Bonner v. United States

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 156

Bonner  v.  United States

The State of Virginia, during the Revolutionary war, promised bounty lands to her troops, on Continental establishment, and at an early day set apart for their benefit a tract of country within the limits of the present State of Kentucky, which it was supposed at the time would be sufficient for the purpose. Recognizing, however, that this reservation might prove insufficient to satisfy the claims of these troops, Virginia, in ceding, March 1st, 1784, to the United States the territory beyond the Ohio River, reserved all the lands lying between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, to supply any deficiency of lands in the Kentucky district. It was very soon manifest that the apprehended deficiency existed, and the second reservation, therefore, became operative. In order to ascertain the limits of this reservation, it was necessary to find the sources of these two rivers and to run the line between them. The execution of this object was the occasion of much difficulty and the cause of frequent legislation by Congress. Two lines were run by different surveyors, one by Ludlow and the other by Roberts. It is unnecessary here to trace the history of these lines, or to show which is scientifically correct. It is enough to say the Congress, in 1818, [1] established Ludlow's line as the true boundary, and excluded entries upon the west side of it.

In this state of things, Wallace, being the owner and holder of unsatisfied military bounty-land warrants, issued by the State of Virginia for the services of her troops on the Continental establishment in the war of the Revolution, located them, in 1838 and 1839, on lands which he asserted to be within the district reserved by Virginia to satisfy warrants of this class, in her deed of cession to the United States of March 1st, 1784. The entries were, however, made on the west side of Ludlow's line. That lime, therefore, excluded the land on which Wallace located his entries, though Roberts's line included them.

The lands on which the attempt was thus made to locate these warrants had long before that time been disposed of to other parties, and the government declined to recognize the validity of Wallace's proceedings, and refused to issue patents to him. Wallace accordingly filed a petition in the Court of Claims; a court which, by the act constituting it, [2] has power to hear and determine claims against the United States, founded upon any law of Congress, or regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract with it, express or implied. His claim was that as the government had wrongfully appropriated the lands on which the warrants were laid, and as he could not get the lands themselves, he should be paid the amount of money received into the treasury from their sale, with interest, or, in lieu thereof, have land scrip issued to him; the petitioner stating that he would be satisfied with this, 'or with such other mode, if any there be, as will be equitable and just.'

Wallace dying soon after, his executor and devisee, one Bonner, took his place upon the record. He insisted in the Court of Claims that there was no power in Congress to establish Ludlow's line as the true boundary, since Virginia had not assented to this action on its part, and since it was demonstrable that this line did not include all the lands between the two rivers.

The Court of Claims, however, took a different view of the obligations of the government, and decided adversely to the claim on its merits.

The case being now here for review.

Mr. Hoar, Attorney-General, and Mr. Talbot, special counsel, for the United States, having argued the question of merits, in reply to Mr. J. J. Coombs, for the appellant, contended that there was a defect in the appellant's case on its face; that the allegation of the petition was of property held in trust by the United States for the satisfaction of these bounty warrants, and of a violation of this trust by the trustee; with a prayer not for judgment for a sum of money, but in fact for any equitable relief; that the Court of Claims being created by statute, its equitable jurisdiction was to be sought for in the acts of Congress defining its powers; and that there no such jurisdiction could be found. It was not authorized to give judgment except upon the basis of an act of Congress, a regulation of an executive department, or a contract, which terms did not include a case of trust arising out of a Virginia bounty-land warrant.

Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  3 Stat. at Large, p. 424.

^2  See 10 Stat. at Large, 612.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).