Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands

Synopsis

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. At the heart of the decision for Johnson v. M'Intosh was a "discovery doctrine" that gave rights of ownershipto 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 historicalorigins Lindsay Robertson 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. Conquest by Law provides, for the first time, the completeand troubling account of the European "discovery" of the Americas. This is a gripping tale of political collusion, 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 thatgoverns indigenous people and their lands to this day.

Excerpt

Perhaps no event in the modern era has been more profoundly consequential than the European “discovery” of the Americas. When Columbus landed in what he thought was the Indies, none could have foreseen the rapid conquest of the great indigenous empires in Mexico and Peru, the huge influx of Europeans, the subjugation of indigenous populations, or the rise of the new European-founded states of the Western Hemisphere. The discovery of the Americas forced Europeans to adapt their traditional worldview to accommodate the Columbian landfall. For political and cultural reasons, the intellectual structure they ultimately applied to define the terms of their relationship to this “new world” was legal. Over a succession of generations, Europeans devised rules intended to justify the dispossession and subjugation of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Of these rules the most fundamental were those governing the ownership of land. This book sets forth the troubling and hitherto unknown history of how the descendants of European colonizers shaped these rules to seize title to indigenous lands in the United States.

In this country and, to a great extent, in other former British colonies, the legal rule justifying claims to indigenous lands discovered by Europeans traces to the 1823 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in . . .

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