148 U.S. 503 (1893), 3, Virginia v. Tennessee

Docket Nº:No. 3, Original
Citation:148 U.S. 503, 13 S.Ct. 728, 37 L.Ed. 537
Party Name:Virginia v. Tennessee
Case Date:April 03, 1893
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 503

148 U.S. 503 (1893)

13 S.Ct. 728, 37 L.Ed. 537




No. 3, Original

United States Supreme Court

April 3, 1893

Argued March 8-9, 1893



The boundary line between the States of Virginia and Tennessee, which was ascertained and adjusted by commissioners appointed by and on behalf of each State and marked upon the surface of the ground between the summit of White Top Mountain and the top of the Cumberland Mountains, having been established and confirmed by the State of Virginia in January, 1803, and by the State of Tennessee in November, 1803, and having been recognized and acquiesced in by both parties for a long course of years, and having been treated by Congress as the true boundary between the two States, in its districting them for judicial and revenue purposes, and in its action touching the territory in which Federal elections were to be held and for which federal appointments were to be made, was a line established under an agreement or compact between the two states, to which the consent of Congress was constitutionally given, and as so established, it takes effect as a definition of the true boundary, even if it be found to vary somewhat from the line established in the original grants.

The history of the Royal Grants, and of the colonial and state legislation upon this subject reviewed.

An agreement or compact as to boundaries may be made between two states, and the requisite consent of Congress may be given to it subsequently, or may be implied from subsequent action of congress itself towards the two states, and when such agreement or compact is thus made and is thus assented to, it is valid.

What "an agreement or compact" between two states of the union is, and what "the consent of Congress" to such agreement or compact is within the meaning of Article I of the Constitution considered and explained.

A boundary line between states or provinces which has been run out, located, and marked upon the earth, and afterwards recognized and acquiesced in by the parties for a long course of years, is conclusive.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 504

FIELD, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit to establish by judicial decree the true boundary line between the States of Virginia and Tennessee. It embraces a controversy of which this Court has original jurisdiction, and in this respect the judicial department of our government is distinguished from the judicial department of any other country, drawing to itself by the ordinary modes of peaceful procedure the settlement of questions as to boundaries and consequent rights of soil and jurisdiction between states, possessed, for purposes of internal government, of the powers of independent communities, which otherwise might be the fruitful cause of prolonged and harassing conflicts.

The State of Virginia, as the complainant, [13 S.Ct. 729] summoning her sister state, Tennessee, to the bar of this Court -- a jurisdiction to which the latter promptly yields -- sets forth in her bill the sources of her title to the territory embraced within her limits and also of the title to the territory embraced by Tennessee.

The claim of Virginia is that by the charters of the English sovereigns, under which the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina were formed, the boundary line between them was intended and declared to be a line running due west from a point on the Atlantic Ocean on the parallel of latitude 36 degrees and 30 minutes north, and that the State of Tennessee, having been created out of the territory formerly constituting a part of North Carolina, the same boundary line continued between her and Virginia, and the contention of Virginia is that the boundary line claimed by Tennessee does not follow this parallel of latitude, but varies from it by running too far north, so as to unjustly include a strip of land about one hundred and thirteen miles in length and varying from two to eight miles in width, over which she asserts and unlawfully exercises sovereign jurisdiction.

On the other hand, the claim of Tennessee is that the

Page 505

boundary line, as declared in the English charters, between the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina, was run and established by commissioners appointed by Virginia and Tennessee after they became states of the Union, by Virginia in 1800, and by Tennessee in 1801, and that the line they established was subsequently approved in 1803 by the legislative action of both states, and has been recognized and acted upon as the true and real boundary between them ever since, until the commencement of this suit, a period of over eighty-five years, and the contention of Tennessee is that the line thus established and acted upon is not open to contestation as to its correctness at this day, but is to be held and adjudged to be the real and true boundary line between the states, even though some deviations from the line of the parallel of latitude thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north may have been made by the commissioners in the measurement and demarcation of the line.

In order to clearly understand and appreciate the force and effect to be accorded to the respective claims and contentions of the parties, a brief history of preceding measures should be given, with reference to the charters and legislation under which they were taken.

On the 23d of May, 1609, James the First of England, by letters patent, reciting previous letters, gave to Robert, Earl of Salisbury, Thomas, Earl of Suffolk, and divers other persons associated with them a charter which organized them into a corporation by the name of the "Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London," for the first colony of Virginia, and granted to them all those lands and territories lying

in that part of America called "Virginia," from the point of land called "Cape or Point Comfort," along the seacoast to the northward 200 miles, and from the said point of Cape Comfort along the seacoast to the southward 200 miles, and all that space and circuit of land lying from the seacoast of the precinct aforesaid up into the land throughout, from sea to sea, west and northwest,

and "also all the islands lying within 100 miles along the coast of both seas of the precinct aforesaid."

Page 506

On the 24th of March, 1663, Charles the Second of England granted to Edward, Earl of Clarendon, and others of his subjects, all that territory within his dominion of America

extending from the north end of the island called "Lucke Island," which lieth in the Southern Virginia seas, and within six and thirty degrees of the northern latitude, and to the west as far as the South Seas, and so southerly as far as the River Mathias, which bordereth upon the coast of Florida, and within one and thirty degrees of northern latitude, and so west in a direct line as far as the South Seas aforesaid,

and gave them full authority to organize and govern the territory granted under the name of the "Province of Carolina."

On the 30th or May, 1665, Charles the Second granted to the above proprietors of Carolina a charter confirming the previous grant and enlarging the same so as to include the following described territory: all that province and territory within America

extending north and eastward as far as the north end of Currituck River or Inlet, upon a straight westerly line to Wyonoke Creek, which lies within or about the degrees of thirty-six and thirty minutes northern latitude, and so west in a direct line as far as the South Seas, and south and westward so far as the degrees of twenty-nine inclusive of northern latitude, and so west in a direct line as far as the South Seas.

The northern and southern settlements of Carolina were separated from each other by nearly three hundred miles, and numerous Indians resided upon the intervening territory; and, though the whole province belonged to the same proprietors, the legislation of the settlements was by different assemblies, acting at times under different governors. Early in 1700, the northern part of the province was sometimes called the "Colony of North Carolina," although the province was not divided by the Crown into North and South Carolina until 1732. Story's Commentaries on the Constitution, sec. 137. Previously to this division, the settlements on the borders of Virginia and of what was called the "Colony of North Carolina" had largely increased, and disputes and altercations frequently occurred between the settlers, growing out of the

Page 507

unlocated boundary between the provinces. Virginians were charged with taking up lands, under titles of the crown, south of the proper limits of their province, and Carolinians were charged [13 S.Ct. 730] with taking up lands which belonged to the crown with warrants from the proprietors. The troubles arising from this source were the occasion of much disturbance to the communities, and various attempts were made by parties in authority in the two provinces to remove the cause of them. Previously to January, 1711, commissioners were appointed on the part of Virginia and North Carolina to run the boundary line between them, and proclamations were made forbidding surveys of the grounds until that line within the disputed limits should be marked. But these efforts for the settlement of the difficulties were unavailing.

In January, 1711, commissioners were again appointed, but failed, for want of the requisite means to accomplish their intended object.

In 1728, an attempt to settle the difficulties was renewed, but, as on previous occasions, it failed. The commissioners of the colonies met, but they could not agree at what place to fix the latitude...

To continue reading