Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)
Dartmouth College had been granted a charter by the Crown during the colonial period. After independence, the State of New Hampshire created a new board of trustees who attempted to take control of the college. The secretary and treasurer of the college would not turn over to the new board of trustees the college’s papers and seal, and the board sued. In his 1819 decision, Chief Justice John Marshall made three major points. First, he made clear that the college was a private institution, not a public one, thus limiting the legislature’s control over it. Second, he held that public charters were contracts within the meaning of the Constitution. His final point was that the state, by its creation of a new board of trustees in violation of the old charter, had enacted a law “impairing the obligation of contracts” in violation of Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution—the Contract Clause.
Robert W. Langran
Last updated: 2006