Conquest by LawHow the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Conquest by LawHow the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Lindsay G. Robertson

Print publication date: 2007

ISBN: 9780195148695

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

In 1823, Chief Justice John Marshall handed down a Supreme Court decision of monumental importance in defining the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the English-speaking world (the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). At the heart of the decision for Johnson v. M'Intosh was a “discovery doctrine” that gave rights of ownership to the European sovereigns who “discovered” the land and converted the indigenous owners into tenants. Though its meaning and intention has been fiercely disputed, more than 175 years later, this doctrine remains the law of the land. In 1991, while investigating the discovery doctrine's historical origins this book's author made a startling find: in the basement of a Pennsylvania furniture-maker, he discovered a trunk with the complete corporate records of the Illinois and Wabash Land Companies, the plaintiffs in Johnson v. M'Intosh. This book provides a complete and troubling account of the European “discovery” of the Americas, detailing how a spurious claim gave rise to a doctrine — intended to be of limited application — which itself gave rise to a massive displacement of persons and the creation of a law that governs indigenous people and their lands to this day.