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(8 Wheaton, 533.)

Discovery gives a valid title to territory occupied by uncivilized peoples.

The right of the North American Indians to the lands which they possessed was that of occupancy merely.

JUDGMENT-MARSHALL, C. J.-(Only so much of the decision is given as applies to discovery :)

“ The plaintiffs in this cause claim the land, in their declaration mentioned, under two grants, purporting to be made, the first in 1773, and the last in 1775, by the chiefs of certain Indian tribes, constituting the Illinois and the Praukeshaw nations; and the ques. tion is, whether this title can be recognized in the courts of the United States.

“ The facts, as stated in the case argued, show the authority of the chiefs who executed this conveyance so far as it could be given by their own people; and likewise show, that the particular tribes for whom these chiefs acted were in rightful possession of the land they sold. The inquiry, therefore, is, in a great measure, confined to the power of Indians to give, and of private individuals to receive, a title which can be sustained in the courts of this country.

“ As the rights of society, to prescribe those rules by which prop erty may be acquired and preserved is not, and cannot be, drawn into question; as the title to lands, especially, is and must be admitted to depend entirely upon the law of the nation in which they lie, it will be necessary, in pursuing this inquiry, to examine, not singly those principles of abstract justice, which the Creator of all things has impressed on the mind of His creature man, and which are admitted to regulate, in a great degree, the rights of civilized nations, whose perfect independence is acknowledged; but those principles also which our own government has adopted in the particular case, and given us as the rule for our decision.

“On the discovery of this immense continent the nations of Europe were eager to appropriate to themselves so much of it as they could respectively acquire. Its vast extent offered an ample field to the ambition and enterprise of all; and the character and religion of its inhabitants afforded an apology for considering them as a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency. The potentates of the old world found no difficulty in convincing themselves that they made ample compensation to the inhabitants of the new, by bestowing on them civilization and Christianity, in exchange for unlimited independence. But, as they were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle which all should acknowledge as the law by which the rights of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.

“ The exclusion of all other Europeans necessarily gave to the nation making the discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives, and establishing settlements upon it. It was a right with which no Europeans could interfere.

“ It was a right which all asserted for themselves, and to the assertion of which, by others, all assented.

“ Those relations which were to exist between the discoverer and the natives were to be regulated by themselves. The rights thus acquired being exclusive, no other power could interpose between them.

“On the establishment of these relations, the rights of the original inhabitants were, in no instance, entirely disregarded, but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired. They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion; but their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it.

“ While the different nations of Europe respected the right of the natives, as occupants, they asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves; and claimed and exercised, as a consequence of this ultimate dominion, a power to grant the soil, while yet in possession of the natives. These grants have been understood by all to convey a title to the grantees, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy.

“ The history of America, from its discovery to the present day, proves, we think, the universal recognition of these principles.


“Spain did not rest her title solely on the grant of the Pope. IIer discussions respecting boundary, with France, with Great Britain, and with the United States, all show that she placed it on the rights given by discovery. Portugal sustained her claim to the Brazils by the same title.

“ France, also, founded her title to the vast territories she claimed in America on discovery. IIowever conciliatory her conduct to the natives may have been, she still asserted her right of dominion over a great extent of country not actually settled by Frenchmen, and her exclusive right to acquire and dispose of the soil which remained in the occupation of Indians. *

“ The States of Holland also made acquisitions in America, and sustained their right on the common principle adopted by all Europe.

“ No one of the powers of Europe gave its full assent to this principle more unequivocally than England. The documents upon this subject are ample and complete. So early as the year 1496, her monarch granted a commission to the Cabots, to discover countries then unknown to Christian people, and to take possession of them in the name of the king of England. Two years afterwards, Cabot proceeded on this voyage, and discovered the continent of North America, along which he sailed as far south as Virginia. To this discovery the English trace their title.

“ In this first effort made by the English government to acquire territory on the continent, we perceive a complete recognition of the principle which has been mentioned. The right of discovery given by this commission is confined to countries “then unknown to all Christian people;' and of these countries Cabot was empowered to take possession in the name of the king of England, thus asserting a right to take possession notwithstanding the occupancy of the natives, who were heathen, and, at the same time, admitting any prior title of any Christian people who may have made a previous discovery.

“ Thus, all nations of Europe, who have acquired territory on this continent, have asserted in themselves and have recognized in others, the exclusive right of the discoverer to appropriate the lands occupied by the Indians. *

“ The power now possessed by the government of the United States to grant lands, resided, while we were colonies, in the crown, or its grantees.

“ The validity of the titles given by either has never been questioned in our courts. It has been exercised uniformly over territory in possession of the Indians. The existence of this power must negative

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the existence of any right which may conflict with, and control it. An absolute title to lands cannot exist, at the same time, in different persons, or in different governments.

“ An absolute, must be an exclusive title, or at least a title which excludes all others not compatible with it. All our institutions recognize the absolute title of the crown, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy, and recognize the absolute title of the crown to extinguish that right. This is incompatible with an absolute and complete title in the Indians."


(Wheaton's International Law, 3d. Ed. p. 220.)

Tue claim of the United States to the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and between the 420 degree and 54th degree and 40 minutes of north latitude, is rested by them upon the following grounds :

1. The first discovery of the mouth of the river Columbia by Captain Gray, of Boston, in 1792: the first discovery of the sources of that river, and the exploration of its course to the sea by Captains Lewis and Clark, in 1805-6; and the establishment of the first posts and settlements in the territory in question by citizens of the United States.

2. The virtual recognition by the British government of the title of the United States in the restitution of the settlement of Astoria or Fort George, at the mouth of the Columbia River, which had been captured by the British during the late war between the two countries, and which was restored in virtue of the 1st article of the treaty of Ghent, 1814, stipulating that “all territory, places, and possessions whatever, taken by either party from the other during the war,” etc., “shall be restored without delay.” This restitution was made without any reservation or exception whatsoever, communicated at the time to the American government.

3. The acquisition by the United States of all the titles of Spain, which titles were derived from the discovery of the coasts of the region in question, by Spanish subjects, before they had been seen by the people of any other civilized nation. By the 3d article of the treaty of 1819, between the United States and Spain, the boundary line between the two countries, west of the Mississippi, was established from the mouth of the river Sabine, to certain points on the Red River and the Arkansas, and running along the parallel of 42 degrees north to the South Sea; His Catholic Majesty ceding to the United States “all his rights, claims, and pretensions, to any territories east and north of the said line; and " renouncing " for himself, his heirs and successors, all claim to the said territories forever.” The boundary thus agreed on with Spain was confirmed by the treaty of 1828, between the United States and Mexico, which had, in the meantime, become independent of Spain.

4. Upon the ground of contiguity, which should give to the United States a stronger right to those territories than could be advanced by any other power. “If," said Mr. Gallatin, “a few trading factories on the shores of Hudson's Bay have been considered by Great Britain as giving an exclusive right of occupancy as far as the Rocky Mountains; if the infant settlements on the more southern Atlantic shores justified a claim thence to the South Seas, and which was actually enforced to the Mississippi ; that of the millions of American citizens already within reach of those seas cannot consistently be rejected. It will not be denied that the extent of contiguous country to which an actual settlement gives a prior right, must depend, in a considerable degree, on the magnitude and population of that settlement, and on the facility with which the vacant adjacent land may, within a short time, be occupied, settled, and cultivated by such population, compared with the probability of its being occupied and settled from any other quarter. This doctrine was admitted to its fullest extent by Great Britain, as appeared by all her charters, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, given to colonies established then only on the borders of the Atlantic. Ilow much more natural and stronger the claim, when made by a nation whose population extended to the central parts of the continent, and whose dominions were by all acknowledged to extend to the Rocky Mountains."

The exclusive claim of the United States is opposed by Great Britain on the following grounds :

1. That the Columbia was not discovered by Gray, who had only entered its mouth, discovered four years previously by Lieutenant Meares of the British navy; and that the exploration of the interior borders of the Columbia by Lewis and Clark could not be considered as confirming the claim of the United States, because, if not before, at least in the same and subsequent years, the British Northwest Company had, by means of their agents, already established their posts on the head waters or main branch of the river.

2. That the restitution of Astoria, in 1818, was accompanied by

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