McGee v. Mathis
Annotate this Case
71 U.S. 143 (1866)
U.S. Supreme Court
McGee v. Mathis, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 143 143 (1866)
McGee v. Mathis
71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 143
Where a state, in order to promote the drainage and sale of certain swamp lands belonging to it and which it was desirous of reclaiming, has passed, by way of encouraging purchasers, a law that such lands "shall be exempt from taxation for the term of ten years" and issued transferable scrip receivable for them, a repeal of the exemption act, so far as it concerns lands paid for either before or after the repeal, with scrip issued before the repeal, impairs a contract of the state with the holders of such scrip.
In 1850, the United States granted by act of Congress to the State of Arkansas all the swamp and overflowed government lands within its limits on condition that the proceeds of the lands or the lands themselves should be applied as far as necessary in reclaiming them for cultivation by means of levees and drains.
The state accepted the grant and by an act of the legislature in 1851 provided for the sale of the lands, for the issue of transferable scrip receivable for any lands not already taken up at the time of selection by the holder, for contracts for the making of levees and drains, and for the payment of contractors in scrip or otherwise.
In the fourteenth section of this act it was provided that
"To encourage by all just means the progress and the completing of the reclaiming such lands by offering inducements to purchasers and contractors to take up said lands, all said swamp and overflowed lands shall be exempt from taxation for the term of ten years or until they shall be reclaimed."
In 1855 this section was repealed and provision was made by law for the taxation of swamp and overflowed lands, sold or to be sold, precisely as other lands.
The plaintiff in error, before this repeal, had become the owner, by transfer from contractors, of a large amount of the script issued under the act of 1851, and with this scrip,
after the repeal, took up and paid for many sections and parts of sections of the granted lands lying in Chicot County.
In 1857, another act of the legislature, local in its nature, provided for the making of levees and drains in Chicot County, and authorized a special tax to meet the cost. This special tax was assessed upon the unreclaimed swamp lands of the plaintiff in error as well as upon other lands, and the defendant in error, under authority of the act, proceeded to take the necessary measures for the collection of the tax.
The Constitution of the United States ordains that "no state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts."
The plaintiff in error filed his bill in the proper state court alleging that the acts of 1855 and 1857 impaired the obligation of the contract of the state with the United States, expressed in the grant by Congress in 1850 and its acceptance by the state and also the contract between the state and the levee contractors and other lawful holders of swamp land scrip issued under the act of 1851, that such scrip should be receivable for unlocated swamp lands, and that such lands should not be subject to taxation for ten years from the time when taken up, or until reclaimed, and prayed an injunction to restrain the defendant in error from the collection of the taxes authorized by those acts.
In his answer to the bill, the defendant stated that the state and county taxes imposed on the lands of the complainant had been stricken out of the assessment by order of the county court, and justified his proceeding as sheriff to collect the special levee tax under the act of 1857.
The cause was brought to hearing in the Supreme Court of Arkansas, by whose decree the bill of the complainant was dismissed, and it now came before this tribunal upon writ of error directed to that court.
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