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Law School Case Brief

Pollard v. Hagan - 44 U.S. (3 How.) 212 (1845)


It was the intention of the United States and the ceding states to invest the United States with the eminent domain of the country ceded, both national and municipal, for the purposes of temporary government, and to hold it in trust for the performance of the stipulations and conditions expressed in the deeds of cession and the legislative acts connected with them. When the United States accepted the cession of the territory, they took upon themselves the trust to hold the municipal eminent domain for the new states, and to invest them with it, to the same extent, in all respects, that it was held by the states ceding the territories.


Plaintiff claimants filed an ejectment suit claiming ownership of the property in dispute under a patent from the United States. The trial court instructed the jury that if it believed that the property was below the usual high-water mark, at the time Alabama was admitted to the union, then the patent gave plaintiffs no title. Judgment was rendered in favor of the defendant and the Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed.


Was the United States authorized to grant the land in controversy to the plaintiff?




The United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the state supreme court, concluding that the United States never held any municipal sovereignty, jurisdiction, or right of soil in Alabama, except for temporary purposes. When Alabama was admitted to the union, all that remained to the United States was the public lands. Congress had no authority to grant to plaintiffs the land in controversy. Alabama owned the navigable waters, and the soils under them.

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