Trustees of Dartmouth Coll. v. Woodward
17 U.S. 518 (1819)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Trustees of Dartmouth Coll. v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 4 Wheat. 518 518 (1819)

Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward

17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518

ERROR TO THE SUPERIOR COURT

OF THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

Syllabus

The charter granted by the British Crown to the trustees of Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, in the year 1769, is a contract within the meaning of that clause of the Constitution of the United States, art. 1, s. 10, which declares that no state shall make any law impairing the obligation of contracts. The charter was not dissolved by the Revolution.

An act of the State Legislature of New Hampshire altering the charter without the consent of the corporation in a material respect, is an act impairing the obligation of the charter, and is unconstitutional and void.

Under its charter, Dartmouth College was a private, and not a public, corporation. That a corporation is established for purposes of general charity, or for education generally does not, per se, make it a public corporation, liable to the control of the legislature.

The case was argued at February Term, 1811, and was decided at February Term, 1812. The defendant had died after February Term, 1811. The judgment was entered nunc pro tunc.

This was an action of trover, brought in the State court, in which the plaintiffs in error declared for

Page 17 U. S. 519

two books of records, purporting to contain the records of all the doings and proceedings of the trustees of Dartmouth College from the establishment of the corporation until the 7th day of October, 1816; the original charter or letters-patent, constituting the college; the common seal; and four volumes or books of account, purporting to contain the charges and accounts in favor of the college. The defendant pleaded the general issue, and at the trial, the following special verdict was found:

"The said jurors, upon their oath, say, that his Majesty George III., King of Great Britain, &c., issued his letters-patent, under the public seal of the province, now State, of New Hampshire, bearing the 13th day of December, in the 10th year of his reign, and in the year of our Lord 1769, in the words following:"

" George the Third, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, To all to whom these presents shall come, greeting:"

" Whereas, it hath been represented to our trusty and well-beloved John Wentworth, Esq., governor and commander-in-chief, in and over our province of New Hampshire, in New England, in America, that the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, of Lebanon, in the colony of Connecticut, in New England, aforesaid, now doctor in divinity, did, on or about the year of our Lord 1754,

Page 17 U. S. 520

at his own expense, on his own estate and plantation, set on foot an Indian charity school, and for several years, through the assistance of well-disposed persons in America, clothed, maintained and educated a number of the children of the Indian natives, with a view to their carrying the Gospel, in their own language, and spreading the knowledge of the great Redeemer, among their savage tribes, and hath actually employed a number of them as missionaries and schoolmasters in the wilderness for that purpose; and by the blessing of God upon the endeavors of said Wheelock, the design became reputable among the Indians, insomuch that a large number desired the education of their children in said school, and were also disposed to receive missionaries and schoolmasters, in the wilderness, more than could be supported by the charitable contributions in these American colonies. Whereupon, the said Eleazar Wheelock thought it expedient, that endeavors should be used to raise contributions from well disposed persons in England for the carrying on and extending said undertaking; and for that purpose the said Eleazar Wheelock requested the Rev. Nathaniel Whitaker, now doctor in divinity, to go over to England for that purpose, and sent over with him the Rev. Samson Occom, an Indian minister, who had been educated by the said Wheelock. And to enable the said Whitaker to the more successful performance of said work, on which he was sent, said Wheelock gave him a full power of attorney, by which said Whitaker solicited those worthy and generous contributors to the charity, viz.,

Page 17 U. S. 521

The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, the Honorable Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe, Knight, one of the barons of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer, John Thornton, of Clapham, in the County of Surrey, Esquire, Samuel Roffey, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, in the County of Middlesex, Esquire, Charles Hardy, of the parish of Saint Mary-le-bonne, in said county, Esquire, Daniel West, of Christ's Church, Spitalfields, in the county aforesaid, Esquire, Samuel Savage, of the same place, gentleman, Josiah Roberts, of the Parish of St. Edmund the King, Lombard Street, London, gentleman, and Robert Keen, of the Parish of Saint Botolph, Aldgate, London, gentleman, to receive the several sums of money which should be contributed, and to be trustees for the contributors to such charity, which they cheerfully agreed to. Whereupon, the said Whitaker did, by virtue of said power of attorney, constitute and appoint the said Earl of Dartmouth, Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe, John Thornton, Samuel Roffey, Charles Hardy and Daniel West, Esquires, and Samuel Savage, Josiah Roberts and Robert Keen, gentlemen, to be trustees of the money which had then been contributed, and which should, by his means, be contributed for said purpose, which trust they have accepted, as by their engrossed declaration of the same, under their hands and seals, well executed, fully appears, and the same has also been ratified, by a deed of trust, well executed by the said Wheelock."

" And the said Wheelock further represents, that he has, by power of attorney, for many weighty reasons,

Page 17 U. S. 522

given full power to the said trustees to fix upon and determine the place for said school, most subservient to the great end in view; and to enable them understandingly to give the preference, the said Wheelock has laid before the said trustees, the several offers which have been generously made in the several governments in America to encourage and invite the settlement of said school among them, for their own private emolument and the increase of learning in their respective places, as well as for the furtherance of the general design in view. And whereas a large number of the proprietors of lands in the western part of this our province of New Hampshire, animated and excited thereto by the generous example of his excellency, their Governor, and by the liberal contributions of many noblemen and gentlemen in England, and especially by the consideration that such a situation would be as convenient as any for carrying on the great design among the Indians; and also, considering, that without the least impediment to the said design, the same school may be enlarged and improved to promote learning among the English, and be a means to supply a great number of churches and congregations which are likely soon to be formed in that new country, with a learned and orthodox ministry; they, the said proprietors, have promised large tracts of land, for the uses aforesaid, provided the school shall be settled in the western part of our said province. And they, the said right honorable, honorable and worthy trustees before mentioned, having maturely considered the reasons and arguments in favor of the several places

Page 17 U. S. 523

proposed, have given the preference to the western part of our said province, lying on Connecticut river, as a situation most convenient for said school."

" And the said Wheelock has further represented a necessity of a legal incorporation in order to the safety and wellbeing of said seminary, and its being capable of the tenure and disposal of lands and bequests for the use of the same. And the said Wheelock has also represented that, for many weighty reasons, it will be expedient, at least in the infancy of said institution or till it can be accommodated in that new country and he and his friends be able to remove and settle by and round about it, that the gentlemen whom he has already nominated in his last will (which he has transmitted to the aforesaid gentlemen of the trust in England) to be trustees in America should be of the corporation now proposed. And also, as there are already large collections for said school in the hands of the aforesaid gentlemen of the trust in England, and all reasons to believe, from their singular wisdom, piety and zeal to promote the Redeemer's cause (which has already procured for them the utmost confidence of the Kingdom), we may expect they will appoint successors in time to come who will be men of the same spirit, whereby great good may and will accrue many ways to the institution, and much be done, by their example and influence, to encourage and facilitate the whole design in view; for which reason, said Wheelock desires that the trustees aforesaid may be vested with all that power therein which can consist with their distance from the same. "

Page 17 U. S. 524

" KNOW YE, THEREFORE that We, considering the premises and being willing to encourage the laudable and charitable design of spreading Christian knowledge among the savages of our American wilderness, and also that the best means of education be established in our province of New Hampshire, for the benefit of said province, do, of our special grace, certain knowledge and mere motion, by and with the advice of our counsel for said province, by these presents, will, ordain, grant and constitute that there be a college erected in our said province of New Hampshire by the name of Dartmouth College, for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land in reading, writing, and all parts of learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and christianizing children of pagans, as well as in all liberal arts and sciences, and also of English youth and any others. And the trustees of said college may and shall be one body corporate and politic, in deed, action and name, and shall be called, named and distinguished by the name of the Trustees of Dartmouth College."

" And further, we have willed, given, granted, constituted and ordained, and by this our present charter, of our special grace, certain knowledge and mere motion, with the advice aforesaid, do, for us, our heirs and successors forever, will, give, grant, constitute and ordain that there shall be in the said Dartmouth College, from henceforth and forever, a body politic consisting of trustees of said Dartmouth College. And for the more full and perfect erection of said corporation and body politic, consisting of trustees of Dartmouth College, we, of our special grace, certain

Page 17 U. S. 525

knowledge and mere motion, do, by these presents, for us, our heirs and successors, make, ordain, constitute and appoint our trusty and well beloved John Wentworth, Esq., Governor of our said province, and the Governor of our said province of New Hampshire for the time being, and our trusty and well beloved Theodore Atkinson, Esq., now president of our Council of our said province, George Jaffrey and Daniel Peirce, Esq'rs, both or our said Council, and Peter Gilman, Esq., now speaker of our house of representatives in said province, and William Pitkin, Esq., one of the assistants of our colony of Connecticut, and our said trusty and well beloved Eleazar Wheelock, of Lebanon, doctor in divinity, Benjamin Pomroy, of Hebroe, James Lockwood, of Weathersfield, Timothy Pitkin and John Smalley, of Farmington, and William Patten, of Hartford, all of our said colony of Connecticut, ministers of the gospel (the whole number of said trustees consisting, and hereafter for ever to consist, of twelve and no more) to be trustees of said Dartmouth College, in this our province of New Hampshire."

" And we do further, of our special grace, certain knowledge and mere motion, for us, our heirs and successors, will, give, grant and appoint that the said trustees and their successors shall forever hereafter be, in deed, act and name, a body corporate and politic, and that they, the said body corporate and politic, shall be known and distinguished, in all deeds, grants, bargains, sales, writings, evidences or otherwise howsoever, and in all courts forever hereafter, plea and be impleaded by the name of the Trustees of Dartmouth College; and that the said corporation,

Page 17 U. S. 526

by the name aforesaid, shall be able, and in law capable, for the use of said Dartmouth College, to have, get, acquire, purchase, receive, hold, possess and enjoy, tenements, hereditaments, jurisdictions and franchises, for themselves and their successors, in fee-simple, or otherwise howsoever, and to purchase, receive or build any house or houses, or any other buildings, as they shall think needful and convenient, for the use of said Dartmouth College, and in such town in the western part of our said province of New Hampshire, as shall, by said trustees, or the major part of them, he agreed on, their said agreement to be evidenced by an instrument in writing, under their hands, ascertaining the same; and also to receive and dispose of any lands, goods, chattels and other things, of what nature soever, for the use aforesaid; and also to have, accept and receive any rents, profits, annuities, gifts, legacies, donations or bequests of any kind whatsoever, for the use aforesaid; so, nevertheless that the yearly value of the premises do not exceed the sum of

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