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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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CHOUTEAU vs MOLONY. Argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1853 by Dubuque attorney Platt SMITH, the case involved the legal rights of settlers in Dubuque.

The Chouteau family challenged the rights of settlers occupying land formerly controlled by Julien DUBUQUE. Their claim was based on the will of Dubuque who had in 1804 deeded almost half of his land to Rene Auguste CHOUTEAU from whom he had borrowed money. The Chouteau heirs claimed that Dubuque had received the land through a contract with the MESQUAKIE and confirmed by the Spanish governor in New Orleans. The claimants also noted that both the United States Senate and House of Representatives had passed a bill to allow the claim, although not during the same session of Congress and therefore not legally binding.

The miners and settlers used as evidence the attack on the Dubuque claim made by Albert GALLATIN. They too were able to point to the fact that Congress was unable to decide the validity of the Dubuque title.

On July 1, 1842, a Senate committee declared that Dubuque had no clear title. On March 3, 1847, however, another committee found that Dubuque should have been considered the titleholder. The case had been heard before John J. Dyer, of the United States District Court for Iowa. Judge Dyer ruled for the settlers and against the Chouteau heirs. It was this decision that was appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1853. The hearing lasted through January 1854, and it was March before the unanimous decision of the Court was announced.

Platt and his associate Thomas S. WILSON successfully argued that neither Dubuque's will nor the governor's statement were sufficiently clear to give undisputed title to the land. By its decision in favor of the later settlers, the Supreme Court affirmed the legal status of Iowa and the rights of its citizens to protection from claims based on colonial or territorial law.