Dartmouth College Case

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Dartmouth College Case

Dartmouth College Case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1819. The legislature of New Hampshire, in 1816, without the consent of the college trustees, amended the charter of 1769 to make Dartmouth College public. The trustees brought suit. Daniel Webster argued successfully that the amendment violated the Constitution because the state had impaired "the obligation of a contract." The opinion of the court, delivered by Chief Justice John Marshall, was that a charter was in effect inviolable. The decision made the contract clause of the Constitution a powerful instrument for the judicial protection of property rights against state abridgment. In 1837, Chief Justice Taney, while not challenging the basic principle, ruled in the Charles River Bridge Case that a legislative charter must be construed narrowly and a corporation could claim no implied rights beyond the specific terms of a grant.

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