Fletcher v. Peck 1810

AuthorDaniel Brannen, Richard Hanes, Elizabeth Shaw

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Appellant: Robert Fletcher

Appellee: John Peck

Appellant's Claim: That a 1796 act passed by the Georgia legislature could not take away property rights gained by land companies under the Yazoo Land Act of 1795.

Chief Lawyer for Appellant: Luther Martin

Chief Lawyers for Appellee: John Quincy Adams, Robert G. Harper, Joseph Story

Justices for the Court: Samuel Chase, William Cushing, William Johnson, Henry B. Livingston, Chief Justice John Marshall, Thomas Todd, Bushrod Washington

Justices Dissenting: None

Date of Decision: March 16, 1810

Decision: Ruled in favor of Fletcher by finding that a legislature could repeal or amend its previous acts, but could not undo actions that legally occurred under the previous act.

Significance: The ruling marked the first time that a state law had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was also the first affirming the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The solid legal standing of state land grants established by the Supreme Court reassured the public about purchasing lands as they became available as the United States expanded westward.

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North America had long been settled by Native Americans before arrival of the first European colonists on the East Coast in the sixteenth century. Through conquest and agreements, the colonies increasingly assumed control of Indian lands. As part of this westward push, the state of Georgia took from the Indians a large thirty-five million acre region to its west in the Yazoo River area. Known as the Yazoo Lands, much later it became the states of Alabama and Mississippi. But in 1795 the Georgia legislature divided the area into four tracts and sold them to four land companies for a modest total price of only $500,000, or only one-and-a-half cents an acre. This was a good deal for the companies even at 1790s prices. The Georgia legislature overwhelmingly approved this land grant (a transfer of property to another), known as the Yazoo Land Act of 1795. Only one legislator voted against it. The four land companies then began dividing their lands into smaller tracts to sell at considerably higher prices for a substantial profit.

Public outrage erupted when stories of secret deals and partnerships soon came to light. Some of the legislators had been stockholders of the four land companies. In addition, almost every state legislator, two U.S. senators, and a number of judges including Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, had received bribes from the companies...

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