Aspinwall v. Commissioners of Daviess County - 63 U.S. 364 (1859)
U.S. Supreme Court
Aspinwall v. Commissioners of Daviess County, 63 U.S. 22 How. 364 364 (1859)
Aspinwall v. Commissioners of Daviess County
63 U.S. (22 How.) 364
The charter of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad Company, passed by the Legislature of Indiana in 1848, and a supplement in 1849, authorized the county
commissioners of a county through which the road passed to subscribe for stock and issue bonds provided a majority of the qualified voters of the county voted, on the 1st of March, 1849, that this should be done.
The election was held on the appointed day, and a majority of the voters voted that the subscription should be made.
But before the subscription was made, the state adopted a new constitution, which went into effect on the 1st November, 1851. One of the articles prohibited such subscriptions unless paid for in cash, and prohibited also a county from loaning its credit or borrowing money to pay such subscriptions.
In 1852, the County Commissioners of Daviess County subscribed for stock in the railroad company, and issued their bonds for the amount.
The provisions of the railroad charter authorizing the commissioners to subscribe conferred a power upon a public corporation or civil institution of government which could be modified, changed, enlarged, or restrained, by the legislative authority, the charter not importing a contract within the meaning of the clause of the Constitution prohibiting a state from passing a law impairing the obligation of contracts.
The mere vote to subscribe did not of itself form such a contract with the railroad company as would be protected by the 10th section of the 1st article of the Constitution of the United States. Until the subscription was actually made, the contract was unexecuted.
The bonds were issued in violation of the Constitution of Indiana, and are therefore void.
The nature of the case and the certificate of division in opinion are stated in the opinion of the Court.