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United States Supreme Court

58 U.S. 542

Fremont  v.  United States

Mr. Justice CAMPBELL, dissenting.

The concession, upon which the decree in favor of the United States was pronounced, is for ten square leagues, to be located in a district of country which contains above one hundred square leagues. To the concession there is no plan or design to indicate the place of location; nor was there any survey, delivery of judicial possession, occupancy, or improvement, at any time prior to the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo. The conditions to the validity of a grant prescribed by the laws of colonization of Mexico, and which were specifically annexed to the grant under consideration, made these necessary.

The case of Smith v. The United States, 10 Pet. 326, and many others where the doctrine of that case was applied, is, in my opinion, conclusive of this. The claim arose on a petition of St. Vrain to the governor-general of Louisiana, in November, 1795, praying for a grant, in full property to him and his heirs, of ten thousand superficial arpens, with the special permission to locate in separate pieces, upon different mines, of whatever nature they may be, without obliging him to make a settlement; which grant, as prayed for, was granted by the governor-general, in February, 1796.

The court, in that case, collect some of the principles which had been employed by the court in the settlement of claims under the treaties of Florida and Louisiana. 'We have held,' they say, 'that, in ascertaining what titles would have been perfected if no cession had been made to the United States, we must refer to the general course of the law of Spain; to local usage and custom; and not what might have been done by the special favor or arbitrary power of the king or his officers.'

'It has also been distinctly decided,' they say, 'in the Florida cases, that the land claimed must have been severed from the general domain of the king, by some grant which gives it locality by its terms, by reference to some description, or by a vague general grant, with an authority to locate afterwards by survey, making it definite; which grant or authority to locate must have been made before the treaty of cession, (that is, 24th January, 1818.)

The court then coming to the case under consideration, describes it as a 'grant to vest in the petitioner a title in full property to all the lands in the province containing minerals, which he might at any time locate, in quantities to suit his own pleasure.' 'Its condition at the cession was precisely as it was at the date of the grant; there was no evidence that the grantee had done or offered to do any act, or made any claim or demand, asserting or affirming any right under the grant.' The court say, that, at the date of the surrender of Louisiana, 'there was not an arpen on which his right had any local habitation; until a location was made, it was a mere authority to locate, which he might have exercised at his pleasure, both as to time and place, by the agency of a public surveyor authorized to separate lands from the royal domain by a survey pursuant to a grant, warrant, or order of survey.

'At the time of the cession, nothing had been so severed, either by a public or private surveyor, or any act done by which the king could in any way be considered as a trustee for St. Vrain, for any portion of the ten thousand arpens; and there was no spot in the whole ceded territory in which he had, or could claim, an existing right of property. An indispensable prerequisite to such right was some act by which his grant would acquire such locality as to attach to some spot; until this was done, the grant could by no possibility have been perfected into a complete title. It is clear, therefore, that the integrity of the public domain had in no way been affected by this grant, (in March, 1804,) at the treaty of cession.'

Here was a grant, 'in full property,' from the highest political authority having the power to make grants-without condition or limitation as to the manner or time of the survey-pronounced invalid, for the reason that, when the sovereign parted with the territory, it had no definite location nor limit.

The concession now before the court agrees with the one we have considered, as being indefinite, attaching to no particular spot in a large extent of territory. The Mexican governor of California declares it to be the property of the grantee by the letters then issued, not in full property, but as 'subject to the approbation of the most excellent departmental assembly, and to conditions underwritten.' Among these conditions are those of a survey and delivery of possession by a public officer, and occupancy and improvement in a limited period. For very nearly four years, while the land remained as the property of Mexico, no act was done, nor right asserted to any portion of the ten square leagues, and nothing was performed to distinguish them from any other part of the public domain. The integrity of the public domain in this district had never been disturbed at the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, even by a visit from the grantee.

The case of Rutherford v. Greene's Heirs, 2 Wheat. 196, does not conflict, in my judgment, with the case I have cited. The question in that case was, whether an act of a state legislature, appropriating a certain number of acres in a particular district of country, 'to be allotted' by public officers named in the act, and, after that allotment was perfected, whether it amounted to a legal or equitable title, (for the case was in chancery,) to the particular lot of land, against a claimant under a subsequent entry or purchase from the State. To make that case parallel to this, the claim of the grantee should have rested upon the general grant only, without the completing process of the allotment. The analogy fails, in respect to the present case, at the point where the question of doubt is suggested.

In the case of Smith, this court considered the effect of the acts of the grantee, performed after the treaty of cession, towards locating the grant, and whether they had any relation back to the date of the title, so as to unite with it and give definiteness to it. And the court say, that the surveys must be performed by public officers, under a legal authority, as a public trust, and that this was the law of both the United States and of Spain. And that the United States, having acquired the territory by cession, were entitled to hold it discharged of all claims, where the specific lands could not be identified by the description in the grant, or a supplementary survey.

The doctrine of this case has been applied with uniformity by this court, in a long series of cases, some of which with a degree of strictness bordering upon severity. Lecompte v. United States, 11 How. 119; United States v. King, 3 Ib. 773; S.C.. 7 Ib. 833; United States v. Wiggins, 14 Pet. 334; Bissell v. Penrose, 8 How. 317.

The non-fulfilment of these conditions, it was competent to Mexico to overlook or to forgive.

It is probable that, in the lax administration of her laws, in the distant province of California, all investigation would have been avoided, if the cession to the United States had not been made. It is equally within the power of congress to remit the consequences attaching to the omissions, and to concede as a grace what, in California, might have been yielded from indolence or indulgence.

But congress has chosen to deal with the subject of titles in California, upon principles of law, embracing in that term the whole body of jurisprudence applicable to the subject; and that the solution of all the questions arising upon them shall be made by courts of justice acting upon their fixed rules of judgment. Among the guides it has directed us to follow are the decisions of this court in analogous cases. In my opinion, the cases I have cited control this case, and I do not feel at liberty to depart from what is to me their clear and manifest import.

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).