The Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company, Plaintiffs In Error v. Edwin Litchfield

Citation23 How. 66,16 L.Ed. 500,64 U.S. 66
Decision Date01 December 1859
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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

In order that the reader may the more readily understand the question involved, he is requested to make a quasi map for himself according to the following directions: Take a page of paper, upon the eastern and western sides of which draw two lines from north to south, the former representing the mississippi and the latter the Missouri rivers. Then draw four parallel lines, equi-distant from each other, from east to west, calling the southern the State line, the next above it the 'first correction line,' the third the 'second correction line,' and the fourth the 'north boundary of Iowa.' Then draw a diagonal line from the northwest to the southeast corner, which may be supposed to represent the Des Moines river. From the southeast corner, make a dotted line on each side of, and at a small distance from, the diagonal line, as far as the intersection with the first correctional line, at which is the Raccoon fork. The space included within these dotted lines is conceded to have been granted by the act of 1846. Continue these dotted lines to the second correctional line, and the space thus included will cover lands which have been conditionally certified by the United States, and which are also claimed under the construction of the grant of 1846, as contended for by the counsel of Litchfield, the defendant in error. Continuing still further the dotted lines to the boundary, they will include the land which the same construction would give to the claimants under the act of 1846, who contended for the right of running up the river from its mouth upon both sides of it.

Now draw two dotted lines from east to west on each side of the second correctional line, which will include the grant to the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company; and within the space where these dotted lines clash, was the land in dispute, viz: section one, in township eighty-eight north, range twenty-nine west of the fifth principal meridian. It was conceded, in the argument, that Litchfield, who brought the suit, was entitled to recover, if the grant of 1846 ran up the river above the Raccoon fork. The claim of the railroad company was that the grant did not extend above that point; in which case, their title to the section in controversy was undoubted. There was an agreed statement of facts in the court below, which covered upwards of forty pages of the record. The court decided that the right to the land claimed was in the plaintiff; from which decision the railroad company brought the case up to this court.

It was submitted on printed arguments by Mr. Platt Smith for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Charles Mason for the defendant. The Attorney General (Mr. Black) intervened on behalf of the United States, upon the ground that if the grant stopped at the Raccoon fork, it would give away 321,000 acres; whereas, if it were extended up the river, it would take 800,000 acres more, nearly all of which belonged to the United States.

The Attorney General also made the following points, viz:

1. This is a fictitious suit brought here, not to determine the rights of the nominal parties, nor to settle any real dispute between them, but to get an opinion which will throw the moral influence of this court against the Government in a matter already decided by the Executive. Therefore, the case ought to be dismissed.

2. Assuming that an actual dispute exists between the parties, they have agreed upon a statement of facts, which is, in some respects, palpably erroneous and unjust, and in others so defective that no judgment can safely be pronounced upon it.

3. If the court feel bound in such a case to give an opinion, it will be neither necessary nor proper to pronounce upon the construction of the Des Moines river grant. The rights of the parties to the section in suit depend on the conveyances which were made to them by the State of Iowa.

4. The true interpretation of the Des Moines river grant confines it to that part of the river which lies below the Raccoon fork, as the proper department of the Government has decided.

Each one of these points was elaborately argued by the Attorney General. Upon the three first of them, Mr. Platt Smith, who was counsel for the defendants below, felt himself called upon the reply, which he did as follows:

These charges are embraced in a great number of insinuations and innuendoes in different parts of the Attorney General's argument. He charges that the agreed statement is 'entirely one-sided;' that the defendant's side of the case occupies only the fourth of a page, while the plaintiff's side covers forty-two pages. He says, 'It is impossible to understand how such a statement could have been assented to, unless both parties were at least willing that the plaintiff's side should prevail.' Again, 'It is inexcusable to stuff it with ex parte affidavits and unauthorized certificates of outsiders, which no court can lawfully listen to or suffer to be intruded on its notice. When matter thus grossly inadmissible is put in, and all of it is manifestly for the benefit of one side, it is easy to see that the party on the other side is not making opposition in good faith.' The court will please recollect that this is an action of right to try title to real estate; that it is the business of the plaintiff to make out his case; that he must depend on the strength of his own title; and therefore that the introduction of forty-two pages of stuff 'which no court can lawfully listen to' may, in that sense of the term, be considered onesided, as charged by the Attorney General. Although 'all of it is manifestly for the benefit of one side,' yet I am entirely willing that that side may make the most of it, and neither the Attorney General nor any one else has the right to impugn my motives or faith for not claiming an interest in the stuff, or stuffing the record with an equal amount of the same sort for my own benefit. The court will presume that I Knew, as well as the Attorney General, that the court could discriminate between the solid matter and the stuff, and that, if no court could listen to it, there was no danger of losing the case by it; in fact, the Attorney General is not much frightened about this point himself. In speaking of this kind of evidence, farther along in his argument, he says, 'I cannot say for myself that I fear the effect upon your minds of such affidavits as those of Mr. Sample or Mr. Belknap, or the certificate of Mr. Guy Wells; but when a court receives and reads such things, those who know not what manner of men judges are, might readily suppose the decision to be affected by them more or less.' Now, I suppose that the Attorney General imagined that I was one of those persons who did not know what manner of men judges are, and therefore that I supposed they would listen to and be influenced by this stuff. I claim to know, as well as the Attorney General, that the court will only be governed by facts which are really pertinent to the case. The plaintiff's counsel in the action in the District Court, I believe, in good faith supposed that what the Attorney General calls stuff had something to do with the case; I must confess that I thought otherwise at the time, and only admitted such facts for what they are worth, and in doing this I only did what is quite common. I think that a majority of the facts contained in the records of the cases tried in the Supreme Court of the United States are irrelevant, and might by strict rules have been excluded as stuff. The Attorney General says, 'It is impossible not to believe that the minds of the counsel on both sides were directed by their clients exclusively to the one subject of the claim against the United States;' and again, 'It is impossible to understand how such a statement could have been assented to, unless both parties were at least willing that the plaintiff's side should prevail;' and again, 'It is impossible that such a judgment could have been entered under such circumstances, unless both parties had expressed a wish that it should be done.' He therefore concludes that if these two parties did that thing, it is conclusive evidence that the suit is fictitious; and he might have added, that both attorneys are guilty of conspiring to defraud the Government out of two million dollars worth of land, and ought to have their names stricken from the rolls, and be sent to the penitentiary. But I say, on the contrary, that it is impossible for the court to presume, without any shadow of proof, that the inferences and charges of the Attorney General are true; but the court will presume that the great mass of stuff and irrelevant matter which has been admitted into the record was admitted as the same kind of stuff usually is, that it was insisted on by one party who was sanguine and hard pushed for evidence, and admitted by the other for the supposed reason that the court would not listen to it or be influenced by it. This, I think, is the only fair inference which the court can draw from these facts. As to the judge of the District Court examining the cause and deciding it in one day, I will say that if such appears to be the fact, it is an error. The case was submitted to the district judge, who had it under advisement for several days, though the judgment may have been entered as on the day on which it was submitted. All judgments, I believe, are in contemplation of law presumed to have been entered on the first day of the term, though in fact they may have been decided on several days; yet I am not aware any inference of fraud or conspiracy can be raised from the fact that the case was submitted and judgment rendered the same day.

Upon the fourth point made by the Attorney General, viz: the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
63 cases
  • Swallows Holding, Ltd. v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue
    • United States
    • U.S. Tax Court
    • January 26, 2006
    ...In construing a statute, we must give a definite meaning to every word and expression found therein, Dubugue & P.R. Co. v. Litchfield, 64 U.S. 66, 77, 23 How. 66, 16 L.Ed. 500 (1859); Early v. Doe, 57 U.S. 610, 617, 16 How. 610, 14 L.Ed. 1079 (1853), and we must shy away from interpreting a......
  • Noble v. Oklahoma City
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • February 19, 1935
    ... ... granted to the Choctaw Coal & Railway Company a franchise to ... construct and operate a ... Under the facts existing in this case, plaintiffs cannot ... assert want of authority in the ... construction of the railroad constituted the definite ... location of the ... , all of Oklahoma City, for plaintiffs in error ...          Harlan ... T. Deupree, ... Island & Pacific Railway Company, and its predecessors. On ... Dubuque & P. R. Co. v ... Litchfield, 23 How. 66 [16 ... ...
  • Noble v. Okla. City
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • February 19, 1935 cancel said patents as to lands so occupied. In the body of the opinion the court said:"The main question in Dubuque & P. R. Co. v. Litchfield, 23 How. 66, 16 L.Ed. 500, was whether a grant to the territory of Iowa, to aid in the improvement of the navigation of the Des Moines river, ext......
  • State v. Portland General Elec. Co.
    • United States
    • Oregon Supreme Court
    • May 12, 1908
    ... ... against the Portland General Electric Company. From ... a decree of dismissal rendered ... this decree the state appeals, assigning as error ... the order of the court sustaining ... case of Railroad Company v. Maryland, 21 Wall ... (U.S.) ... 63, ... 24 L.Ed. 651; Dubuque & Pac.R. Co. v. Litchfield, 23 ... How ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Property Clause, Article Iv, and Constitutional Structure
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Law Journal No. 71-4, 2022
    • Invalid date
    ...v. Hawes, 67 U.S. 554, 562-63 (1862); United States v. Union Pac. Ry. Co., 148 U.S. 562, 569 (1893); Dubuque & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Litchfield, 64 U.S. 66, 89 (1859); Hewitt v. Schultz, 180 U.S. 139, 156 (1901) ("Of course, if the ruling of [the land office] was plainly erroneous, it would be t......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT