Given v. Wright
117 U.S. 648 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Given v. Wright, 117 U.S. 648 (1886)

Given v. Wright

Argued March 5, 1886

Decided April 12, 1886

117 U.S. 648




An exemption from taxation granted by the government to an individual is a franchise, which can be lost by acquiescence under the imposition of taxes for a period long enough to raise a conclusive presumption of a surrender of the privilege, and such acquiescence for a period of sixty years (and indeed for a much shorter period) raises such a presumption.

This was a writ of error directed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey to review a judgment rendered by the Court of Errors and Appeals of that state affirming a judgment of the Supreme Court, and remitted thereto. The case arose upon a certiorari issued in the name of the state on the relation of certain taxpayers of the Township of Shamong, in the County of Burlington, directed to Henry Wright, collector of said township, for the purpose of examining the legality of a certain assessment of taxes for the year 1876. The taxes complained of were laid upon lands of the prosecutors lying within the bounds of a track known as the "Indian Reservation." According to the New Jersey practice, reasons were filed for setting aside the assessment, and evidence was taken before a commissioner of the court.

Page 117 U. S. 649

The reasons assigned were:

1st. That the lands were not liable to be assessed for taxes under the Constitution and laws of New Jersey.

2d. That, by virtue of a contract with the State of New Jersey, contained in the act of the legislature entitled "An act to empower certain persons to purchase the claims of the Indians to land in this colony," the lands are expressly exempted from taxation.

The lands on which the assessment was laid are the same lands which were held to be exempt from taxation by this Court in the case of New Jersey v. Wilson, reported in 7 Cranch 164, where a succinct history of the transactions out of which the claimed exemption grew is given. That decision was made in February term, 1812. Since that time, for about sixty years before the assessment in question was laid, taxes have been regularly assessed on the lands, and paid without objection. The Supreme Court of New Jersey sustained the assessment, holding that the uninterrupted acquiescence in the imposition of taxes for so long a time raises a conclusive presumption that by some convention with the state, the right to exemption was surrendered. The Court of Errors and Appeals affirmed this decision, and the case is now brought here for review on the allegation of the plaintiffs in error that the obligation of the contract of exemption has been impaired by the laws of New Jersey under which the tax was imposed. The alleged contract is contained in a law of the New Jersey Colonial Legislature passed August 12, 1758. There remained at that time within the colony a remnant of the Delaware Indians who claimed certain lands in different parts of the colony which they alleged had never been sold by them. In consequence of a convention had with them, the legislature passed the law in question, entitled "An act to empower certain persons to purchase the claims of the Indians to land in this colony." The act appointed five commissioners, with authority to lay out any sum not exceeding

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