Dartmouth College v. Woodward

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In Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a corporation charter was a private contract which was protected from interference by a state legislature.[1]

The case originated when William Plumer, the newly elected governor of New Hampshire, attempted to take control of Dartmouth College's charter from its trustees in an attempt to replace the board with elected members.[2] The Supreme Court ruled with a six to one vote that the College's charter qualified as a contract between private parties and that the legislature could not interfere.[3]

Dartmouth Class of 1801 alumnus Daniel Webster, considered the finest legal orator of his time, won the case for Dartmouth against tremendous odds. He successfully argued that New Hampshire's effort to convert the College into a state university was unconstitutional. Webster successfully relied on the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which has not often been a winning argument in court.


  1. Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, Page. 239
  2. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~govdocs/case/dartmouthcase.htm
  3. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1818/1818_0/

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