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United States v. Executors of Hartnell

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

63 U.S. 286

United States  v.  Executors of Hartnell

THIS was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the northern district of California.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Stanton for the United States, and by Mr. Benham for the appellees.

Mr. Benham made the following points:

I. The court will not go behind the grant for the Cosumnes to entertain the question how much land Hartnell had received, because the recitals of the grant show that the law was satisfied. The grant is a judgment upon all questions of law and fact involved in the transaction which it consummated. The Mexicans always considered the granting of lands an adjudication; they spoke of them, when granted, habitually as terrenos adjudicados.

II. But if the court do entertain the question, we say:

1. The maximum restriction found in the twelfth section of the colonization law of 1824 has only the effect of forbidding the granting of more than eleven leagues in one grant. Any other construction is discountenanced by the policy and objects of that law; it could make no difference how many grants or how much land one man had, if he occupied and cultivated them.

2. The maximum restriction did not curtail Micheltorena's power. That power was extraordinary, and extended beyond what the law of 1824 gave; it applied expressly to colonization, and was coextensive with that of Santa Anna, which was de facto if not de jure dictatorial.

If Santa Anna's power was not dictatorial, he at least thought so, and Micheltorena thought so, and Micheltorena thought himself clothed with it, and exercised it to dispense with the maximum restriction. Hartnell thought so too, and gave the consideration of the grant, occupation and improvement. When the official held out that he possessed the power to grant, this court has confirmed, though he had no such power.

3. The estate was only voidable at the worst. It cannot be avoided in this proceeding. Every right or title unimpaired at date of cession, is protected.

Act 3d March, 1851, secs. 8, 11.

4. The estate is not voidable now in any proceeding. The law by which it could have been avoided is abrogated. It was political in its nature, and was abrogated upon the cession

5. The grant must be confirmed for all the land. It is a patent. It can only be contradicted by matter of record. There is no matter of record which has that effect. The non-approval by the Departmental Assembly, as has been shown, though it may be regarded as matter of records, is not effectual to contradict it, because that act is not competent to divest the estate.

The other patent, (for Todos Santos y San Antonio,) which disclosed the fact that Hartnell had already received a large quantity of land, cannot be entertained as evidence for that purpose. It is dehors the patent for the Cosumnes land. If our patent for Cosumnes granted more than eleven leagues, then the illegality might be considered; but being legal on its face, it cannot be invalidated but by judgment in denouncement or office found. Our allegation that we have had more land has no effect, for the question is not involved in the case.

4 Bibb, p. 330.

7 B. Monroe, p. 81.

6. The grant must be confirmed, because the court cannot know whether the grant for Todos Santos y San Antonio will be confirmed or not. The decree of the District Court dismissed so much of the appeal as affected Todos Santos y San Antonio, as has been stated; and if prosecuted, if had to be done in the southern district of California. Whether any appeal has been taken from the land commission's decree relative to that grant does not appear, nor can appear, as no new evidence can be taken here.

7. The maximum restriction did not affect the validity of the grant. On the contrary, the grant was good in every part. No invalidity could attach to the grant as affecting any particular portion of the land, until some proceeding, diminishing the quantity, and segregating the portion withdrawn from the residue, was had.

8. The maximum restriction did not apply to Mexican citizens.

Mr. Justice CATRON delivered the opinion of the court.


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).