Johnson v. M’Intosh Case Brief

Summary of Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823)

Facts: Plaintiff claims title to land that he got from Indian chiefs in 1773 and in 1775. The Indian chiefs were working under the proper authority of their tribes when they sold their lands to the plaintiff.

Issue: Do the U.S. courts recognize Indians sale of titles of land to private individuals?

Holding: No

Rationale: The Europeans conquered the land from the Indians and Indians were only given the occupancy rights and they were never given the right to sell their land. According to the court, absolute property rights cannot be shared by 2 different entities. Therefore, England originally enjoyed the absolute property rights to the lands in question and the Indians only enjoyed the occupancy rights to the land. After the Revolutionary War, England transferred these absolute rights to the United States. Therefore, the Indian chiefs did not enjoy the right to sell the land to private individuals.

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