This section is from the book "The Law Of Real Property and Other Interests In Land", by Herbert Thorn Dike Tiffany. Also available from Amazon: A Treatise on the Modern Law of Real Property and Other Interests in Land .
The nature of the government title.
Spanish and Mexican grants.
All the land in the United States, now owned by individuals, formerly belonged either to the federal government, to an individual state, or to a foreign nationality, which disposed of it to an individual proprietor before that particular territory became a part of this country. These grants of land by foreign states to individuals, made before the incorporation of that particular territory in the United States, are the chief basis of titles in some parts of the country, and it seems proper to briefly sketch the history of the various acquisitions of territory by this nation, in order bettor to understand the various classes of government grants on which the existing proprietary rights of individuals may be based.
The British claim of dominion over the territory included within the original thirteen colonies was based upon discovery, consummated by possession, the wandering Indian tribes being regarded as having a mere light of occupancy.1 The dominion and ownership thus acquired was, in some of the colonies, granted by the British crown to individual proprietors or proprietary companies, by whom parts of the land were in turn
1. Johnson's Lessee v. Mc- L. Ed. 681. Intosh, 8 Wheat. (U. S.) 543, 5
2 R. P. - 23 granted to individuals. In others of the colonies the title to the soil remained in the British crown, and grants were made to individuals by the governor of the colony in the name of the king. After the Revolution, the title of the crown to lands still undisposed of passed to the states, and lands belonging to the original proprietaries were in some cases confiscated. Thus it may be said that the title to all land within the original thirteen states is derived, directly or indirectly, from the British crown, with the exception only of considerable bodies of land in the state of New York, the title to which is based on grants by the Dutch government or its representatives, which grants, however, were recognized and confirmed by the British crown upon the conquest of that territory.
The territory west of the Allegheny mountains and east of the Mississippi river, which had been claimed by the French, came, as a result of the French and Indian war, and of the treaty of Paris in 1763, under the exclusive dominion of England. The lands within this territory were, by royal proclamation, set apart as "crown lands." After the separation of the colonies from England, a number of the colonies asserted claims to parts of these crown lands, as being included within their limits under their royal charters. These claims, so far as concerned what was known as the "Northwest Territory" - that is, the territory northwest of the Ohio river - were opposed by the other colonies in the negotiations leading up to the Articles of Confederation, and finally the colonies asserting such claims ceded practically all their lands, or their claims thereto, within the limits of such territory, to the confederation. Of the territory south of the Ohio river, the state of Kentucky was formed out of that part of Virginia west of the Allegheny mountains, while the balance of this territory, so far south as the Spanish territory of Florida, was ceded to congress by the respective states claiming it.
In 1803, the United States purchased from France the "Louisiana" territory, which was bounded on the east by the Mississippi river, and on the west by a line which ran, approximately, along the present eastern boundary of Idaho, and through the center of what are now Colorado and New Mexico. This territory extended north to Canada, and south to the Arkansas river and the present northern boundary of Texas. In 1819, the "Florida" purchase was made from Spain, this including the present Florida and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1845, Texas, which had obtained independence from Mexico in 1836, was annexed to the United States. In 1848, as a result of the war with Mexico, that nation ceded to the United States territory included, approximately, within the present limits of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, and within parts of Colorado and New Mexico, it extending in effect from the Pacific ocean to the Western limit of the Louisiana purchase; and subsequently, in 1853, a comparatively small portion of territory, adjoining the present Mexican boundary, was purchased from Mexico, in order to settle a question as to the limits of the cession of 1848, this being known as the "Gadsden Purchase." In 1846, by treaty with Great Britain, the territory comprising that now occupied by Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, which had been in dispute between the two countries for many years, was ceded by Great Britain, this country ceding in return all claim to the territory to the North thereof. In 1867 the present territory of Alaska was purchased from Russia.
While by far the greater part of the lands of which either the United States government or individual states have had the ownership and control has been acquired either from a foreign state or by cession from the general government to a state, or vice versa, land may be acquired from individual owners, by either the United States or an individual slate, by forfeiture, es cheat, the exercise of the power of eminent domain, or voluntary transfer.