Spratt v. Spratt
29 U.S. 393 (1830)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Spratt v. Spratt, 29 U.S. 4 Pet. 393 393 (1830)

Spratt v. Spratt

29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 393

Syllabus

The second section of the act of Congress "to establish an uniform system of naturalization," passed in 1802, requires that every person desirous of being naturalized shall make report of himself to the clerk of the district court of the district where he shall arrive, or some other court of record in the United States, which report is to be recorded and a certificate of the same given to such alien, and

"which certificate shall be exhibited to the court by every alien who may arrive in the United States after the passing of the act, on his application to be naturalized, as evidence of the time of his arrival within the United States."

James Spratt arrived in the United States after the passing of this act, and was under the obligation to report himself according to its provisions. The law does not require that the report shall have been made five years before the application for naturalization. The third condition of the first section of the law, which declares that the court admitting an alien to become a citizen "shall be satisfied that he has resided five years in the United States," &c., does not prescribe the evidence which shall be satisfactory. The report is required by the law to be exhibited on the application for naturalization as evidence of the time of arrival in the United States. The law does not say the report shall be the sole evidence, nor does it require that the alien shall report himself within any limited time after arrival. Five years may intervene

between the time of arrival and the report, and yet the report be valid. The report is undoubtedly conclusive evidence of the arrival, but it is not made by the law the only evidence of that fact.

James Spratt was admitted a citizen of the United States by the Circuit Court for the County of Washington in the District of Columbia, and obtained a certificate of the same in the usual form. The act of the court admitting James Spratt as a citizen was a judgment of the circuit court, and this Court cannot look behind it and inquire on what testimony it was pronounced.

The various acts on the subject of naturalization submit the decision upon the right of aliens to courts of record. They are to receive testimony, to compare it with the law, and to judge on both law and fact. If their judgment is entered on record in legal form, it closes all inquiry, and like any other judgment, is complete evidence of its own validity.

The act of the Legislature of Maryland of 1791, which authorizes the descent to alien heirs of lands held by aliens under "deed or will" in that part of the District of Columbia which was ceded to the United States by the State of Maryland does not authorize the descent to such heirs of land in that part of the district, which was purchased by an alien at a sale made under an order of the court of chancery and for which no deed was executed before the purchaser became a citizen of the United States or before his decease.

Page 29 U. S. 394

The plaintiff, Thomas Spratt, instituted in the circuit court an action of replevin, the defendant, as the administratrix of James Spratt, having levied a distress on the property of the plaintiff for rent claimed to be due for a house occupied by him in the City of Washington and to which he claimed title in himself and in the brothers and sisters of James Spratt, deceased. It was agreed by the counsel that the title to the house and lot of ground upon which the same is erected should be determined upon the following stated facts:

Thomas Spratt, Andrew Spratt, Sarah Spratt and Catharine Spratt are brothers and sisters of the whole blood of James Spratt the intestate, and are natives of Ireland and subjects of the King of Great Britain, and were not, before the institution of this suit, naturalized as citizens of the United States, and but one of them, Thomas Spratt, and the deceased, James Spratt, ever came to the United States. James Spratt was also a native of Ireland, and came to the United States sometime before 18 June, 1812, from which time he continued to reside in the United States until March, 1824, when he died without issue, leaving Sarah Spratt his widow, who became the administratrix to his estate.

James Spratt, on 17 May, 1817, appeared in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for the County of Washington, and before the court made the declaration on oath required by the first condition of the first section of the Act to Establish an Uniform System of Naturalization, &c., passed 14 April, 1802, which proceeding was recorded in the minutes of the court's proceedings, and a certificate thereof, under the hand of the clerk and the seal of the court, on the same day given to James Spratt; he having, on 14 April then next preceding, made report of himself to the clerk of the circuit court, as stated in the certificate; which report was recorded in the office the said clerk, and the certificate of such report and registry, and of the declaration on oath, having been granted by the clerk to him. On 11 October, 1821, James Spratt made application to the said circuit court to be admitted a citizen of the United States, and was on the same day admitted

Page 29 U. S. 395

by the court to become a citizen of the United States, as appears by the record of the proceedings of the court upon the matter of the said application, a certificate whereof, under the hand of the clerk and the seal of the court, was afterwards given by the clerk to him and is part of the case.

Sarah Spratt was also a native of Ireland and a native-born subject of the King of England; she emigrated to the United States before James Spratt, and has continually from the time of her emigration resided in the United States, and before his naturalization was lawfully married to him, and lived with him as his lawful wife from their marriage till his death in March, 1824, and was his wife at and before the time of his said naturalization, but has not been naturalized as a citizen of the United States pursuant to the act of Congress unless so naturalized by the naturalization of her husband.

On 9 June, 1825, the plaintiff and his brothers and sisters, claiming as heirs at law of James Spratt, brought their action of ejectment in this Court against Sarah Spratt to recover possession of sundry of the lands and tenements whereof James Spratt died seized in fee, not including the messuage and tenement in this suit, in which suit (the same having been duly prosecuted and put to issue) such proceedings were had that the title of Thomas Spratt was duly submitted to the consideration and judgment of the court upon a case agreed and stated between the parties, to be taken and considered as a special verdict, upon which the court gave judgment for Sarah Spratt, whereupon a writ of error was sued out to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the judgment was reexamined as appears in 26 U. S. 1 Pet. 343, which is part of the case.

In the matter of a suit in the Circuit Court of the County of Washington by one of the creditors of Simon Meade, deceased, Joseph Forrest was appointed to make sale of certain real estate of Simon Meade, and after having set up the same for public sale, to return the sale to the court for confirmation, and having on 21 May, 1821, set

Page 29 U. S. 396

up the estate on terms specified, by which the purchase money was to be paid in four installments at six, twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four months, and that a conveyance of the property should be made to the purchaser on the ratification of the sale by the court. The house and lot in question in this case were purchased by James Spratt, and on 21 October, 1821, the trustee returned the sale to the court. On 24 December, 1822, an interlocutory order was made for the ratification of the report of the sale, and in January, 1824, a final ratification of the sale was passed by the court.

James Spratt, after his naturalization and not before, paid the purchase money for the property by the installments, with interest, but no deed of conveyance of the same was ever executed to him, and he died invested with no other title to the premises in controversy but what he acquired by the sale at auction, the written memorandum, report, and ratification thereof, and the payment of the purchase money.

In the statement of the case thus agreed, there was inserted the following memorandum, which was signed by the counsel for the parties in the cause:

"It is understood, however, that the plaintiff does not admit, but denies, that the proceeding and evidence touching the naturalization of James Spratt, or any part of the same, do purport to be or to show a due and legal naturalization of James Spratt as a citizen of the United States, and maintains that the manner and process of such pretended naturalization appears from such proceedings and evidence to have been irregular and void, unless such proceedings and evidence, or any part of the same, be held by the court to be conclusive in this case, that he was duly and legally naturalized as such citizen. While the defendant and avowant, on the other hand, maintains that no defect or irregularity appears in the manner and process of such naturalization; that the manner and process of the same in its preliminary stages are not examinable in this case, but that the admission of James Spratt to become a citizen of the United States, as it appears in the record and certificate thereof, is either substantively or in connection with the other evidence

Page 29 U. S. 397

thereof, conclusive of his due naturalization as such citizen, all which matters are understood and agreed to be involved in the question of title and to be accordingly reserved for the consideration and judgment of the court upon the premises."

The declaration for naturalization made by James Spratt, was in the following terms:

"James Spratt, a native of Ireland, aged about twenty-six years, bearing allegiance to the King of Great Britain and Ireland, who emigrated from Ireland and arrived in the United States on 1 June, 1812, and intends to reside within the jurisdiction and under the government of the United States, makes report of himself for naturalization according to the acts of Congress in that case made and provided 14 April, anno domini 1817, in the clerk's office of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for the County of Washington, and on 14 May 1817, the said James Spratt personally appeared in open court and declared on oath that it is bona fide his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, &c."

"W. BRENT, Clerk"

The record of the proceedings of the circuit court on the naturalization of James Spratt is in the following terms:

"At a Circuit Court of the District of Columbia begun and held in and for the County of Washington at the City of Washington on the first Monday of October, being the 1st day of the same month in the year of our Lord 1821, and of the independence of the United States the forty-sixth."

"James Spratt, a native of Ireland, aged about thirty years, having heretofore, to-wit, on 14 May, 1817, declared, on oath in open court that it was bona fide his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the King of the united Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland."

"And it now appearing to the satisfaction of the court by

Page 29 U. S. 398

the testimony of two witnesses, citizens of the United States, to-wit, Samuel N. Smallwood and Jonathan Prout, that the said James Spratt hath resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for five years at least last past and within the County of Washington one year at least last past, and that during the whole of that time he hath behaved as a man of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same -- the said James Spratt is thereupon admitted a citizen of the United States, having taken the oath"

" That he will support the Constitution of the United States, and that he doth absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the King of the united Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to whom he was before a subject."

"11 October, 1821."

A certificate in due form, corresponding with this record, was given to James Spratt.

Page 29 U. S. 403

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