United States v. Gratiot
39 U.S. (14 Peters) 526 (1840)
The Federal government leased
some public land to Gratiot to build a lead mine.
There was a Statute from
1807 that authorized the President to contract for the development of
lead on public lands.
Gratiot build the mine and
smelter, but failed to make the payments on the lease. The US sued.
Gratiot argued that he did
not have to pay the lease, because the 1807 Statute was unconstitutional.
Gratiot argued that the Property
Clause (Article IV, §3, cl. 2)
only gave Congress the authority to dispose of public lands, and to make rules and
regulations respecting the preparation of them for sale, for their
preservation, and for their sale. Gratiot argued that the Federal
government did not have the authority to retain lands, or to lease them, all they could do is
The Property Clause actually states, "The Congress shall
have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations
respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United
The US Supreme Court found for
The US Supreme Court found
that based on their interpretation of the Property Clause, Congress has the power, in its discretion, to
authorize the leasing of the lead mines on the public lands in the
territories of the US.
The Court broadly
interpreted the term "dispose of" to include leasing as well
as outright sale. (Etymologically the word 'disposed' has a broader
meaning than just sale, as seen in the definition of the words
'predisposed' and 'disposable income').