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IN THE CASE, THE TRUSTEES OF DARTMOUTH COLLEGE vs. WIL
LIAM H. WOODWARD, BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT OF THE
[The action, The Trustees of Dartmouth College vs. William H. Woodward, was commenced at the Court of Common Pleas, Grafton County, State of New Hampshire, February Term, 1817. The declaration was Trover for the Books of Record, original Charter, common Seal and other corporate property of the College. The conversion was alleged to have been made on the 7th day of October, 1816. The proper pleas were filed, and by consent, the cause was carried directly to the Superior Court, by Appeal, and entered May Term 1817. The general issue was pleaded by the defendant and joined by the plaintiffs. The facts in the case were then agreed upon, by the parties, and drawn up in the form of a Special Verdict, reciting the Charter of the College and the acts of the Legislature of the State, passed June and December 1816, by which the said Corporation of Dartmouth College was enlarged and improved and the said Charter amended.
The question made in the case was, whether those acts of the Legislature were valid and binding upon the Corporation, without their acceptance or assent, and not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. If so, the verdict found for the defendant; otherwise, it found for the plaintiffs.
The cause was continued to the September Term of the Court in Rockingham County, where it was argued; and at the November Term of the same year, in Grafton County, the opinion of the Court was delivered by Chief Justice Richardson, in favor of the validity and constitutionality of the acts of the Legislature; and judgment was accordingly entered. for the defendant on the Special Verdict. Thereupon a Writ of Error was sued out by the original plaintiffs to remo
the cause to the Supreme Court of the United States; where it was entered at the Term of the Court holden at Washington on the first Monday of February, A. D. 1818.
The cause came on for argument on the 10th day of March 1818, before all the judges. It was argued by Mr. Webster and Mr. Hopkinson for the plaintifis in error, and by Mr. Holmes and the Attorney General for the defendant in error.
At the Term of the Court holden February 1819, the opinion of the judges was delivered, declaring the acts of the Legislature unconstitutional and invalid, and reversing the judgment of the State Court.]
ARGUMENT OF MR. WEBSTER FOR PLAINTIFFS IN ERROR. The general question is, whether the acts of the 27th of June, and of the 18th and 26th of December, 1816, are valid and binding on the rights of the plaintiffs, without their acceptance or assent.
The charter of 1769 created and established a corporation, to consist of twelve persons, and no more; to be called the “ Trustees of Dartmouth College.” The preamble to the charter recites, that it is granted on the application and request of the Rev. Eleazer
Wheelock: That Dr. Wheelock, about the year 1754, established a charity school, at his own expense, and on his own estate and plantation: That, for several years, through the assistance of well disposed persons in America, granted at his solicitation, he had clothed, maintained, and educated number of the native Indians, and employed them afterwards as missionaries and schoolmasters among the savage tribes: That his design promising to be useful, he had constituted the Rev. Mr. Whitaker to be his attorney, with power to solicit contributions, in England, for the further extension and carrying on of his undertaking; and that he had requested the Earl of Dartmouth, Baron Smith, Mr. Thornton, and other gentlemen, to receive such sums as might be contributed, in England, towards supporting his school, and to be trustees thereof, for his charity; whi these persons had agreed to do. And thereupon Dr. Wheelock had executed to them a deed of trust, in pursuance to such agreement, between him and them, and for divers good reasons, had referred it to these persons, to determine the place in which the school should be finally established: And to enable them to form a proper decision on this subject, had laid before them the several offers which had been made to him by the several governments in America, in order to induce him to settle and establish his school within the limits of such governments for their own emolument, and the increase of learning in their respective places, as well as for the furtherance of his general original design. And in as much as a number of the proprietors of lands in New Hampshire, animated by the example of the governor himself and others, and in consideration that without any impediment to its original design, the school might be enlarged and improved, to promote learning among the English, and to supply ministers to the people of that province, had promised large tracts of land, provided the school should be established in that province, the persons before mentioned, having weighed the reasons in favor of the several places proposed, had given the preference to this province, and these offers; that Dr. Wheelock therefore represented the necessity of a legal incorporatio.., and proposed that certain gentlemen in America, whom he had already named and appointed in his will, to be trustees of his charity after his decease, should compose the corporation. Upon this recital, and in consideration of the laudable original design of Dr. Wheelock, and willing that the best means of education be established in New Hampshire, for the benefit of the province, the king grants the charter, by the advice of his provincial council.
The substance of the facts thus recited, is, that Dr. Wheelock had founded a charity, on funds owned and procured by himself; that he was at that time the sole dispenser and sole administrator, as well as the legal owner of these funds; that he had made his will, devising this property in trust, to continue the existence and uses of the school, and appointed trustees; that, in this state of things, he had been invited to fix his school, permanently, in New Hampshire, and to extend the design of it to the education of the youth of that province; that before he removed his school, or accepted this invitation, which his friends in England had advised him to accept, he applied for a charter, to be granted, not to whomsoever the king or government of the province should please, but to such persons as he named and appointed, viz. the persons whom he had already appointed to be the future trustees of his charity by his will.
The charter, or letters patent, then proceed to create such a corporation, and to appoint twelve persons to constitute it, by the name of the " Trustees of Dartmouth College;" to have perpetual existence, as such corporation, and with power to hold and dispose of lands and goods, for the use of the college, with all the ordinary powers of corporations. They are in their discretion to apply the funds and property of the college to the support of the president, tutors, ministers, and other officers of the college, and such missionaries and schoolmasters as they may see fit to employ among the Indians. There are to be twelve trustees forever, and no more; and they are to have the right of filling vacancies occurring in their own body. The Rev. Mr. Wheelock is declared to be the founder of the college, and is, by the charter, appointed first president, with power to appoint a successor by his last will. All proper powers of government, superintendence, and visitation, are vested in the trustees. They are to appoint and remove all officers at their discretion; to fix their salaries, and assign their duties: and to make all ordinances, orders, and laws for the government of the students. And to the end that the persons who had acted as depositaries of the contributions in England, and who had also been contributors themselves, might be satisfied of the good use of their contributions, the president was annually, or when required, to transmit to them an account of the progress of the institution and the disbursements of its funds, so long as they should continue to act in that trust.– These letters patent are to be good and effectual, in law, against the king, his heirs and successors forever, without further grant or confirmation; and the trustees are to hold all and singular these privileges, advantages, liberties, and immunities to them and to their successors forever.
No funds are given to the college by this charter. A corporate existence and capacity are given to the trustees, with the privileges and immunities which have been mentioned, to enable the founder and his associates the better to manage the funds which they themselves had contributed, and such others as they might afterwards obtain.
After the institution, thus created and constituted, had existed, uninterruptedly and usefully, nearly fifty years, the legislature of New Hampshire passed the acts in question.
The first act makes the twelve trustees under the charter, and nine other individuals to be appointed by the governor and council, a corporation, by a new name; and to this new corporation transfers all the properly, rights, powers, liberties and privileges of the old corporation; with further power to establish new colleges and an institute, and to apply all or any part of the funds to these purposes. subject to the power and control of a board of twenty-five overseers, to be appointed by the governor and council.
The second act makes further provisions for executing the objects of the first, and the last act authorises the defendant, the treasurer of the plaintiffs, to retain and hold their property, against their will.
If these acts are valid, the old corporation is abolished, and a new one created. The first act does, in fact, if it can have any fect, create a new corporation, and transfer to it all the property and franchises of the old. The two corporations are not the same, in anything which essentially belongs to the existence of a corporation. They have different names, and different powers, rights, and duties Their organization is wholly different. The powers of the corporation are not vested in the same, or similar hands. In one, the trustees are twelve, and no more. In the other, they are twenty-one. In one, the power is in a single board. In the other, it is divided between two boards. Although the act professes to include the old trustees in the new corporation, yet that was without their assent, and against their remonstrance; and no person can be compelled to be a member of such a corporation against his will. It was neither expected nor intended, that they should be members of the new corporation. The act itself treats the old corporation as at an end, and going on the ground that all its functions have ceased, it provides for the first meeting and organization of the new corporation. It expressly provides, also, that the new corporation shall have and hold all the property of the old; a provision which would be quite unnecessary upon any other ground, than that the old corporation was dissolved. But if it could be contended, that the effect of these acts was not entirely to abolish the old corporation, yet it is manifest that they impair and invade the rights, property, and powers of the trustees under the charter, as a corporation, and the legal rights, privileges, and immunities which belong to them, as individual members of the corporation.
The twelve trustees were the sole legal owners of all the property acquired under the charter. By the acts others are admitted; against their will, to be joint owners. The twelve individuals, who are trustees, were possessed of all the franchises and immunities conferred by the charter.-B.y the acts, nine other trustees, and twenty-five overseers are admitted against their will, to divide these franchises and immunities with them.
If either as a corporation, or as individuals, they have any legal rights, this forcible intrusion of others violates those rights, as manifestly as an entire and complete ouster and dispossession. These acts alter the whole constitution of the corporation. They affect the rights of the whole body as a corporation, and the rights of the individuals who compose it. They revoke corporate powers and franchises. They alienate and transfer the property of the college to others. By the charter, the trustees had a right to fill vacancies in their own number. This is now taken away. They were to consist of twelve, and by express provision of no more. This is altered. They and their successors, appointed by themselves, were forever to hold the property. The legislature has found successors for them, before their seats are vacant. The powers and privileges, which the twelve were to exercise exclusively, are now to be exercised by others. By one of the acts, they are subjected to heavy penalties, if they exercise their offices, or any of those powers and privileges granted them by charter, and which they had exercised for fifty years. They are to be punished for not accepting the new
grant, and taking its benefits. This, it must be confessed, is rather a summary mode of settling a question of constitutional right. Not only are new trustees forced into the corporation, but new trusts and uses are created. The college is turned into a university. Power is given to create new colleges, and, to authorise any diversion of the funds, which may be agreeable to the new boards, sufficient latitude is given by the undefined power of establishing an Institute. To these new colleges, and this Institute, the funds contributed by the founder, Dr. Wheelock, and by the original donors, the Earl of Dartmouth and others, are to be applied, in plain and manifest disregard of the uses to which they were given.
The president, one of the old trustees, had a right to his office, salary, and emoluments, subject to the twelve trustees alone. His title to these is now changed, and he is made accountable to new masters. So also all the professors and tutors. If the legislature can at pleasure make these alterations and changes, in the rights and privileges of the plaintiffs, it may, with equal propriety, abolish these rights and privileges altogether. The same power which can do any part of this work, can accomplish the whole. And indeed, the argument on which these acts have been hitherto defended, goes altogether on the ground, that this is such a corporation as the legislature may abolish at pleasure; and that its members have no rights, liberties, franchises, property or privileges, which the legislature may not revoke, annul, alienate or transfer to others whenever it sees fit.
It will be contended by the plaintiffs that these acts are not valid and binding on them, without their assent. 1. Because they are against common right, and the constitution of New Hampshire. 2. Because they are repugnant to the constitution of the United States.
I am aware of the limits which bound the jurisdiction of the court in this case, and that on this record nothing can be decided, but the single question, whether these acts are repugnant to the constitution of the United States. Yet it may assist in forming an opinion of their true nature and character, to compare them with these fundamental principles, introduced into the state governments for the purpose of limiting the exercise of the legislative power, and which the constitution of New Hampshire expresses with great fulness and accuracy.
It is not too much to assert, that the legislature of New Hampshire would not have been competent to pass the acts in question, and to make them binding on the plaintiffs without their assent, even if there had been, in the constitution of New Hampshire, or of the United States, no special restriction on their power; because these acts are not the exercise of a power properly legislative.* Their object and effect is to take away, from one, rights, property, and franchises, and to grant them to another. This is not the exercise of a legislative power. To justify the taking away of vested rights, there must be a forfeiture; to adjudge upon and declare which, is the proper province of the judiciary. Attainder and confiscation are acts of sovereign power; not acts of legislation. The British parliament, among other unlimited powers, claims that of altering and vacating charters; not as an act of ordinary legislation, but of un
* Calder et ux. v. Bull 3d Dallas 386.