Dartmouth vs Woodward

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Dartmouth vs. Woodward

Kaylyn King
November 22, 2011
Kaylyn King
Mr. Williams
Government Per.3
22 November 2011
Dartmouth vs. Woodward
The Supreme Court case of Dartmouth versus Woodward in 1819, is a significant case that continues to have an impact on current court cases. This case helped define what a charter is and the “contract clause” of the U.S. constitution. The case of Dartmouth college versus Woodward had an effect on private and public colleges. It set the standard for contract clauses and limited the state of New Hampshire power in regards to private schools.

Reverend Eleaszer Wheelock first started Dartmouth college as a school for missionaries and Native Americans. Reverend Wheelock contributed his own money and also received funding from England and Scotland. He then set up an English board to help with the finances towards the school. The Royal Governor of New Hampshire granted a charter to Wheelock in 1769, which stated how the school was going to be ran. In order to maintain the charter, King George of England granted Dartmouth a written grant to establish a university in New Hampshire. In 1769, King George III established Dartmouth College. Thirty years later in 1815, after the United States was formed, the state of New Hampshire attempted to change the status of the school from private to public. The state of New Hampshire then passed laws that revised the charter. Therefore, they thought they were able to change the university from private to public. New Hampshire also selected new trustees for the state. The previous trustees and friends of Dartmouth did not approve of this new law and therefore filled a lawsuit. They hired Daniel Webster, who at the time, was known as the most famous alumni of the school. Webster defended Dartmouth in court against William Woodward; which is how this court case originated its name. Webster argued that when the school was founded certain rights were supposed to be upheld. Therefore, all private colleges could be subject to the same law, and could be changed from private to public.He also argued that without the due process of law, that their property, immunity, and privileges can not be taken away. The trustees that filed the lawsuit claimed that New Hampshire violated the constitution. They used Article 1, Section 10, claiming that the state was trying to cancel the contract(The Oyez Project).

On February 2, 1819, the final decision was made in the favor of the college. In a six to one decision, the Court stated that the state could not interfere because there was still a contract between private parties. The contract was valid because the Constitution stated that states can not dissolve contracts. Even though the contract was written when there was royal colonies and before the United States was formed, the fact remained that it was a contract between property rights and not between the government and its regulations. In Court, Marshall read the courts opinion that he had written, “The opinion of the court....is, that (the charter) is a contract, the obligation of which cannot be impaired without violating the constitution.”(Enotes)

The majority of the opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall which included his belief in that a contract can not be broken. An earlier Court case had the deciding factor in the decision against Dartmouth. This case was Fletcher v. Peck in the year 1810. The state was trying to break a contract in the cases in both Fletcher v. Peck and Dartmouth college v. Woodward. During this time, people were against the decisions on the cases of Fletcher v. Peck and Dartmouth v. Woodward. The reason why people were discouraged was because they felt the government had the right to end contracts(Enotes).

This now famous case had a significant impact in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and is still cited in business litigations today. Many businesses were able to...
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