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• JUDGE PECK.
MARCH 23, 1830. Read, and committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union.
Mr. BUCHANAN, from the Committee on the Judiciary, to which had been
referred the memorial of Luke E. Lawless, complaining of the official conduct of James H. Peck, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the District of Missouri, made the following
The Committee on the Judiciary, to which was referred the memorial of
Luke E. Lawless, complaining of the official conduct of James H. Peck, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the district of Missouri, report:
That, in consequence of the evidence collected by them, in virtue of the powers with which they have been invested by the House, and which is hereunto subjoined, they are of opinion, that James H. Peck, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the district of Missouri, be impeached of high misdemeanors in office.
AN ABSTRACT OF THE CASE OF Julie Soulard, widow, James G. Soul-) ard, and others, heirs and legal re- i
esentatives of Antoine Soillard, In the District Court of Missouri. deceased,
vs. - The United States.
(In which the opinion of Judge Peck, referred to and printed as part of the evidence, was pronounced. Prepared from the record, by C. A. Wickliffe, under the direction of the committee.)
The petition of Soulard's heirs was filed on the 22d August, 1824, against the United States, in the District Court of Missouri, claiming ten thousand arpents of land, under a Spanish concession, which petition was amended at the November term, 1824, by leave of the court.
At the March term, 1825, the United States, by her attorney, filed in court their answer to the said petition. And at the same term, an issue of fact was submitted to the jury in these words:
“Was there such concession made to Antoine Soulard as in complainants' bill alleged?” The jury found there was a concession, as alleged in complainants' bill. The cause was then heard in chief upon the depositions and documents filed, which are spread at length upon the record.
On the fourth Monday in December, 1825, the Judge of the District Court pronounced the following decree:
" And thereupon this cause was continued under advisement, from term to term, until the December term of said court, being the fourth Monday of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twentyfive, at which day the said cause coming on to be debated and heard in the presence of the counsel for the petitioners, and of the attorney of the United States for the District of Missouri, on the petition, the answer and the testimony which is embodied in the record, it appears that the petition sets forth, in substance, that, some time in the month of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety six, Antoine Soulard, the ancestor of the present petitioners, being then a resident of the province of Upper Louisiana, and Surveyor General of the same under the Spanish Government, presented his petition to the then Lieutenant Governor of said province, Don Zenon Trudeau, praying the grant of a tract of ten thousand arpents of land, to be located on any vacant part of the royal domain. That, in compliance with the said petition, and in order to remunerate the services of said petitioner, the said Don Zenon Trudeau, Lieutenant Governor, did, about the time aforesaid, grant to the said petitioner ten thousand arpents of land, and by said decree of concession, did order the said quantity to be located, surveyed on any vacant part of the royal domain in said province, at the election of said petitioner. That the said quantity of land was, afterwards, on the twentieth day of February, one thousand eight hundred and four, surveyed and located by the deputy surveyor, Don Santiago Rankin, on a vacant part of the public land, situate about fifteen miles West of the Mississippi river, and scventy miles North of the town of St. Louis, on a branch of the river Cuivre, and bounded as follows: commencing at a point in the Northeast quarter of section twentyfive, township fifty-one North, range three West, runs thence North, sixtyeight East, three hundred and seventeen chains eight links, to a point in the Northeast quarter of section fourteen, township fifty-one North, range two West; thence, North twenty-two West, two hundred and fourteen chains and sixteen links, to a point in the Southeast quarter of section thirty-four, township fifty-two North, range two West; thence, South sixty-eight West, three hundred and seventeen chains and eight links, to a point in the Southeast quarter of section eleven, township fifty-one North, range three West; thence, South twenty-two East, two hundred and fourteen chains sixteen links, to the place of beginning. And that a certificate of said survey was duly made and recorded in the book of record of surveys kept by the said petitioner, as surveyor as aforesaid. That before the time when claims should have been filed, pursuant to the act of Congress of the second of March, one thousand eight hundred and five, the said decree of concession and certificate of survey were, by mistake, thrown into the fire and destroyed. That, in consequence of the destruction of said concession and certificate of survey, the said petitioner considered that he was excluded from the benefit of the act of Congress passed for the relief of land claimants, and omitted to file any notice of his claim, and has thereby been deprived of the benefit of the laws heretofore passed by Congress. That, of the said tract of land,
one thousand nine hundred and forty-seven acres and thirty-five hundredths of an acre have beea sold by the United States, and that the residue of the said tract is not claimed or possessed by any person other than the petitioner: and that the same has been reserved from public sale until the final adjudication thereon, by the proper tribunal. The petitioner prays that the validity of his said claim may be inquired into and decided, and that his claim and title may be confirmed to all that part of the said tract which has not been sold as aforesaid by the United States; and that he be authorized to enter, in any of the land offices in the State of Missouri, the quantity of one thousand nine hundred and forty-seven acres and thirty-five-hundredths of an acre of land, the quantity sold as aforesaid by the United States. It appears also, that, on the seventeenth day of March, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five, Julie Soulard, widow of the said petitioner, and James G. Soulard, Henry G. Soulard, Eliza Soulard, and Benjamin A. Soulard, childen and heirs at law of the said petitioner, filed their petition, setting forth that the said Antoine Soulard, after having filed and prosecuted his said petition, died, leaving the said widow and children his only heirs and legal representatives, and praying that the said cause might be revived and stand in their names against the United States; and the attorney of the United States freely admitting all the facts set forth in the petition of the said widow and children, the said cause was revived accordingly.
And it also appearing that the answer of the attorney of the United States, sets forth, in substar:ce,that he is wholly uninformed of all the matters and things in the said petition of Antoine Soulard, revived as aforesaid, contained, and therefore that he does not admit the same to be true, and that he prays the court, that the said petitioners may be held and required to prove all such facts, matters, and things, the existence whereof is or may be deemed necessary to the confirmation of the said claims. And, moreover, that the said petitioners may be required and compelled to produce and show to the court the law, usage, or custom, by force and virtue whereof the said claim can or ought to be confirmed. And it further appearing, by the finding of the jury impanneled to try the issue directed in this cause, that such concession was made to the said Antoine Soulard, as in the said petition is stated: and it aiso appearing in evidence offered on the part of the said petitioners, that a survey of the said land was made, and a plat thereof re. corded as in the said petition is stated, and that it was the practice of the Lieutenant Governors of Upper Louisiana to make concessions of land, in virtue of their office as such Governors, and not in virtue of any commission as sub-delegate. And after debate of the matters aforesaid, and the court having inquired in the validity of the title of the said petitioners; and for that it appears to the court, that no grant of the King's domain could have been legally made, unless made in virtue of some law or authority from him; and for that the regulations of Count O'Reily, of the eighteenth of February, in the year one thousand seven hundred und seventy, and of Governor Gayoso of the ninth of September, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven, and of Morales, the Intendant, of the seventeenth of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, exhibit a general intention and policy on the part of the Spanish Government, in relation to the disposition of the public domain, which excludes every reasonable supposition of the existence of any law, usage, or custom, under and in conformity 'o which the alleged concession might have been perfected into a complete title, had not the sovereignty of the country been transferred to the United States; and for that the principles, commands, and prohibitions, in those regulations contained, are not to be reconciled with any idea of the legality of the said concession, and are incompatible with the existence of any law, usage, or custom, in conformity with which the said concession might have been confirmed, had no change of sovereignty taken place: the court doth therefore find the alleged concession and claim of the petitioners to be illegal in its origin, and invalid, and doth therefore decide, adjudge, and decree, against the validity of the same; and doth further order, adjudge, and decree, that the said petitioners pay all cosis and cliarges occasioned in an about the prosecution and defence of this suit: and thereupon the said petitioners, by their attorney, aforesaid, pray
that they may appeal from the judgment aforesaid, of the court here, so as . aforesaid rendered to the Supreme Court of the United Stated, and to them the same is granted by the court here.”
By which it will appear an appeal was prayed on the same day; and afterwards, on the 30th December, 1825, the follo:ving appeal bond was executed and filed with the papers:
Know all men by these presents, that I, Marie P. Leduc, am held and firmly bound unto the United States in the penal sum of five hundred dollars, to the payment of which, well and truly to be made, I bind myself, my heirs, administrators, and executors, firmly by these presents. Sealed with my scal, and dated this thirtieth day of December, eighteen hundred and twenty-five.
The condition of the above obligation is such, that whereas Julie Soulard, widow, James G. Soulard, Henry G. Soulard, Eliza Soulard, and Benjamin A. Soulard, children and heirs of Antoine Soulard, deceased, have this day prayed for, and obtained, an appcal to the Supreme Court of the United States, from the decree of this Court of the United States for the Missouri District against them, in a suit wherein they are petitioners, and the United States are defendants: Now if the said petitioners shall well and truly prosecute the said appeal with effect, and shall pay all costs occasioned by them in the prosecution of the same, and shall well and truly pay all costs which may be adjudged against them in said suit, then the above obligation to be void; otherwise to remain in full force and effect.
M. P. LEDUC, [L. s.]
UNITED STATES, 2 Missouri District, 3 ***
I, Isaac Barton, Clerk of the Court of the United States for the Missouri district, do hereby certify, that the appeal in the case of Julia Soulard, widow, and James G. Soulard, and others, children and heirs of Antoine Soulard, deceased, against the United States, was taken at the December term of said court, being on the twenty-sixth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five, and that, on the thirtieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five, said court adjourned, to sit again on the third Monday of April then next.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and affixed [ L. s. ] the seal of said court, at St. Louis, the sixteenth day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six.
ISAAC BARTON, Clerk.
Court of the United States for the State of Missouri.
Peck, JUDGE. James G. Soulard and others, 7
VS. The United States. This is a petition under the act of Congress of the 26th May, 1824, which authorizes certain claimants of lands to institute proceedings in this court, to try the validity of their claims, to obtain confirmations thereof.
The petition states, that, in the year 1796, a concession for 10,000 arpents of land, to be located on any part of the royal domain, was issued by Don Zenon Trudeau, Lieutenant Governor of the province of Upper Louisiana, to Antoine Soulard, the ancestor of the petitioners, who was then the Surveyor General of said province, in consideration of public services: that, on the 20th of February, 1804, the quantity of land as couceded, was located and surveyed by Don Santiago Rankin, deputy surveyor under said Soulard, and that a certificate of said survey was recorded in the book of records of the public surveys, kept by the Surveyor General: that, before the time when claims should have been filed, pursuant to the act of Congress of the 2d of March, 1805, the said decree of concession and certificate of survey were, by mistake, thrown into the fire and destroyed; and that said Soulard believing he was excluded from the benefit of any of the acts of Congress passed for the relief of land claimants, in consequence of the loss of said papers, omitted to file any notice of said claim, and that he had consequently derived no benefit of any of the laws of Congress theretofore passed for the relief of land claimants.
A jury, to whom the court had submitted that fact for trial, found, that a concession, as above stated, had issued to the ancestor of the petitioners. No settlement or improvement is alleged, nor any thing in relation to those qualifications of the grantee, as to property, which are required by the regulations. This statement of facts is all that is necessary to be prefixed to the opinion of the court.
A mass of evidence was offered on the hearing of the cause, but except that which is adverted to, and stated in the opinion, no part of it is material.
Opinion of the Court. The interests to be affected by the decision of the questions arising in this case, are extensive. The questions themselves are novel. There is nothing in relation to them which can be regarded in the nature of a precedent, or authority to influence their decision. They are now, for the first time, without any light from this source, presented for judicial determination. In their investigation, it is necessary to explore an extensive field,-a region of waste, where darkness obscures, and labyrinths embarrass; where the desolating hand of revolution, and of time, has removed many of those landmarks which, at any time, were scarcely distinguishable. Hesitation and distrust, therefore, must reasonably accompany the inquiry.
What were the laws which regulated the disposition of the King's domain, at the date of the alleged concession, is a question, first in order for examination.
It is contended on behalf of the petitioners, that the Sist article of the ordinance of the King of Spain, became in force in Louisiana, immediately on