Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Legislation Regarding Bird Poop

While opportunistically browsing in Wikipedia, among forbidden places for the putative intelligensia, I happened to come upon this curious entry:

The Guano Islands Act (11 Stat. 119, enacted 18 August 1856, codified at 48 U.S.C. ch.8 §§ 1411-1419) is federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that enables citizens of the U.S. to take possession of islands containing guano deposits. The islands can be located anywhere, so long as they are not occupied and not within the jurisdiction of other governments. It also empowers the President of the United States to use the military to protect such interests and establishes the criminal jurisdiction of the United States.

    -- From Wikipedia.

In other words, unlike Congress's usual pattern of wrapping their legislative poop in attractive-sounding packaging, Congress back in 1856 literally passed an Act regarding physical bird poop, known to the gentle as guano!   

What are these bird poop paradises that altimately had the Stars and Stripes places over them?  Here are a few; Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Johnston Island, Baker Island, Navassa Island, Jarvis Island, and others.  Don't think about booking a condo on Kingman Reef, these are uninhabited.  So, if you can go there, you can watch the birds, and wait for the next boat out.

Why this interest in bird poop?  Well, it seems that bird guano is a prime source of saltpeter, a substance used in making fertilizer, gunpowder, and as a perservative for foods! In short, it has commercial value.

In reading more about saltpeter, it was apparently rumored to be an antiaphrodisiac, a substance that reduces libido in people.  Generations of soldiers and high school boys apparently believed that their food had this kind of adulterant in it to make them, er, behave a little better?

So, maybe we have some questions here.  Why did Congress enact this?  Was it in anticipation of firepower needs for the looming Civil War, or to help scientific agriculture, or food preservation, or even to make their constitutents behave better before abstinence was discovered as an alternative? 

Also, what kind of dialogue and discussion accompanied this Act?  Did Members of Congress make a lot of bird poop jokes?  This is a fertile topic for someone needing a master's thesis topic.

Courting albatrosses

Not possible on Kingman Reef



Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Did that also give rise to seagull administration, where the doer squawks, defecates, and flies off?

Duckbutt said...

When I was younger, I wondered why those godforsaken places wound up U.S. territories. Did we wind up with the booby prizes when empire-building was in vogue? Thanks for giving us the real poop on it.

I won't look for Orbitz to book my condo on Baker Island.

Anemone said...

They actually called it the Guano Islands Act. They MUST have had a sense of humor.

Mike said...

In basic training in the Army it was always assumed that saltpeter was in the food.

Jon Frum said...

Regular saltpeter (HNO3) or Chile saltpeter (NaNO3)?

Did they pass it by voice vote or roll call vote?

Kristen Lavransdrittsekkdatter said...

A nice historical note.

Bilbo said...

It's interesting to know that Congress was legislating about poop as far back as 1856. Today, of course, if the President wanted to pass poop legislation, Congress would immediately enact legislative constipation to prevent passage. So to speak.

Clarissa said...

Legislative constipation sounds more accurate than legislative gridlock.

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