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U.S. Supreme Court

Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company v. Litchfield, 64 U.S. 23 How. 66 66 (1859)

Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company v. Litchfield

4 U.S. (23 How.) 66


On the 8th of August, 1846, a grant of land was made to the Territory of Iowa for the purpose of aiding said territory to improve the navigation of the Des Moines River, from its mouth to the Raccoon Fork, in said territory, one equal moiety, in alternate sections, 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 said river, to be selected within said territory by an agent to be appointed by the governor thereof, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

On the 15th of May, 1856, Congress passed in act granting to the State of Iowa, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of a railroad from Dubuque to a point on the Missouri near Sioux City, every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers, for six sections in width on each side of said road.

The State of Iowa regranted the lands to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company.

The land in question is claimed under these two acts by the parties respectively. The title held under the act of 1846 must prevail, provided the grant extended to lands above the Raccoon Fork.

This Court has jurisdiction to construe this act in the case now before it, the proceedings before the Executive Department, extending through more than ten years, not being sufficient either to conclude the title or to control the construction of the act.

Those proceedings stated.

The grant was confined to lands between the mouth of Des Moines River and Raccoon Fork; that was the river to be improved, on each side of which the strip of land granted was to lie. The historical circumstances connected with the grant sustain this view.

All grants of this description are strictly construed against the grantees; nothing passes but what is conveyed in clear and explicit language, and as the rights here claimed are derived entirely from the act of Congress, the donation stands on the same footing of a grant by the public to a private company, the terms of which must be plainly expressed in the statute, and if not thus expressed, they cannot be implied.

The claimant, under the act of 1846, cannot be considered as an innocent purchaser. The act of Congress was a grant to Iowa of an undivided moiety of the lands below Raccoon Fork, and the officers of the Executive Department had no further authority than to make partition of those lands. Having extended their acts to lands lying outside of the boundaries, their attempts to make partition were merely nugatory.

The Court is satisfied from evidence before it that this is not merely a fictitious action.

Page 64 U. S. 67

In order that the reader may the more readily understand the question involved, he is requested to make a quasi-map for himself according to the following directions:

Take a page of paper, upon the eastern and western sides of which draw two lines from north to south, the former representing the Mississippi and the latter the Missouri Rivers. Then draw four parallel lines, equidistant from each other, from east to west, calling the southern the state line, the next above it the "first correction line," the third the "second correction line," and the fourth the "north boundary of Iowa." Then draw a diagonal line from the northwest to the southeast corner, which may be supposed to represent the Des Moines River. From the southeast corner, make a dotted line on each side of, and at a small distance from, the diagonal line, as far as the intersection with the first correctional line, at which is the Raccoon Fork. The space included within these dotted lines is conceded to have been granted by the act of 1846. Continue these dotted lines to the second correctional line, and the space thus included will cover lands which have been conditionally certified by the United States, and which are also claimed under the construction of the grant of 1846, as contended for by the counsel of Litchfield, the defendant in error. Continuing still further the dotted lines to the boundary, they will include the land which the same construction would give to the claimants under the act of 1846, who contended for the right of running up the river from its mouth upon both sides of it.

Now draw two dotted lines from east to west on each side of the second correctional line, which will include the grant to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company, and within the space where these dotted lines clash, was the land in dispute, viz., section one, in township eighty-eight north, range twenty-nine west of the fifth principal meridian. It was conceded in the argument that Litchfield, who brought the suit, was entitled to recover if the grant of 1846 ran up the river above the Raccoon Fork. The claim of the railroad company was

Page 64 U. S. 68

that the grant did not extend above that point, in which case their title to the section in controversy was undoubted. There was an agreed statement of facts in the court below, which covered upwards of forty pages of the record. The court decided that the right to the land claimed was in the plaintiff; from which decision the railroad company brought the case up to this Court.

Page 64 U. S. 83

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