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sidered as concluded and disposed of by President Van Buren's order of the 4th of December, 1838. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
REVERDY JOHNSON. To the PRESIDENT.
PATENT FOR LAND AT THE HOT SPRINGS, IN ARKANSAS.
A patent should issue to Henry M. Rector pursuant to a certificate issued to him on the 24th of November, 1818, and located on land at the Hot Springs, in Arkansas.
ATTORNEY GENERAL's Office,
April 29, 1850. Sır : I have carefully considered the claim you have submitted to this office, of Henry M. Rector, for a patent under a location certificate dated the 24th November, 1818, issued to one Francis Langlais, and located on the Hot Springs, in Arkansas, on the 27th January, 1819, and am clearly of the opinion that the patent should issue. I came to this conclusion some time since, after full investigation, but delayed expressing it to you until I could hear from all parties, or their agents, who had an interest adverse to the claim.
This I have recently done, and, after giving the question a second careful consideration, I entertain very decidedly, and with a perfect conviction that I am right, the opinion I at first formed.
The reasons which have led me to it I will give, in detail, the moment my duties in the Supreme Court are terminated; but, in the mean time, I advise that the patent be granted. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
RÉVERDY JOHNSON. Hon. T. Ewing
Secretary of the Interior.
PATENT FOR LAND AT THE HOT SPRINGS, IN ARKANSAS. A patent should issue to Henry M. Rector, pursuant to a certificate issued to him on the 24th of
November, 1818, and located on land at the Hot Springs, in Arkansas; he being entitled thereto under the act of 19th March, 1843.
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE,
May 2, 1850. Sir: In the opinion I sent you the other day, I did not state the ground on which I mainly formed it.
This I do now, as far as I have leasure. It is this: that, waiving all the grounds of title in Rector to the patent claimed, he is entitled to it by virtue of the act of the 19th of March, 1843. As I stated in my note to you of the other day, I repeat, that of the correctness of this view I have not the shadow of a doubt, and that I hope the patent may be granted. I will avail myself of the first leisure after the adjournment of the Supreme Court to assign my reasons at length. With regard, your obedient servant,
REVERDY JOHNSON. Hon. T. EWING,
Secretary of the Interior,
RIGHTS TO BOUNTY LAND WARRANTS NOT DEVISABLE.
Soldiers entitled to bounty lands under the act of 11th February, 1847, but who have not received
warrants therefor, cannot dispose of their rights to such land or scrip by will.
issued, that they shall be issued in favor of, and enure to, the benefit of their families or rela-
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE,
June 28, 1850. Sir: The question you have submitted to this office, upon the 9th section of the act of the 11th February, 1847, (Session Laws, p. 125,) has been considered. It is, whether the soldier to whom bounty is promised by this section can dispose of it by last will, when he dies before the certificate or warrant issues to him? I think not.
The construction of the Pension Office has, I understand, been uniformly in accordance with this view; and, in my opinion, that construction is the proper one.
Neither the words of the law, nor its object, admit of any other. In the contingency of the death, which the question assumes, the direction of the law is positive that the “certificate or warrant shall be issued in favor and enure to the benefit of his (the soldier's) family or relations,” according to certain prescribed rules of priority.
The supplementary act of the 27th of May,1848, (Session Laws, p. 232.) changes these, but not so as to affect this question.
It also directs that “all sales, mortgages, powers, or other instruments of writing, made or executed prior to the issue of such warrant or certificate, shall be null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever," and that the land shall not, in the hands of the family, “be in any wise affected by or charged with, or subject to, the payment of any debt or claim incurred by the soldier prior to the issuing of such certificate or warrant."
The clear design was to secure the bounty to the family of the deceased in all cases where that event should occur antecedent to the actual grant to him of the title. The whole was but bounty. It was for Congress to give it at once and absolutely to the soldier, or qualifiedly, or condition. ally. They have manifestly designed to vest the entire bounty in the family in all cases of death before, by being actually granted to the ancestor, it becomes thereby absolutely vested in him. With this view, they not only, in such a contingency, provide that the certificate and warrant shall “ be issued in favor and enure to the benefit” of the family or relatives, but that it shall not in any way be responsible in their hands for “any debt or claim" of the ancestor, previously incurred, or be affected by any kind of contract or conveyance which he may have made.
The terms in which this last provision is made are sufficiently comprehensive to embrace a devise, as well as a disposition, to take effect in the lifetime, and, of course, exclude the bounty from its operation.
I am clear, therefore, in the opinion that the construction of the Pension Office is the correct and the only one of which the section is susceptible. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
REVERDY JOHNSON. Hon. Thomas Ewing,
Secretary of the Interior.
THE GRANT OF LAND ON DES MOINES RIVER TO IOWA.
The grant of alternate sections of land on Des Moines river to Iowa, by the act of 8th August,
1846, extends the entire length of the stream, as well above as below the Raccoon fork. The purpose of the grant was to aid Iowa to improve the navigation of the said river from its
mouth to the Raccoon fork ; but the grant itself is not limited to the section to be thus im
proved. But the question was disposed of by a former Secretary of the Treasury whilst the Land Office
belonged to his department, and the subject is now res judicata, and beyond the control of the Secretary of the Interior. (Bank of the Metropolis ds. the United States, 15 Peters, 401.)
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE,
July 19, 1850. Sir: The questions presented in the matter of the Des Moines grant, made to the territory of Iowa by the act of Congress of the 8th of August, 1846, upon which, under an appeal to your predecessor from the decision of the Secretary of the Interior, he required the opinion of this office, are
1st. What is the extent of the grant? and
2d. Had it been finally adjudicated before the decision appealed from was made ?
First, then, is the strip five miles in width on each side of the Des Moines river granted, limited in length to what is called the Raccoon fork; or is the grant co-extensive with the length of the river? The grant is made by the first section of the act, and is in these words: “There be and hereby is granted to the Territory of Iowa, for the purpose of aiding said Territory to improve the navigation of Des Moines river from its mouth to the Raccoon fork, (so called,) in said Territory, one moiety of the public lands remaining unsold and not otherwise disposed of, encumbered, or appropriated, in a strip of five miles in width on each side of said river, to be selected by an agent or agents to be appointed by the Governor of said Territory, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States." The Commissioner of the Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior think that the Raccoon fork is the limit of the grant, and its northern terminus.
I do not concur in this view. In my opinion, the fork is mentioned only as the point to which, from the mouth of the river, the improvement of the navigation of the river is to be made. The true reading of the act, I think, is that the land is to run the entire length of the river within the then territory of Iowa, and the object to be accomplished by it the improvement of the navigation up to the fork.
The purpose is one thing, the extent of the grant another. It is by confounding the two in themselves, as stated in the act, wholly distinct, and considering them as limiting each other, that the error of the opposite construction consists. They have, in my judgment, nothing to do with each other. This will, perhaps, be made the more obvious by transposing the language of the act. Place the terms of the grant first, and those of the purpose of making it lost, and the meaning is apparent. It would then read, "there be, and hereby is, granted to the Territory of Iowa one moiety of the public lands remaining unsold and not otherwise disposed of, encumbered, or appropriated, in a strip five miles in width, on each side of the Des Moines river, to be selected, &c., for the purpose of aiding said Territory to improve the navigation,” of said river, “from its mouth to the Raccoon fork, so called, in said Territory.”
If these were the terms of the grant, no doubt could exist, I think, that the only limit of it was the river; and yet I cannot see that the meaning is not precisely the same of the terms actually adopted. The river limits the grant, although a portion only of the river is to be improved.
The other interpretation requires, to maintain it, that you add to the words adopted, describing the extent of the grant, “ five miles in width on each side of said river," the other words, “ from its mouth to the Raccoon fork,” previously used but to describe the extent of the improvement. Where is the authority for such an interpretation? Where the words of a statute are clear, it is contrary to every rule of construction to supply others on the conjecture that they were accidentally omitted. The inference, when those used are unambiguous, is, that the legislature meant precisely, and only meant, what they import.
But the 3d section strengthens, I think, my opinion upon the first. By that it is provided “that the said river Des Moines be and forever remain a public highway for the use of the government of the United States," &c. What is the extent of this stipulation? Is it that the highway on the river is restricted to the fork, or co-extensive with the river? I think there can be no doubt that the latter is the true meaning; and if it be, it is only because there is nothing to limit the provision to any part of the river; and yet, the words are in this respect the same as those used in the grant in the first section. It is supposed that this construction is erroneous because, to the report of the committee of the House respecting the bill before introduced and referred to them, there is attached a letter from the Commissioner of the Land Office, stating that it extended to the Raccoon fork. When the words of a statute are doubtful, it is legitimate to refer to such sources of information. But when it is otherwise-when there is no ambiguity, as I think is the case within this statute, there is no warrant for qualifying them by reports, or speeches, or votes, which may have preceded its passage. This doctrine is clearly recognised by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Aldridge vs. Williams, (3 Howard, 24.)
Nor is there any thing in the objection that the improvement is limited, and that that should be held to limit the grant. The fact is not so. The lands of the United States throughout the extent of the river will feel the benefit of the improvement in an enhancement of value. The whole river, therefore, participates in the advantage of the work; and, upon the very policy which has beretofore governed Congress in such cases, it is fair to presume that the lands granted were limited by the whole river, and not by a part of it. Nor do I think that it is consonant with the policy of such dispositions of the public lands to bring to the statutes by which they were made a narrow construction. It is a large and enlightened policy, ever favored by Congress, and should be executed even in cases of doubt rather in a large and liberal than a restricted spirit.
Secondly, I am of opinion that the question had been finally adjudicated by the Secretary of the Treasury before it was decided by the Secretary of the Interior. The facts are these: The Commissioner of the Land Office, who had originally construed the grant as I do, changed his opinion, and advertised for sale, in the usual way, the lands above the fork. As soon
as this was known, the senators and representatives of Iowa, on the 8th of January, 1849, on an appeal taken to Mr. Walker, complained of the construction, and requested him to give the necessary instructions for the selection and approval of these lands along the entire route of the Des Moines, as contemplated by law," and the question was carefully considered by the Secretary, and decided by him on the 2d of March, 1849. On that day he advised those gentlemen of the decision, and communicated it on the same day to the Commissioner in an official letter, now on file with the papers, for, to use the language of the letter, the "information and government of that officer" on the subject to which it refers.
From that time to the recent opposite opinion of the present Commissioner, the question was considered as closed by the decision of Mr. Walker. This appears from the report of R. M. Young, afterwards transmitted to Congress; and also by a report of the present Commissioner, transmitted to the Senate by the Secretary of the Interior on the 21st of that month. (Ex. Doc., 1st Sess., 31st Congress, No. 17.) In this report, showing the amount of public land granted to lowa among other States, there is attached this note: “ The amount, in accordance with the decision of the late Secretary of the Treasury of the 2d of March, 1849, will be increased by the unadjusted portion of the grant for the improvement of the Des Monies river, situated between the Raccoon fork and the source of said river, estimated to contain 900,000 acres.”
The design of the Secretary himself to have decided it, and his belief that he had so decided, appears by a letter from him to the senators of the State, now on file, dated the 15th instant, and hereunto annexed. Upon the faith of this determination I am advised that the proper authorities of the State have entered into large contracts for the improvement of the river; and it would therefore, I think, be the extreme of injustice now to revoke it. And I am, therefore, glad to be of the opinion that it cannot be legally revoked. It was a final adjudicationso considered by all parties—by the Secretary—by the Commissioner of the Land Office; and so acted upon by lowa, whether right or not is now immaterial. It is beyond the control of the Secretary of the Interior, the successor in this respect of Mr. Walker, and of any other executive officer. (Bank of the Metropolis vs. the United States, 15 Peters, 401.) I have the honor to be, with high regard, your obedient servant,
REVERDY JOHNSON. To the PRESIDENT.