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the Supreme Court of the United States in Slocum v. Mayberry, upon that very ground.
In the case of the United States v. Barney, the district judge of Maryland carried to a great extent the exemption from state control of officers or persons in the service of the United States, and employed in the transportation of the mail. He held, that an innkeeper had no lien on the horses which he had fed, and which were employed in the transportation of the mail. The act of Congress of March, 1790, prohibited all wilful obstruction of the passage of the mail; and a claim for debt would not justify the stopping of the mail, or the means necessary to transport it, either upon principles of common law, or upon the statute. The judge stated, in this case, that even a stolen horse found in the mail stage could not be seized; nor could the driver, being in debt, or having committed an offence, be arrested, in such a way as to obstruct the passage of the mail. But, in a subsequent case in the Circuit Court of Pennsylvania, it was held, that the act of Congress was not to be so construed as to endanger the public peace and safety. The carrier of the mail, driving through a populous city with dangerous rapidity, and contrary to a municipal ordinance, may be stopped, and the mail temporarily detained by an officer of the city. So, if the officer had a warrant against a felon in the stage, or if the driver should commit murder in the street, and then place himself on the mail stage box, he would not be protected from arrest, though a temporary stoppage of the mail might be the consequence. The public safety in the one case, is of more moment than the public inconvenience which it might produce in the other.
But while all interference on the part of the state authorities with the exercise of the lawful powers of the national government, has been, in most cases, denied, there is one case in which any control by the federal over the state
a 3 Hall's Law Journal, 128.
United States v. Hart, 1 Peters' Cir. Rep. 390.
courts, other than by means of the established appellate juisdiction, has equally been prevented. In Diggs and Keith v. Wolcott, it was decided generally, that a court of the United States could not enjoin proceedings in a state court; and a decree of the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Connecticut was reversed, because it had enjoined the parties from proceeding at law in a state court. So, in Ex parte Cabrera," it was declared, that the Circuit Courts of the United States could not interfere with the jurisdiction of the courts of a state. These decisions are not to be contested; and yet the district judge of the northern district of New-York, in the spring of 1823, in the case of Lansing and Thayer v. The North River Steam-Boat Company, enjoined the defendants from seeking in the state courts, under the acts of the state legislature, the remedies which those acts gave them. This would appear to have been an assumption of the power of control over the jurisdiction of the state courts, in hostility to the doctrine of the Supreme Court of the United States. In the case of Kennedy v. Earl of Cassillis, an injunction had been unwarily granted in the English Court of Chancery, to restrain a party from proceeding in a suit in the Court of Sessions in Scotland, where the parties were domiciled. It was admitted, that the Court of Sessions was a court of competent jurisdiction, and an independent foreign tribunal, though subject to an appeal, like the Court of Chancery, to the House of Lords. If the Court of Chancery could in that way restrain proceedings in the Court of Sessions, the Sessions might equally enjoin proceedings in Chancery, and thus stop all proceedings in either court. Lord Eldon said, he never meant to go further with the injunction, than the property in England; and he, on motion, dissolved it in toto.
a 4 Cranch, 179.
b 1 Washington's Cir. Reports, 232.
e 2 Swanst. 330.
(4.) No state can pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.
No state can
We come next to a prohibition of great moment, and affecting extensively and deeply the legislative authority of impair the the states. There is no prohibitory clause in the constitution, which has given rise to more various and able discussion, or more protracted litigation, than that which denies to any state the right to pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. I shall endeavour to give a full and accurate view of the judicial decisions defining and enforcing this prohibition.
The case of Fletcher v. Peck, first brought this prohibitory clause into direct discussion. The legislature of Georgia, by an act of 7th of January, 1795, authorized the sale of a large tract of wild land, and a grant was made by letters patent in pursuance of the act, to a number of individuals, under the name of the Georgia Company. Fletcher held a deed from Peck for a part of this land, under a title derived from the patent; and in the deed Peck had covenanted, that the state of Georgia was lawfully seized when the act was passed, and had good right to sell, and that the letters patent were lawfully issued, and the title has not since been legally impaired. The action was for breach of covenant; and the breach assigned was, that the letters patent were void, for, that the legislature of Georgia by act of 13th February, 1796, declared the preceding act to be null and void, as being founded in fraud and corruption. One of the questions presented to the Supreme Court upon the case was, whether the legislature of Georgia could constitutionally repeal the act of 1795, and rescind the sale made under it.
a Cranch, 87.
The court declared, that when a law was in its nature a contract, and absolute rights have vested under that contract, a repeal of the law could not devest those rights, nor annihilate or impair the title so acquired. A grant was a contract within the meaning of the constitution. The words of the constitution were construed to comprehend equally executory and executed contracts, for each of them contains obligations binding on the parties. A grant is a contract executed, and a party is always estopped by his own grant. A party cannot pronounce his own deed invalid, whatever cause may be assigned for its invalidity, and though that party be the legislature of a state. A grant amounts to an extinguishment of the right of the grantor, and im plies a contract not to reassert that right. A grant from a state is as much protected by the operation of the provision of the constitution, as a grant from one individual to another, and the state is as much inhibited from impairing its own contracts, or a contract to which it is a party, as it is from impairing the obligation of contracts between two individuals. It was, accordingly, declared, that, the estate held under the act of 1795, having passed into the hands of a bona fide purchaser for a valuable consideration, the state of Georgia was constitutionally disabled from passing any law whereby the estate of the plaintiff could be legally impaired and rendered void.
The next case that brought this provision in review before the Supreme Court, was that of The State of New-Jersey v. Wilson. It was there held, that if the legislature should declare by law, that certain lands to be thereafter purchased for the use of the Indians, should not be subject to any tax, such a legislative act amounted to a contract, which could not be rescinded by a subsequent legislature. In that case, the colonial legislature of New-Jersey, in 1758, authorized the purchase of lands for the Delaware
a 7 Cranch, 164.
Indians, and made that stipulation. Lands were accordingly purchased, and conveyed to trustees for the use of the Indians, and the Indians released their claim to other lands, as a consideration for this purchase. The Indians occupied these lands until 1803, when they were sold to individuals under the authority of an act of the legislature, and, in 1804, the legislature repealed the act of 1758, exempting those lands from taxation. The act of 1758 was held to be
a contract, and the act of 1804 was held to be a breach of that contract, and void under the constitution of the United States.
The Supreme Court went again, and more largely, into the consideration of this delicate and interesting constitutional doctrine, in the case of Terrett v. Taylor. It was there held, that a legislative grant, competently made, vested an indefeasible and irrevocable title. There is no authority or principle which could support the doctrine, that a legislative grant was revocable in its own nature, and held only durante bene placito. Nor can the legislature repeal statutes creating private corporations, or confirming to them property already acquired, under the faith of previous laws, and by such repeal vest the property in others, without the consent or default of the corporators. Such a proceeding would be repugnant to the letter and spirit of the constitution, and to the principles of natural justice.
But it was in the great case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, that the inhibition upon the states to impair by law the obligation of contracts, received the most elaborate discussion, and the most efficient and instructive application. It was there held, that the charter granted by the British crown to the trustees of Dartmouth College in 1769, was a contract within the meaning of the constitution, and protected by it; and that the college was a private charitable institution, not liable to the control of the legislature ;