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Platt v. Union Pacific Railroad Company/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Bradley

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 48

Platt  v.  Union Pacific Railroad Company


If it be conceded that the complainant has complied with all the conditions prescribed by the acts of Congress for the acquisition by a pre-emptioner of an equitable title to a portion of the public lands, the question still remains, whether the land which he claims was open to pre-emption when his settlement was made. It is confessedly a part of the lands which the United States granted to the Union Pacific Railroad Company by the act of July 1, 1862. 12 Stat. 489.

The third section [1] of the act contains words of present grant, but the fourth section enacted that on the completion of each successive forty miles of the railroad and telegraph line, patents should be issued, 'conveying the right and title to said lands to said company, on each side of the road, as far as the same is completed, to the amount aforesaid.' The seventh section required the road and telegraph to be completed before the first day of July, 1874. The amending act of July 2, 1864 (13 Stat. 356), enlarged the grant, but made no change in its terms; and the Secretary of the Interior, as directed by the act, withdrew the lands within fifteen miles of the designated route of the road from pre-emption, private entry, and sale.

Such was the grant. The railroad and telegraph line were entirely completed before July 1, 1874 (if not in 1869), and patents for all the lands granted were directed to be issued to the company in November of that year. By force of the grant, however, and by the definite fixing of the route of the road, and the filing the map thereof in the Interior Department, as required by law, together with the completion of the road westward and beyond the tract claimed by the complainant, the title to that tract had become vested in the company before April 16, 1867. On that day the company, for the purpose of raising money necessary to continue and complete the construction of their road, issued their coupon bonds for the sum in the aggregate of $10,400,000, bearing seven per cent interest, and payable in twenty years from their date. On the same day, for the purpose of securing the payment of the bonds, the company executed a mortgage or deed of trust to trustees of all and several the several sections of land granted to them by the said acts of Congress, including the tract claimed by the complainant. The instrument, we think, though in form a deed of trust, was substantially a mortgage. It was delivered to the trsutees, and duly recorded. The bonds were sold in different markets to bona fide purchasers, and they are now outstanding, about $7,000,000 still remaining unsatisfied. All this was before the entire road was completed, and before the first step was taken by the complainant to obtain his pre-emption right.

In view of these facts, we are to determine whether the mortgage was a disposition of the lands granted to the company within the meaning of the last clause of sect. 2 of the act of 1862. If it was, the tract of land claimed by the complainant was not open to settlement and pre-emption when he entered thereon, nor has it been at any time since. That clause declared that 'all the lands granted by the section, which shall not be sold or disposed of by said company within three years after the entire road shall have been completed, shall be subject to settlement and pre-emption,' &c. Was the mortgage a sale or disposition of the lands as understood by Congress? That the company had power to mortgage the lands admits of no reasonable doubt. It may be conceded that a railroad company has not power either to sell or mortgage its franchise, or perhaps the road which it has been chartered to build, without express legislative authority, and this has in some cases been decided. The reason is that such a sale or mortgage tends to defeat the purposes the legislature had in view in the grant of the charter. The adventurers who obtain the charter and who accept it undertake to construct and maintain the public work. Their undertaking is the consideration of the grant, and without legislative consent they cannot throw off the obligation they have assumed. But the reason is inapplicable to a sale or mortgage of property which is not a part of the road and in no way connected with its use. Parting with such property or incumbering it in no degree interferes with the performance of the duties of the company to the public. Railroad companies are not usually empowered to hold lands other than those needed for roadway and stations, or water privileges. But when they are authorized to acquire and hold lands separate from their roads, the authority must include the ordinary incidents of ownership,-the right to sell or to mortgage. Especially is this so when, as in the present case, the lands have been granted to the company by the legislature that granted the charter, without any restriction of their use.

Assuming, therefore, as we must, and as has been tacitly conceded in the argument, that the company had the power to make the mortgage of 1867, we need not stop to inquire whether it was a sale or a partial sale. In some of the States, as well as in England, a mortgage is practically, as well as in form, a sale. It passes the legal title to the mortgagee. The more general modern doctrine in this country is, we admit, that it creates merely a lien, without any transmission of title. But if not a sale, was the mortgage made by the company defendant in this case not a disposition of the lands granted to it by Congress? This question is not to be answered by reference to definitions given in the dictionaries. What did Congress mean in the act of 1862? That something else than sale, either total or partial, was intended we are required by all the rules of construction to conclude. Congress is not to be presumed to have used words for no purpose. If it was intended that only lands which had been sold before three years had expired after the entire completion of the railroad should be exempted from pre-emption, the words 'or disposed of' were entirely superfluous. But the admitted rules of statutory construction declare that a legislature is presumed to have used no superfluous words. Courts are to accord a meaning, if possible, to every world in a statute. In Commonwealth v. Alger (7 Cush. (Mass.) 53-89), it was said that in putting a construction upon any statute every part must be regarded, and it must be so expounded, if practicable, as to give some effect to every part of it. So, in People v. Burns (5 Mich. 114), it was held that some meaning, if possible, must be given to every word in a statute, and that where a given construction would make a word redundant, it was reason for rejecting it. To the same effect is Dearborn and Others v. Inhabitants of Brookline (97 Mass. 466); and in Gates v. Salmon (35 Cal. 576) it was ruled that no words are to be treated as surplusage or as repetition. The phrase 'or disposed of' must, therefore, have some distinctive meaning, some meaning beyond the word 'sold.' What that is may be seen very plainly when the whole act of 1862 is examined. We are seeking for the intention of Congress, and to discover that we may look at the paramount object which Congress had in view, as well as the means by which it proposed to accomplish that object. Congress addressed itself to the work of securing a railroad from the Missouri River to the western boundary of the Territory of Nevada, and thence to the Pacific Ocean. The work was vast, beyond the reach of private capital or enterprise. It could be accomplished only by the bestowal upon a corporation of very large governmental aid. The proposed road ran over mountains and through what was known to be an uninhabited desert, for more than a thousand miles. The lands through which it must pass were supposed to be almost worthless, and quite unsalable, until they should be made, by the construction of a railroad, accessible to settlers and to Eastern markets. The construction of a railroad through such a region was most uninviting to private capitalists. To induce them to embark in the enterprise was the overshadowing motive that dictated the act of 1862. This is apparent in almost every line of the act. For this reason the grants of land were made, the rights of way and of taking materials were given, and the subsidy bonds were loaned, to be repaid only at the expiration of thirty years, with interest payable only at the expiration of that period. Even this was not enough. No association and no persons were found willing, with all this proffered assistance, to undertake the construction of the road. But so earnest was Congress to induce the corporators to attempt the work, that in 1864 additional aid was proffered, the grant of lands was doubled, and new privileges were conferred. We do not now attempt to portray the earnestness-the all-absorbing earnestness with which Congress sought to secure the construction of the road by private enterprise. It was well exhibited in United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Co. (91 U.S. 72), to which we refer. Suffice it to say, the purpose of Congress, above all others, was to obtain the construction of the railroad by the corporation it created to undertake the work. For that alone the subsidy bonds were given. Only for that the grants of land were made. All was intended to give the utmost possible assistance to the stupendous and unparalleled enterprise. We do not say that other incidental considerations were not kept in mind, but what we do assert as plainly manifest in the legislation is, that the paramount intention of Congress was to give such assistance to the company as to induce them to build the road. Every other consideration was subordinate to that.

All will concede that in construing the act of 1862 we are to look at the state of things then existing, and in the light then appearing seek for the purposes and objects of Congress in using the language it did. And we are to give such construction to that language, if possible, as will carry out the congressional intentions. For what particular purpose, then, was the grant of lands made? The statute itself answers, 'for the purpose of aiding in the construction of the railroad and telegraph line,' and securing governmental transportation, &c. The lands were granted to be used in furtherance of such construction. But Congress and the grantees must have known that, when granted, the lands were of little worth. They were then unsalable at any price. Their value was wholly prospective, dependent upon the construction of the road. Purchasers could not have been reasonably expected, certainly few, for immediate settlement. The obvious mode, therefore, of using the lands for the construction of the road (not for paying debts incurred in the construction, but for immediate need as the construction was progressing) was to hypothecate them as security for a loan. Many persons might be willing to advance money on the faith of the prospective value of the lands, if the railroad was built, who would not be willing to buy when it was doubtful whether the company would ever be able to raise the money necessary to build the road and thus render the lands salable. Congress must have been blind, indeed, if it did not foresee this, and intend to authorize the use of the lands to raise money by mortgage for the object it had so much at heart. This we think, was what was intended by the phrase 'or disposed of,' as distinguished from 'sold.' Some of the lands might be sold as the work was progressing, and others could be used in aid of the construction only by pleading them to persons who might be willing to advance money on the faith of their prospective value. But whether sold or used as a security for money loaned to advance the construction of the road, they were equally employed for the purpose for which they were granted. The words 'disposed of' are undeniably apt words to indicate a transfer by mortgage. If land be conveyed to A. to enable him to raise money for a particular purpose, nobody would doubt that a mortgage would be a disposition of the land for that purpose; and the grant made by the third section of the act of 1862 was obviously made, as we have suggested, with the intent of giving present assistance to the company in the construction of the road. It was not intended to be available only after the company had raised all the money necessary for the work. Then the time of need for the purpose mentioned would have gone by. The act declares it to have been 'to aid in the construction of the road,' not to reimburse expenditures made in the construction. Hence it must have been intended that the company might use or dispose of the land in some other way tnan by a sale. But in what other way? Not by gift; for that would not have been in aid of the construction, and the grant was intended for that. Nor by leases. They could have brought little money. And no other mode of disposition except by mortgage has been suggested which could furnish the requisite aid for building the road. No other is conceivable. The conclusion would seem, therefore, to be almost inevitable, that Congress, when speaking of a disposition of the lands other than a sale, contemplated making them available for the purposes of the grant by mortgage.

And if so, it is hard to believe that only a limited interest in the lands was allowed to be hypothecated. Twelve years were designated as the period within which the road was required to be completed, and lands not sold or disposed of within three years thereafter were to be open to pre-emption. Moreover, under the provisions of the act, the title to the lands could be perfected in the company only as the work of construction advanced; that is, as each section of forty miles was completed. The company might not become entitled to some until July 1, 1874. If, therefore, a mortgage could only bind the lands unsold until the expiration of three years after that date, it would have been an hypothecation for a term of years, and as to some of the lands, for a term of only three years. Was that the aid proffered by Congress to stimulate and render possible the completion of an enterprise in which it felt so deep an interest? If so, it was a barren gift. Looking at the character of the lands and their remoteness from settlements, it must have been evident enough that money could not have been raised on the credit of such a mortgage. The power of disposition given for the express purpose of enabling the company to raise money for the construction of the road, by such an interpretation of the act is made of no value. The interpretation, therefore, defeats the manifest intention of Congress, and for that reason it cannot be accepted.

If it be suggested, as it has been on behalf of the complainant, that the mortgage contains a provision that has some bearing upon the extent of its lien, it may be well here to notice that provision. The instrument purports to convey to the trustees a fee, and not a limited estate, and it requires in all sales that may be made under it the conveyance of a fee. It contains, however, the following clause: 'It is hereby declared by the parties to this indenture that all the provisions of the said acts of Congress [referring to the acts of 1862 and 1864], so far as they are applicable, are hereby made and shall be deemed and taken to be a part of this instrument, and the said provisions in all that concerns the sale and disposal of the said lands hereby conveyed to the parties of the second part are to be observed and strictly and faithfully carried out and fulfilled.'

What are thus stipulated to be observed and strictly and faithfully to be carried out and fulfilled are the provisions of the acts in all that concerns the sale and disposal of the lands. They are matters to be carried out and strictly fulfilled,-duties to be performed by the company, and duties which concern the sale or disposal of the lands. Carrying out and performing a provision implies action, and the provision must, therefore, be one relating to action. But the acts of Congress contain no provision respecting the sale or disposal of the lands that requires action, that is, something to be carried out and fulfilled, except the implied duty of devoting the proceeds of sales or dispositions strictly and faithfully to aid in the construction of the road.

The provision that at the expiration of three years from the completion of the road the unsold or undisposed-of lands should be open to pre-emption, was in its nature not one to be 'strictly and faithfully carried out and fulfilled' by the company. The right to pre-emption of whatever might be left for pre-emption was a matter with which the company had nothing to do,-in relation to which they had no duties to perform, and only a right to the price paid by the pre-emptor. The clause of the mortgage referred to seems, therefore, to have been intended only as a stipulation on the part of the company that whatever money was raised on the mortgage should be strictly and faithfully applied in furtherance of the purpose for which the grant of the lands was made; namely, to aid in the construction of the railroad. Thus understod, it was a valuable stipulation for the mortgagees. It added to their security; for the value of the lands depended principally upon the application by the company of all its means to the completion of the work.

On the other hand, if an hypothecation of the lands in fee was within the power to 'dispose of' them, as we have endeavored to show, and if the granting part of the mortgage made, standing by itself, did hypothecate a fee, it is hard to believe the parties intended by the stipulations referred to to restrict the exercise of the power to the grant of an estate for years, a limitation alike injurious to the mortgagors and the mortgagees. We think, therefore, nothing in the stipulation is repugnant to the granting part of the mortgage which purported an hypothecation of the entire fee.

There is always a tendency to construe statutes in the light in which they appear when the construction is given. It is easy to be wise after we see the results of experience. We may now think it quite possible the lands could all have been sold before July 1, 1877. The unforeseen success of the enterprise and the unprecedented rush of emigration along the line of the railroad have shed new light upon the value of the grants made to the company. But in endeavoring to ascertain what the Congress of 1862 intended, we must, as far as possible, place ourselves in the light that Congress enjoyed, look at things as they appeared to it, and discover its purpose from the language used in connection with the attending circumstances. Guided by this rule of construction, as well as by others universally recognized, we have been led unhesitatingly to the conclusion that the deed of trust or mortgage executed by this company in 1867 was a disposition of the lands granted by the third section of the act of 1862, within the meaning of that act.

We do not say that any mortgage, however small, or manifestly made to evade a bona fide execution of the purposes for which the grants were made, or made to defeat the policy of the government which encourages the sale of public lands to private settlers, and guards against the accumulation of large bodies in single hands, would be a disposal as understood by Congress. It may be conceded it would not be, for it would be in conflict with the avowed object of the grant. The present is no such case. By the pleadings it appears that the mortgage of 1867 was made 'for the purpose of raising money necessary to continue and complete the construction of the railroad, in accordance with the act of Congress.' Nor are we now called upon to decide whether the lands covered by the mortgage will not be open for pre-emption, if they shall remain unsold after the mortgage shall be extinguished. That question is not now before us.

The principal objection urged against the interpretation we have given to the words 'sold or disposed of' is, that it is repugnant to the governmental policy of guarding against monopolies of public lands by large corporations or single individuals. It must be admitted that Congress had that policy in view when it declared that the lands not sold or disposed of within three years after the entire road should be completed should be subject to settlement and pre-emption, at a price not exceeding $1.25 per acre. But this policy was manifestly subordinated to the higher object of having the road constructed, and constructed with the aid of the land grant. No limitation was set to the quantity of land which the company might sell to single associations, or single persons. It was left at liberty to sell, if it could, to any land association or private purchaser, the entire body of the lands or any lesser quantity, regardless of the general legislative policy. It was allowed to sell or dispose of the grant at its pleasure, for the purpose of raising money to aid in the road construction, provided thus raising the money was done within the limited period. With that power no pre-emptor was authorized to interfere. Whatever contingent rights he had were postponed and subordinated to it. If, as we think it manifest, the leading primary policy of the act was to place the lands in the hands of the company, to be used for the completion of the road, as this work progressed, any secondary policy the government may also have had in view ought not to be allowed to embarrass or defeat that which was primary. It is evident Congress thought there might be remnants of the grant, not used in aid of the construction of the road, either because other resources of the company might prove sufficient, or because it might be found impossible to dispose of them in time to furnish such aid, and those remnants it undertook to open to settlement and pre-emption. This appears to us to have been what was intended, and all that was intended. The construction gives full effect alike to the paramount and the subordinate purposes of the act. Each has its own field of operation. The construction contended for by the appellant restricts the power of disposition, denies the authority of the company to utilize, except partially, for the purposes of the grant, the land granted, and might have impaired and possibly defeated the leading purpose of the grant. It subjects the paramount to the subordinate, and postpones the primary object to the secondary. On the other hand, utilizing the lands, by raising money upon them through a mortgage, or, in other words, disposing of them by mortgage, did not defeat the policy of opening the remnants not used to pre-emption.

Thus construing the last clause of the third section of the act, in connection with all the other provisions made by Congress, endeavoring to give effect to every part, and regarding the spirit as well as the letter, we are constrained to hold that the mortgage of 1867 was a disposition of the lands mortgaged within the meaning of the statute, and, consequently, that the tract of land claimed by the complainant was not open to preemption when he undertook to pre-empt it. He has, therefore, no equitable title to it.

Decree affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY, with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD and MR. JUSTICE MILLER, dissenting.

NotesEdit

^1  Supra, p. 49.

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).