Charles O’Kelley, ‘What was the Dartmouth College Case Really About?’

We learn in law school that before the American Revolution, Dartmouth College came into existence via a royal charter granted in the year 1769 by King George. Subsequently, a falling out occurred between the President of the College, John Wheelock, and the Board of Trustees. To resolve the dispute, the New Hampshire legislature asserted its authority and amended the Charter of 1769 to expand the size of the board of trustees. The new board of trustees then reinstated Wheelock as President. The old board sued, arguing that the New Hampshire legislature had no right to amend the Charter of 1769. Eventually the case found its way to the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the old board. The lesson to be learned: corporate charters are both contracts and property protected by the Contracts clause of the Constitution; if you are a state legislature, reserve in the charters you grant, the right to later amend them …

O’Kelley, Charles RT, What was the Dartmouth College Case Really About? (May 31, 2021). Vanderbilt Law Review, forthcoming.

First posted 2021-06-07 15:00:15

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