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GARCIA V. LEE, 37 U. S. 511 (1838)

U.S. Supreme Court

Garcia v. Lee, 37 U.S. 12 Pet. 511 511 (1838)

Garcia v. Lee

37 U.S. (12 Pet.) 511


The decision of the Court in the case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson, 2 Pet. 254, by which grants made by the Crown of Spain, after the Treaty of St. Ildefonso, of lands west of the River Perdido, and which were by the United States declared to be within the Territory of Louisiana ceded by France to the United States were declared void, affirmed.

Congress, in order to guard against imposition, declared by the law of 1804 that all grants of land made by the Spanish authorities in the territory west of the Perdido after the date of the Treaty of St. Ildefonso should be null and void, excepting those to actual settlers acquired before December 20, 1803.

The controversy in relation to the country lying between the Mississippi and the Perdido Rivers and the validity of the grants made by Spain in the disputed territory after the cession of Louisiana to the United States were carefully examined and decided in the case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson. This Court in that case decided that the question of boundary between the United States and Spain was a question for the political departments of the government; that the legislative and executive branches having decided the question, the courts of the United States are bound to regard the boundary determined by them as the true one; that grants made by the Spanish authorities of lands which, according to this boundary line belonged to the United States, gave no title to the grantees in opposition to those claiming under the United States unless the Spanish grants were protected by the subsequent arrangements made between the two governments, and that no such arrangements were to be found in the treaty of 1819, by which Spain ceded the Floridas to the United States according to the fair import of its words and its true construction.

In the case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson, this Court said that the Florida treaty of 1819 declares that all grants made before 24 January, 1818, by the Spanish authorities

"shall be ratified and confirmed to the persons in possession of the lands to the same extent that the same grants would be valid if the territories had remained under the dominion of His Catholic Majesty,"

and in deciding the case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson the Court held that even if this stipulation applied to lands in the territory in question, yet the words used did not import a present confirmation by virtue of the treaty itself, but that they were words of contract;

"that the ratification and confirmation which were promised must be the act of the legislature, and until such shall be passed, the Court is not at liberty to disregard the existing laws on the subject."

Afterwards, in the case of United States v. Percheman, 7 Pet. 86, in reviewing the words of the eighth article of the treaty, the Court, for the reasons there assigned, came to a different conclusion and held that the words were words of present confirmation, by the treaty, where the land had been rightfully granted before the cession, and that it did not need the aid of an act of Congress to ratify and confirm the grant. This language was, however, applied by the Court, and was intended to apply to grants made in a territory which belonged to Spain at the time of the grant. The case then before the Court was one of that description. It was in relation to a grant of land in Florida, which unquestionably belonged to Spain at the time the grant was made, and where the Spanish authorities had an undoubted right to grant until the treaty

Page 37 U. S. 512

of cession in 1819. It is of such grants that the Court spoke when it declared them to be confirmed and protected by the true construction of the treaty, and that they do not need the aid of an act of Congress to ratify and confirm the title of the purchaser. The Court does not apply this principle to grants made within the Territory of Louisiana. The case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson must in all other respects be considered as affirmed by the case of Percheman;, as it underwent a careful examination in that case and as none of its principles was questioned except that referred to.

The leading principle in the case of Foster & Elam v. Neilson which declares that the boundary line determined on as the true one by the political departments of the government, must be recognized as the true one by the judicial departments was after that case directly acknowledged and affirmed by this Court in 1832 in the case of United States v. Arredondo, 8 Pet. 711, and this decision was given by the Court with the same information before it as to the meaning of the Spanish side of the treaty which is mentioned in the case of Percheman.

In the District Court of Louisiana, the plaintiff in error, a resident in Cuba, on 26 January, 1836, filed a petition stating that on 1 September, 1806, he purchased of the Spanish government, for a valuable consideration, and was put into possession of the same, fifteen thousand arpents of land, divided into three tracts or parcels having such marks and bounds as are laid down in the original plots and surveys annexed to the deed of sale by Juan Ventura Morales, then intendant of the Spanish government, dated 5 September, 1806. Certified copies of the deed of sale, plots, and surveys were annexed to the petition.

The petition stated that Samuel Lee, a resident in the Parish of Feliciana and a citizen of the state, had taken possession of ten thousand arpents, part of the said grant, which is situated in the now State of Louisiana, and refuses to deliver up the same. The petitioner prays to be put in possession of the said land &c.

On 17f May, 1836, Samuel Lee filed an answer and exception to the plaintiff's petition in which he denied

"all and singular the allegation in the plaintiff's petition herein exhibited against him, and will on trial require strict and legal proof of the same, and especially does he deny any jurisdiction of the Spanish government over the territory in which the land claimed by the plaintiff is situated at the time the grant exhibited by him was made or at any time subsequent thereto, and strictly denies the right of the said

Page 37 U. S. 513

government or the officers thereof to make grants or sales of land therein."

On 27 February, 1837, the District Court of Louisiana entered a judgment in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff prosecuted this appeal.

At the hearing of this case in the district court, certain documentary evidence was offered by the plaintiff which was not received by the court, and the plaintiff took an exception to the rejection of the same. This bill of exceptions, containing all the documents offered and rejected in the court below, was sent up with the record.

Page 37 U. S. 515

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