Page images

New Hampshire, and to enlarge it, beyond its original design, among other things, for the benefit of that province: and thereupon a charter is given to him, and his associates designated by himself, promising and assuring to them under the plighted faith of the state, the right of governing the college, and administering its concerns in the manner provided in the charter. There is a complete and perfect grant to them of all the power of superintendence, visitation, and government. Is not this a contract?" If lands or money had been granted to him and his associates, for the same purposes, such grant could not be rescinded. And is there any difference in legal contemplation, between a grant of corporate franchises, and a grant of tangible property? No such difference is recognised in any decided case, nor does it exist in the common apprehension of mankind.

It is therefore contended, that this case falls within the true meaning of this provision of the constitution, as expounded in the decisions of this court; that the charter of 1769, is a contract, a stipulation or agreement; mutual in its considerations, express and formal in its terms, and of a most binding and solemn nature. That the acts in question impair this contract, has already been sufficiently shown. They repeal and abrogate its most essential parts.

A single observation may not be improper on the opinion of the court of New Hampshire, which has been published. The learned judges, who delivered that opinion, have viewed this question in a very different light, from that in which the plaintiffs have endeavoured to exhibit it. After some general remarks, they assume that this college is a public corporation; and on this basis their judgment rests. Whether all colleges are not regarded as private, and eleemosynary corporations, by all law writers, and all judicial decisions; whether this college was not founded by Dr. Wheelock; whether the charter was not granted at his request, the better to execute a trust, which he had already created; whether he and his associates did not become visitors, by the charter; and whether Dartmouth College be not, therefore, in the strictest sense, a private charity, are questions which the learned judges do not appear to have discussed.

It is admitted in that opinion, that if it be a private corporation, its rights stand on the same ground as those of an individual. The great question, therefore, to be decided, is, to which class of corporations do colleges thus founded belong? And the plaintiffs have endeavoured to satisfy the court, that according to the well settled principles, and uniform decisions of law, they are private eleemosynary corporations.

Much has heretofore been said on the necessily of admitting such a power in the legislature as has been assumed in this case.

Many cases of possible evil have been imagined, which might otherwise be without remedy. Abuses, it is contended, might arise in the management of such institutions, which the ordinary courts of law would be unable to correct. But this is only another instance of that habit of supposing extreme cases, and then of reasoning from them, which is the constant refuge of those who are obliged to defend a cause, which, upon its merits, is indefensible. It would be sufficient to say, in answer, that it is not pretended, that there was here any such case of necessity. But a still more satisfactory answer, is, that the apprehension of danger is groundless, and therefore the whole argument fails. Experience has not taught us that there is danger of great evils or of great inconvenience from this source. Hitherto, neither in our own country nor elsewhere, have such cases of necessity occurred. The judicial establishments of the state are presumed to be competent to prevent abuses and violations of trust, in cases of this kind, as well as in all others. If they be not, they are imperfect, and their amendment would be a most proper subject for legislative wisdom. Under the government and protection of the general laws of the land, these institutions have always been found safe, as well as useful. They go on, with the progress of society, accommodating themselves easily, without sudden change or violence, to the alterations which take place in its condition; and in the knowledge, the habits, and pursuits of men. The English colleges were founded in Catholic ages. Their religion was reformed with the general reformation of the nation; and they are suited perfectly well to the purpose of educating the protestant youth of modern times. Dartmouth college was established under a charter granted by the provincial government; but a better constitution for a college, or one more adapted to the condition of things under the present government, in all material respects, could not now bė framed. Nothing in it was found to need alteration at the revolution. The wise men of that day saw in it one of the best hopes of future times, and commended it, as it was, with parental care, to the protection and guardianship of the government of the state. A charter of more liberal sentiments, of wiser provisions, drawn with more care, or in a better spirit, could not be expected at any time or from any source. The college needed no change in its organization or government. That which it did need was the kindness, the patronage, the bounty of the legislature; not a mock elevation to the character of a university, without the solid benefit of a shilling's donation to sustain the character; not the swelling and empty authority of establishing institutes and other colleges. This unsubstantial pageantry would seem to have been in derision of the scanty endowment and limited means of an unobtrusive but useful and growing seminary: Least of all was there a necessity, or pretence of necessity, to infringe its legal rights, violate its franchises and privileges, and pour upon it these overwhelming streams of litigation.

But this argument from necessily, would equally apply in all other cases.- If it be well founded, it would prove, that whenever any inconvenience or evil should be experienced from the restrictions imposed on the legislature by the constitution, these restrictions ought to be disregarded. It is enough to say, that the people have thought otherwise.—They have, most wisely, chosen to take the risk, of occasional inconvenience from the want of power, in order that there might be a settled limit to its exercise, and a permanent security against its abuse. They have imposed prohibitions and restraints; and they have not rendered these altogether vain and nugatory by conferring the power of dispensation. If inconvenience should arise, which the legislature cannot remedy under the power conferred upon it, it is not answerable for such inconvenience. That which it cannot do, within the limits prescribed to it, it cannot do at all. No legislature in this country is able, and may the time never come when it shall be able, to apply to itself the memorable expression of a Roman pontiff; Licet hoc de JURE non possumus, volumus tamen DE PLENITUDINE POTESTATIS.”

The case before the court is not of ordinary importance, nor of every day occurrence. It affects not this college only, but every college, and all the literary institutions of the country. They have flourished, hitherto, and have become in a high degree respectable and useful to the community. They have all a common principle of existence, the inviolability of their charters. It will be a dangerous, a most dangerous experiment, to hold these institutions subject to the rise and fall of popular parties, and the fluctuations of political opinions. If the franchise may be at any time taken away, or impaired, the property also may be taken away, or its use perverted. Benefactors will have no certainty of effecting the object of their bounty; and learned men will be deterred from devoting themselves to the service of such institutions, from the precarious title of their offices. Colleges and halls will be deserted by all better spirits, and become a theatre for the contention of politics. Party and faction will be cherished in the places consecrated to piety and learning. These consequences are neither remote nor possible only. They are certain and immediate.

When the court in North Carolina declared the law of the state, which repealed a grant to its university, unconstitutional and void, the legislature had the candor and the wisdom to repeal the law. This example, so honorable to the state which exhibited it, is most fit to be followed on this occasion. And there is good reason to hope, that a state, which has hitherto been so much distinguished for temperate councils, cautious legislation, and regard to law, will not fail to adopt a course, which will accord with her highest and best interest, and in no small degree elevate her reputation.

It was for many and obvious reasons most anxiously desired, that the question of the power of the legislature over this charter should have been finally decided in the state court. An earnest hope was entertained that the judges of that court might have viewed the case in the light favorable to the rights of the trustees. That hope has failed. It is here, that those rights are now to be maintained, or they are prostrated forever. Omnia alia perfugia bonorum, subsidia, consilia, auxilia, jura ceciderunt. Quem enim alium appellem? quem obtester? quem implorem? Nisi hoc loco, nisi apud vos, nisi per vos, judices, salutem nostram, quae spe exigua extremaque pendet, tenuerimus; nihil est præterea quo confugere possimus.




A Petition having been presented to the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, praying an inquiry into the official conduct of James Prescott, Esquire, Judge of Probate of Wills, &c. for the County of Middlesex, and charging him with misconduct and maladıninistration in office; and having been referred to a committee, who reported a statement of facts, together with resolutions, setting forth that the said Prescott ought to be impeached therefor, at the bar of the Senate of the Commonwealth-on the 20 day of February, 1821, an order was passed accordingly, and the Senate demanded to take measures for his impeachunent and appearance to answer thereto. A committee was thereupon appointed to prepare and report articles of impeachment. And John Glen King, Levi Lincoln, William Baylies, Warren Dutton, Samuel P. P. Fay, Lemuel Shaw and Sherman Leland, Esquires, were appointed Managers. Fifteen Articles of Impeachment were exhibited and read.

The Articles substantially charged him with holding Probate Courts for transacting business at other times than those authorised by law, demanding and taking illegal fees, and acting as counsel and receiving fees as such in cases pending, in his own Court, before him, as Judge.

After receiving the Respondent's answer to the Articles of Impeachment, and hearing the evidence in support of and against the same; Messrs. Leland, Shaw and Dutton argued the case in behalf of the Managers. Mr. Hoar then opened the argument, on the part of the Respondent, Mr. Blake followed, and was succeeded by Mr. Webster, who spoke as follows:

MR. PRESIDENT,—I agree with the Hon. Managers, in the importance which they have attributed to this proceeding. They have, I think, not at all overrated that importance, nor ascribed to the occasion, a solemnity which does not belong to it. Perhaps, however, I differ from them, in regard to the causes which give interest and importance to this trial, and to the parties likely to be most lastingly and deeply affected by its progress and result. The Respondent has as deep a stake, no doubt, in this trial, as he can well have in anything which does not affect life. Regard for reputation, love of honorable character, affection for those who must suffer with him, if he suffers, and who will feel your sentence of conviction, if you sho pronounce one, fall on their own heads, as it falls on his, cannot but excite, in his breast, an anxiety, which nothing could well increase, and nothing but a consciousness of upright intention could enable him to endure. Yet, sir, a few years will carry him far beyond the reach of the consequences of this trial. Those same years will bear away, also, in their rapid flight, those who prosecute and those who judge him. But the community remains. The Commonwealth, we trust, will be perpetual. She is yet in her youth, as a free and independent State, and, by analogy to the life of individuals, may be said to be in that period of her existence, when principles of action are adopted, and character is formed. The Hon. Respondent will not be the principal sufferer, if he should here fall a victim to charges of undefined and undefinable offences, to loose notions of constitutional law, or novel rules of evidence. By the necessary retribution of things, the evil of such a course would fall most heavily on the State which should pursue it, by shaking its character for justice, and impairing its principles of constitutional liberty.--This, sir, is the first interesting and important impeachment which has arisen under the constitution of the Commonwealth.—The decision now to be made cannot but affect subsequent cases.

Governments necessarily are more or less regardful of precedents, on interesting public trials, and as, on the present occasion, all who act any part here have naturally considered what has been done, and what rules and principles have governed, in similar cases, in other communities, so those who shall come after us will look back to this trial. And I most devoutly hope they may be able to regard it, as a safe and useful example, fit to instruct and guide them in their own duty; an example full of wisdom, and of moderation; an example of cautious and temperate justice; an example of law and principle successfully opposed to temporary excitement; an example, indicating in all those who bear a leading part in the proceedings, a spirit, fitted for a judicial trial, and proper for men who act with an enlightened and firm regard to the permanent interests of public constitutional liberty. To preserve the Respondent in the office which he fills, may be an object of little interest to the public; and to deprive him of that office may be of as little. But on what principles, he is either to be preserved or deprived, is an inquiry, in the highest degree important, and in which the public has a deep and lasting interest.

The provision, which the constitutions of this and other states have made for trying impeachments before the Senate, is obviously adopted from an analogy to the English constitution. It was perceived, however, and could hardly fail to be perceived, that the resemblance was not strong, between the tribunals, clothed with the power of trying impeachments, in this country, and the English House of Lords. This last is not only a branch of the legislature, but a standing judicature. It has jurisdiction to revise the judgments of all other courts. It is accustomed to the daily exercise of judicial power, and has acquired the habit and character which such exercise confers. There is a presumption, therefore, that it will try impeachments, as it tries other causes, and that the common rules of evidence, and the forms of proceedings, so essential to the rights of the accused, which prevail in other cases, will prevail also in cases of impeachment. In the construction of our American governments, it is obvious, that although the power of judging on impeachments could probably be nowhere so well deposited, as with the senate, yet it could not but be foreseen, that this high act of judicature was to be trusted to the hands of those who did not ordinarily perform judicial functions; but who occasionally only, and on such

« PreviousContinue »