Uncovering the origins of “Under All Is the Land…”

Arthur H. Barnhisel, 1924 chair of the NAR Ethics Committee, and author of the Code’s preamble.

One hundred years have passed since a key document in the REALTOR® organization’s history first made its debut.  Written in 1913, the Code of Ethics was seen as a declaration of the real estate industry’s principles and beliefs, a “golden thread” uniting those devoted to raising the standards of professionalism and service in real estate.

The Code is a living document that undergoes regular revision to keep it updated and relevant as the real estate industry evolves, so today’s Code of Ethics looks much different from the one that was adopted in 1913.  Even so, REALTORS® are often surprised to see that the words “Under all is the land,” the familiar opening of the Code’s preamble, are nowhere to be found in the original version.

So where did the preamble come from, and who wrote it?

The Code of Ethics was over a decade old before the preamble was introduced.  In 1924, the National Association’s committee assigned with revising and modernizing the Code decided that the rules should have an introduction, and prepared two versions of a preamble for consideration.

The first version, written by A. S. Adams, a REALTOR® from Atlanta, GA, took the form of a straightforward personal pledge: “I, a member of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, accept as the primary requirement for engaging in the Real Estate Business that my first duty is to the public whom I propose to serve, and the protection of whose interests must always be my first consideration….”

Adams’ preamble was not nearly as poetic and visionary as the second version presented before the committee.  Written by the committee’s chairman, a prominent REALTOR® and Presbyterian minister from Tacoma, WA, named Arthur H. Barnhisel, this preamble took a different tack, “setting forth the social responsibility of the association and of the local real estate boards who make up its membership.”

With its inspirational portrayal of the nation’s land and the REALTOR®’s role in ensuring its “highest use” and “widest distribution,” Barnhisel’s preamble easily won the committee’s vote.  With little debate and only a few minor edits, the preamble was included along with several other revisions to the Code that were accepted by the National Association’s Board of Directors at its June 1924 meeting in Washington, DC.

As far as we’ve been able to find in the NAR Archives, Barnhisel never explained how he came up with his version of the preamble or revealed his sources of inspiration for the language. Among REALTORS®, though, the preamble quickly became the Code’s best-known feature and was proudly displayed on the walls and in the windows of real estate offices across the country.  By 1943, NAR president Cyrus Crane Willmore declared in a speech before the association’s Board of Directors: “Property ownership is fundamental to our way of life.  The first five words of our Code of Ethics should be impressed upon the minds of every man, woman and child in our country. They are, ‘Under all is the Land.’”

A quote from the Preamble to the REALTORS® Code of Ethics on the wall of a real estate office in Lansing, MI, in 1944.

The Code of Ethics was revised again in 1955, and it included, among other changes, a rewritten preamble.  The new preamble tried to preserve the ideals expressed in the original, using modernized language that was more in tune with the post-war 1950s.

REALTORS® were largely unhappy with the changes made to their beloved preamble, though, and in 1961 the National Association took steps to return it to its original form as written by Arthur H. Barnhisel.  “A return to this wording is proposed because of its superior phrasing,” explained the report to the Board of Directors.

With the exception of those six years, the preamble remained exactly as Barnhisel wrote it for nearly seven decades.  The preamble as we know it today took shape in 1994, when the first six Articles of the Code were incorporated into the preamble, adding paragraphs regarding the REALTOR®’s obligation to share their professional knowledge and stressing the importance of maintaining a spirit of cooperation with other real estate professionals.

Frederik Heller

Managing Director of Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®.

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  1. Frederik,

    Great piece! Please contact me about the possibility of running this article in our monthly magazine, the Orange County REALTOR.


    Kevin Holland
    Director, Communications and Publications

  2. DonnaWalters

    Thank you! Informative and interesting

  3. A good reminder of how NAR came to be and how valuable of a resource it can be.

  4. Cliff Niersbach

    Thank you, Frederik, for all you and so many other state, local and national staffers are doing to help our members focus attention on one of the primary reasons for NAR’s founding, and why the Code remains vital. Those early REALTORS® whose “gift of vision” still endures would be pleased to see it going “viral” during the centennial year. Hopefully this enthusiasm will continue well into the REALTOR® family’s second century.

  5. Barbara Hogan

    Thank you very helpfull

  6. Barbara Hogan

    very interesting on the history of Real Estate

  7. very interesting

  8. Joanne Delanoy

    Informative and Interesting Thank you

  9. Joanne Delanoy


    Thank you

  10. betty penelton


  11. Walter Mandel

    Interesting and informative!

  12. Nancy Condina

    Interesting and informative

  13. Susan Slotnick

    Very Interesting. Thank you

  14. Dianne Hassman

    It was very informative.
    Thank you

  15. Dianne Hassman

    very interesting

  16. Judy Chapin

    Important to know the Preamble and Code have evolved over the years to keep up with our changing world.

  17. Joe Jacob

    Very interesting and informative too.

  18. Ann Farese

    Very Helpful.

  19. Ann Farese

    Very interesting

  20. Kamal Chachra


  21. Kamal Chachra

    Good and helpful information.

  22. paula cesarano


  23. Joseph Cesarano

    Very informative. Thank you.

  24. Filomena DeTorres

    I found the article to be very informative and helpful

  25. Barbara Beshears

    Interesting history. Enjoyed

  26. Susan Joyce

    Very interesting

  27. Angela Moffitt

    Educational and Inspiring.

  28. Angela Moffitt

    Educational and Inspiring. This is my comment.

  29. Margaret Pfahlert

    Great information.

  30. Lynn Conway

    Very interesting and important to read on a regular basis.

  31. Antoinette Faber


  32. Antoinette Faber


  33. interesting

  34. christine camillone

    grea report of history

  35. mary ellen tolan

    Interesting that ethics never change

  36. mary ellen tolan

    ethics never change do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  37. mary ellen tolan

    Preamble follows the Golden Rule of fairness and honesty

  38. mary ellen tolan

    Interesting and informative

  39. Lidia Diaz

    Great Article

  40. Being honest and considerate will help us all work together better

  41. Being honest and considerate will help us be the best we can be and make this job more pleasant for us all

  42. Good reading.

  43. I treat everybody equally.

  44. Anna Marie Flower

    “A man is as good as his word.” This quote can be applied to a code of ethics.

  45. Thomas L. Terry

    The information provided is very helpful.

  46. cindy rafeld


  47. Wanda Blaker

    Very informative

  48. Heidy Muse

    very interesting

  49. Teresita Najito

    Very inspiring.

  50. Teresita Najito

    Very inspiring