68 U.S. 412 (1864), U.s. v. Yorba

Citation:68 U.S. 412, 17 L.Ed. 635
Case Date:March 07, 1864
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 412

68 U.S. 412 (1864)

17 L.Ed. 635




United States Supreme Court.

March 07, 1864


THIS was an appeal by the United States from the decree of the District Court for the Southern District of California.

The respondent claimed a tract of land, called La Sierra, situated in the present county of Los Angeles, State of California; and in October, 1852, presented a petition to the Board of Commissioners, created by the act of March 3d, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in California, asking for the confirmation of their title. In November, 1854, the board rejected his claim; but on appeal to the District Court the claim was, in December, 1856, adjudged valid, and confirmed to the extent of four square leagues. From this decree the appeal was taken.

In support of his claim the respondent produced, from the archives of the former government, in the custody of the Surveyor-General of California, his petition to the governor for the land, the reference by him to the local authorities for information, and their reports on the subject; also, various proceedings had with reference to an adverse interest in the land, asserted by the widow of his deceased brother, and a

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draft or copy of the grant issued. He also produced the grant delivered to him, which was issued by Governor Pio Pico on the 15th of June, 1846. It is signed by the governor, and tested by his secretary of state; but neither the governor nor secretary were called to prove the execution of the grant. The genuineness of their signatures was proved by a third party, no objection being taken to its sufficiency at the time by the law agent of the United States, who was present at the examination of the witness.

The grant was, apparently, much in the form common to these grants, except that it had not the usual requirements or conditions, requiring cultivation, inhabitancy, and the construction of a house within a year. 1

The respondent also proved that he had been for several years previous to receiving the grant in the occupation and use of the land in connection with his deceased brother.

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Mr. Wills, for the appellants: The United States object to the decree of confirmation in this case for several reasons:

1. The grant is proved only by secondary evidence of the handwriting of the governor and his secretary, without any foundation having been laid for dispensing with the primary evidence.

2. It is void, as against the United States, because made after May 13, 1846. No genuine or valid grants of lands in California were made by Mexican authority after May 13, 1846. This fact may be proved, first, by the admission of the Mexican government during the negotiation of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The evidence on the subject is found in the diplomatic correspondence of our government in relation to the treaty.

Mr. Buchanan, Secretary of State, in his letter of April 15, 1847, to Mr. Trist, our diplomatic agent, while transmitting him a draft of the proposed treaty of peace with Mexico, instructs him as follows:

'The rights of the persons and property of the inhabitants of the territory over which the boundaries of the United States shall be extended will be amply protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. An article, therefore, to secure those rights has not been inserted in the project; but should this be deemed necessary by the Mexican government, no strong objection exists against inserting in the treaty an article similar to the third article of the Louisiana treaty. It might read as follows: 'The inhabitants of the territory over which the jurisdiction of the United States has been extended by the fourth article of this treaty shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess.' In the event of the insertion of this article, it would be proper to add to it the following: 'Provided, That all grants or concessions whatever of any lands made or issued by the Mexican government since the thirteenth day

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of May, one thousand eight hundred and forty-six, within the said territory, shall be absolutely null and void.' The date might, if necessary, be changed from the day when Congress recognized the existence of the war to the month of September, 1846, when the American forces took possession of California.' 2

Mr. Trist, in his letter of January 25, 1848, to the Secretary of State, transmitting the treaty of peace negotiated by him, on the point in question, says:

'With respect to grants of land made by the Mexican authorities, the proviso contained in my instructions was strenuously objected to upon a point of national honor and decorum. No such grants had been made since the 13th May, 1846. This they knew, and consequently the proviso could have no practical effect. But it implied that they had been made, or might have been made, and that, nevertheless, the government committed the injustice of revoking them; which, in fact, it had authority to do. Moreover, it involved an acknowledgment that, from the day when hostilities broke out on the north of the Rio Bravo, the Mexican government had lost the right to make grants of land in any part of its territory subsequently occupied by us. Feeling the force of these objections, I requested to make sure of the fact stated by them; and also in regard to no grants having been made in Texas since the revolution, which had been incidentally mentioned by one of them (the Mexican negotiators). And this having been done, in a manner which left no shade of doubt on their minds, the declaration which will be found at the end of ART. 10 was agreed upon, in lieu of the proviso.' 3

That declaration is in these words:

'The Mexican government declares that no grant whatever of lands in Texas has been made since the second day of March, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six; and that no grant whatever of land, in any of the territories aforesaid, has been made since the thirteenth day of May, one thousand eight hundred and forty-six.' 4

This declaration of the fact in question is the more valuable from the circumstance that while Mexico was unwilling to stipulate that all grants of land in California made after May 13, 1846, should be null and void, it was nevertheless willing to declare, and did declare the fact, that...

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