Indian Land Name Case Summary

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Issue
Whether the land title transferred from the Indian tribes to private individuals prior to the American Revolution is recognized in a United States court?

Facts
Joshua Johnson (plaintiff) inherited a tract of land from his father, who bought the land from the Piankeshaw Indians prior to the American Revolution at which time the Piankeshaw Indians lived on the land. The county of Illinois in which the land was located was created by the State of Virginia after the Declaration of Independence. The land was then conveyed to the United States government by the Virginia delegates to Congress. The government of the United states sold some portion of the land to William M’Intosh (defendant) about 35 years later. Johnson filed an action to eject M’Intosh from the land

Rule
Land title transfers are only valid when made under the rule of the currently prevailing government.

Holding (Marshall, J.)
No. The plaintiffs do not exhibit a title which can be sustained in the Courts of the United States and that there is no error in the judgment
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Discovery of land brings with it the right to obtain title either by purchase or conquest, subject to the Indians’ right of occupancy. However, the treaty ending the American Revolutionary War transferred sovereignty and power of the lands under such transfers from the British to the United States. The land conveyance to Johnson in this case was made under English rule. The land came under American rule and thus the transfer to Johnson became invalid under American law after the American Revolution,. Additionally, the Indians had a right to annul the agreement with Johnson and reserve the land for themselves in the treaties between the Indians and the United States,. However, because they did not do so, there is a presumption that they deemed that transfer to be no longer
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