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Lot 130

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Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Grier Leaks Forthcoming Opinion to Party in the Case

ROBERT C. GRIER, Autograph Letter Signed, to John Reynolds, February 11, 1854. 3 pp., 8? x 12.5?. Expected folds; some soiling on outside page; very good.

In this intriguing letter Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Grier provides a preview of the Court’s upcoming decision to one of the parties in the case. Later in 1854, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee investigated Grier’s conduct in the case of Pennsylvania v. Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company. Critics alleged that Grier had solicited a bribe, ignored the law in making his ruling, and leaked the Court’s decision early in order to favor one of the parties. Although the Committee’s report exonerated Grier of all charges, it was authored by a fellow alumnus of Dickinson College and may have been biased. Three years later, Grier leaked the Court’s forthcoming decision in the Dred Scott case to President-elect James Buchanan, who alluded to the outcome in his 1857 inaugural address.

By acts in 1820 and 1823, Congress granted a lot in Peoria, Illinois, to each settler who “had not heretofore received a confirmation of claim or donation of any tract of land or village lot from the United States.” Lands granted to settlers in Michigan, prior to the surrender of the western posts by the British government, made to carry out Jay’s Treaty of 1794, were not to be considered donations so as to exclude a settler from benefitting from the lots offered in Peoria.

Robert Forsyth (1808-1872), the son of Thomas Forsyth (1771-1833), claimed to own a lot in Peoria that he gad inherited from his father, whose title rested on settlement and occupation of the land before 1790 by French settler John Baptist Maillet, who sold it to John M. Coursell, who sold it to Thomas Forsyth. In opposition, John Reynolds, Josiah E. McClure, and John McDougall claimed title to the lot based on a patent from the United States to John L. Bogardus in 1838. They sued for an injunction to stop Forsyth from ejecting them from the land, and the federal circuit court in December 1852, granted the injunction. From that decision Forsyth appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in this letter Justice Grier gives a preview of the Court’s decision authored by Associate Justice John Catron.


“I received your telegraph to send a copy of the decision in your case immediately by mail. The opinion is not yet made or delivered in court, and will not till next week, but I have obtained it from Judge Catron and will give you an abstract of its contents, which will serve every purpose as a copy of the whole under seal of the clerk beside saving the expense & delay.”

“After stating the case the Opinion proceeds – ‘It was assumed by the Court below that Forsyth had received as a donation the two tracts of land in Michigan within the meaning of the Act of 1823. That the Act contemplated a donation we think is true.... Thos Forsyth & his family were Canadian settlers & British subjects, residing on our side of the line, established by the treaty of Peace of 1783. By the sixth article of the treaty of 1783, it was provided, that no one should suffer by reason, that they took part with Great Britain in the War, “in person or property.” As Great Britain held possession of the country in Michigan regardless of the Treaty of 1783, a principal object of Jays treaty was to obtain actual possession.”

“Congress provided by the Act of March 3, 1807 S. 2. That to every person in possession at that date of any tract of land in his own right in Michigan Territory, which was settled, occupied & improved by him prior to the first day of July 1796 &c &c, such occupant should be confirmed in his title to the same.”

“We suppose it is free from controversy that these two tracts of land were the property of Thomas Forsyth in 1807 by virtue of the treaty of 1794, and just as plainly property, as lands held by a concession in Louisiana under the Spanish government by force of the treaty of 1803. In neither case could a donation be assumed to have been made, as Forsyth obtained no donation in Michigan, he was not within the prohibition presented by the Act of 1823, to settlers in the Village of Peoria and therefore the decree below must be reversed and bill dismissed; but without prejudice to either party in prosecuting and defending the suit at law sought to be enjoined by the bill, in regard to matters not hereby decided.”

Robert C. Grier (1794-1870) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated from Dickinson College in 1812. He taught school while reading law and gained admission to the bar in 1817. He established a private practice in Bloomsburg and then Danville, Pennsylvania. A Jacksonian Democrat, Grier received an appointment as judge of the Pennsylvania District Court for Allegheny County, where he served from 1833 to 1846. President James K. Polk appointed Grier to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1846. In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, Grier was one of two northerners who sided with the majority and issued a concurring opinion. Six years later, he supported the Lincoln administration by writing the opinion in the Prize Cases that declared Lincoln’s blockade of southern ports to be constitutional. Grier served on the Supreme Court for more than 23 years, resigning in January 1870, due to frail health. He died eight months later.

From the famous Supreme Court collection of Scott Petersen.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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