Attorney General v. Federal Street Meeting-House,
66 U.S. 262 (1861)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Attorney General v. Federal Street Meeting-House, 66 U.S. 1 Black 262 262 (1861)

Attorney General v. Federal Street Meeting-House

66 U.S. (1 Black) 262


1. This Court has no jurisdiction to review the proceedings of a state court merely on the ground that the defendant is a body politic, incorporated by an act of the state legislature.

2. To sustain a writ of error from this Court to the state court in such a case, it must appear from the pleadings, evidence, or decree that the validity of the act of incorporation was drawn in question.

3. The validity of the act is not drawn in question where the defendants assert that they and those under whom they claim were owners of the land in dispute before the passage of the act as well as afterwards, and where the plaintiffs assert title in themselves under a deed in no way connected with the act.

4. Where the act incorporating the defendants was a mere enabling act, passed while they were in possession and intended for their convenience as owners and other persons claim to be the true owners, the issue is on the original rights of the parties, without respect to the defendant's charter.

The Attorney General of Massachusetts, at the relation of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of the State of New York and others, ministers, elders, and the members of the Presbyterian Church, filed an information in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts against the proprietors of the Meeting House in Federal Street, Boston, alleging that the land on which said Meeting House is built was conveyed in 1735 by its then proprietor to trustees, to be held as a place for the preaching and maintaining of the doctrine, worship, and form of government of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which was Calvinistic and Trinitarian, teaching the Westminster confession of faith and catechisms; that the Meeting House continued to be used according to the trust expressed in the deed until 1786, when various changes were introduced into the society and it became congregational; that this lasted until 1815, when the trust was wholly perverted and abused by the conversion of the congregation into a Unitarian society.

Page 66 U. S. 263

In 1805, while it was a congregational church, the Legislature of Massachusetts incorporated "all persons who now are or who may hereafter be the proprietors of pews in the Congregational Meeting House situate on Federal Street, Boston," by the name of "The Proprietors of the Meeting House in Federal Street, in the Town of Boston," and declared that the said corporation should be deemed seized of the Meeting House, with its appurtenances &c. The answer of the defendants sets forth, among other things, the act of incorporation, and avers that they were in possession long before the passage of that act; that they were in possession at the time of its passage, and have remained in possession ever since as the undisputed owners of the premises. The state court dismissed the information, 3 Gray 1, and this writ of error was taken by the relators.

Page 66 U. S. 265

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