Chirac v. Lessee of Chirac,
Annotate this Case
15 U.S. 259 (1817)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Chirac v. Lessee of Chirac, 15 U.S. 2 Wheat. 259 259 (1817)
Chirac v. Lessee of Chirac
15 U.S. (2 Wheat.) 259
J.B.C., a native of France, migrated into the United States in 1793, and became domiciled in Maryland. On 22 September 1795, he took the oaths of citizenship according to an act of assembly of Maryland passed in 1779, and the next day received a conveyance in fee of lands in that state. On 6 July 1798, he was naturalized under the laws of the United States, and in July 1799, died intestate leaving no legitimate relations other than the plaintiffs in ejectment, who, were natives and residents of France. Upon the supposition that the lands were escheatable, the State of Maryland conveyed them to his natural son J.C.F.C. with a saving of the rights of all persons claiming by devise or descent from the intestate, under which grant, J.C.F.C. took possession of the lands and remained in possession until the ejectment was brought. In March, 1809, the defendants in error, the heirs at law of J.B.C., French subjects, brought an action of ejectment for the lands in question, and in May, 1816, obtained a verdict in their favor and a judgment thereon, which was affirmed.
It was held that the power of naturalization is exclusively in Congress, but that the treaty of amity and commerce between the United States and France of 1778, art. 11, enabled the subjects of France to purchase and hold lands in the United States.
Quaere, what was the effect of this treaty under the confederation?
J.B.C. having died seized in fee of the lands in question, his heirs being French subjects, the treaty of 1778 having been abrogated, and the act of Maryland of 1789, permitting the lands of a French subject who had become a citizen of Maryland, dying intestate, to descend on the next of kin being nonnaturalized Frenchmen, with a proviso vesting the land in the state, if the French heirs should not, within ten years, become resident citizens of the state or convey the lands to a citizen it was determined that the time for the performance of this condition having expired before the action was brought, the estate was terminated unless supported in some other manner than by the act of Maryland.
But the convention of 1800 between the United States and France, enabling the people of one country holding lands in the other to dispose of the same by testament or otherwise and to inherit lands in the respective countries without being obliged to obtain letters of naturalization, it was held that it rendered the performance of this condition a useless formality, and that the conventional rule applied equally to the case of those who took by descent under the act as to those who acquired by purchase without its aid.
The further stipulation in the convention
"that in case the laws of either of the two states should restrain strangers from the exercise of the rights of property with respect to real estate, such real estate may be sold or otherwise disposed of to citizens or inhabitants of the country where it may be"
was held not to affect the rights of a French subject who takes or holds by the convention so as to deprive him of the power of selling to citizens of this country, and was held to give to a French subject who had acquired lands by descent or devise (and perhaps, in any other manner) the right, during life, to sell or otherwise dispose thereof if lying in a state where lands purchased by an alien generally would be immediately escheatable.
Although the convention of 1800 has expired by its own limitation, it was determined that the instant the descent was cast on a French subject during its continuance, his rights became complete under it and could not be affected by its subsequent expiration.
John Baptiste Chirac, a native of France, migrated into the United States in the year 1793 and settled in Maryland. On 22 September, 1795, he took the oaths of citizenship, according to the form prescribed by an act of assembly of the State of Maryland passed in the year 1779, and the next day received a conveyance in fee of land lying within that state.
On 6 July, 1798, he was naturalized as prescribed by the laws of the United States, and in July, 1799, he died intestate, leaving no legitimate relations other than the plaintiffs, who are natives and residents of France.
Supposing the lands of which he died seized to be escheatable, the State of Maryland conveyed them to John Charles Francis Chirac, his natural son, with a saving of the rights of all persons claiming by devise or descent from the intestate. Under this act, John Charles Francis Chirac took possession of the land of his father, and has remained in possession ever since.
In March, 1809, the defendants in error, who are the heirs at law of John Baptiste Chirac and subjects of the King of France, brought their ejectment for the land of which their ancestor died seized, and in May, 1815, under the instruction of the court, to which exceptions were taken, obtained a verdict in their favor on which a judgment was rendered, which judgment is now before the Court on a writ of error.
The act of assembly of the State of Maryland, on the construction of which the cause mainly turned was passed in 1780, and is entitled "An act to declare and ascertain the privileges of the subjects of France residing within this state." The 1st section gives to French subjects the capacity of holding lands within the state on certain conditions. The 2d section gives to those subjects who may be resident in the state all the rights of free citizens thereof. The 3d section contains a proviso restricting and limiting the privileges granted by the act and declaring that nothing therein contained
"shall be construed to grant to those who shall continue subjects of his most Christian Majesty, and not qualify themselves as citizens of this state, any right to purchase or hold lands, or real estate but for their respective lives or for years."
The 4th section enacts that if any French subject who shall become a citizen of Maryland
"shall die intestate, the natural kindred of such decedent, whether residing in France or elsewhere, shall inherit his or her real estate in like manner as if such decedent and his kindred were the citizens of this state,"
with a proviso that
whenever any French subject shall, by virtue of the act, become seized in fee of any real estate, his or her estate,
"after the term of ten years be expired, shall vest in the state unless the person seized of the same shall within that time either come and settle in and become a citizen of this state or enfeoff thereof some citizen of this or some other of the United States of America. "