Fletcher v. Peck

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Fletcher v. Peck
Argued February 15, 1810
Decided March 16, 1810
Full case nameRobert Fletcher v. John Peck
Citations10 U.S. 87 (more)
6 Cranch 87; 3 L. Ed. 162; 1810 U.S. LEXIS 322;
Case history
PriorDemurrer overruled, D. Mass
The Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibited Georgia from voiding contracts for the transfer of land, even though they were secured through illegal bribery. Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Marshall
Associate Justices
William Cushing · Samuel Chase
Bushrod Washington · William Johnson
H. Brockholst Livingston · Thomas Todd
Case opinions
MajorityMarshall, joined by Cushing, Chase, Washington, Livingston, Todd
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1

Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 87 (1810), was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in which the Supreme Court first ruled a state law unconstitutional. The decision created a growing precedent for the sanctity of legal contracts and hinted that Native Americans did not hold complete title to their own lands (an idea fully realized in Johnson v. McIntosh).[1]

Yazoo lands sales[edit]

Following the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution, Georgia claimed possession of the Yazoo lands, a 54,000 sq mi (140,000 km2) region of the Indian Reserve, west of its own territory. The land later became the northern part of the states of Alabama and Mississippi.[citation needed]

In 1795, the Georgia legislature divided the area into four tracts. The state then sold the tracts to four separate land development companies for $500,000, about $0.014 per acre, a bargain even at 1790 prices. The Georgia legislature overwhelmingly approved this land grant, known as the Yazoo Land Act of 1795.[citation needed]However, it was later revealed that the Yazoo Land Act had been approved in return for bribes in a scandal known as the Yazoo Land Scandal.[2] The voters rejected most of the incumbents in the next election; the new legislature, reacting to the public outcry, repealed the law and voided the transactions made under it.

Robert Fletcher and especially John Peck were speculators in the Yazoo lands. Fletcher bought a tract of land from Peck after the 1795 act was repealed. Fletcher, in 1803, brought a suit against Peck, claiming that Peck had not had clear title to the land when he sold it.[citation needed]

There was collusion between the two. Both would have their land secured if the Supreme Court decided that Native Americans did not hold original title. Fletcher set out to win the case.[3]

Court ruling[edit]

The Supreme Court unanimously (with a separate concurring opinion written by William Johnson) ruled that the legislature's repeal of the law was unconstitutional. John Marshall wrote that the sale was a binding contract, which under Article I, Section 10, Clause I (the Contract Clause) of the Constitution, cannot be invalidated even if it is illegally secured.[citation needed]

The ruling lent further protection to property rights against popular pressure and is the earliest case of the Court asserting its right to invalidate state laws which are in conflict with or are otherwise contrary to the Constitution. A later Chief Justice, William H. Rehnquist, wrote that Fletcher v. Peck "represented an attempt by Chief Justice Marshall to extend the protection of the contract clause to infant business".[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barker, Joanne (2022). "The Corporation and the Tribe". In Koshy, Susan (ed.). Colonial Racial Capitalism. Duke University Press. p. 41-45.
  2. ^ Lamplugh, George R. (2015). Yazoo Land Fraud. New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13 May 2016
  3. ^ Banner, Stuart (2005). How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier. Cambridge: Harvard. pp. 171–172. ISBN 0-674-01871-0.
  4. ^ Rehnquist, William. A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases, Memo to Justice Robert H. Jackson

Further reading[edit]

  • Hobson, Charles F. (2016). The Great Yazoo Lands Sale: The Case of Fletcher v. Peck. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700623303.
  • Magrath, C. Peter (1966). Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic: The Case of Fletcher v. Peck. ISBN 0-608-18419-5.
  • Smith, Jean Edward (1996). John Marshall: Definer Of A Nation. Henry Holt & Company.

External links[edit]