League v. De Young
52 U.S. 185

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

League v. De Young, 52 U.S. 11 How. 185 185 (1850)

League v. De Young

52 U.S. (11 How.) 185

Syllabus

Before the admission of Texas into the Union, that state passed many laws upon the subject of head rights to land, the general object of which was to ascertain and secure valid titles and prevent frauds by acts of limitation and by the establishment of boards of commissioners to separate the bad from the good titles.

In the constitution adopted just before her admission into the Union, there was an article annulling fraudulent certificates, and opening the courts up to a certain day to suitors for the investigation of their claims.

It was perfectly competent for the people of Texas to pass these laws and adopt this constitution.

Moreover, they were all passed before the Constitution of the United States had any operation over Texas, and cannot therefore be in conflict with any of its provisions.

The plaintiff in error, Thomas M. League, applied to the District Court for the County of Galveston, in Texas state court, for a mandamus to be issued to John De Young, the surveyor, and his deputy, to compel them to survey a league and labor of land, which League alleged that he was entitled to by virtue of a certificate issued to Catin F. McRea by the Board of Land Commissioners of the county of San Augustine,

Page 52 U. S. 186

Republic of Texas, on 21 June, 1838, which certificate League alleged had been assigned to him.

Instead of tracing, chronologically the history of the laws, the reporter refers to the narrative given in the opinion of the court. The following is a list of the public documents set forth by the petitioner as exhibits to his petition, and which occupied upwards of a hundred printed pages of the record.

1. A decree of the Congress of the State of Coahuila and Texas. March 24, 1825.

2. Instructions to commissioners. September 4, 1827.

3. Decree of the Congress of the State of Coahuila and Texas. May 2, 1835.

4. Declaration of the People of Texas in General Convention assembled. November 7, 1835.

5. Establishment of a provisional government in Texas. November 13, 1835.

6. Declaration of Independence of Texas. March 2, 1836.

7. Constitution and Declaration of Rights of Texas. March 17, 1836.

8. An act entitled "An act to reduce into one act, and to amend, the several acts relating to the establishment of a General Land Office." December 14, 1837.

9. Joint Resolution respecting County Surveyors. December 29, 1837.

10. An act amending an act supplementary to an act entitled "An act to reduce into one act, and to amend, the several acts relating to the establishment of a General Land Office." January 26, 1839.

11. An act to detect fraudulent land certificates, and to provide for issuing patents to legal claimants. January 23, 1840.

12. An act prohibiting the location of fraudulent land claims. February 5, 1840.

13. An act to provide for the return of surveys, for the collection of government dues on lands, and for other purposes. February 5, 1840.

14. An act defining the mode by which the holders of conditional certificates shall establish the same. January 15, 1841.

15. An act supplementary to an act to detect fraudulent land certificates, and to provide for issuing patents to legal claimants. February 4, 1841.

16. An act supplementary to an act supplementary to an act to detect fraudulent land certificates and to provide for the issuing patents to legal claimants. 1843.

17. Ordinance of the Convention of Texas, accepting the proposal of the Congress of the United States to admit Texas into the Union. July 4, 1845.

Page 52 U. S. 187

18. Constitution of the State of Texas. 1845.

19. An act to establish a General Land Office for the State of Texas. May 12, 1846.

On 30 June, 1847, League filed his petition in the District Court for the First Judicial District of the State of Texas, in and for the County of Galveston.

On 1 December, 1847, the district court laid a rule upon the defendants to show cause why a peremptory mandamus should not issue as prayed, and on 21 December, 1847, the defendants filed a general demurrer and exception, upon the ground that the plaintiff's petition is not sufficient in law. The following is a summary of their answer.

1st. Because it does not appear that the plaintiff has any cause of action against the defendants.

2d. Because this is really a suit against the State of Texas, which has not given its consent to be so sued.

And for further special exceptions the defendants say:

1st. It does not appear from said petition that the people of Texas made any contract by which they were or are bound to concede, grant, or perfect title to any such land &c.

2d. It does not appear that the said supposed rights and claims to land of persons residing in Texas on the day of the declaration of independence were ever vested and established, as the plaintiff in his said petition alleges and pretends.

3d. Because the Constitution of the Republic of Texas amounts to no contract between the people of Texas in their corporate capacity &c., and any persons or class of persons residing in Texas, as the plaintiff in his petition pretends, nor does it appear that the people of Texas, in their corporate political capacity, agreed, contracted, or promised as the plaintiff alleges and pretends.

4th. It does not appear that the general land law of the Republic of Texas ever amounted to a contract between the people of Texas and any person in the petition mentioned, nor does it appear that said people, through their representatives, ever promised, contracted, or agreed that such certificate should be sufficient evidence to authorize any lawful survey, or for any person holding or owning such certificate to survey such lands as he might point out &c.

5th. It does not appear that the said people contracted or agreed that such certificate should be sufficient evidence to authorize the surveyor &c., to survey any lands forming a portion of the public domain, or that they are bound to make such survey; or that by refusing so to do they are guilty of any neglect or breach of duty.

After reserving all exceptions &c., the defendants for plea

Page 52 U. S. 188

say the plaintiff ought not to have or maintain his action, for that the general land law is unconstitutional &c.

And for further plea they say that the act "to detect fraudulent land certificates," and that "to prohibit the location of fraudulent land claims," &c., and the act "supplementary to the act to detect fraudulent land certificates," &c., were not made in violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, as the said plaintiff pretends, nor do said acts, nor does the eleventh article of the Constitution of the State of Texas contravene the Constitution of the United States, as said plaintiff also pretends, and that the said plaintiff, as he admits, never established said certificate according to said acts or according to said eleventh article, nor has he attempted so to do.

For further plea he says the board of general and local commissioners under the first-mentioned act failed and refused to report this certificate as genuine; that its location was prohibited until so reported, or established under the said supplementary act, or the said eleventh article, and that until it might be so established, the said plaintiff was entitled to no location or survey thereof.

That the said supplementary act, while it remained in force, and the said eleventh article, gave a sufficient and an adequate mode of establishing said certificate, which said plaintiff failed to adopt, and that he has not made the proof, nor complied with the requisites, prescribed by the said eleventh article of the Constitution of the State of Texas.

They answer that they were not bound to make said survey, and that their said refusal has violated no law nor any legal right of the plaintiff, and amounts to no breach or neglect of duty on their part.

The defendants annexed two exhibits to their answer; one was "An act to regulate proceedings in the district courts," consisting of 158 sections and occupying thirty pages of the printed record, and the other "Rules for the government of the district courts, adopted by the supreme court, 23 April, 1847."

On 22 December, 1847, the district court, after argument, dismissed the rule which had been laid nisi upon the defendants, and at December term, 1847, the Supreme Court of Texas, to which the case had been carried, affirmed the decision.

League sued out a writ of error and brought the case up to this Court.

Page 52 U. S. 200

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