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02/19/2014

A Great Story About Title Insurance in Honor of Presidents' Day

I hope everyone had a great Presidents’ Day, or as it is legally known, Washington’s Birthday. We have come to regard the holiday as a celebration of all of our presidents and before we get into the goings-on at ALTA, please indulge me in this industry-relevant story about our 13th president, Millard Fillmore.

President Fillmore was born January 7, 1800, in Cayuga Country, New York. Just a year before his birth, the future president’s father, Nathaniel, and uncle, Calvin, purchased a farm in Locke Township sight unseen. The land was part of the central New York military tract set aside for sale to soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary War. Faulty surveys, fraud and ignorance left title to land in the military tract uncertain, prompting the state of New York to send a team of commissioners to review and settle all land titles in the area. Unfortunately for the Fillmore brothers, they were unable to defend their title against the commissioners’ findings.

Following the complete failure of their title, the Fillmores took up a perpetual lease for a farm in Sempronius, NY. However, the poor soil, forest cover and rugged terrain of the plot led to rough times for the Fillmores. This experience led Nathaniel Fillmore to push his children into professions other than farming. For his son Millard (a good student and avid reader), Nathaniel secured a clerkship studying law with Judge Walter Wood. Wood was the richest person in the country, having earned his money and reputation on title litigation. It was this experience that led the future president to become an attorney.

We can assume that his experience clerking for Judge Wood led to one of President Fillmore’s most astute and important acts, promoting a law to perfect title in the new state of California. In 1850, Fillmore became president on the passing of President Zachary Taylor. In his first State of the Union, Fillmore addressed one of the most pressing issues of the day, the status of land ownership in the newly acquired states of California, Texas and New Mexico. In that message to Congress, Fillmore stated:

The uncertainty which exists in regard to the validity of land titles in California is a subject which demands your early consideration. Large bodies of land in that State are claimed under grants said to have been made by authority of the Spanish and Mexican governments. Many of these have not been perfected, others have been revoked, and some are believed to be fraudulent. But until they shall have been judicially investigated they will continue to retard the settlement and improvement of the country. I therefore respectfully recommend that provision be made by law for the appointment of commissioners to examine all such claims with a view to their final adjustment.

This is a great statement about what the land title industry does every day and how that work is important to our country and the free flow of capital. Can you imagine if there was an entire paragraph in a modern day State of the Union about the importance of clear title? Join me in celebrating the achievements of an oft overlooked President Millard Fillmore.

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