What Is the Importance of the Dartmouth College V. Woodward Case?

The Supreme Court sided with Dartmouth College in 1819 in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, as noted by the American Bar Association. In doing so, the Court ratified the college’s claim that the state government violated Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution by interfering in a private contract.

According to the Dartmouth College website, the school was founded in 1769 by Reverend Eleazar Wheelock through a charter granted by King George III of England. The purpose of the school was to educate and instruct “Indian” tribal youth as well as English and other youth.

According to the American Bar Association, the state legislature of New Hampshire attempted to change the school from a private to public educational institution in 1819. The government also attempted to change the leadership of Dartmouth College, putting the power to direct school-related affairs in the hands of the governor instead of the board of trustees. Dartmouth’s trustees filed a lawsuit to stop the legislative interference.

According to the Dartmouth College website, Daniel Webster argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law points out that the final vote was 5 to 1 in favor of Dartmouth College, with the Supreme Court deciding that the school’s charter was a contract between private parties, with which the New Hampshire legislature could not interfere.