United States v. Boisdoré/Dissent McLean

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions

Mr. Justice McLEAN.

In the opinion of a majority of the court, the grant in this case is rejected, for a want of certainty in its calls. As I cannot agree with this view, I will state, in few words, the grounds of my dissent.

The petition to the Governor-General for the grant represents that Louis Boisdoré, "being desirous to form a plantation or cow-pen in the vicinity of the Bay of St. Louis, at the place commonly called Achoucoupoulous," &c., that he may be enabled to employ all his negroes thereon, and to support a large stock of cattle, prays, "in consideration of what is above expressed and stated, and of the benefit which will result to the capital from a large cow-pen, such as that he had commenced to establish at and near said place, to grant him the parcel of land which may be vacant at the above-mentioned place known by the name of Achoucoupoulous, to commence at the plantation of Philip Saucier, and to run therefrom to the Bayou of Mosquito Village, formerly inhabited by Mr. Loisser, and extending in depth to Pearl River, that he may be enabled to form with facility the above-mentioned plantation and cow-pen for the whole of his family," &c., and is dated 1st April, 1783.

On the 26th of April, 1783, Governor Miro, resident at New Orleans, answers the application by saying: "It appearing to me that the grounds and reasons stated by the petitioner are well founded, in relation to the utility and advantages which will result to the capital from the establishment of a cow-pen in those places which are badly adapted to cultivation, the surveyor of the Province, Don Carlos Laveau Trudeau, shall establish Louis Boisdoré on the tract of land which he solicits in the antecedent memorial, situated at the place commonly called Achoucoupoulous, the front thereof to commence from the plantation of Philip Saucier, and inhabitant of said place, and running to the Bayou of Mosquito Village, and extending in depth to Pearl River, should the same be vacant, and cause injury to no one of the surrounding settlers, either in the front or the depth thereof; whose proceedings shall be made out and signed by him with the before-mentioned persons, and sent to me to furnish the party interested with a title in form."

This tract of land seems never to have been actually surveyed. On the 4th of April, 1808, Gilberto Guillemard applied to the Intendant-General at Pensacola for an order of [p98] survey, representing that Trudeau, the surveyor, by reason of the expense and his pressing duties, had not executed the survey, and a request is made that Pintado, the present surveyor, may mark out the boundaries, &c. The application was granted, but Pintado, instead of making an actual survey, marked out a figurative plan by which the distances could be ascertained. He says: "Two years having elapsed without being able, from the emergency of my business, to attend personally to make out the boundaries, and to make the survey required; and not having at the said place a deputy to execute the same; and that the heirs claiming the same may have an authentic document issued in their favor from which may be made appear the right of property and ownership which to the said lands they have and hold in virtue of the said grants; and also the shape and figure which the said tract of land ought to have," &c.

The boundaries, as above designated by Pintado, are shown by a plat in the case. It is true, that the above proceeding in relation to the survey took place after the surrender of Louisiana to the United States, which terminated all foreign power over the territory, but the proceeding shows that there was no forfeiture under the Spanish government, for the want of a survey, or on any other ground; and it also shows that the places called for in the grant were deemed sufficiently certain by Pintado, the Surveyor-General, to make the survey.

What was the nature of the title given by Miro, the Governor-General, to Boisdoré? He petitioned the Governor for a "grant" of the land at the place named, for the purposes stated. The Governor, admitting that "the grounds and reasons stated by the petitioner were well founded, and that his proposal was advantageous to the capital," directed the surveyor of the Province, Don Carlos Laveau Trudeau, to establish the petitioner on the land he solicits, designating the boundaries, &c. If there be sufficient certainty in the boundaries called for, there can be no doubt that the grant of the Governor separates the land from the public domain, and that, in every view, constitutes property under the treaty with France. There were no conditions expressed upon the face of this grant. The consideration is named, but not as a condition.

The petition which is referred to in the grant constitutes a part of it. The vicinity of the Bay of St. Louis, the place known by the name of Achoucoupoulous, the plantation of Saucier as the beginning point called for, "and to run therefrom to the Bayou of Mosquito Village, and extending in depth to Pearl River";—all these calls are identified, and shown by parol evidence and the maps which are in the case. [p99] And the great question is, whether, from the calls of the grant, the survey can be executed. These calls are clear and specific. They are the plantation of Philip Saucier, on the Bay of St. Louis, the rivulet or Bayou of the Village of Mosquitos, in the district called Achoucoupoulous, and extending in depth to Pearl River. All these calls are proved to exist, and they are more special than nine tenths of the calls in the Spanish grants which have been confirmed.

Pintado, by his figurative plan embracing those calls, seems to have had no difficulty in directing how the survey should be made. And he was the Surveyor-General of the Province under the Spanish government, and may be presumed to have been well acquainted with the Spanish laws and usages on the subject of surveys. Morales, who sanctioned the grant in 1808 by ordering the survey, was Intendant-General, and had the same powers to grant land as the Governor-General previously had, and he was distinguished for his general intelligence and high capacity to represent his sovereign in the important duties which were committed to him. The grant was also sanctioned by Juan Lozado, the fiscal minister pro tem., to whom the petition of Guillemard in behalf of Boisdoré's representatives was referred, and who recommended that the survey be made.

L. Bringier, a witness, states, "that he has been a surveyor for upwards of thirty years, and for more than twenty-five years Surveyor-General of the State of Louisiana, during which period he has had the records of Spanish surveys in his charge, and had frequent occasion to refer to them, and survey lands in conformity to them; that he understands the Spanish language; and he says that he agrees with Pintado as to the mode of running the lines of the survey. He thinks the description of the grant is sufficient to enable a surveyor to make an accurate survey of it," &c.

Elihu Carver, who says that he is a practical surveyor, on being asked how he would survey a Spanish concession which calls for two points as the front upon the sea-shore or a water-course, and calls to run in depth to another water-course for quantity, answers "that he would run from one of the first points back to the watercourse a distance equal to the front given, thence direct to the last point in the front." He says that he has surveyed many Spanish claims, and, except one, he never found the boundaries all round. That he does not pretend to be sufficiently acquainted with the Spanish customs and usages to pronounce upon the claim in question.

B. A. Ludlow states, that he is a practical surveyor, and has held the office of Surveyor-General for the district south of Tennessee. He has examined the survey of Boisdoré, and be- [p100] lieves the survey to be practicable, provided the plantation of Philip Saucier and the Bayou of Mosquito Village can be identified. "The survey should be made," he says, "by finding a straight line between the above-mentioned points, and raising perpendiculars upon said line, at its extremities, extending back to Pearl River," &c. "Exceptions to this rule," he says, "sometimes occur by watercourses or the lines of other claims causing a deviation," &c. He says he is familiar with the seashore which constitutes the front of the Boisdoré claim. From his general knowledge of the country, he can see no material difficulty in making the survey of the claim, &c.

A. Downing has been many years a practical surveyor, and has held the office of Surveyor-General of the public lands for the State of Mississippi. He says, "the phrase in the grant to Boisdoré, "the front thereof to commence from the plantation of Philip Saucier," and "running to the Bayou of Mosquito Village," is not sufficiently definite to enable a surveyor to fix upon a beginning point or corner; both the beginning point and the front line seem to be left to the discretion of the surveyor, and it is questionable whether any two surveyors would settle upon the same point for a beginning. I certainly could not adopt the view of Pintado, the Spanish Surveyor-General, for in the diagram filed in the case, and to which he refers in his instructions, he places what should be the most easterly front corner on the back line of the Saucier plantation." And he says the side line "from the mouth of the Bayou of the Mosquito Village, at right angles from a base line between the front corners, would, apparently for several miles, range close along and parallel with the east margin of Pearl River, and consequently conflict with the uniform practice of the location and survey of grants upon all navigable streams and shores."

This is the substance of the evidence in the case in relation to the calls in the grant. And it must be remarked, that all the witnesses, with the exception of Downing, think that the calls of the grant are sufficient to enable a surveyor to mark out the boundaries. Downing supposes that no two surveyors would agree on the beginning corner, or as to the second point and lines called for. But in this he is mistaken. In the first place, the Spanish authorities who held the calls of the grant sufficient are Miro, the Governor-General who issued it, and Morales, the Intendant-General, Trudeau and Pintado, surveyors-general, and Lozado, the fiscal minister. These, when connected with the statements of the above witnesses, would seem to leave little doubt as to the sufficiency of the calls of the grant.

[p101] Upon this question we must not forget that we are acting upon a Spanish grant, and are governed by Spanish laws, usages, and customs. And if such a grant were valid under the Spanish government, and there has been no forfeiture of the right, we are bound by the plighted faith of our own government to sustain the grant. And in administering this foreign law, we must ascertain and regard the usages under it, in the acquisition of titles to land. This is a universal principle, respected by all courts, in the administration of justice. Parol evidence must be heard to establish those usages, in addition to what may appear from the action of the local tribunals. In the States of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and in a large district of country in Ohio, the usages in making entries and surveys of lands constitute the laws of the respective States, the usage of each State differing more or less from that of the others. One instance only will be named as peculiar, perhaps, to Kentucky and Ohio. The holder of a warrant for one thousand acres locates it, and in his survey includes fifteen hundred acres of land, more or less, and yet his survey is held valid. This, to one wholly unacquainted with such a rule of decision, would be thought unreasonable, and might be disregarded; and yet it is a rule of property which no court can reject.

To establish entries under this system parol evidence is always heard, as to the calls made, and the objects called for, &c. And although the survey may deviate from the calls of the entry, it is held valid, if it interfere with no prior rights. This rule of decision, so firmly established in our own country, should be applied with an enlarged liberality when acting on land titles acquired under a foreign government, of whose language and usages we have comparatively but little knowledge. The act of Congress of the 26th of May, 1824, revived and applied to these titles by the act of the 17th of June, 1844, under which we exercise jurisdiction, provides that a claimant under "any French or Spanish grant, concession, warrant, or order of survey, legally made, granted, or issued before the 10th of March, 1804, by the proper authorities, to any person resident in the Province of Louisiana," &c., "which might have been perfected into a complete title, under and in conformity to the laws, usages, and customs of the government under which the same originated, had not the sovereignty of the country been transferred to the United States, may file his petition," &c. And the proceeding is required "to be conducted according to the rules of a court of equity," &c.; and the court is authorized "by a final decree to settle and determine the question of the validity of the title, according to the law of nations, the stipu- [p102] lations of any treaty, and proceedings under the same, the several acts of Congress in relation thereto, and the laws and ordinances of the government from which it is alleged to have been derived," &c.

I will refer to some cases where grants similar to the one under consideration have been held valid by this court. In the United States v. Percheman, 7 Peters 54, the petitioner asked "two thousand acres of land in the place called Ockliwaha, situated on the margin of St. John's River." Governor Estrada says, "I do grant him the two thousand acres of land which he solicits, in absolute property, in the indicated place." The survey of this land was not executed until the 20th of August, 1819, after the treaty of cession. The title was confirmed by this court.

In the case of the United States v. Clarke, 8 Peters, 446, the petitioner solicited a grant of the quantity of land which the Governor of Florida had thought proper to assign to the water-mills, equivalent to five miles square; which lands he solicits "on the western part of St. John's River, above Black Creek, at a place entirely vacant, known by the name of White Spring." In the grant it is declared, "A title shall be issued comprehending the place and under the boundaries set forth in the petition." This was also confirmed.

In the case of the United States v. Levi, 8 Peters, 479, the grant was "for twenty-five thousand acres of land, south of the place known by the name of Spring Garden, in this form: twelve thousand acres of them, adjoining the lake or pond called Second, and known by the name of Valdes, and the remaining thirteen thousand acres on the pond farther above the preceding, known by the name of Long Pond, the whole west of the River St. John." The survey was executed on the 2d of August, 1819. This court confirmed the title. Another grant in the same case was for "seven thousand four hundred acres, lying on a stream running from the west, and entering the River St. John, and called in English the Big Spring, about twenty-five miles south of St. George's Lake, one of the fronts of the said tract to be on St. John's River, and to be divided in two parts by the stream aforesaid." This survey was made on the 5th of April, 1821. The title was confirmed.

In the same case another grant, which was confirmed by this court, was for eight thousand acres, being part of a larger parcel containing ten thousand acres, &c., "five thousand of them in a hammock to be found five or six miles east of Spring Garden, and the remaining five thousand west of the River St. John, contiguous to a creek called Black Creek, near Fleming's Island and the pond called Doctor's Lake."

[p103] Another grant in the same case was confirmed for "twenty thousand acres," described as lying "in the hammocks known under the names of Cuscowillo and Chachala, situate west of the place of the River St. John's where there was a store of the house of Panton, Leslie, & Co., and about thirty miles from it."

Similar citations might be made from any of our reports of the last fifteen or twenty years, but the above are sufficient to show the course of the Spanish authorities in granting lands, and the decision of this court upon such grants. Many of the surveys, it will be observed, were made under Spanish authority, after Florida was ceded to the United States.

The reader, if any one shall read the above citations and the grant of Boisdoré, will be struck with the much greater certainty in the calls of his grant, than in the calls of any one of the grants above stated. And yet they were confirmed, and his is rejected for want of certainty. By virtue of what law this greater certainty is now required in the calls of a grant I am not able to determine. In my own mind I am assured it cannot be under the Spanish law. And I am greatly mistaken if our decision on Spanish titles must not rest on Spanish law.

The tract claimed is said in the argument to be large. Of what importance is that to a court which deals with established principles? In this respect we can exercise no discretion. If the claim of Boisdoré was property under the Spanish government, it is protected by the treaty. That it was so considered under the usages and acts of the Spanish government, to my mind, is clear. I therefore dissent from the judgment of the court.