U.S. Supreme CourtJohnson & Graham's Lessee v. McIntosh, 21 U.S. 8 Wheat. 543 543 (1823)
Johnson & Graham's Lessee v. McIntosh
21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543
ERROR TO THE DISTRICT
COURT OF ILLINOIS
A title to lands under grants to private individuals made by Indian tribes or nations northwest of the River Ohio in 1773 and 1775 cannot be recognized in the courts of the United States.
Discovery the original foundation of titles to land on the American continent as between the different European nations by whom conquests and settlements were made here.
Recognition of the same principle in the wars, negotiations, and treaties between the different European powers.
Adoption of the same principle by the United States.
The exclusive right of the British government to the lands occupied by the Indians has passed to that of the United States.
Foundation and limitation of the right of conquest.
Application of the principle of the right of conquest to the case of the Indian savages. Nature of the Indian title, as subordinate to the absolute ultimate title of the government.
Effect of the proclamation of 1763.
Titles in New England under Indian grants.
This was an action of ejectment for lands in the State and District of Illinois, claimed by the plaintiffs under a purchase and conveyance from the Piankeshaw Indians and by the defendant under a grant from the United States. It came up on a case stated upon which there was a judgment below for the defendant. The case stated set out the following facts:
1st. That on 23 May, 1609, James I, King of England, by his letters patent of that date, under the great seal of England, did erect, form, and establish Robert, Earl of Salisbury, and others, his associates, in the letters patent named and their successors into a body corporate and politic by the name and style of "The Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London for the first Colony in Virginia," with perpetual succession and power to make, have, and use a common seal, and did give, grant, and confirm unto this company, and their successors,
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under certain reservations and limitations in the letters patent expressed,
"All the lands, countries, and territories situate, lying, and being in that part of North America called Virginia, from the point of land called Cape or Point Comfort all along the seacoast to the northward two hundred miles, and from the said Cape or Point Comfort all along the seacoast to the southward two hundred miles, and all that space and circuit of land lying from the seacoast of the precinct aforesaid up into the land throughout from the sea, west and northwest, and also all the islands lying within one hundred miles along the coast of both seas of the precinct aforesaid, with all the soil, grounds, rights, privileges, and appurtenances to these territories belonging and in the letters patent particularly enumerated,"
and did grant to this corporation and their successors various powers of government in the letters patent particularly expressed.
2d. That the place called in these letters patent Cape or Point Comfort is the place now called and known by the name of Old Point Comfort, on the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads, and that immediately after the granting of the letters patent, the corporation proceeded under and by virtue of them to take possession of parts of the territory which they describe and to form settlements, plant a colony, and exercise the powers of government therein, which colony was called and known by the name of the Colony of Virginia.
3d. That at the time of granting these letters patent and of the discovery of the continent of
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North America by the Europeans, and during the whole intermediate time, the whole of the territory in the letters patent described, except a small district on James River, where a settlement of Europeans had previously been made, was held, occupied, and possessed in full sovereignty by various independent tribes or nations of Indians, who were the sovereigns of their respective portions of the territory and the absolute owners and proprietors of the soil and who neither acknowledged nor owed any allegiance or obedience to any European sovereign or state whatever, and that in making settlements within this territory and in all the other parts of North America where settlements were made under the authority of the English government or by its subjects, the right of soil was previously obtained by purchase or conquest from the particular Indian tribe or nation by which the soil was claimed and held, or the consent of such tribe or nation was secured.
4th. That in the year 1624, this corporation was dissolved by due course of law and all its powers, together with its rights of soil and jurisdiction under the letters patent in question were revested in the Crown of England, whereupon the colony became a royal government with the same territorial limits and extent which had been established by the letters patent, and so continued until it became a free and independent state, except so far as its limits and extent were altered and curtailed by the Treaty of February 10, 1763, between Great Britain and France and by the letters patent granted by the King of England
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for establishing the Colonies of Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
5th. That sometime previous to the year 1756, the French government, laying a claim to the country west of the Alleghany or Appalachian Mountains on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their branches, took possession of certain parts of it with the consent of the several tribes or nations of Indians possessing and owning them, and with the like consent established several military posts and settlements therein, particularly at Kaskaskias, on the River Kaskaskias, and at Vincennes, on the River Wabash, within the limits of the Colony of Virginia, as described and established in and by the letters patent of May 23, 1609, and that the government of Great Britain, after complaining of these establishments as encroachments and remonstrating against them, at length, in the year 1756, took up arms to resist and repel them, which produced a war between those two nations wherein the Indian tribes inhabiting and holding the countries northwest of the Ohio and on the Mississippi above the mouth of the Ohio were the allies of France, and the Indians known by the name of the Six Nations or the Iroquois and their tributaries and allies were the allies of Great Britain, and that on 10 February, 1763, this war was terminated by a definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain and France and their allies by which it was stipulated and agreed that the River Mississippi, from its source to the Iberville, should forever after form the boundary between the dominions of
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Great Britain and those of France in that part of North America and between their respective allies there.
6th. That the government of Virginia, at and before the commencement of this war and at all times after it became a royal government, claimed and exercised jurisdiction, with the knowledge and assent of the government of Great Britain, in and over the country northwest of the River Ohio and east of the Mississippi as being included within the bounds and limits described and established for that colony, by the letters patent of May 23, 1609, and that in the year 1749, a grant of six hundred thousand acres of land within the country northwest of the Ohio and as part of Virginia was made by the government of Great Britain to some of its subjects by the name and style of the Ohio Company.
7th. That at and before the commencement of the war in 1756 and during its whole continuance and at the time of the Treaty of February 10, 1763, the Indian tribes or nations inhabiting the country north and northwest of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi as far east as the river falling into the Ohio called the Great Miami were called and known by the name of the Western Confederacy of Indians, and were the allies of France in the war, but not her subjects, never having been in any manner conquered by her, and held the country in absolute sovereignty as independent nations, both as to the right of jurisdiction and sovereignty and the right of soil, except a few military posts and a small territory around each,
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which they had ceded to France, and she held under them, and among which were the aforesaid posts of Kaskaskias and Vincennes, and that these Indians, after the treaty, became the allies of Great Britain, living under her protection as they had before lived under that of France, but were free and independent, owing no allegiance to any foreign power whatever and holding their lands in absolute property, the territories of the respective tribes being separated from each other and distinguished by certain natural marks and boundaries to the Indians well known, and each tribe claiming and exercising separate and absolute ownership in and over its own territory, both as to the right of sovereignty and jurisdiction and the right of soil.
8th. That among the tribes of Indians thus holding and inhabiting the territory north and northwest of the Ohio, east of the Mississippi, and west of the Great Miami, within the limits of Virginia, as described in the letters patent of May 23, 1609, were certain independent tribes or nations called the Illinois or Kaskaskias and the Piankeshaw or Wabash Indians, the first of which consisted of three several tribes united into one and called the Kaskasias, the Pewarias, and the Cahoquias; that the Illinois owned, held, and inhabited, as their absolute and separate property, a large tract of country within the last mentioned limits and situated on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Kaskaskias Rivers and on the Ohio below the mouth of the Wabash, and the Piankeshaws another large tract of country within the same
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limits, and as their absolute and separate property, on the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, and that these Indians remained in the sole and absolute ownership and possession of the country in question until the sales made by them in the manner herein after set forth.
9th. That on the termination of the war between Great Britain and France, the Illinois Indians, by the name of the Kaskaskias tribes of Indians, as fully representing all the Illinois tribes then remaining, made a treaty of peace with Great Britain and a treaty of peace, limits, and amity, under her mediation, with the Six Nations, or Iroquois, and their allies, then known and distinguished by the name of the Northern Confederacy of Indians, the Illinois being a part of the confederacy then known and distinguished by the name of the Southern Confederacy, and sometimes by that of the Western Confederacy.
10th. That on 7 October, 1763, the King of Great Britain made and published a proclamation for the better regulation of the countries ceded to Great Britain by that treaty, which proclamation is referred to and made part of the case.
11th. That from time immemorial and always up to the present time, all the Indian tribes or nations of North America, and especially the Illinois and Piankeshaws and other tribes holding, possessing, and inhabiting the said countries north and northeast of the Ohio east of the Mississippi and west of the Great Miami held their respective lands and territories each in common, the individuals
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of each tribe or nation holding the lands and territories of such tribe in common with each other, and there being among them no separate property in the soil, and that their sole method of selling, granting, and conveying their lands, whether to governments or individuals, always has been from time immemorial and now is for certain chiefs of the tribe selling to represent the whole tribe in every part of the transaction, to make the contract, and execute the deed, on behalf of the whole tribe, to receive for it the consideration, whether in money or commodities, or both, and finally to divide such consideration among the individuals of the tribe, and that the authority of the chiefs so acting for the whole tribe is attested by the presence and assent of the individuals composing the tribe, or some of them, and by the receipt by the individuals composing the tribe of their respective shares of the price, and in no other manner.
12th. That on 5 July, 1773, certain chiefs of the Illinois Indians, then jointly representing, acting for, and being duly authorized by that tribe in the manner explained above, did by their deed poll, duly executed and delivered and bearing date on that day, at the post of Kaskaskias, then being a British military post, and at a public council there held by them for and on behalf of the said Illinois nation of Indians with William Murray, of the Illinois country, merchant, acting for himself and for Moses Franks and Jacob Franks, of London, in Great Britain, David Franks, John Inglis, Bernard Gratz, Michael
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Gratz, Alexander Ross, David Sproat, and James Milligan, all of Philadelphia, in the p\Province of Pennsylvania; Moses Franks, Andrew Hamilton, William Hamilton, and Edmund Milne of the same place; Joseph Simons otherwise called Joseph Simon and Levi Andrew Levi of the Town of Lancaster in Pennsylvania; Thomas Minshall of York County in the same province; Robert Callender and William Thompson, of Cumberland County in the same province; John Campbell of Pittsburgh in the same province; and George Castles and James Ramsay of the Illinois country, and for a good and valuable consideration in the said deed stated grant, bargain, sell, alien, lease, enfeoff, and confirm to the said William Murray, Moses Franks, Jacob Franks, David Franks, John Inglis, Bernard Gratz, Michael Gratz, Alexander Ross, David Sproat, James Milligan, Andrew Hamilton, William Hamilton, Edmund Milne Joseph Simons, otherwise called Joseph Simon Levi Andrew Levi, Thomas Minshall, Robert Callender, William Thompson, John Campbell, George Castles, and James Ramsay, their heirs and assigns forever, in severalty, or to George the Third, then King of Great Britain and Ireland, his heirs and successors, for the use, benefit, and behoof of the grantees, their heirs and assigns, in severalty, by whichever of those tenures they might most legally hold, all those two several tracts or parcels of land situated, lying, and being within the limits of Virginia on the east of the Mississippi, northwest of the Ohio, and west of the Great Miami, and thus butted
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Beginning for one of the said tracts on the east side of the Mississippi at the mouth of the Heron Creek, called by the French the River of Mary, being about a league below the mouth of the Kaskaskias River, and running thence a northward of east course in a direct line back to the Hilly Plains, about eight leagues more or less; thence the same course in a direct line to the Crab Tree Plains, about seventeen leagues more or less; thence the same course in a direct line to a remarkable place known by the name of the Big Buffalo Hoofs, about seventeen leagues more or less; thence the same course, in a direct line to the Salt Lick Creek, about seven leagues more or less; then crossing the Salt Lick Creek, about one league below the ancient Shawanese town in an easterly or a little to the north of east course in a direct line to the River Ohio, about four leagues more or less; then down the Ohio by its several courses until it empties into the Mississippi, about thirty-five leagues more or less; and then up the Mississippi, by its several courses, to the place of beginning, about thirty-three leagues more or less; and beginning for the other tract on the Mississippi at a point directly opposite to the mouth of the Missouri and running up the Mississippi by its several courses to the mouth of the Illinois, about six leagues more or less; and thence up the Illinois, by its several courses, to Chicagou or Garlic Creek, about ninety leagues, more or less; thence nearly a northerly course, in a direct line, to a certain remarkable place, being the ground on which a
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battle was fought about forty or fifty years before that time between the Pewaria and Renard Indians, about fifty leagues more or less; thence by the same course in a direct line to two remarkable hills close together in the middle of a large prairie or plain, about fourteen leagues more or less; thence a north of east course, in a direct line, to a remarkable spring known by the Indians by the name of "Foggy Spring," about fourteen leagues more or less; thence the same course in a direct line to a great mountain, to the northwest of the White Buffalo Plain, about fifteen leagues more or less; and thence nearly a southwest course to the place of beginning, about forty leagues more or less:
To have and to hold the said two tracts of land, with all and singular their appurtenances, to the grantees, their heirs and assigns, forever in severalty or to the King, his heirs and successors, to and for the use, benefit, or behoof of the grantees, their heirs and assigns, forever in severalty, as will more fully appear by the said deed poll, duly executed under the hands and seals of the grantors and duly recorded at Kaskaskias on 2 September, 1773, in the office of Vicerault Lemerance, a notary public, duly appointed and authorized. This deed, with the several certificates annexed to or endorsed on it, was set out at length in the case.
13th. That the consideration in this deed expressed, was of the value of $24,000 current money of the United States and upwards, and was paid and delivered, at the time of the execution of the deed, by William Murray, one
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of the grantees, in behalf of himself and the other grantees, to the Illinois Indians, who freely accepted it and divided it among themselves; that the conferences in which the sale of these lands was agreed on and made and in which it was agreed that the deed should be executed were publicly held for the space of a month at the post of Kaskaskias, and were attended by many individuals of all the tribes of Illinois Indians, besides the chiefs, named as grantors in the deed; that the whole transaction was open, public, and fair, and the deed fully explained to the grantors and other Indians by the sworn interpreters of the government and fully understood by the grantors and other Indians before it was executed; that the several witnesses to the deed and the grantees named in it were such persons and of such quality and stations, respectively, as they are described to be in the deed, the attestation, and the other endorsements on it; that the grantees did duly authorize William Murray to act for and represent them in the purchase of the lands and the acceptance of the deed, and that the two tracts or parcels of land which it describes and purports to grant were then part of the lands held, possessed, and inhabited by the Illinois Indians from time immemorial in the manner already stated.
14th. That all the persons named as grantees in this deed were, at the time of its execution and long before, subjects of the Crown of Great Britain and residents of the several places named in the deed as their places of residence, and that
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they entered into the land under and by virtue of the deed and became seized as the law requires.
15th. That on 18 October, 1775, Tabac and certain other Indians, all being chiefs of the Piankeshaws and jointly representing, acting for, and duly authorized by that nation in the manner stated above, did, by their deed poll, duly executed and bearing date on the day last mentioned at the post of Vincennes, otherwise called post St. Vincent, then being a British military post, and at a public council there held by them for and on behalf of the Piankeshaw Indians, with Louis Viviat, of the Illinois country, acting for himself and for the Right Honorable John, Earl of Dunmore, then Governor of Virginia, the Honorable John Murray, son of the said Earl, Moses Franks and Jacob Franks, of London, in Great Britain, Thomas Johnson, Jr., and John Davidson, both of Annapolis, in Maryland, William Russel, Matthew Ridley, Robert Christie, Sr., and Robert Christie, Jr., of Baltimore Town, in the same province, Peter Compbell, of Piscataway in the same province, William Geddes, of Newtown Chester in the same province, collector of his Majesty's customs, David Franks and Moses Franks, both of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, William Murray and Daniel Murray, of the Illinois country, Nicholas St. Martin and Joseph Page, of the same place, Francis Perthuis, late of Quebec, in Canada, but then of post St. Vincent, and for good and valuable consideration, in the deed poll mentioned and enumerated, grant, bargain, sell, alien, enfeoff, release, ratify, and
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confirm to the said Louis Viviat and the other persons last mentioned, their heirs and assigns, equally to be divided, or to George III, then King of Great Britain and Ireland, his heirs and successors, for the use, benefit, and behoof of all the above mentioned grantees, their heirs and assigns, in severalty, by whichever of those tenures they might most legally hold, all those two several tracts of land in the deed particularly described situate, lying,
and being northwest of the Ohio, east of the Mississippi, and west of the Great Miami, within the limits of Virginia and on both sides of the Ouabache, otherwise called the Wabash, which two tracts of land are contained respectively within the following metes and bounds, courses and distances, that is to say, beginning for one of the said tracts at the mouth of a rivulet called Riviere du Chat, or Cat River, where it empties itself into the Ouabache or Wabash, by its several courses, to a place called Point Coupee, about twelve leagues above post St. Vincent, being forty leagues, or thereabouts, in length, on the said river Ouabache, from the place of beginning, with forty leagues in width or breadth on the east side, and thirty leagues in breadth or width on the west side of that river, to be continued along from the place of beginning to Point Coupee. And beginning for the other tract at the mouth of White River where it empties into the Ouabache, about twelve leagues below post St. Vincent, and running thence down the Ouabache by its several courses until it empties into the Ohio, being from White River to the Ohio, about fifty-three leagues in length, more or less, with forty
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leagues in width or breadth on the east side and thirty in width or breadth on the west side of the Ouabache, to be continued along from the White River to the Ohio, with all the rights, liberties, privileges, hereditaments, and appurtenances to the said tract belonging, to have and to hold to the grantees, their heirs and assigns, forever in severalty or to the King, his heirs and successors, for the use, benefit, and behoof of the grantees, their heirs and assigns, as will more fully appear by the deed itself, duly executed under the hands and seals of the grantors, and duly recorded at Kaskaskias, on 5 December, 1775, in the office of Louis Bomer, a notary public, duly appointed and authorized. This deed, with the several certificates annexed to or endorsed on it, was set out at length.
16th. That the consideration in this deed expressed was of the value of $31,000 current money of the United States and upwards, and was paid and delivered at the time of the execution of the deed by the grantee, Lewis Viviat, in behalf of himself and the other grantees, to the Piankeshaw Indians, who freely accepted it and divided it among themselves; that the conferences in which the sale of these two tracts of land was agreed on and made, and in which it was agreed that the deed should be executed were publicly held for the space of a month at the post of Vincennes or post St. Vincent, and were attended by many individuals of the Piankeshaw nation of Indians besides the chiefs named as grantors in the deed; that the whole
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transaction was open, public, and fair, and the deed fully explained to the grantors and other Indians by skillful interpreters, and fully understood by them before it was executed; that it was executed in the presence of the several witnesses by whom it purports to have been attested, and was attested by them; that the grantees were all subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, and were of such quality, station, and residence, respectively, as they are described in the deed to be; that the grantees did duly authorize Lewis Viviat to act for and represent them in the purchase of these two tracts of land and in the acceptance of the deed; that these tracts of land were then part of the lands held, possessed, and inhabited by the Piankeshaw Indians from time immemorial, as is stated above; and that the several grantees under this deed entered into the land which it purports to grant and became seized as the law requires.
17th. That on 6 May, 1776, the Colony of Virginia threw off its dependence on the Crown and government of Great Britain and declared itself an independent state and government with the limits prescribed and established by the letters patent of May 23, 1609, as curtailed and restricted by the letters patent establishing the Colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Carolina and by the Treaty of February 10, 1763, between Great Britain and France, which limits, so curtailed and restricted, the State of Virginia, by its Constitution and form of government, declared should be and remain the limits of the state and should bound its western and northwestern extent.
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18th. That on 5 October, 1778, the General Assembly of Virginia, having taken by arms the posts of Kaskaskias and Vincennes, or St. Vincent, from the British forces, by whom they were then held, and driven those forces from the country northwest of the Ohio, east of the Mississippi, and west of the Great Miami, did, by an act of assembly of that date, entitled "An act for establishing the County of Illinois and for the more effectual protection and defense thereof," erect that country, with certain other portions of territory within the limits of the state and northwest of the Ohio into a county, by the name of the County of Illinois.
19th. That on 29 December, 1783, the State of Virginia, by an act of assembly of that date, authorized their delegates in the Congress of the United States, or such of them, to the number of three at least, as should be assembled in Congress on behalf of the state and by proper deeds or instruments in writing under their hands and seals, to convey, transfer, assign, and make over to the United States, in Congress assembled, for the benefit of the said states, all right, title, and claim, as well of soil as jurisdiction, which Virginia had to the territory or tract of country within her limits, as defined and prescribed by the letters patent of May 23, 1609, and lying to the northwest of the Ohio; subject to certain limitations and conditions in the act prescribed and specified, and that on 1 March, 1784, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hardy, Arthur Lee, and James Monroe, then being four of the delegates
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of Virginia to the Congress of the United States, did, by their deed poll, under their hands and seals, in pursuance and execution of the authority to them given by this act of assembly, convey, transfer, assign, and make over to the United States, in Congress assembled, for the benefit of the said states, all right, title, and claim, as well of soil as jurisdiction which that state had to the territory northwest of the Ohio, with the reservations, limitations, and conditions in the act of assembly prescribed, which cession the United States accepted.
20th. That on 20 July, 1818, the United States, by their officers duly authorized for that purpose did sell, grant, and convey to the defendant in this action, William McIntosh, all those several tracts or parcels of land, containing 11,560 acres, and butted, bounded, and described, as will fully appear in and by the patent for the said lands, duly executed, which was set out at length.
21st. That the lands described and granted in and by this patent are situated within the State of Illinois and are contained within the lines of the last or second of the two tracts described and purporting to be granted and conveyed to Louis Viviat and others by the deed of October 18, 1775, and that William McIntosh, the defendant, entered upon these lands under and by virtue of his patent and became possessed thereof before the institution of this suit.
22d. That Thomas Johnson, one of the grantees
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in and under the deed of October 18, 1775, departed this life on or about 1 October, 1819, seized of all his undivided part or share of and in the two several tracts of land described and purporting to be granted and conveyed to him and others by that deed, having first duly made and published his last will and testament in writing, attested by three credible witnesses, which he left in full force and by which he devised all his undivided share and part of those two tracts of land to his son, Joshua Johnson and his heirs, and his grandson, Thomas J. Graham, and his heirs, the lessors of the plaintiff in this action, as tenants in common.
23d. That Joshua Johnson and Thomas J. Graham, the devisees, entered into the two tracts of land last above mentioned under and by virtue of the will, and became thereof seized as the law requires. That Thomas Johnson, the grantee and devisor, during his whole life and at the time of his death, was an inhabitant and citizen of the State of Maryland; that Joshua Johnson and Thomas J. Graham, the lessors of the plaintiff, now are and always have been citizens of the same state; that the defendant, William McIntosh, now is and at and before the time of bringing this action was a citizen of the State of Illinois, and that the matter in dispute in this action is of the value of $2,000 current money of the United States and upwards.
24th. And that neither William Murray nor any other of the grantees under the deed of July 5, 1773, nor Louis Viviat nor any other of the
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grantees under the deed of October 8, 1775, nor any person for them or any of them ever obtained or had the actual possession under and by virtue of those deeds or either of them of any part of the lands in them or either of them described and purporting to be granted, but were prevented by the war of the American Revolution, which soon after commenced, and by the disputes and troubles which preceded it, from obtaining such possession, and that since the termination of the war and before it, they have repeatedly and at various times from the year 1781 till the year 1816 petitioned the Congress of the United States to acknowledge and confirm their title to those lands under the purchases and deeds in question, but without success.
Judgment being given for the defendant on the case stated, the plaintiffs brought this writ of error.
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MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The plaintiffs in this cause claim the land in their declaration mentioned under two grants purporting to be made, the first in 1773 and the last in 1775, by the chiefs of certain
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Indian tribes constituting the Illinois and the Piankeshaw nations, and the question is whether this title can be recognized in the courts of the United States?
The facts, as stated in the case agreed, show the authority of the chiefs who executed this conveyance so far as it could be given by their own people, and likewise show that the particular tribes for whom these chiefs acted were in rightful possession of the land they sold. The inquiry, therefore, is in a great measure confined to the power of Indians to give, and of private individuals to receive, a title which can be sustained in the courts of this country.
As the right of society to prescribe those rules by which property may be acquired and preserved is not and cannot be drawn into question, as the title to lands especially is and must be admitted to depend entirely on the law of the nation in which they lie, it will be necessary in pursuing this inquiry to examine not singly those principles of abstract justice which the Creator of all things has impressed on the mind of his creature man and which are admitted to regulate in a great degree the rights of civilized nations, whose perfect independence is acknowledged, but those principles also which our own government has adopted in the particular case and given us as the rule for our decision.
On the discovery of this immense continent, the great nations of Europe were eager to appropriate to themselves so much of it as they could respectively acquire. Its vast extent offered an
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ample field to the ambition and enterprise of all, and the character and religion of its inhabitants afforded an apology for considering them as a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency. The potentates of the old world found no difficulty in convincing themselves that they made ample compensation to the inhabitants of the new by bestowing on them civilization and Christianity in exchange for unlimited independence. But as they were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.
The exclusion of all other Europeans necessarily gave to the nation making the discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives and establishing settlements upon it. It was a right with which no Europeans could interfere. It was a right which all asserted for themselves, and to the assertion of which by others all assented.
Those relations which were to exist between the discoverer and the natives were to be regulated by themselves. The rights thus acquired being exclusive, no other power could interpose between them.
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In the establishment of these relations, the rights of the original inhabitants were in no instance entirely disregarded, but were necessarily to a considerable extent impaired. They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion; but their rights to complete sovereignty as independent nations were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will to whomsoever they pleased was denied by the original fundamental principle that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it.
While the different nations of Europe respected the right of the natives as occupants, they asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves, and claimed and exercised, as a consequence of this ultimate dominion, a power to grant the soil while yet in possession of the natives. These grants have been understood by all to convey a title to the grantees, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy.
The history of America from its discovery to the present day proves, we think, the universal recognition of these principles.
Spain did not rest her title solely on the grant of the Pope. Her discussions respecting boundary, with France, with Great Britain, and with the United States all show that she placed in on the rights given by discovery. Portugal sustained her claim to the Brazils by the same title.
France also founded her title to the vast territories she claimed in America on discovery. However
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conciliatory her conduct to the natives may have been, she still asserted her right of dominion over a great extent of country not actually settled by Frenchmen and her exclusive right to acquire and dispose of the soil which remained in the occupation of Indians. Her monarch claimed all Canada and Acadie as colonies of France at a time when the French population was very inconsiderable and the Indians occupied almost the whole country. He also claimed Louisiana, comprehending the immense territories watered by the Mississippi and the rivers which empty into it, by the title of discovery. The letters patent granted to the Sieur Demonts in 1603, constitute him Lieutenant General, and the representative of the King in Acadie, which is described as stretching from the 40th to the 46th degree of north latitude, with authority to extend the power of the French over that country and its inhabitants, to give laws to the people, to treat with the natives and enforce the observance of treaties, and to parcel out and give title to lands according to his own judgment.
The states of Holland also made acquisitions in America and sustained their right on the common principle adopted by all Europe. They allege, as we are told by Smith in his History of New York, that Henry Hudson, who sailed, as they say, under the orders of their East India Company, discovered the country from the Delaware to the Hudson, up which he sailed to the 43d degree of north latitude, and this country they claimed under the title acquired by this voyage.
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Their first object was commercial, as appears by a grant made to a company of merchants in 1614, but in 1621 the States General made, as we are told by Mr. Smith, a grant of the country to the West India Company by the name of New Netherlands.
The claim of the Dutch was always contested by the English -- not because they questioned the title given by discovery, but because they insisted on being themselves the rightful claimants under that title. Their pretensions were finally decided by the sword.
No one of the powers of Europe gave its full assent to this principle more unequivocally than England. The documents upon this subject are ample and complete. So early as the year 1496, her monarch granted a commission to the Cabots to discover countries then unknown to Christian people and to take possession of them in the name of the King of England. Two years afterwards, Cabot proceeded on this voyage and discovered the continent of North America, along which he sailed as far south as Virginia. To this discovery the English trace their title.
In this first effort made by the English government to acquire territory on this continent we perceive a complete recognition of the principle which has been mentioned. The right of discovery given by this commission is confined to countries "then unknown to all Christian people," and of these countries Cabot was empowered to take possession in the name of the King of England. Thus asserting a right to take possession
Page 21 U. S. 577
notwithstanding the occupancy of the natives, who were heathens, and at the same time admitting the prior title of any Christian people who may have made a previous discovery.
The same principle continued to be recognized. The charter granted to Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1578 authorizes him to discover and take possession of such remote, heathen, and barbarous lands as were not actually possessed by any Christian prince or people. This charter was afterwards renewed to Sir Walter Raleigh in nearly the same terms.
By the charter of 1606, under which the first permanent English settlement on this continent was made, James I granted to Sir Thomas Gates and others those territories in America lying on the seacoast between the 34th and 45th degrees of north latitude and which either belonged to that monarch or were not then possessed by any other Christian prince or people. The grantees were divided into two companies at their own request. The first or southern colony was directed to settle between the 34th and 41st degrees of north latitude, and the second or northern colony between the 38th and 45th degrees.
In 1609, after some expensive and not very successful attempts at settlement had been made, a new and more enlarged charter was given by the Crown to the first colony, in which the King granted to the "Treasurer and Company of Adventurers of the City of London for the first colony in Virginia," in absolute property, the lands extending along the seacoast four hundred miles, and
Page 21 U. S. 578
into the land throughout from sea to sea. This charter, which is a part of the special verdict in this cause, was annulled, so far as respected the rights of the company, by the judgment of the Court of King's Bench on a writ of quo warranto,
but the whole effect allowed to this judgment was to revest in the Crown the powers of government and the title to the lands within its limits.
At the solicitation of those who held under the grant to the second or northern colony, a new and more enlarged charter was granted to the Duke of Lenox and others in 1620, who were denominated the Plymouth Company, conveying to them in absolute property all the lands between the 40th and 48th degrees of north latitude.
Under this patent New England has been in a great measure settled. The company conveyed to Henry Rosewell and others, in 1627, that territory which is now Massachusetts, and in 1628 a charter of incorporation comprehending the powers of government was granted to the purchasers.
Great part of New England was granted by this company, which at length divided their remaining lands among themselves, and in 1635 surrendered their charter to the Crown. A patent was granted to Gorges for Maine, which was allotted to him in the division of property.
All the grants made by the Plymouth Company, so far as we can learn, have been respected. In pursuance of the same principle, the King, in 1664, granted to the Duke of York the country of New England as far south as the Delaware
Page 21 U. S. 579
Bay. His Royal Highness transferred New Jersey to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret.
In 1663, the Crown granted to Lord Clarendon and others the country lying between the 36th degree of north latitude and the River St. Mathes, and in 1666 the proprietors obtained from the Crown a new charter granting to them that province in the King's dominions in North America which lies from 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude to the 29th degree, and from the Atlantic ocean to the South sea.
Thus has our whole country been granted by the Crown while in the occupation of the Indians. These grants purport to convey the soil as well as the right of dominion to the grantees. In those governments which were denominated royal, where the right to the soil was not vested in individuals, but remained in the Crown or was vested in the colonial government, the King claimed and exercised the right of granting lands and of dismembering the government at his will. The grants made out of the two original colonies, after the resumption of their charters by the Crown, are examples of this. The governments of New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and a part of Carolina were thus created. In all of them, the soil, at the time the grants were made, was occupied by the Indians. Yet almost every title within those governments is dependent on these grants. In some instances, the soil was conveyed by the Crown unaccompanied by the powers of government, as in the case of the northern neck of Virginia. It has never
Page 21 U. S. 580
been objected to this or to any other similar grant that the title as well as possession was in the Indians when it was made and that it passed nothing on that account.
These various patents cannot be considered as nullities, nor can they be limited to a mere grant of the powers of government. A charter intended to convey political power only would never contain words expressly granting the land, the soil, and the waters. Some of them purport to convey the soil alone, and in those cases in which the powers of government as well as the soil are conveyed to individuals, the Crown has always acknowledged itself to be bound by the grant. Though the power to dismember regal governments was asserted and exercised, the power to dismember proprietary governments was not claimed, and in some instances, even after the powers of government were revested in the Crown, the title of the proprietors to the soil was respected.
Charles II was extremely anxious to acquire the property of Maine, but the grantees sold it to Massachusetts, and he did not venture to contest the right of that colony to the soil. The Carolinas were originally proprietary governments. In 1721, a revolution was effected by the people, who shook off their obedience to the proprietors and declared their dependence immediately on the Crown. The King, however, purchased the title of those who were disposed to sell. One of them, Lord Carteret, surrendered his interest in the government but retained his title to the soil. That
Page 21 U. S. 581
title was respected till the revolution, when it was forfeited by the laws of war.
Further proofs of the extent to which this principle has been recognized will be found in the history of the wars, negotiations, and treaties which the different nations claiming territory in America have carried on and held with each other.
The contests between the cabinets of Versailles and Madrid respecting the territory on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico were fierce and bloody, and continued until the establishment of a Bourbon on the throne of Spain produced such amicable dispositions in the two Crowns as to suspend or terminate them.
Between France and Great Britain, whose discoveries as well as settlements were nearly contemporaneous, contests for the country actually covered by the Indians began as soon as their settlements approached each other, and were continued until finally settled in the year 1763 by the Treaty of Paris.
Each nation had granted and partially settled the country, denominated by the French Acadie, and by the English Nova Scotia. By the 12th article of the Treaty of Utrecht, made in 1703, his most Christian Majesty ceded to the Queen of Great Britain "all Nova Scotia or Acadie, with its ancient boundaries." A great part of the ceded territory was in the possession of the Indians, and the extent of the cession could not be adjusted by the commissioners to whom it was to be referred.
The Treaty of Aix la Chapelle, which was made
Page 21 U. S. 582
on the principle of the status ante bellum,
did not remove this subject of controversy. Commissioners for its adjustment were appointed whose very able and elaborate, though unsuccessful, arguments in favor of the title of their respective sovereigns show how entirely each relied on the title given by discovery to lands remaining in the possession of Indians.
After the termination of this fruitless discussion, the subject was transferred to Europe and taken up by the cabinets of Versailles and London. This controversy embraced not only the boundaries of New England, Nova Scotia, and that part of Canada which adjoined those colonies, but embraced our whole western country also. France contended not only that the St. Lawrence was to be considered as the center of Canada, but that the Ohio was within that colony. She founded this claim on discovery and on having used that river for the transportation of troops in a war with some southern Indians.
This river was comprehended in the chartered limits of Virginia, but though the right of England to a reasonable extent of country in virtue of her discovery of the seacoast and of the settlements she made on it, was not to be questioned, her claim of all the lands to the Pacific Ocean because she had discovered the country washed by the Atlantic, might, without derogating from the principle recognized by all, be deemed extravagant. It interfered, too, with the claims of France founded on the same principle. She therefore sought to strengthen her original title to
Page 21 U. S. 583
the lands in controversy by insisting that it had been acknowledged by France in the 15th article of the Treaty of Utrecht. The dispute respecting the construction of that article has no tendency to impair the principle, that discovery gave a title to lands still remaining in the possession of the Indians. Whichever title prevailed, it was still a title to lands occupied by the Indians, whose right of occupancy neither controverted and neither had then extinguished.
These conflicting claims produced a long and bloody war which was terminated by the conquest of the whole country east of the Mississippi. In the treaty of 1763, France ceded and guaranteed to Great Britain all Nova Scotia, or Acadie, and Canada, with their dependencies, and it was agreed that the boundaries between the territories of the two nations in America should be irrevocably fixed by a line drawn from the source of the Mississippi, through the middle of that river and the lakes Maurepas and Ponchartrain, to the sea. This treaty expressly cedes, and has always been understood to cede, the whole country on the English side of the dividing line between the two nations, although a great and valuable part of it was occupied by the Indians. Great Britain, on her part, surrendered to France all her pretensions to the country west of the Mississippi. It has never been supposed that she surrendered nothing, although she was not in actual possession of a foot of land. She surrendered all right to acquired the country, and any after attempt to purchase it from the Indians would have been considered
Page 21 U. S. 584
and treated as an invasion of the territories of France.
By the 20th article of the same treaty, Spain ceded Florida, with its dependencies and all the country she claimed east or southeast of the Mississippi, to Great Britain. Great part of this territory also was in possession of the Indians.
By a secret treaty which was executed about the same time, France ceded Louisiana to Spain, and Spain has since retroceded the same country to France. At the time both of its cession and retrocession, it was occupied chiefly by the Indians.
Thus all the nations of Europe who have acquired territory on this continent have asserted in themselves and have recognized in others the exclusive right of the discoverer to appropriate the lands occupied by the Indians. Have the American states rejected or adopted this principle?
By the treaty which concluded the war of our revolution, Great Britain relinquished all claim not only to the government, but to the "propriety and territorial rights of the United States" whose boundaries were fixed in the second article. By this treaty the powers of government and the right to soil which had previously been in Great Britain passed definitively to these states. We had before taken possession of them by declaring independence, but neither the declaration of independence nor the treaty confirming it could give us more than that which we before possessed or to which Great Britain was before entitled. It
Page 21 U. S. 585
has never been doubted that either the United States or the several states had a clear title to all the lands within the boundary lines described in the treaty, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy, and that the exclusive power to extinguish that right was vested in that government which might constitutionally exercise it.
Virginia, particularly, within whose chartered limits the land in controversy lay, passed an act in the year 1779 declaring her
"exclusive right of preemption from the Indians of all the lands within the limits of her own chartered territory, and that no person or persons whatsoever have or ever had a right to purchase any lands within the same from any Indian nation except only persons duly authorized to make such purchase, formerly for the use and benefit of the colony and lately for the Commonwealth."
The act then proceeds to annul all deeds made by Indians to individuals for the private use of the purchasers.
Without ascribing to this act the power of annulling vested rights or admitting it to countervail the testimony furnished by the marginal note opposite to the title of the law forbidding purchases from the Indians in the revisals of the Virginia statutes stating that law to be repealed, it may safely be considered as an unequivocal affirmance on the part of Virginia of the broad principle which had always been maintained that the exclusive right to purchase from the Indians resided in the government.
In pursuance of the same idea, Virginia proceeded at the same session to open her
Page 21 U. S. 586
land office for the sale of that country which now constitutes Kentucky, a country every acre of which was then claimed and possessed by Indians, who maintained their title with as much persevering courage as was ever manifested by any people.
The states, having within their chartered limits different portions of territory covered by Indians, ceded that territory generally to the United States on conditions expressed in their deeds of cession, which demonstrate the opinion that they ceded the soil as well as jurisdiction, and that in doing so they granted a productive fund to the government of the Union. The lands in controversy lay within the chartered limits of Virginia, and were ceded with the whole country northwest of the River Ohio. This grant contained reservations and stipulations which could only be made by the owners of the soil, and concluded with a stipulation that
"all the lands in the ceded territory not reserved should be considered as a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as have become or shall become members of the confederation, . . . according to their usual respective proportions in the general charge and expenditure, and shall be faithfully and bona fide
disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever."
The ceded territory was occupied by numerous and warlike tribes of Indians, but the exclusive right of the United States to extinguish their title and to grant the soil has never, we believe, been doubted.
Page 21 U. S. 587
After these states became independent, a controversy subsisted between them and Spain respecting boundary. By the treaty of 1795, this controversy was adjusted and Spain ceded to the United States the territory in question. This territory, though claimed by both nations, was chiefly in the actual occupation of Indians.
The magnificent purchase of Louisiana was the purchase from France of a country almost entirely occupied by numerous tribes of Indians who are in fact independent. Yet any attempt of others to intrude into that country would be considered as an aggression which would justify war.
Our late acquisitions from Spain are of the same character, and the negotiations which preceded those acquisitions recognize and elucidate the principle which has been received as the foundation of all European title in America.
The United States, then, has unequivocally acceded to that great and broad rule by which its civilized inhabitants now hold this country. They hold and assert in themselves the title by which it was acquired. They maintain, as all others have maintained, that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy either by purchase or by conquest, and gave also a right to such a degree of sovereignty as the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise.
The power now possessed by the government of the United States to grant lands, resided, while we were colonies, in the Crown, or its grantees. The validity of the titles given by either has never
Page 21 U. S. 588
been questioned in our courts. It has been exercised uniformly over territory in possession of the Indians. The existence of this power must negative the existence of any right which may conflict with and control it. An absolute title to lands cannot exist at the same time in different persons or in different governments. An absolute must be an exclusive title, or at least a title which excludes all others not compatible with it. All our institutions recognize the absolute title of the Crown, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy, and recognize the absolute title of the Crown to extinguish that right. This is incompatible with an absolute and complete title in the Indians.
We will not enter into the controversy whether agriculturists, merchants, and manufacturers have a right on abstract principles to expel hunters from the territory they possess or to contract their limits. Conquest gives a title which the courts of the conqueror cannot deny, whatever the private and speculative opinions of individuals may be, respecting the original justice of the claim which has been successfully asserted. The British government, which was then our government and whose rights have passed to the United States, asserted title to all the lands occupied by Indians within the chartered limits of the British colonies. It asserted also a limited sovereignty over them and the exclusive right of extinguishing the title which occupancy gave to them. These claims have been maintained and established as far west as the River Mississippi by the sword. The title
Page 21 U. S. 589
to a vast portion of the lands we now hold originates in them. It is not for the courts of this country to question the validity of this title or to sustain one which is incompatible with it.
Although we do not mean to engage in the defense of those principles which Europeans have applied to Indian title, they may, we think, find some excuse, if not justification, in the character and habits of the people whose rights have been wrested from them.
The title by conquest is acquired and maintained by force. The conqueror prescribes its limits. Humanity, however, acting on public opinion, has established, as a general rule, that the conquered shall not be wantonly oppressed, and that their condition shall remain as eligible as is compatible with the objects of the conquest. Most usually, they are incorporated with the victorious nation, and become subjects or citizens of the government with which they are connected. The new and old members of the society mingle with each other; the distinction between them is gradually lost, and they make one people. Where this incorporation is practicable, humanity demands and a wise policy requires that the rights of the conquered to property should remain unimpaired; that the new subjects should be governed as equitably as the old, and that confidence in their security should gradually banish the painful sense of being separated from their ancient connections, and united by force to strangers.
When the conquest is complete and the conquered inhabitants can be blended with the conquerors
Page 21 U. S. 590
or safely governed as a distinct people, public opinion, which not even the conqueror can disregard, imposes these restraints upon him, and he cannot neglect them without injury to his fame and hazard to his power.
But the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages whose occupation was war and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness; to govern them as a distinct people was impossible because they were as brave and as high spirited as they were fierce, and were ready to repel by arms every attempt on their independence.
What was the inevitable consequence of this state of things? The Europeans were under the necessity either of abandoning the country and relinquishing their pompous claims to it or of enforcing those claims by the sword, and by the adoption of principles adapted to the condition of a people with whom it was impossible to mix and who could not be governed as a distinct society, or of remaining in their neighborhood, and exposing themselves and their families to the perpetual hazard of being massacred.
Frequent and bloody wars, in which the whites were not always the aggressors, unavoidably ensued. European policy, numbers, and skill prevailed. As the white population advanced, that of the Indians necessarily receded. The country in the immediate neighborhood of agriculturists became unfit for them. The game fled
Page 21 U. S. 591
into thicker and more unbroken forests, and the Indians followed. The soil to which the Crown originally claimed title, being no longer occupied by its ancient inhabitants, was parceled out according to the will of the sovereign power and taken possession of by persons who claimed immediately from the Crown or mediately through its grantees or deputies.
That law which regulates and ought to regulate in general the relations between the conqueror and conquered was incapable of application to a people under such circumstances. The resort to some new and different rule better adapted to the actual state of things was unavoidable. Every rule which can be suggested will be found to be attended with great difficulty.
However extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land and cannot be questioned. So, too, with respect to the concomitant principle that the Indian inhabitants are to be considered merely as occupants, to be protected, indeed, while in peace, in the possession of their lands, but to be deemed incapable of transferring the absolute title to others. However this restriction may be opposed to natural right, and to the usages of civilized nations, yet if it be indispensable to that system under which the country has been settled, and be
Page 21 U. S. 592
adapted to the actual condition of the two people, it may perhaps be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by courts of justice.
This question is not entirely new in this Court. The case of Fletcher v. Peck
grew out of a sale made by the State of Georgia of a large tract of country within the limits of that state, the grant of which was afterwards resumed. The action was brought by a subpurchaser on the contract of sale, and one of the covenants in the deed was that the State of Georgia was, at the time of sale, seized in fee of the premises. The real question presented by the issue was whether the seizin in fee was in the State of Georgia or in the United States. After stating that this controversy between the several states and the United States had been compromised, the court thought in necessary to notice the Indian title, which, although entitled to the respect of all courts until it should be legitimately extinguished, was declared not to be such as to be absolutely repugnant to a seizin in fee on the part of the state.
This opinion conforms precisely to the principle which has been supposed to be recognized by all European governments from the first settlement of America. The absolute ultimate title has been considered as acquired by discovery, subject only to the Indian title of occupancy, which title the discoverers possessed the exclusive right of acquiring. Such a right is no more incompatible with a seizin in fee than a lease for years, and might as effectually bar an ejectment.
Another view has been taken of this question
Page 21 U. S. 593
which deserves to be considered. The title of the Crown, whatever it might be, could be acquired only by a conveyance from the Crown. If an individual might extinguish the Indian title for his own benefit, or in other words might purchase it, still he could acquire only that title. Admitting their power to change their laws or usages so far as to allow an individual to separate a portion of their lands from the common stock and hold it in severalty, still it is a part of their territory and is held under them by a title dependent on their laws. The grant derives its efficacy from their will, and if they choose to resume it and make a different disposition of the land, the courts of the United States cannot interpose for the protection of the title. The person who purchases lands from the Indians within their territory incorporates himself with them so far as respects the property purchased; holds their title under their protection and subject to their laws. If they annul the grant, we know of no tribunal which can revise and set aside the proceeding. We know of no principle which can distinguish this case from a grant made to a native Indian, authorizing him to hold a particular tract of land in severalty.
As such a grant could not separate the Indian from his nation, nor give a title which our courts could distinguish from the title of his tribe, as it might still be conquered from, or ceded by his tribe, we can perceive no legal principle which will authorize a court to say that different consequences are attached to this purchase because it was made by a stranger. By the treaties concluded
Page 21 U. S. 594
between the United States and the Indian nations whose title the plaintiffs claim, the country comprehending the lands in controversy has been ceded to the United States without any reservation of their title. These nations had been at war with the United States, and had an unquestionable right to annul any grant they had made to American citizens. Their cession of the country without a reservation of this land affords a fair presumption that they considered it as of no validity. They ceded to the United States this very property, after having used it in common with other lands as their own, from the date of their deeds to the time of cession, and the attempt now made, is to set up their title against that of the United States.
The proclamation issued by the King of Great Britain in 1763 has been considered, and we think with reason, as constituting an additional objection to the title of the plaintiffs.
By that proclamation, the Crown reserved under its own dominion and protection, for the use of the Indians, "all the land and territories lying to the westward of the sources of the rivers which fall into the sea from the west and northwest," and strictly forbade all British subjects from making any purchases or settlements whatever or taking possession of the reserved lands.
It has been contended that in this proclamation, the King transcended his constitutional powers, and the case of Campbell v. Hall,
reported by Cowper, is relied on to support this position.
Page 21 U. S. 595
It is supposed to be a principle of universal law that if an uninhabited country be discovered by a number of individuals who acknowledge no connection with and owe no allegiance to any government whatever, the country becomes the property of the discoverers, so far at least as they can use it. They acquire a title in common. The title of the whole land is in the whole society. It is to be divided and parceled out according to the will of the society, expressed by the whole body or by that organ which is authorized by the whole to express it.
If the discovery be made and possession of the country be taken under the authority of an existing government, which is acknowledged by the emigrants, it is supposed to be equally well settled, that the discovery is made for the whole nation, that the country becomes a part of the nation, and that the vacant soil is to be disposed of by that organ of the government which has the constitutional power to dispose of the national domains, by that organ in which all vacant territory is vested by law.
According to the theory of the British Constitution, all vacant lands are vested in the Crown, as representing the nation, and the exclusive power to grant them is admitted to reside in the Crown as a branch of the royal prerogative. It has been already shown that this principle was as fully recognized in America as in the Island of Great Britain. All the lands we hold were originally granted by the Crown, and the establishment of a regal government has never been considered as
Page 21 U. S. 596
impairing its right to grant lands within the chartered limits of such colony. In addition to the proof of this principle, furnished by the immense grants already mentioned of lands lying within the chartered limits of Virginia, the continuing right of the Crown to grant lands lying within that colony was always admitted. A title might be obtained either by making an entry with the surveyor of a county in pursuance of law or by an order of the governor in council, who was the deputy of the King, or by an immediate grant from the Crown. In Virginia, therefore, as well as elsewhere in the British dominions, the complete title of the Crown to vacant lands was acknowledged.
So far as respected the authority of the Crown, no distinction was taken between vacant lands and lands occupied by the Indians. The title, subject only to the right of occupancy by the Indians, was admitted to be in the King, as was his right to grant that title. The lands, then, to which this proclamation referred were lands which the King had a right to grant, or to reserve for the Indians.
According to the theory of the British Constitution, the royal prerogative is very extensive so far as respects the political relations between Great Britain and foreign nations. The peculiar situation of the Indians, necessarily considered in some respects as a dependent and in some respects as a distinct people occupying a country claimed by Great Britain, and yet too powerful and brave not to be dreaded as formidable enemies, required that means should be adopted for
Page 21 U. S. 597
the preservation of peace, and that their friendship should be secured by quieting their alarms for their property. This was to be effected by restraining the encroachments of the whites, and the power to do this was never, we believe, denied by the colonies to the Crown.
In the case of Campbell v. Hall,
that part of the proclamation was determined to be illegal, which imposed a tax on a conquered province, after a government had been bestowed upon it. The correctness of this decision cannot be questioned, but its application to the case at bar cannot be admitted. Since the expulsion of the Stuart family, the power of imposing taxes by proclamation has never been claimed as a branch of regal prerogative, but the powers of granting, or refusing to grant, vacant lands, and of restraining encroachments on the Indians have always been asserted and admitted.
The authority of this proclamation, so far as it respected this continent, has never been denied, and the titles it gave to lands have always been sustained in our courts.
In the argument of this cause, the counsel for the plaintiffs have relied very much on the opinions expressed by men holding offices of trust, and on various proceedings in America to sustain titles to land derived from the Indians.
The collection of claims to lands lying in the western country made in the 1st volume of the Laws of the United States has been referred to, but we find nothing in that collection to support the argument. Most of the titles were derived
Page 21 U. S. 598
from persons professing to act under the authority of the government existing at the time, and the two grants under which the plaintiffs claim are supposed by the person under whose inspection the collection was made to be void, because forbidden by the royal proclamation of 1763. It is not unworthy of remark that the usual mode adopted by the Indians for granting lands to individuals has been to reserve them in a treaty or to grant them under the sanction of the commissioners with whom the treaty was negotiated. The practice in such case to grant to the Crown for the use of the individual is some evidence of a general understanding that the validity even of such a grant depended on its receiving the royal sanction.
The controversy between the Colony of Connecticut and the Mohegan Indians depended on the nature and extent of a grant made by those Indians to the colony; on the nature and extent of the reservations made by the Indians, in their several deeds and treaties, which were alleged to be recognized by the legitimate authority; and on the violation by the colony of rights thus reserved and secured. We do not perceive in that case any assertion of the principle that individuals might obtain a complete and valid title from the Indians.
It has been stated that in the memorial transmitted from the Cabinet of London to that of Versailles, during the controversy between the two nations respecting boundary which took place in 1755, the Indian right to the soil is recognized.
Page 21 U. S. 599
But this recognition was made with reference to their character as Indians and for the purpose of showing that they were fixed to a particular territory. It was made for the purpose of sustaining the claim of His Britannic Majesty to dominion over them.
The opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General, Pratt and Yorke, have been adduced to prove that in the opinion of those great law officers, the Indian grant could convey a title to the soil without a patent emanating from the Crown. The opinion of those persons would certainly be of great authority on such a question, and we were not a little surprised when it was read, at the doctrine it seemed to advance. An opinion so contrary to the whole practice of the Crown and to the uniform opinions given on all other occasions by its great law officers ought to be very explicit and accompanied by the circumstances under which it was given, and to which it was applied before we can be assured that it is properly understood. In a pamphlet written for the purpose of asserting the Indian title, styled "Plain Facts," the same opinion is quoted, and is said to relate to purchases made in the East Indies. It is, of course, entirely inapplicable to purchases made in America. Chalmers, in whose collection this opinion is found, does not say to whom it applies, but there is reason to believe that the author of Plain Facts is, in this respect, correct. The opinion commences thus:
"In respect to such places as have been or shall be acquired by treaty or grant from any of the Indian princes or governments,
Page 21 U. S. 600
your Majesty's letters patent are not necessary."
The words "princes or governments" are usually applied to the East Indians, but not to those of North America. We speak of their sachems, their warriors, their chiefmen, their nations or tribes, not of their "princes or governments." The question on which the opinion was given, too, and to which it relates, was whether the King's subjects carry with them the common law wherever they may form settlements. The opinion is given with a view to this point, and its object must be kept in mind while construing its expressions.
Much reliance is also placed on the fact, that many tracts are now held in the United States under the Indian title, the validity of which is not questioned.
Before the importance attached to this fact is conceded, the circumstances under which such grants were obtained, and such titles are supported, ought to be considered. These lands lie chiefly in the eastern states. It is known that the Plymouth Company made many extensive grants which, from their ignorance of the country, interfered with each other. It is also known that Mason to whom New Hampshire, and Gorges, to whom Maine was granted, found great difficulty in managing such unwieldy property. The country was settled by emigrants, some from Europe, but chiefly from Massachusetts, who took possession of lands they found unoccupied, and secured themselves in that possession by the best means in their power. The disturbances in
Page 21 U. S. 601
England, and the civil war and revolution which followed those disturbances, prevented any interference on the part of the mother country, and the proprietors were unable to maintain their title. In the meantime, Massachusetts claimed the country and governed it. As her claim was adversary to that of the proprietors, she encouraged the settlement of persons made under her authority, and encouraged likewise their securing themselves in possession, by purchasing the acquiescence and forbearance of the Indians. After the restoration of Charles II, Gorges and Mason, when they attempted to establish their title, found themselves opposed by men who held under Massachusetts and under the Indians. The title of the proprietors was resisted, and though in some cases compromises were made and in some, the opinion of a court was given ultimately in their favor, the juries found uniformly against them. They became wearied with the struggle, and sold their property. The titles held under the Indians were sanctioned by length of possession, but there is no case, so far as we are informed, of a judicial decision in their favor.
Much reliance has also been placed on a recital contained in the charter of Rhode Island, and on a letter addressed to the governors of the neighboring colonies, by the King's command, in which some expressions are inserted, indicating the royal approbation of titles acquired from the Indians.
The charter to Rhode Island recites
"That the said John Clark and others had transplanted
Page 21 U. S. 602
themselves into the midst of the Indian nations, and were seized and possessed, by purchase and consent of the said natives, to their full content, of such lands,"
&c. And the letter recites, that
"Thomas Chifflinch and others, having, in the right of Major Asperton, a just propriety in the Narraghanset Country, in New England, by grants from the native princes of that country, and being desirous to improve it into an English colony, . . . are yet daily disturbed."
The impression this language might make, if viewed apart from the circumstances under which it was employed, will be effaced, when considered in connection with those circumstances.
In the year 1635, the Plymouth Company surrendered their charter to the Crown. About the same time, the religious dissentions of Massachusetts expelled from that colony several societies of individuals, one of which settled in Rhode Island, on lands purchased from the Indians. They were not within the chartered limits of Massachusetts, and the English government was too much occupied at home to bestow its attention on this subject. There existed no authority to arrest their settlement of the country. If they obtained the Indian title, there were none to assert the title of the Crown. Under these circumstances, the settlement became considerable. Individuals acquired separate property in lands which they cultivated and improved; a government was established among themselves, and no power existed in America which could rightfully interfere with it.
On the restoration of Charles II, this small society
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hastened to acknowledge his authority, and to solicit his confirmation of their title to the soil, and to jurisdiction over the country. Their solicitations were successful, and a charter was granted to them, containing the recital which has been mentioned.
It is obvious that this transaction can amount to no acknowledgment that the Indian grant could convey a title paramount to that of the Crown, or could in itself constitute a complete title. On the contrary, the charter of the Crown was considered as indispensable to its completion.
It has never been contended that the Indian title amounted to nothing. Their right of possession has never been questioned. The claim of government extends to the complete ultimate title, charged with this right of possession and to the exclusive power of acquiring that right. The object of the Crown was to settle the seacoast of America, and when a portion of it was settled, without violating the rights of others, by persons professing their loyalty, and soliciting the royal sanction of an act, the consequences of which were ascertained to be beneficial, it would have been as unwise as ungracious to expel them from their habitations, because they had obtained the Indian title otherwise than through the agency of government. The very grant of a charter is an assertion of the title of the Crown, and its words convey the same idea. The country granted is said to be "our island called Rhode Island," and the charter contains an actual grant of the soil as well as of the powers of government.
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The letter was written a few months before the charter was issued, apparently at the request of the agents of the intended colony, for the sole purpose of preventing the trespasses of neighbors, who were disposed to claim some authority over them. The King, being willing himself to ratify and confirm their title was, of course, inclined to quiet them in their possession.
This charter and this letter certainly sanction a previous unauthorized purchase from Indians under the circumstances attending that particular purchase, but are far from supporting the general proposition, that a title acquired from the Indians would be valid against a title acquired from the Crown, or without the confirmation of the Crown.
The acts of the several colonial assemblies prohibiting purchases from the Indians have also been relied on as proving that, independent of such prohibitions, Indian deeds would be valid. But we think this fact, at most, equivocal. While the existence of such purchases would justify their prohibition, even by colonies which considered Indian deeds as previously invalid, the fact that such acts have been generally passed, is strong evidence of the general opinion, that such purchases are opposed by the soundest principles of wisdom and national policy.
After bestowing on this subject a degree of attention which was more required by the magnitude of the interest in litigation, and the able and elaborate arguments of the bar, than by its intrinsic difficulty, the court is decidedly of opinion, that the plaintiffs do not exhibit a title which can
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be sustained in the courts of the United States, and that there is no error in the judgment which was rendered against them in the District Court of Illinois.
Judgment affirmed with costs.