Public Schools v. Walker - 76 U.S. 282 (1869)


U.S. Supreme Court

Public Schools v. Walker, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 282 282 (1869)

Public Schools v. Walker

76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 282

Syllabus

1. The Act of Congress of July 27, 1831, relinquishes to the State of Missouri the lots, commons &c., reserved for the use of schools by the act of June 12, 1812, and nothing else.

2. The act of 1812 excluded from the reservation which it made all lots rightfully claimed by private persons, and the report of the Board of Commissioners under the Act of July 9, 1832, in favor of such a claim and its confirmation by Congress, is evidence that it was rightful.

3. The fact that such a claim was barred by the limitation of the act of 1824 did not prove that it was not a rightful claim, nor prevent Congress from removing that bar and allowing the claim to be proved and confirmed.

4. Such subsequent confirmation shows that the claim was a rightful one when the act of 1812 was passed, and that the lot claimed was not included in the reservation for schools.

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Error to the Supreme Court of Missouri, the controversy being one of those, quite numerous in this Court, growing out of the various acts of Congress intended to settle the land titles originating in the lands of Louisiana prior to its purchase by our government from France. The case was thus:

The President and Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools brought suit in the St. Louis Land Court of Missouri against Walker and another to recover certain lands situate in the City of St. Louis.

The title of the plaintiffs, who represented the common schools of St. Louis, rested on two acts of Congress. The first of these was the Act of June 13, 1812, [Footnote 1] the first section of which, after confirming the common field lots and commons to certain towns and villages, of which St. Louis is one, directs the deputy surveyor of the territory to survey and mark the outboundary lines of said several towns so as to include the out-lots, common field lots, and commons thereto respectively belonging.

The second section, under which the plaintiffs' claim arose, enacted that:

"All town or village lots, out-lots, or common field lots included in such surveys which are not rightfully owned or claimed by any private individuals or held as commons belonging to such towns or villages, or that the President of the United States may not think proper to reserve for military purposes, shall be and the same are hereby reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns or villages aforesaid provided that the whole quantity of land contained in the lots reserved for the support of schools in anyone town or village shall not exceed one-twentieth part of the whole lands included in the general survey of such town or village."

The other Act was that of July 27, 1831. [Footnote 2] The second section of this act, referring to the section just cited from the act of 1812, declares:

"That the United States do hereby relinquish all their right,

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title, and interest in and to the town and village lots, out-lots, and common field lots in the state of Missouri, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns and villages aforesaid by the second section of the above-recited act of Congress, and that the same shall be sold or disposed of or regulated for the said purposes in such manner as may be directed by the legislature of the state."

It was conceded that, by the survey made under the first section of the act of 1812, the lot in controversy was found to be within the outboundary of the Town of St. Louis and its common field lots, commons &c. It was also admitted that by appropriate legislation of the state, the plaintiffs have become invested with such right as the state could give by virtue of the last-recited act of Congress.

The surveyor general at St. Louis, on demand of the plaintiffs, on the 3d June, 1861, had caused this lot to be surveyed and certified to them as a lot embraced within and covered by the reservation for school purposes, and on this survey and certificate and the acts aforesaid they rested their title.

Such was the plaintiffs' case.

The defendant, who had been in possession by himself and those under whom he claimed from 1844 till the beginning of this suit in 1864, now asserted that this land was, at the time the act of 1812 was passed, rightfully claimed by Joseph Brazeau, a "private individual," and was therefore not relinquished to the state by the act of 1831.

In support of this assertion he showed that, long before the act of 1812, Brazeau had filed with a board of commissioners, organized under the act of 1805 to report on such cases, his claim and the evidences of it furnished him by the colonial authorities. Though this first board of commissioners reported against the claim because he had not proved the inhabitancy and cultivation prior to 1803, which the act of 1805 required, yet Congress, which had never made the reports of these commissioners final, but in all the numerous acts regulating the various commissions appointed for this purpose had reserved to itself the power to confirm

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or reject their reports, did by the third section of the act of 1812 provide for a further hearing on this question of inhabitancy and cultivation. It also in every act on the subject reserved from sale the lands for which claims had been filed with the recorder of land titles, whether confirmed or not. [Footnote 3]

Several changes were made in the tribunals authorized to act on these claims, and for a time there was none with such authority.

An act of 1824 [Footnote 4] directed that individual claims should be presented before a court of the United States within two years, and that unless so presented, they should be barred. The time was extended by subsequent act to May 26, 1829. Brazeau did not present his claim under these directions.

Finally, however, by an act of 1832, [Footnote 5] another commission was organized. The recorder of land titles, in whose office all the old undetermined cases like Brazeau's still remained on file, and two other commissioners were directed by this act of 1832 to examine all those unconfirmed claims in his office and classify and report them to Congress. They were to report what claims would have been confirmed under Spanish laws and usages and what were in their opinion destitute of merit under that rule. And while no new claim was to be admitted, they might raise new testimony in addition to that already on file in such cases. This commission passed favorably on Brazeau's claim, the necessary proof of occupancy and cultivation having been made, and reported it to Congress, and that body confirmed the claim by act of July 4, 1836. [Footnote 6]

The St. Louis Land Court gave judgment for the defendant, and the Supreme Court having affirmed, the case was now here for review.

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