Trustees of Philadelphia Baptist Ass'n v. Hart's Executors
17 U.S. 1

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U.S. Supreme Court

Trustees of Philadelphia Baptist Ass'n v. Hart's Executors, 17 U.S. 1 (1819)

Trustees of Philadelphia Baptist Association v. Hart's Executors

17 U.S. 1

Syllabus

In the year 1790, S.H., a citizen of Virginia, made his last will, containing the following bequest:

"Item, what shall remain of my military certificates at the time of my decease, both principal and interest, I give and bequeath to The Baptist Association, that for ordinary meets at Philadelphia annually, which I allow to be a perpetual fund for the education of youths of the Baptist denomination who shall appear promising for the ministry, always giving a preference to the descendants of my father's family."

In 1792, the Legislature of Virginia passed an act repealing all English statutes. In 1795, the testator died. The Baptist Association in question had existed as a regularly organized body for many years before the date of his will, and in 1797 was incorporated by the Legislature of Pennsylvania by the name of "The Trustees of the Philadelphia Baptist Association."

Held that the association, not being incorporated at the testator's decease, could not take this trust as a society.

That the bequest could not be taken by the individuals who composed the Association at the death of the testator.

That there were no persons to whom this legacy, were it not a charity, could be decreed.

And that it could not be sustained in this Court as a charity.

Charitable bequests, where no legal interest is vested and which are too vague to be claimed by those for whom the beneficial interest was intended, cannot be established by a court of equity, either exercising its ordinary jurisdiction or enforcing the prerogative of the King as parens patriae, independent of the statute, 43 Eliz.

If, in England, the prerogative of the King, as parens patriae, would, independent of the Statute of Elizabeth, extend to charitable bequests of this description: quaere how far this principle would govern in the courts of the United States?

The English statute, 43d Elizabeth, gives validity, to some devises to charitable uses, which were not valid independent of that statute.

Held that it was unnecessary to enter into this inquiry, because it could only arise where the Attorney General is made a party.

Page 17 U. S. 2

In the year 1790, Silas Hart, a citizen and resident of Virginia, made his last will in writing, which contains the following bequest:

"Item, what shall remain of my military certificates, at the time of my decease, both principal and interest, I give and bequeath to the Baptist Association that, for ordinary, meets at Philadelphia, annually, which I allow to be a perpetual fund for the education of youths of the Baptist denomination, who shall appear promising for the ministry, always giving a preference to the descendants of my father's family."

In 1792, the Legislature of Virginia passed an act repealing all English statutes, including that of the 43 Eliz., c. 4. In the year 1795, the testator died. The Baptist Association which met annually at Philadelphia had existed as a regularly organized body, for many years before the date of this will, and was composed of the clergy of several Baptist churches, of different states, and of an annual deputation of laymen from

Page 17 U. S. 3

the same churches.

It was not incorporated, until the year 1797, when it received a charter from the Legislature of Pennsylvania incorporating it by the name of "The Trustees of the Philadelphia Baptist Association." The executors having refused to pay the legacy, this suit was instituted in the Circuit Court for the District of Virginia by the corporation and by those individuals who were members of the association at the death of the testator. On the trial of the cause, the judges of that court were divided in opinion on the question whether the plaintiffs were capable of taking under this will, which point was, therefore, certified to this Court.

Page 17 U. S. 27

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