But the doctrine of the English courts, giving construction to the Statute of James, does not seem to have been followed in this State. It is true that Judge Cowen, in the course of a long and able opinion in the case of Humbert v. Trinity Church, 24 Wend. 587, remarked that it was of the nature of the statute of limitations, when applied to civil actions, "to mature a wrong into a right by cutting off the remedy;" and, again, when speaking of actions brought by the true owner after the bar of the statute, "his title remains, but he has lost his remedy." The question in that case was whether the long-continued adverse possession of the defendant barred the plaintiff's action, and it was held rightly that it did The effect of an adverse possession as a means of acquiring title was not, however, involved in the case. The doctrine that a statute of limitations merely extinguishes the remedy has been frequently applied to contract obligations. As thus applied, the principle cannot be disputed. Time may bar an action upon the promise or contract, but it does not pay the debt. That remains as a moral obligation at least, and is a good consideration for a new promise. Adverse possession of tangible property implies not only the lapse of time, but the occupation and enjoyment by the possessor, and the acquiescence of the true owner in a hostile claim of title. The idea that the title to property can survive the loss of every remedy known to the law for reducing it to possession and enjoyment would seem to have but small support in logic or reason. Enactments which are appropriately termed statutes of repose when applied to the adverse possession of land, have, as it seems to us, a broader and deeper effect than simply to destroy the remedy of the true owner for its recovery.
One of the earliest cases in this State upon the question is Jackson v. Diefendorf, 3 Johns. 269, decided nearly a quarter of a century before the change made in the English Statute, 21 Jac. 1, chap. 16. In that case a party who could show no other title to land than an adverse occupation for thirty-eight years, was at the end of that period put out of possession by another, who had the paper title, under a judgment in ejectment obtained by default, and the party recovering the judgment, and in whose deed the premises were included, went into possession. The dispossessed party then brought another action of ejectment against the person who had turned him out, and who had a deed of the land, for the purpose of repossessing himself of what he had lost. The court held that he was entitled to recover upon the ground that the adverse possession was conclusive evidence of his title. The doctrine of that case on this point has never been disturbed, and the case itself has frequently been cited with approval in this court. Baldwin v. Brown, 16 N. Y. 364; Reed x. Farr, 35 Id. 117.
The case of Cahill v. Palmer, 45 N. Y. 478, was an action to recover money paid to the defendant for certain lands taken for Central Park. Both parties claimed to own the land for which the money was paid by the city. A statute provided that when the money was paid to the wrong person the real owner of the land might bring and maintain an action to recover it from the party to whom paid. The plaintiff had the paper title to the land, and the defendant, to whom the money was paid, showed an adverse possession for more than twenty years prior to the time the land was taken by the city. This court held that the money was properly paid to the defendant and that the plaintiff could not recover. Grover, J., referring to the point now under consideration, said: "The counsel for the appellant insists that an adverse possession, although for the length of time required by statute to bar the owner, is available only as a defense to a suit brought by such owner for the recovery of the land. In this the counsel is in error. When the possession is actual, exclusive, open and notorious, under a claim of title adverse to any and all other for the time prescribed by statute, such possession establishes title. To uphold it, a grant from the true owner to such party may be presumed." In Reformed Church v. Schoolcraft, 65 N. Y. 134, it was held that adverse possession for the period prescribed by the statute to bar an action was sufficient proof of title upon which to maintain an action of ejectment against parties in pos-,sion without title. The policy upon which the Statute of Limitations was based when applied to real property was examined and the conclusion reached in that ease that the real owner's title is lost by acquiescence in adverse possession by another, and that the title lost is gained by the party in possession.
In Barnes v. Light, 116 N. Y. 34, it was held that an action of ejectment, founded upon adverse possession alone, may be maintained by the party in whose favor the adverse possession has run, even against the true owner. This case was decided mainly upon the authority of Sherman v. Kane, 86 N. Y. 58; Carleton v. Darcy, 90 Id. 566; Mayor, etc. v. Carleton, 113 Id. 284, in all of which the principle is recognized that title may be obtained by adverse possession alone.
In Millard v. McMullin, 68 N. Y. 345, it is held that such a title is sufficient to uphold the lien of an execution. A clear adverse possession for twenty years constitutes a title, which a purchaser at a judicial sale may not refuse. Seymour v. DeLancey, 1 Hopk. Ch. 436; Mott v. Mott, 68 N. Y. 246; Shriver v. Shriver, 86 Id. 575; O'Connor v. Huggins, 113 Id. 511
The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly asserted the recognized rule of the Roman law that adverse possession is one of the modes of acquiring title to property. In Campbell v. Holt, 115 U. S. 620, Mr. Justice Miller, delivering the opinion of the court, said: "By the long and undisturbed possession of tangible property, real or personal, one may acquire a title to it, or ownership, superior in law to that of another, who may be able to prove an antecedent and, at one time, paramount title. This superior or antecedent title has been lost by the laches of the person holding it in failing within a reasonable time to assert it effectively; as, by resuming the possession to which he was entitled, or asserting his right by suit in the proper court. What the primary owner has lost by his laches the other party has gained by continued possession, without question of his right. This is the foundation of the doctrine of prescription, a doctrine which, in the English law, is mainly applied to incorporeal hereditaments, but which in the Roman law, and the codes founded on it, is applied to property of all kinds." After pointing out the fact that possession was the earliest mode known to mankind for the appropriation of anything tangible to the use of one, and to the exclusion of all others, and that it was always a means of acquiring title, he adds: "The English and American Statutes of Limitations have in many cases the same effect, and if there is any conflict of decisions on the subject, the weight of authority is in favor of the proposition, that where one has had the peaceable, undisturbed, open possession of real or personal property, with an assertion of his ownership for the period which, under the law would bar an action for its recovery by the real owner, the former has acquired a good title, a title superior to that of the latter, whose neglect to avail himself of his legal rights has lost him his title. This doctrine has repeatedly been asserted in this court. Leffingwell v. Warren, 2 Black. 599; Croxall v. Shererd, 5 Wall. 268, 289; Dickerson v. Colgrove, 100 U. S. 578, 583; Bicknell v. Comstock, 113 Id. 149, 152. It is the doctrine of the English courts, and has been asserted in the highest courts of the States of the Union."