The Supreme Court, Florida Land Claims, and Spanish Colonial Law
45 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017
Date Written: 2017
After Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, Congress established commissioners to determine land ownership in the territory. A series of federal laws on this subject followed until “an act for final settlement of land-claims in Florida” in 1830. From 1827 to 1926, the United States Supreme Court was the final arbiter in more than sixty cases of titles to land in Florida. While the Court often relied on the determinations of commissioners and on the decisions of lower federal courts, such as the territorial Superior Court of East Florida, many cases required the Court to examine Spanish colonial law, derecho indiano, to decide questions of title to land. The stakes were high; disputed grants often exceeded 10,000 acres.
This study focuses on the way the Supreme Court dealt with Spanish colonial law to decide these cases. It examines the Court’s sources, skill, limitations, and biases when addressing complex issues of land title under a foreign legal system. Justices Trimble, Marshall, Baldwin, Wayne, Taney, Thompson, Catron, Bradley, Fuller, Holmes, Van Devanter, and McReynolds authored opinions in these cases.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Florida, land claims, Spanish colonial law, derecho indiano, Joseph M. White
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation