R. 2617, s. 975, and s. 919.
6 The Lever Act of August 10. 1917 (40 Stat. 276, 279); the Naval Appropriation Act of March 4. 1917 (40 Stat. 1168, 1193) ; the Emergency Shipping Fund Act of June 15, 1917 (40 Stat. 182); the Emergency Fleet Corporation Act of March 1, 1918 (40 Stat. 438), and the War Housing Act of May 16, 1918 (40 Stat. 550).
6 See footnote 4.