JOHNSON'S LESSEE v. M'INTOSH
In 1775, Thomas Johnson and other British citizens purchased land in the Northwest Territory, then in the colony of Virginia, from members of the Piankeshaw Indian tribes. This purchase was arranged under a 1763 proclamation by the King of England. Thomas Johnson left this land to his heirs. In 1818, William M'Intosh purchased from Congress, 11,000 acres of the land originally purchased by Johnson. Upon realizing the competing claims on the land, Johnson's heirs sued M'Intosh in the United States District Court for the District of Illinois to recover the land. The District Court ruled for M'Intosh, reasoning that M'Intosh's title was valid since it was granted by Congress. Johnson's heirs appealed to the Supreme Court.
Was M'Intosh's claim to the disputed land superior to Johnson's claim because M'Intosh's claim was the result of Congressional action?
Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court held M'Intosh's claim superior to Johnson's, affirming the District Court.In an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court established that the federal government had "the sole right" of negotiation with the Native American nations. Through the Revolutionary War and the treaties that followed, the United States earned the "exclusive right…to extinguish [the Indians'] title, and to grant the soil." The Indians themselves did not have the right to sell property to individuals. M'Intosh's claim, which was derived from Congress, was superior to Johnson's claim, which was derived from the non- existent right of Indians to sell their land.