Society for Propagation of the Gospel v. Town of New Haven
21 U.S. 464 (1823)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Society for Propagation of the Gospel v. Town of New Haven, 21 U.S. 8 Wheat. 464 464 (1823)

Society for Propagation of the Gospel v. Town of New Haven

21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 464

Syllabus

A corporation for religious and charitable purposes which is endowed solely by private benefactions is a private eleemosynary corporation, although it is created by a charter from the government.

The capacity of private individuals (British subjects) or of corporations created by the Crown in this country or in Great Britain to hold lands or other property in this country was not affected by the Revolution.

The proper courts in this country will interfere to prevent an abuse of the trusts confided to British corporations holding lands here to charitable uses, and will aid in enforcing the due execution of the trusts, but neither those courts nor the local legislature where the lands lie can adjudge a forfeiture of the franchises of the foreign corporation or of its property.

The property of British corporations in this country is protected by the sixth article of the Treaty of Peace of 1783 in the same manner as those of natural persons, and their title, thus protected, is confirmed by the ninth article of the treaty of 1794, so that it could not be forfeited by any intermediate legislative act or other proceeding for the defect of alienage.

The termination of a treaty by war does not divest rights of property already vested under it.

Nor do treaties in general become extinguished ipso facto by war between the two governments. Those stipulating for a permanent arrangement of territorial and other national rights are, at most, suspended during the war, and revive at the peace unless they are waived by the parties or new and repugnant stipulations are made.

The Act of the Legislature of Vermont of 30 October, 1794, granting the lands in the state belonging to "The Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts" to the respective towns in which the lands lie is void, and conveys no title under it.

Page 21 U. S. 465

This was an action of ejectment brought by the plaintiffs against the defendants. The material facts, upon which the question of law arose, were stated in a special verdict, and are as follow:

By a charter granted by William III in the thirteenth year of his reign, a number of persons, subjects of England and there residing, were incorporated by the name of "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" in order that a better provision might be made for the preaching of the gospel and the maintenance of an orthodox clergy in the colonies of Great Britain. The usual corporate powers were bestowed upon this society, and, amongst others, it was authorized to purchase estates of inheritance to the value of 2,000 pounds per annum, and estates for lives or years and goods and chattels of any value. This charter of incorporation was duly accepted by the persons therein named, and the corporation has ever since existed, and now exists, as an organized body politic and corporate in England, all the members thereof being subjects of the King of Great Britain.

On 2 November, 1761, a grant was made by the Governor of the Province of New Hampshire in the name of the King, by which a certain tract of land in that province was granted to the inhabitants of the said province and of the King's other governments and to their heirs and

Page 21 U. S. 466

assigns, whose names were entered on the grant. The tract so granted was to be incorporated into a town by the name of New Haven, and to be divided into sixty-eight shares, one of which was granted to "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts." The tract of land, thus granted, was divided among the grantees by sundry votes and proceedings of a majority of them, which, by the law and usage of Vermont, render such partition legal. The premises demanded by the plaintiffs in this ejectment were set off to them in the above partition, but they had no agency in the division, nor was it necessary, by the law and usage of Vermont, in order to render the same valid.

On 30 October, 1794, the Legislature of Vermont passed an act declaring that the rights to land in that state granted under the authority of the British government previous to the Revolution to "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," were thereby granted severally to the respective towns in which such lands lay, and to their use forever. The act then proceeds to authorize the selectmen of each town to sue for and recover such lands, if necessary, and to lease them out, reserving an annual rent, to be appropriated to the support of schools. Under this law, the selectmen of the Town of New Haven executed a perpetual lease of a part of the demanded premises to the defendant, William Wheeler, on 10 February, 1800, reserving an annual rent of $5.50, immediately after which the said Wheeler entered

Page 21 U. S. 467

upon the land so leased, and has ever since held the possession thereof. Similar donations were made, about the same time with the above grant, to the plaintiffs of lands lying within the limits of Vermont by the Governor of New Hampshire in the name of the King, but the plaintiffs never entered upon such lands nor upon the demanded premises nor in any manner asserted a claim or title thereto until the commencement of this suit.

The verdict found a number of acts of the State of Vermont respecting improvements or settlements, and also the limitation of actions, but as the discussions at the bar did not involve any questions connected with those acts, those parts of the special verdict need not be more particularly noticed.

Upon this special verdict, the judges of the court below were divided in opinion upon the question whether judgment should be rendered for the plaintiffs or defendants, and the question was thereupon certified to this Court.

Page 21 U. S. 480

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