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GLASGOW V. BAKER, 128 U. S. 560 (1888)

U.S. Supreme Court

Glasgow v. Baker, 128 U.S. 560 (1888)

Glasgow v. Baker

No. 40

Argued October 24-26, 1888

Decided December 10, 1888

128 U.S. 560


The Act of June 13, 1812, 2 Stat. 748, c. 99, "making further provisions for settling the claims to land in the Territory of Missouri," was a grant in praesenti of all the title of the United States to all lands in the Grand Prairie Common Field of St. Louis which had been inhabited, cultivated, or possessed, prior to the treaty with France of April 30, 1803, leaving in them no title to such lands which could pass to the State of Missouri by the Act of March 6, 1820, c. 22, 3 Stat. 545, authorizing the people of Missouri Territory to form a constitution and state government, etc.

In ejectment in Missouri, to recover a part of the Grand Prairie Common Field of St. Louis, the plaintiff claiming under the Act of Congress of March 6, 1820, c. 22, § 6, subdivision 1, and the defendant claiming under a possession, occupation, and cultivation under French law prior to the cession of Louisiana to the United States, it being proved that the land in controversy was either part of that Common Field or had been inhabited, cultivated, or possessed prior to the cession, the defendant is not required to prove with certainty and precision the time when, and the person by whom, the cultivation or occupation was made, but it is sufficient if there is satisfactory proof that, according to the terms of the statute, the tract in dispute and all the land within the Grand Prairie Common Field had been inhabited, cultivated, or possessed prior to the year 1803.

The Court stated the case as follows:

The writ of error in this case brings before us for review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri rendered on the 11th day of May, 1885, in a suit commenced in the St. Louis Land Court of St. Louis County in that state, on the 15th day of September, 1853. This suit is in the nature of an action of ejectment to recover possession of about 200 acres of land. It was tried three or four times in the court of original jurisdiction, the last trial resulting in a verdict for fifty-three acres of said land in favor of plaintiff, has been once or twice before the court of appeals, a court of intermediate review, and has been three times heard and decided in the Supreme Court of the state of

Page 128 U. S. 561

Missouri. All of the decisions of the latter court have been in favor of the defendants, and the last one is now before us. It is one of a class of cases very numerous, many of which have reached this Court, growing out of claims for land which had their inception prior to the treaty of 1803, 8 Stat. 200, by which the United States obtained the region of country called "Louisiana" from France. Article III of that treaty reads as follows:

"The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States, and in the meantime they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess."

8 Stat. 200.

This provision for the protection of the rights of private property is probably no more than what follows by the principles of the law of nations upon the transfer of the allegiance of the inhabitants of a given territory from one government to another. The City of New Orleans was the principal center of population of this large extent of country at the time the treaty was made with France, but there were also many villages and towns, generally located along the Mississippi River and upon some of the other navigable streams, and the Town of St. Louis seems to have become the largest of these in the northern part of it at the beginning of the century. This territory, known as Louisiana, was for many years the subject of negotiations and contests between the governments of France and Spain. It had been held by the latter power and under its control for some thirty-eight years when, by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, October 1, 1800, it was receded by Spain to France. No actual transfer of possession had been made under this treaty at the time that of 1803 was ratified, by which we acquired the country from the French government, but formal proceedings were taken immediately thereafter by which, at New Orleans, possession was delivered to the French official, M. Laussat, on the 30th day of

Page 128 U. S. 562

November, and on the 20th day of December following this possession was formally passed over to Gen. Wilkinson, representing the United States. Corresponding changes of flags were made at the time at New Orleans, and similar transfers were effected at St. Louis on the 9th and 10th of March, 1804.

The acquisition of titles by individuals to lands from the government, both under the French and Spanish regimes, was of the simplest character. An application to the governor, who usually resided at New Orleans, or to a lieutenant governor for leave to cultivate some of the land under his authority was rarely refused, and when such an application was rejected, it was generally upon the ground that some previous applicant had a better right. Some of these grants were surveyed and marked out, and the license and survey were considered, when accompanied by possession, to complete the title. Many individuals, however, were in possession of lands under titles which were not perfect, and when the country came into the control of the United States, it became the purpose and obvious duty of the government to secure to these people all the rights, however imperfect or inchoate, which had been acquired by them under the dominion of either France or Spain. Most of the inhabitants of this territory were French.

The government of the United States performed this duty in the most liberal manner. It commenced by passing an act of Congress in 1805, 2 Stat. 324, c. c. 26, and a supplement thereto in 1806, 2 Stat. 391, c. 39, which was amended in 1807, 2 Stat. 440, c. 36, by which three commissioners were appointed for the purpose of establishing these land claims, and separating them from the public domain. This commission, called the "Old Board" to distinguish it from another which succeeded it, made a report of its proceedings to Congress in the year 1811. It rejected a very large proportion of the claims submitted to it, and the hard rules which were applied to the cases brought before it for adjudication occasioned much discontent. A history of the effort to induce Congress to some more liberal provision in regard to them

Page 128 U. S. 563

shows that that body was very fully informed as to the proceedings taken by the commission, and it was upon the representation of at least one of the commissioners, as well as statements of some other persons who were interested in and cognizant of the state of affairs, and upon petitions presented to it, which may be found among the American state Papers, that Congress was induced to pass a much more liberal statute in regard to these claims. It was approved June 13, 1812, 2 Stat. 748, c. 99, and provided for the appointment of another board of commissioners, with authority to reexamine the claims which had been rejected, as well as to investigate others not previously presented, and directed a report to be made to Congress. The first and second sections of this statute, which is supposed to be controlling in regard to the case now before us, read as follows:

"An act making further provision for settling the claims"

"to land in the Territory of Missouri"

"SEC. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that the rights, titles, and claims to town or village lots, out-lots, common field lots, and commons, in, adjoining, and belonging to the several towns or villages of Portage des Sioux, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Ferdinand, Villago a Robert, Carondelet, St. Genevieve, New Madrid, New Bourbon, Little Prairie, and Arkansas, in the Territory of Missouri, which lots have been inhabited, cultivated, or possessed prior to the 20th day of December, 1803, shall be, and the same are hereby, confirmed to the inhabitants of the respective towns or villages aforesaid, according to their several right or rights in common thereto, provided that nothing herein contained shall be construed to affect the rights of any persons claiming the same lands or any part thereof whose claims have been confirmed by the board of commissioners for adjusting and settling claims to land in the said territory. And it shall be the duty of the principal deputy surveyor for the said territory, as soon as may be, to survey, or cause to be surveyed and marked

Page 128 U. S. 564

(where the same has not already been done, according to law) the outboundary lines of the said several towns or villages so as to include the out-lots, common field lots, and commons thereto respectively belonging. And he shall make out-plats of the surveys, which he shall transmit to the surveyor general, who shall forward copies of said plats to the Commissioner of the General Land Office and to the recorder of land titles. The expense of surveying the said out-boundary lines shall be paid by the United States out of any moneys appropriated for surveying the public lands, provided that the whole expense shall not exceed three dollars for every mile that shall be actually surveyed and marked."

"SEC. 2. And be it further enacted that all town or village lots, out-lots, or common field lots included in such surveys which are not rightfully owned or claimed by any private individuals or held as commons belonging to such towns or villages, or that the President of the United States may not think proper to reserve for military purposes, shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns or villages aforesaid, provided that the whole quantity of land contained in the lots reserved for the support of schools in any one town or village shall not exceed one-twentieth part of the whole lands included in the general survey of such town or village."

There are numerous acts of Congress confirming titles reported upon favorably by this commission to be found in the years subsequent to its appointment, as well as many statutes displaying the utmost liberality in extending the time within which parties might apply to this commission or to an officer who, as recorder, succeeded to it, so that the patience and generosity with which Congress endeavored to have these claims originating in those early days established where there was any basis of right whatever is conspicuous. Congress also dealt with the State of Missouri, in regard to contributions for the erection of public buildings and for the promotion of education, in the same liberal manner as it did in regard to other regions which were admitted as new states

Page 128 U. S. 565

that had previously been governed for a while as territories under its enactments.

By the Act of March 3, 1811, Congress extended the system of the surveys of the public lands over this region, and in the tenth section, providing for sales of such public lands as should have been surveyed, declared that

"All such lands shall, with the exception of the section 'number sixteen,' which shall be reserved in each township for the support of schools within the same, with the exception also of a tract reserved for the support of a seminary of learning, as provided for by the seventh section of this act, and with the exception also of the salt springs and lead mines and lands contiguous thereto which, by the direction of the President of the United States, may be reserved for the future disposal of the said states, shall be offered for sale to the highest bidder,"

etc. 2 Stat. 665. c. 46. § 10.

When the time came for the admission of Missouri into the union, among the propositions which Congress submitted to the people of the territory upon which it might be admitted as a state the first was

"That section numbered sixteen in every township, and when such section has been sold or otherwise disposed of, other lands equivalent thereto and as contiguous as may be, shall be granted to the state for the use of the inhabitants of such township for the use of schools."

Act of March 6, 1820, c. 22, § 6, subdivision 1. 3 Stat. 547.

The acceptance by the state of this proposition as one of the conditions under which it entered the union forms the basis of the title claimed by the plaintiff in this suit. By the general system of surveys of public lands which had been established prior to the act of 1811, all the public lands of the United States, and all those within the general boundary, as fast as they were surveyed at all, were divided first into townships of six miles square, each of which was then subdivided into sections of 640 acres. These townships and sections were controlled by meridians of latitude and longitude, and not by natural objects, and although the lines, if actually protracted upon the ground, might extend over places of considerable population and include lands owned by private citizens, yet

Page 128 U. S. 566

as it was necessary to the completion of the general system of congressional surveys, they were made to cover the whole country, and to include the entire territory. As regards the sixteenth section, of course, when these surveys were protracted either by a simple calculation or by actual survey, over lands which were claimed or owned by private persons, or which had been reserved for public purposes, they had no effect to defeat or establish such titles, but all that came within the lines of such sixteenth section which was not otherwise appropriated became the property of the state for school purposes.

The conflict in this case grows out of the assertion by the plaintiff that the land in controversy passed to the state by virtue of the act of 1820 as part of a sixteenth section, while the defendants claim that the title and right to it passed out of the government of the United States by the act of 1812, eight years prior to the admission of the state into the union and the act granting each sixteenth section to the state. It is not denied that the lines of the sixteenth section of township forty-five north, range seven east, of the principal meridian include the land in dispute, nor, if there was no reason to the contrary, that it passed to the State of Missouri under the provisions of the act admitting it into the union. Neither is there any dispute that the plaintiff in error in this case, who was also plaintiff below, is invested as commissioner, for the purposes of this suit, with the right of the State of Missouri to the possession.

The defendants say, on the other hand, that they and their predecessors, from whom they derive title, became the owners of this land by operation of the act of 1812, and that the United States, having by that act parted with its title, had nothing to give to the State of Missouri by the act of 1820, and did not intend to give to that state that which had been granted and confirmed already to private parties.

These two propositions present sharply the issue to be tried in the present case.

Page 128 U. S. 571

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