Discovery Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Discovery doctrine is a principle of Public International Law. According to this principle the title to a newly discovered land lay with the government whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine was developed by the U.S. Supreme Court through Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (U.S. 1823). In this case the court observed that “If the discovery be made, and possession of the country be taken, under the authority of an existing government, which is acknowledged by the emigrants, it is supposed to be equally well settled, that the discovery is made for the whole nation, that the country becomes a part of the nation, and that the vacant soil is to be disposed of by that organ of the government which has the constitutional power to dispose of the national domains, by that organ in which all vacant territory is vested by law”.