Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1775, Thomas Johnson and other British citizens purchased land in Virginia from members of the Piankeshaw Indian tribe under a 1763 proclamation by the King of England. When he died, 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. Johnson’s heirs sued M’Intosh in the United States District Court to recover the land. Ruling that the Piankeshaw tribe did not have the right to convey the land, the federal district court held that Johnson’s initial purchase and the chain of title stemming from it were invalid.

Why is the case important?

Action for ejectment for lands in the State of Illinois, in which plaintiff claims superior title under purchase and conveyance from the certain Indian nations over defendant under a later grant from the United States.


Whether a title conveyed by the Native Americans can be recognized by the Federal Courts?


No. Judgment affirmed.
Title to lands is and must be admitted to depend entirely on the law of the nation in which they lie. Discovery of America by Great Britain gave them the exclusive right to settle, possess, and govern the new land, and the absolute title to the soil, subject to certain rights of occupancy of the Native Indians.


Defendants’ land grant came directly from the United States government and the district court held that defendants’ claim was superior. The court based this decision on the idea that the Piankeshaw were not actually able to convey the land because they never ownedit in the traditional sense of the word. The Court agreed and upheld the defendants’ title by land grant.

  • Advocates: –
  • Petitioner: Johnson and Graham’s Lessee
  • Respondent: William M’Intosh
  • DECIDED BY:Marshall Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 21 US 543 (1823)
Argued: Feb 16, 1823 Feb 17, 1823 Feb 18, 1823 Feb 19, 1823
Decided: Feb 28, 1823
Johnson & Graham's Lessee v. McIntosh Case Brief