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LANGDEAU V. HANES, 88 U. S. 521 (1874)

U.S. Supreme Court

Langdeau v. Hanes, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 521 521 (1874)

Langdeau v. Hanes

88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 521


The state of Virginia, which, prior to the Revolution, asserted title to the Northwest Territory, always respected the possessions and titles of the French and Canadian inhabitants who had declared themselves her citizens, and when she ceded the territory to the United States in 1783, she stipulated by the express terms of her grant for their confirmation, and the United States, in 1784, in accepting the grant with this provision, bound themselves to perform the stipulation.

The duty of the United States under the cession and acceptance and by the principles of public law, was to give to such inhabitants such further assurance as would enable them to enjoy undisturbed possession and to assert their rights judicially to their property as completely as if their titles were derived, from the United States.

The United States confirmed or provided for the confirmation of these existing rights by resolutions and acts of Congress in 1788, 1804, and 807. The patents which the Act of 1807 authorized did not convey the title.

In the legislation of Congress, a patent has a double operation. It is a conveyance by the government when the government has any interest to convey, but where it is issued upon the confirmation of a claim of a previously existing title, it is documentary evidence, having the dignity of a record, of the existence of that title or of such equities respecting the claim as justify its recognition and confirmation.

A legislative confirmation of a claim to land is a recognition of the validity of such claim, and operates as effectually as a grant or quitclaim from the government. If the claim be to land with defined boundaries, or capable of identification, the legislative confirmation perfects the title to the particular tract, and a subsequent patent is only documentary evidence of that title. If the claim be to quantity, and not to a specific tract capable of identification, a segregation by survey will be required, and the confirmation will then immediately attach the title to the land segregated.

Langdeau brought ejectment August, 1872, against Hanes for a piece of ground which before our Revolution was part of the French and Canadian settlement of St. Vincents (now Vincennes), and, as such, part of the Northwestern Territory conveyed in 1783, by authority of the State of Virginia, who then claimed it, to the United States under an express stipulation:

"That the French and Canadian inhabitants and other settlers

Page 88 U. S. 522

of . . . St. Vincents, and the neighboring villages, who have professed themselves citizens of Virginia, shall have their possessions and titles confirmed to them, and be protected in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties."

This stipulation was embodied in the deed of cession, and the deed, in the form in which it was subsequently executed, was incorporated into the resolutions of Congress of 1784, declaring their readiness to accept the deed. [Footnote 1]

By act of March 26, 1804, [Footnote 2] Congress appointed commissioners to hear and determine all claims for land held by settlers under the French, and under this act the claim of the heirs of one Jean Baptiste Tongas, under a grant to their ancestor for two hundred and four acres, came up and was confirmed. [Footnote 3] The commissioners made report of the titles which they had confirmed, and Congress, on the 3d of March, 1807, by "An act confirming claims to land in the District of Vincennes," [Footnote 4] enacted:

"SECTION 1. That all the decisions made by the commissioners appointed for the purpose of examining claims of persons claiming lands in the District of Vincennes in favor of such claimants . . . be, and the same are, hereby confirmed."

"SECTION 5. That every person or the legal representative of every person, whose claim to a tract of land is confirmed by this act and who had not previously obtained a patent for the same . . . shall, whenever his claim shall have been located and surveyed, be entitled to receive from the register of the land office at Vincennes, a certificate stating that the claimant is entitled to receive a patent for such tract of land by virtue of this act, . . . which certificate shall entitle the party to a patent for the said tract, which shall issue in like manner as provided by law for the other lands of the United States."

A survey of the tract was made in 1820, but no patent issued until 1872, when one issued reciting the "confirmation" by the Act of 1807 of the report of the commissioners

Page 88 U. S. 523

appointed under the Act of 1804. The patent purports to "give and grant" to the heirs of Tongas, in fee, the tract in question. The plaintiff claimed under these heirs.

The defendant claimed as tenant under one law, who for more than thirty years had been in the actual possession of the premises, under claim and color of title made in good faith, having purchased the same at a sale under a decree of foreclosure made by the Circuit Court of Illinois for Lawrence County, and received the deed of the commissioners appointed by the court to make the sale, and had paid all the taxes thereon during that time.

By the law of Illinois, such a possession constitutes a bar to any adverse claim.

The court held as matter of law under the foregoing facts:

"1st. That the fact of confirmation of 1807 was a present grant, becoming so far operative and complete to convey the legal title when the land was located and surveyed by the United States in 1820 as that an action of ejectment could be maintained on the same."

"2d. That the patent was not of itself the grant of the land by the United States, but only the evidence that a grant had been made to the heirs of Jean Baptiste Tongas."

"3d. That as Law went into the possession of the land under claim and color of title made in good faith, and had held possession for more than seven successive years, and during that time had paid all the taxes legally assessed upon the land before the commencement of this suit, it was a bar to a recovery by the plaintiff."

To each of these propositions of law the plaintiff excepted, and judgment having been given against him, he brought the case here.

Page 88 U. S. 525

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