The case of Dartmouth College versus Woodward
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The case of Dartmouth College versus Woodward The case of Dartmouth College versus Woodward, came before the Supreme Court of the United States of America after already being ruled on by the state of New Hampshire. This case is considered to be a landmark case that took place in 1819. This case affected the American people in various ways. Through the course of this case in the state court to the Supreme Court, this case established that the federal court has the power to reverse a state court's decision, defined in legal terms what a corporation is, and help to interpret the Contract Clause of the Constitution. In 1769, Dartmouth College received a charter from the King of England. This established it as a college. Through the years the state of New Hampshire had granted additional land to the college. The college in turn had taken upon itself the duty of providing a higher education in the state, and not simply being a private college. On June 27, 1816 the state of New Hampshire amended the charter of Dartmouth College, and changed the name to Dartmouth University. This was due to William Plumer, New Hampshire's newly elected Jeffersonian-Republican governor "determined to transform Dartmouth College by ousting what they regarded as a self-perpetuating Federalist hierarchy among the college's trustees appointed through the political process.1" Changing the name Dartmouth College to a university greatly affected the internal structure of Dartmouth.
The corporation that was established was a lay corporation, not a civil corporation, and therefore it did not belong to the public. Rather, it belonged to the 3 trustees and to those they appointed to succeed them.4" Webster further argued that the original charter of the state legislature had "taken away from one...rights, property, and franchises, and given them to another. He asserted that the Contract Clause should be interposed as a constitutional barrier to state activity of this kind.5" John Holmes argued on behalf of the state of New Hampshire. Holmes, like Webster, based his argument on the nature of the college, whether it was a corporation or not, and what rights it held. "Holmes argued that the charter was not a private institution, but was a grant of a public nature.6" Chief Justice Marshall presented the majority opinion of the Supreme Court. The two major points that were considered in this trial were, was this contract protected by the United States, and was it impaired by the acts under which the defendant holds. According to Chief Judge Marshall the answer to both of these questions is yes. Chief Judge Marshall's opinion turned on the question of whether, "the original royal charter was a contract, and the State acts, in consequence, an impairment of contract obligations prohibited by the Contract Clause of the Constitution.
assuring investors that rights granted by state legislatures would be secure from later political or popular changes.11" The corporation as pointed out by Judge Marshall, "is an artificial being - immortal. However, it may act as an individual. But, it does not have a political character (it cannot vote or run for office).12" This case was considered to be a landmark case in the history of the United State's Supreme Court. This fact was further demonstrated by how the future was affected by this case. In later times when states chartered colleges or other institutions the states reserved the right to amend the charter in later years. 6 Endnotes 1 Hall, Kermit, The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p.71 2 Mikula, Mark, Great American Court Cases (Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, 1999) p.35 3 Hall The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions p.71 4 Mikula Great American Court Cases p.35 5 Hall The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions p.72 6 Mikula Great American Court Cases p.35 7 White, Edward, The Marshall Court and the Culture of Change, 1815-1835 (Washington D.C.: 1988) p.1 8 Hall The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions p.72 9 Ibid., p.72 10 Ibid., p.72 11 Jost, Kenneth, The Supreme Court A to Z (Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1998) p.127 12 Mikula Great American Court Cases p.36 ?? ?? ?? ??
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