Land grants Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Governmental actions legalizing the transfer of ownership of land from the government to private parties.

Congress was given the power to dispose of land owned by the federal government in the property clause (Article IV, section 3, clause 2) of the U.S. Constitution. Using this power, Congress sold or granted most federal land to states, companies, or people, sometimes for the construction of projects for the benefit of the public, such as railroads.

In Fletcher v. Peck[case]Fletcher v. Peck[Fletcher v. Peck] (1810), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Georgia law intended to rescind a state land grant, based on the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that once the public land was sold to private individuals, it became private property. In Fletcher, the Court also established its right to rule on the constitutionality of the legislative actions of the states.

In Fr mont v. United States[case]Fr mont v. United States[Fremont v. United States] (1855), the Court validated a land grant by the Mexican governor of California to a Mexican official, even though the terms of the grant had not been met. A portion of this Alvarado claim had been purchased by John Charles Fr mont (son-in-law of the powerful Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri). Although the land in question had little apparent value at the time of Fr mont’s purchase, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 had dramatically changed the picture, making the land worth millions. Fr mont’s claim was confirmed by the Court; a contract was thus held to be valid despite the controversial character of its transfer from the public domain.

Fletcher v. Peck

Property rights

Public lands

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