Dartmouth College, the last of the colonial colleges, was granted a charter on December 13, 1769, by George III. The charter went to Eleazar Wheelock, who established the institution at Hanover, New Hampshire, to educate and instruct the youth of the Indian tribes, as well as English youths and others. ? Wheelock, a Congregational minister, had formerly operated Moore's Charity School at Lebanon, Connecticut, a school for Native American boys, which he wished to expand into a college. He secured the assistance of William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth; Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and former student who raised considerable funds for the project; and John Wentworth, royal governor of New Hampshire, who donated 10 acres of land at Hanover. Wheelock's mission to educate Native American youth did not succeed.
So the college proceeded to follow a liberal and useful arts curriculum and to prepare young men for the Congregational ministry. In 1815, Dartmouth experienced a sensational series of events. A newly elected Republicandominated legislature declared the original Dartmouth charter invalid, because it was issued by a king who was eventually deposed.
A new board of trustees was appointed, and the college was renamed Dartmouth University, taken over by the state, and declared a state university. The deposed board of trustees, led by former president Francis Brown, commenced an action in the New Hampshire courts, demanding the return of the Dartmouth College seal, its charter, records, account books, and the keys. Denied justice in New Hampshire courts, the board appealed to the federal courts on the basis of the contracts clause of the Constitution (Article I, section X, clause 1).
The board argued that no state may impair the obligations of a contract and that the original charter issued by George III was not only valid at the time but currently valid. The board further argued that Dartmouth was a private institution perpetually free from interference by the state of New Hampshire. The case went before the Supreme Court in 1819, with Daniel Webster, a Dartmouth alumnus (class of 1801), representing the Dartmouth trustees.
It has become a part of American legend that on the final day of his oral argument before the Court, Webster, with choking voice and quivering lips, brought tears to the eyes of the justices when he pleaded, Sirs, you may destroy this little institution. It is weak. I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of the country.
You may put it out. But if you do so, you must carry through your work. You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which, for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land.
It is sirs, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it! The Court's decision in Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, issued by John Marshall, stands as a landmark decision in American constitutional law. It declared that the original charter of 1769 was valid, regardless of the results of the Revolutionary War.
The decision was a strong, affirmative interpretation of the contracts clause. It established the doctrine that private institutions, duly chartered, may conduct their affairs according to the charter, and that the states may not subsequently impair the obligations of contracts once the contracts are complete. Virtual Tours Admissions alltravel8Dartmouth Town in Dartmouth Devon – An impressive place to arrive … alltravel8Visiting Campus alltravel8