11 Pet. 420, 9 L.Ed. 773 ( 1837)
In 1785 the Massachusetts legislature granted to the Charles River Bridge Company the right to construct a bridge between Charlestown and Boston, with the power to collect tolls for 40 years (later extended to 70 years). This franchise replaced an exclusive ferry right formerly possessed by Harvard College, but which the college yielded in return for annual payments during the life of the bridge charter. In 1828, the legislature chartered the Warren Bridge Company, with the power to collect tolls on a bridge which it constructed sufficiently close to the Charles River Bridge to deprive its owners of their anticipated tolls. When a state court rejected the plaintiff company's bill for an injunction and other relief, review was sought on a writ of error. A very short excerpt from the 65-page dissenting opinion of JUSTICE STORY is given below, following TANEY'S opinion for the Court.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.
The questions involved in this case are of the gravest character, and the court have given to them the most anxious and deliberate consideration. The value of the right claimed by the plaintiffs is large in amount; and many persons may no doubt be seriously affected in their pecuniary interests by any decisions which the court may pronounce; and the questions which have been raised as to the power of the several states, in relation to the corporations they have chartered, are pregnant with important consequences; not only to the individuals who are concerned in the corporate franchises, but to the communities in which they exist. The court are fully sensible that it is their duty, in exercising the high powers conferred on them by the constitution of the United States, to deal with these great and extensive interests with the utmost caution; guarding, as far as they have the power to do so, the rights of property, and at the same time carefully abstaining from any encroachment on the rights reserved to the states. . . .
The plaintiffs in error insist, mainly, upon two grounds: 1st. That by virtue of the grant of 1650, Harvard College was entitled, in perpetuity, to the right of keeping a ferry between Charlestown and Boston; that this right was exclusive; and that the legislature had not the power to establish another ferry on the same line of travel, because it would infringe the rights of the college; and that these rights, upon the erection of the bridge in the place of the ferry, under the charter of 1785, were transferred to, and became vested in "the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge;" and that under, and by virtue of this transfer of the ferry right, the rights of the bridge company were as exclusive in that line of travel, as the rights of the ferry. 2d. That independently of the ferry right, the acts of the legislature of Massachusetts, of 1785 and 1792, by their true construction