United States v. Hartnell's Heirs
63 U.S. 286 (1859)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Hartnell's Heirs, 63 U.S. 22 How. 286 286 (1859)

United States v. Hartnell's Heirs

63 U.S. (22 How.) 286

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

The law of Mexico, passed in 1824, directs that it shall not be permitted to unite in one hand, as property, more than one league of irrigable land, four leagues of farming land, and six for stock raising.

Therefore where a person had obtained a grant of five leagues in Lower California and another grant of eleven leagues in Upper California, and the departmental assembly held the law to be that the governor could not unite in the same hand more than eleven leagues, although it might be in different tracts, the grant in Upper California must be restricted to six leagues.

It was necessary to its being definitively voted that the grant of the governor should have the concurrence of the departmental assembly, and as they reduced it, taking off five leagues, this was the state of the title, as respected quantity, when the treaty with Mexico was made.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 63 U. S. 288

MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Hartnell got a grant from Governor Alvarado, dated June 28, 1841, for a body of land lying in Lower California. The quantity is not specified in the grant, the outboundaries only being designated.

In November, 1844, he obtained another grant for eleven square leagues, lying in Upper California. Both claims were duly set forth in a petition seeking confirmation before the board of land commissioners, and they were confirmed, with modifications -- the lower grant to the extent of five leagues and the upper for six leagues.

From this decree the parties appealed, and brought their cause to the District Court held at San Francisco. That court, sitting in the upper district, had no jurisdiction to reexamine the judgment of the board as respected the five leagues confirmed in the district of Lower California, and as to that tract, the appeal was dismissed, and therefore that title stands confirmed.

There being cross-appeals, the question arises here whether the upper grant should be confirmed for six leagues or for

Page 63 U. S. 289

eleven -- the grant of the governor calling for the latter quantity.

The district court adjudged six leagues as the proper quantity, and on this single point the cause comes before us, both parties being satisfied with the decree below in all other respects.

The narrow question is had the Governor of California power in 1844 to grant gratuitously, for the purposes of tillage, inhabitancy, and pasturage, more than eleven leagues of land to any one person? Section 12 of the law of 1824 provides that it shall not be permitted to unite in one hand as property more than one league of irrigable land, four leagues of farming land, not irrigable, and six for stock raising.

Both titles of Hartnell were brought before the departmental assembly. That body held the law to be that the governor could not "unite in the same hand" more than eleven leagues, although it might be in different tracts, and so reported to him.

The public domain was the property of the Mexican nation, and those who were enabled to displace that title, separate portions of it from the public lands, and vest such portions into individual proprietors by perfected titles could only do so in the exercise of sovereign power, because the public title was a sovereign right, and agents who assumed to exercise this authority must show that they represented the nation. The governors of California do not show that they did represent the nation so as to conclusively bind it; to have this effect, the governor's grant must have the concurrence of the departmental deputation. It follows that the assembly was the controlling power, and could reform or nullify the governor's grant, and having reformed it to the extent of five leagues in the case before us, the claimant came in under the treaty of peace with Mexico having no interest in these five leagues. 49 U. S. 8 How. 303-304.

We have no doubt that the departmental assembly, the board of commissioners, and the district court, construed the law of 1824 (section 12) correctly, and order the decree below to be

Affirmed in all its parts.

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