57 U.S. 203 (1854), Chouteau v. Molony

Citation:57 U.S. 203, 14 L.Ed. 905
Case Date:February 23, 1854
Court:United States Supreme Court

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57 U.S. 203 (1854)

14 L.Ed. 905




United States Supreme Court.

February 23, 1854

THIS case was brought up by writ of error, from the District Court of the United States for the District of Iowa.

It was an action brought by petition, in the nature of an ejectment, by Chouteau, a citizen of Missouri, to recover seven undivided eighteenth parts of a large body of land, containing nearly one hundred and fifty thousand arpents; and including the whole city of Dubuque. Molony claimed under a patent from the United States. The documents upon which Chouteau's claim was founded are set forth in extenso in the opinion of the court; and as that opinion refers to Mr. Gallatin's report, it may be propert to give a history of the claim so that his report may be introduced. A large portion of the argument, in behalf of the plaintiff in error, consisted of reasons to show that Mr. Gallatin was mistaken. The following is the history of the case, as given by Mr. Cormick.

History of the Claim. In a case so free from doubt, the question arises, why did Congress assume that Dubuque's title was worthless, and sell the land?

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The answer to this question is, Mr. Gallatin, while Secretary of the Treasury, became prejudiced against the land titles of Upper Louisiana, and so much prejudiced against this particular title, that he construed it with reference, not to the grant itself, but to his pre.xisting prejudices; that he made a report adverse to the claim, and utterly misdescribed the document upon which that claim is based; that congressmen, when the question came up before them, referred, as was natural, to Mr. Gallatin's report, to see what it said about the title, and finding it there described as the grant of a mere personal permission of occupancy, revocable at will, they naturally concluded it was a fraudulent effort to obtain property, which the claimants knew they had no right to.

On the 3d of November, 1804, a treaty was made by General William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, (of which the present States of Missouri and Iowa were then a part,) with the Sac and Fox Indians. An additional article was inserted to prevent the land granted to Dubuque from being considered as receded by the treaty. The Indians then acknowledged the validity of the grant. See p. 22 of Senate Doc. 350 of 1st Sess. 28th Cong.

On the 17th of May, 1805, Julien Dubuque and Auguste Chouteau, as his assignee of a portion of the land, jointly filed their claim.

On the 20th of September, 1806, a majority of the Board of Commissioners, John B. C. Lucas, dissenting, pronounced the claim to be a complete Spanish grant, made and completed prior to the first day of October, 1800.

In 3 Green's Public Lands, 588, will be found the translation of the title, which seems to have been the translation relied on by the Board, as well as by Mr. Gallatin. It is in the following words, namely:

(These documents are inserted, in the opinion of court, with some change of phraseology. There was much controversy, during the argument, as to the proper translation.)

On the 11th of April, 1810, the United States agent laid before the Board of Commissioners, in pursuance of section 6 of act of 2d March, 1805, (2 Statutes at Large, 328,) a list of documents, which list embraces this claim, pertaining to lead mines and salt springs in the Territory of Louisiana. 3 Green's P. L. 603.

In 1810, Mr. Gallatin, instead of reporting to Congress the action of the board relative to the claim, himself made an ex parte official report against it. 1 Clark's Land Laws, 958.

On the 19th of December, 1811, the following entry was made on the minutes of the Board of Commissioners, namely:

'December 19th, 1811. Present, a full board. On a question

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being put by John B. C. Lucas, commissioner, Clement B. Penrose and Frederick Bates, commissioners, declined giving an opinion. It is the opinion of John B. C. Lucas, commissioner, that the claim ought not to be confirmed.' 2 Green's P. L. 552.

The claimants were not parties to this last proceeding. It seems to have originated between the dissenting commissioner and the Secretary of the Treasury, who were under the impression that the sixth section of act of 2d March, 1805, which required the government agent 'to examine into and investigate the titles and claims, if any there be, to the lead mines within the said district, to collect all the evidence within his power, with respect to the claims and value of the said mines, and to lay the same before the commissioners, who shall make a special report thereof, with their opinions thereon, to the Secretary of the Treasury, to be by him laid before Congress,' &c., thereby authorized the Board, by an ex parte proceeding, to reverse their own decision made more than five years before.

Dubuque continued in possession of the land till his death, in 1810. During his life, he had exercised great influence over the neighboring Indians. But that influence had been much enhanced by the liberal presents he had made them. He died insolvent. That portion of the tract which he had not sold to Auguste Chouteau, was sold after his death, by order of court, to pay his debts. In the meanwhile the last war with England was approaching, and English emissaries were on the frontiers, inciting the savages to hostilities against our people. Our government was not then, as it now is, sufficiently strong to protect the frontiers.

In the latter part of 1832, the claimants thought the time had come when they might safely attempt the enjoyment of their rights, as the assignees of Dubuque, to the profits which might be realized from the lead mineral contained in the land. They accordingly employed an agent to lease to miners the right to dig on the land for lead. On the 5th of January, 1833, the following order was issued by the Major-General of the United States army:

(This was an order to remove the settlers by force.) See p. 28, Sen. Doc. 350, 1st Sess. 28th Cong.

In pursuance of this order, a military detachment was sent from Fort Crawford, and the claimants' tenants were driven off at the point of the bayonet, and their dwellings burnt.

The claimants at that time all lived in the State of Missouri, mostly at St. Louis. One of them, on his own behalf, and as agent for the others, went to Galena, in Illinois, to institute legal proceedings. He could not sue for the land, because after

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Missouri had come into the Union, as a State, there was no court which had jurisdiction of a suit brought for the recovery of the land. The federal government had in the meanwhile leased much of the land to lead diggers, and a considerable portion of the mineral dug on the land was taken to smelting furnaces at Galena, to be converted into lead. But much of the mineral then smelted at Galena was from land not embraced in this grant. The agent for the claimants, in order to test the question of title, brought suit for a lot of mineral, which had been brought to Galena. But he was not at the trial able to identify it, and a nonsuit was taken. The agent then came to Washington, and petitioned for redress during many successive sessions of Congress. Certain citizens of Kentucky had in the meanwhile, by intermarriage and by inheritance, become interested in the claim, and on their own account presented a memorial in January, 1837. Several memorials were also presented to the executive. Various bills were reported for the relief of the claimants, some of which passed in one house, and were never reached in the other, and others were voted down in the house in which they originated.

An act of Congress was passed the 2d of July, 1836, for the laying off the towns of Fort Madison and Burlington, in the county of Des Moines, and the towns of Belleview, Dubuque, and Peru, in the county of Dubuque, Territory of Wisconsin, and for other purposes. The towns of Dubuque and Peru, the lots of which were required by this act to be sold, are situated on the land embraced by the grant on which this suit is based. What is now the State of Iowa, constituted, on the 2d of July, 1836, a part of the Territory of Wisconsin.

On the 3d of March, 1837, an act, amendatory of the foregoing, was passed. The manner in which the town lots are to be sold is somewhat varied from the manner specified in act of 2d of July, 1836, 5 Stat. at Large, 178, 179.

(Then followed an enumeration of the reports of committees in each branch of Congress, and the acts passed, under one of which Malony claimed title.)

Mr. Gallatin's report was a succinct statement of the facts in the case, upon which he made the following remarks:

I. Governor Harrison's treaty adds no sanction to the claim; it is only a saving clause in favor of a claim, without deciding on its merits, a question which indeed he had no authority to decide.

II. The form of the concession, if it shall be so called, is not that of a patent, or final grant; and that it was not considered as such, the commissioners knew, as they had previously received a list procured from the records at New Orleans, and

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transmitted by the Secretary of the Treasury, of all the patents issued under the French and Spanish governments, in which this was not included, and which also showed the distinction between concession and patent, or complete title.

III. The form of the concession is not even that used when it was intended ultimately to grant the land; for it is then uniformly accompanied with an order to the proper officer to survey the land, on which survey being returned the patent issues.

IV. The governor only grants as is asked; and...

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