Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

[Volume 4, Page 301]

Document 62

Town of Pawlet v. Clark

9 Cranch 292 1815

March 10th, 1815. (Absent, Todd, J.) Story, J., delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:--The first question presented in this case is, whether the court has jurisdiction. The plaintiffs claim under a grant from the state of Vermont, and the defendants claim under a grant from the state of New Hampshire, made at the time when the latter state comprehended the whole territory of the former state. The constitution of the United States, among other things, extends the judicial power of the United States to controversies "between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states." It is argued, that the grant under which the defendants claim is not a grant of a different state, within the meaning of the constitution, because Vermont, at the time of its emanation, was not a distinct government, but was included in the same sovereignty as New Hampshire.

But it seems to us, that there is nothing in this objection. The constitution intended to secure an impartial tribunal for the decision of causes arising from the grants of different states; and it supposed, that a state tribunal might not stand indifferent in a controversy where the claims of its own sovereign were in conflict with those of another sovereign. It had no reference whatsoever to the antecedent situation of the territory, whether included in one sovereignty or another. It simply regarded the fact, whether grants arose under the same or under different states. Now, it is very clear, that although the territory of Vermont was once a part of New Hampshire, yet the state of Vermont, in its sovereign capacity, is not, and never was the same as the state of New Hampshire. The grant of the plaintiffs emanated purely and exclusively from the sovereignty of Vermont; that of the defendants purely and exclusively from the sovereignty of New Hampshire. The sovereign power of New Hampshire remains the same, although it has lost a part of its territory; that of Vermont never existed, until its territory was separated from the jurisdiction of New Hampshire. The circumstance that a part of the territory or population was once under a common sovereign no more makes the states the same, than the circumstance that a part of the members of one corporation constitutes a component part of another corporation, makes the corporation the same. Nor can it be affirmed, in any correct sense, that the grants are of the same state; for the grant of the defendants could not have been made by the state of Vermont, since that state had not, at that time, any legal existence; and the grant of the plaintiffs could not have been made by New Hampshire, since, at that time, New Hampshire had no jurisdiction or sovereign existence, by the name of Vermont. The case is, therefore, equally within the letter and spirit of the clause of the constitution. It would, indeed, have been a sufficient answer to the objection, that the constitution and laws of the United States, by the admission of Vermont into the Union as a distinct government, had decided that it was a different state from that of New Hampshire.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 62
The University of Chicago Press

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000