Thursday, November 27, 2008

Celebrating Great American Turkeys

To say that our predecessors stole land from the Natives (or Indians, or feathers, it's all cool) does not adequately credit the asshattery sustained over generations it took to take all that land and integrate it into the existing system of property law. A 16 year old boy steals a six pack from the grocery store, goes to his buddy's house, drinks the beer and moves on with his life. America's Got Title! went a little bit more like this: America discovers a new grocery store, cruises the beer aisle, considers it uncivilized that the beer is on the shelf rather than being put to use by America, calls up his buddies to show up at the grocery store, tells the store owner - dude, that beer right there? You can't sell that to any one but me.

And when the store owner tries to sell beer to others, America shows up at the purchaser's house and says - dude, that owner did not have the right to sell that beer, it's my beer, hand it over, and go talk to the store owner if you want your damn money back.

That, in a nutshell, is how we came to own the land in this country. We basically went eminent domain on every tribe's ass. But it took a long time to work out the details, and in that time land speculators were very active and all sorts of questionable deeds were around. All this mischief came to an end due to the heroic efforts of today's featured [turkey]* - Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall. In the case of Johnson v. M'Intosh, Marshall wrote a long, philisophical, and at times mournful opinion that comes down to - the natives have limited interest in the land, and whatever interest they have can only be sold to the federal government, this is so because it's always been so. You can read a nice, scholarly and historical take on the decision here. Or you can read the whole opinion. Or you can take my word for it and know that, in the end, the arguments are as impressive and successful as those deployed by Chevy Chase as the Land Shark.

* In honor of Mr. Marshall's dignity and service to his country, the role of "asshat" will be played by "turkey" today. Christmas comes early for Mom!

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