Platt v. Union Pacific Railroad Company/Dissent Bradley

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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 48

Platt  v.  Union Pacific Railroad Company

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

I dissent from the judgment of the court in this case. In the third section of the original charter, after granting to the company five alternate sections of public land on each side of its line of railroad, to aid in the construction thereof, it was provided that all lands so granted, which should not be sold or disposed of by the company within three years after the entire road should have been completed, should be subject to settlement and pre-emption, like other lands, at a price not exceeding $1.25 per acre, to be paid to the company. The appellant, after the three years had expired, settled upon the land in question and claimed pre-emption of the same; and offered to the company the price specified in the statute. The latter refused to receive the money or to recognize his right, alleging that it had disposed of the lands in 1867 by executing a mortgage for its entire land grant to secure a loan of $7,000,000. The question is, whether such mortgage is a sale or disposition of the lands within the meaning of the proviso of the third section. I think it is not. In my judgment, Congress had in view such a sale and disposition of the lands as would secure a settlement thereof. The object was to encourage a speedy settlement of the country along the line of the road; and hence it was provided, if the company did not so dispose of them, they should be open to settlers, at the usual prices, reserving to the company, however, the right to receive the purchase-money for the same. If the company, by one sweeping deed of trust, or mortgage, could cover the whole domain as with a blanket, and thus prevent a settlement thereon until the lands, by advance of prices, would be out of the reach of actual settlers desirous of occupying and improving them, it seems to me it would entirely defeat the objects of the act.

It is said, however, that if the company could not mortgage the lands they could not make use of them in aid of the construction of the road, the purpose for which they were expressly granted. I do not think this result would by any means follow. The fourth section provides for granting to the company patents for a proportionate part of the lands, for every forty miles of railroad which should be completed. As fast, therefore, as the successive forty-mile sections should be completed, it was contemplated by the act that the company should have control of the lands to that extent. This would constantly subject to their use large tracts, which, if disposed of, according to the intent of Congress, would have effected a rapid settlement of the adjacent country in all portions of the route which were adapted to cultivation.

The criticism that the words 'sold or disposed of' mean something more than 'sold,' and can only mean a mortgage of the lands, I do not conceive to be just, but rather as sticking in the bark. Reading the whole act together, I think the only fair construction is that which is above suggested.

The objection that the right of pre-emption contended for would have prevented the company from giving a mortgage at all is not tenable. The mortgagees take the mortgage subject to the provisions of the act. It contains a proviso to this express effect. The lands were mortgaged cum onere, and the mortgagees, if so stipulated, would be entitled to the purchase-money receivable from settlers. This view of the subject would effectuate justice between all the parties, preserve the true construction of the act, and carry out the policy of Congress.

In view of these considerations, I think that the decree should be reversed, and that the appellant, the complainant below, should be declared to be equitably entitled to the land in question.


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).