174 U.S. 196 (1899), 49, Morris v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 49
Citation:174 U.S. 196, 19 S.Ct. 649, 43 L.Ed. 946
Party Name:Morris v. United States
Case Date:May 01, 1899
Court:United States Supreme Court

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174 U.S. 196 (1899)

19 S.Ct. 649, 43 L.Ed. 946



United States

No. 49

United States Supreme Court

May 1, 1899

Argued October 26, 27, 28, 31, November 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 1898




The grant by Charles I to Lord Baltimore on the 20th of June, 1632, included in unmistakable terms the Potomac River, and the premises in question in thus suit, and declared that thereafter, the Province of Maryland, its freeholders and inhabitants, should not be held or reputed a member or part of the land of Virginia, and the territory and title thus granted were never divested, and upon the Revolution, the State of Maryland became possessed of the navigable waters of the state, including the Potomac River, and of the soils thereunder, and, by the act of cession to the United States, that portion of the Potomac River with the subjacent soil which was appurtenant to and part of the territory granted became vested in the United States, and the Court, in consequence, affirms the judgment of the court below in respect of the Marshall heirs denying their claims.

It was not the intention of Congress, by the Resolution of February 16, 1839, to subject lands lying beneath the waters of the Potomac, and within the limits of the District of Columbia, to sale by the methods therein provided, and the recent decisions of the courts of Maryland to the contrary, made since the cession to the United States and at variance with those which prevailed at the time of the cession, cannot control the decision of this Court on this question; but as the invalidity of the patent in the present case was not apparent on its face, but was proved by extrinsic evidence, and as the controversy respecting the patent was not abandoned by the defendants, they are not entitled to a decree for the return of the purchase money or for costs.

It was the intention of the founders of the City of Washington to locate it upon the bank or shore of the Potomac River, and to bound it by a street or levee so as to secure to the inhabitants and those engaged in

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commerce free access to the navigable water, and such intention has never been departed from.

As to land above high water mark in Washington, the title of the United States must be found in the transactions between the private proprietors and the United States.

The proprietors of such land, by their conveyances, completely divested themselves of all title to the tracts conveyed, and the lands were granted to the trustees.

The Dermott map was the one intended by President Washington to be annexed to his Act of March 2, 1797, but the several maps are to be taken together as representing the intentions of the founders of tile city, and, so far as possible, are to be reconciled as parts of one scheme or plan.

From the first conception of the Federal City, the establishment of a public street bounding the city on the south and to be known as Water Street was intended, and such intention has never been departed from, and it follows that the holders of lots and squares abutting on the line of Water Street are not entitled to riparian rights, nor are they entitled to rights of private property in the waters or the reclaimed lands lying between Water Street and the navigable channels of the river, unless they can show valid grants to the same from Congress or from the city on the authority of Congress, or such a long protracted and notorious possession and enjoyment of defined parcels of land as to justify a court, under the doctrine of prescription, in inferring grants.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, having entered Washington long after the adoption of the maps and plans, cannot validly claim riparian rights as appurtenant to the lots or parts of lots which it purchased in Water Street, as it was the persistent purpose of the ,founders of the city to maintain a public street along the riverfront, and Congress and the city only intended to permit that company to construct and maintain its canal within the limits of the city, and to approve its selection of the route and terminus.

No riparian rights belonged to the lots between Seventh Street West and Twenty-Seventh Street West.

There is no merit in the claim of the descendants of Robert Peter.

It is impossible to reconcile the succession of acts of Congress and of the city council with the theory that the wharves of South Water Street were erected by individuals in the exercise of private rights of property.

The failure of the city to open Water Street created no title in Willis to the land and water south of the territory appropriated for that street.

The Court. does not understand that it is the intention of Congress, in exercising its jurisdiction over this territory, to take for public use, without compensation, the private property of individuals, and therefore, while affirming the decree of the court below as to the claims of the Marshall heirs, and as to the Kidwell patent and as to the claims for riparian rights, it remands the case to the court below for further proceedings.

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[19 S.Ct. 650] The Act of Maryland entitled "An act to cede to congress a district of ten miles square in this state for the seat of the government of the United States" was in the following terms:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland that the representatives of this state in the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, appointed to assemble at New York on the first Wednesday of March next, be and they are hereby authorized and required, on behalf of this state, to cede to the Congress of the United States any district in this state, not exceeding ten miles square, which the Congress may fix upon and accept for the seat of government of the United States.

(Kilty's Laws of Maryland.)

On December 3, 1789, by an act entitled

An act for the cession of ten miles square, or any lesser quantity of territory within this state to the United States, in Congress assembled, for the permanent seat of the general government,

Virginia ceded to the Congress and government of the United States a tract of country not exceeding ten miles square, or any lesser quantity, to be located within the limits of the state, and in any part thereof as Congress may by law direct, in full and absolute right, and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside thereon, providing that nothing therein contained should be construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, or to affect the rights of individuals therein, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States, and providing that the jurisdiction of the laws of the commonwealth over the persons and property of individuals residing within the limits of the said concession should not cease or determine until Congress should accept the cession and should by law provide for the government thereof under their jurisdiction.

[19 S.Ct. 651] Congress, by an act entitled "An act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the government of the United States," approved July 16, 1790, accepted a district of territory, not exceeding ten miles square, to be located on the River Potomac, and authorized the President

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of the United States to appoint Commissioners, who should, under the direction of the President, survey, and, by proper metes and bounds, define and limit, the district, which, when so defined, limited, and located, should be deemed the district so accepted for the permanent seat of the government of the United States. It was further thereby enacted that the said Commissioners should have power to purchase or accept such quantity of land on the eastern side of said river within the said district as the President should deem proper for the use of the United States, and according to such plans as the President should approve, and that the Commissioners should, prior to the first Monday in December in the year 1800, provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress and of the President and for the public offices of the government, and that, on the said first Monday in December in the year 1800, the seat of the government of the United States should be transferred to the district and place aforesaid, and that all offices attached to the government should be removed thereto and cease to be exercised elsewhere. The act contained the following proviso:

That the operation of the laws of the state within said district shall not be affected by this acceptance until the time fixed for the removal of the government thereto, and until Congress shall otherwise by law provide.

1 Stat. 130.

On January 22, A.D. 1791, Thomas Johnson and Daniel Carroll, of Maryland, and Daniel Stewart, of Virginia, were appointed by President Washington Commissioners to carry the foregoing legislation into effect.

On March 3, 1791, Congress passed an amendatory act by which, after reciting that the previous act had required that the whole of the district or territory, not exceeding ten miles square, to be located on the River Potomac, should be located above the mouth of the Eastern Branch, the President was authorized to make any part of the territory below said limit, and above the mouth of Hunting Creek, a part of the said district, so as to include a convenient part of the Eastern Branch and of the lands lying on the lower side thereof, and also the Town of Alexandria, and that the territory so to be

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included should form a part of the district not exceeding ten miles square for the seat of the government, but providing that nothing contained in the act should authorize the erection of the public buildings otherwise than on the Maryland side of the River Potomac.

On March 30, A.D. 1791, President Washington issued a proclamation, describing the territory selected...

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