Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan
44 U.S. (3 How.) 212 (1845)
The Spanish granted Hagan some
submerged land covered by tidal waters (aka a swamp) in what is now
Alabama, but at the time was part of Georgia. Georgia recognized Hagan's
claim in 1795.
Alabama was carved out of
land initially claimed by Georgia, but ceded to the Federal government in
The deal between Georgia and
the Federal government was that the Federal government would take the
land in trust in order to sell off parcels of it to settlers, which would
eventually become new States.
In 1836, the Federal
government was selling off land in what was now Alabama, and sold the
submerged land to Pollard.
Historically, when the US
acquired new territory that wasn't originally claimed by the original 13
States (like the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase), the general
process was that all of the land was considered the property of the Federal
government, and they would divvy it up and sell it off to private
Hagan sued, arguing that the
Federal government had no right to sell the land.
Hagan argued that, based on Martinv. Waddell's Lessee (41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 367 (1842)), all submerged
land that is in Alabama is owned by Alabama, not the Federal government.
In the case of Martin the US Supreme Court found that submerged
lands under navigable waters in the original 13 States was the property
of the States, as opposed to the Federal government.
The basic idea behind the Martin decision was that the States control their
waterways (for navigation and riparian rights), and that the
Constitution didn't give the Federal government the right to take those
valuable resources away.
FYI, this only applies to
waters that were navigable at
the time of Statehood. Sometimes it's a factual question whether the
waters were navigable.
Pollard argued that this
didn't apply because Alabama wasn't one of the original 13 States.
The Trial Court found for
Hagan. Pollard appealed.
The Trial Court found that
since the land was underwater when Alabama became a State in 1819, the US
had no authority to grant title to Pollard.
The Alabama Supreme Court
affirmed. Pollard appealed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court noted
that based on Martin, submerged
land in the original 13 States always belonged to the States.
The Court found that when
Alabama became a State it was admitted on an equal footing as the original 13 States.
Therefore, all the submerged
land in Alabama was automatically owned by the State of Alabama, and was
not owned by the Federal government.
The Court found that since
the Federal government never owned the land, they did not have the right
to sell it to Pollard.
This case defined the Equal
The Equal Footing
Doctrine says that all new States get
the same set of rights as the original 13 States received.
This case limited the rights
to States carved from land originally claimed by the 13 original States,
but has since been expanded to apply to all States.