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Argument for Appellants.
the decisions of this court that Congress can pass no law impairing the obligation of contracts, or legislating back to the government property that has been given away by acts of Congress, or divesting title of property from one citizen and giving it to another, because such acts are repugnant to the spirit of our institutions.
In the exercise of its unquestioned power the territorial legislature of Utah, in 1851, by joint resolution, approved the charter of this corporation, which had been previously granted by the so-called State of Deseret, and on the 19th day of January, 1855, it confirmed and reënacted the same. The franchises granted to this corporation were that it should be a corporation with perpetual succession, and with power to acquire and hold real and personal estate for the religious and charitable purposes set forth in the charter. No authority was given to the church by this charter, nor is it claimed in its organization that any authority exists, to set at defiance the laws of the land, nor is it claimed, as has been asserted by the Supreme Court of Utah in the opinion delivered by that court in this case, that the organization claims to be directed and led by inspiration that is above all human wisdom and subject to a power above all municipal governments. The court claims this assertion of fact as belonging to history, whereas the very contrary doctrine is asserted in what are called the “revelations” of this church, to be found on page 219 of their book of Doctrine and Covenants. The one distinguishing feature of this corporation is, that, being a corporation founded for religious and charitable purposes it was not founded for the profit of the corporators, but for the administration of charitable trusts. It is with regard to a corporation of this character that we maintain that:
I. Congress having, by the organic act of September 9, 1850, given full power and authority to the Territory of Utah over all rightful subjects of legislation, including the power and authority to create private corporations, and no right to repeal, alter or amend the powers and franchises vested in the church corporation having been reserved in the act of incorporation, or in any other act or law of the territorial legisla
Argument for Appellants.
ture of Utah, or in the organic act itself, the creation of this corporation was a contract which could not be altered or repealed by any subsequent act of the territorial legislature or of the Congress of the United States.
While we admit that the Congress of the United States has supreme legislative authority over the Territories, we maintain that it has not the power to undo what it authorized to be done. We say that while the granting of a corporate franchise is an act of legislation -- a law, because it is an act of the lawmaking power, the only representative of the State in this respect -- it is something more than a law in the general sense of that word. A law in its general sense is a rule of action, and applies to every citizen in the community. An act of incorporation, or any other contract made by the authorities representing the State, applies to one individual, or to a limited number of individuals; and while it is a law, as applied to them, it is at the same time a contract made with them, which, if executed, may not be impaired by any subsequent act of legislation. If there is a provision in the charter that it may be repealed by the power granting it -- that the artificial person created by the act may be destroyed – then this power of repeal becomes a part of the contract, or if by a general law relating to the subject of corporations it is declared substantially that their charters may be amended, and that the State reserves the right to alter or repeal them, then this reservation becomes a part of the contract. Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 637, 645, 682, 700.
The reservation contained in the organic act of the Territory of the right to disapprove acts passed by the territorial legislature is not a reservation upon all the grants of power contained in that section of the organic act, or rather in that part of the section which gives them the right to legislate upon all rightful subjects of legislation. There is nothing in the organic act, nor in the charter under consideration, nor in any act of Congress, which reserves to Congress or to the territorial legislature the right to alter, amend or repeal a charter of incorporation. Every decision of this court in which the right of a legislature to alter or take away the franchises
Argument for Appellants.
of a corporation has been upheld is a case in which there was either a special reservation in the charter, or some provision of a general law on the subject of corporations, reserving to the State the power to alter or repeal the act creating the corporation. Miller v. State, 15 Wall. 478, 488; Greenwood v. Freight Company, 105 U. S. 13, 15; Pennsylvania College Cases, 13 Wall. 190, 212; Terrett v. Taylor, 9 Cranch, 43, 53; Wilkinson v. Leland, 2 Pet. 627, 657; Osborn v. Nicholson, 13 Wall. 654; Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388; Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393, 449.
II. The charter of the church corporation received the implied sanction of Congress, and thereafter Congress could not impair the contract nor dissolve the corporation, either by disapproving the act of incorporation, or by repealing the charter.
The law requires that the secretary of the Territory shall transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, for the use of Congress, two copies of the laws and journals of each session of the territorial legislature, within thirty days after the end of each session, and one copy to the President of the United States. This court will presume that the officers have performed their duty in this respect. From 1851 to 1887 there were thirty-six regular sessions of Congress. The sixth section of the organic act provides that all laws passed by the Legislative Assembly and Governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and if disapproved shall be null and of no effect. It is true there is no time fixed within which this disapproval may be manifested, but after this long period of time it is certainly fair to presume that such legislation has received the implied sanction of Congress. Clinton v. Englebrecht, 13 Wall. 434, 446.
But if it should be held that Congress had the power to disapprove the charter of the church and dissolve the corporation, then the property now in possession of the receiver would belong to the members of the corporation, and it should have been set apart, by the court below, for their use and benefit. In the well considered opinion of the Court of Ap
Argument for Appellants.
peals in New York in the case of People v. O'Brien, 111 N. Y. 2, it is said: “It cannot be necessary at this day to enter upon a discussion in denial of the right of the government to take from either individuals or corporations any property which they may rightfully have acquired. In the most arbitrary times such an act was recognized as pure tyranny, and it has been forbidden in England ever since Magna Charta, and in this country always. It is immaterial in what way the property was lawfully acquired, whether by labor in the ordinary avocations of life, by gift, or descent, or by making a profitable use of a franchise granted by the State; it is enough that it has become private property, and it is thus protected by the law of the land."
To the same effect is the language of this court in Greenwood v. Freight Co., ubi sup., where it is said : “Personal and real property acquired by the corporation during its lawful existence, rights of contract, or choses in action so acquired, and which do not in their nature depend upon the general powers conferred by the charter, are not destroyed by such a repeal; and the courts may, if the legislature does not provide some special remedy, enforce such rights by the means within their power. The rights of the shareholders of such a corporation, to their interest in its property, are not annihilated by such a repeal, and there must remain in the courts the power to protect those rights." p. 19.
The act of March 3, 1887, was an act of judicial legislation, and for this reason beyond the power of the legislative department of the general government; it is, therefore, unconstitutional. Hurtado v. California, 110 U. S. 516, 535; Davis v. Gray, 16 Wall. 203, 223; Pennsylvania College Cases, 13 Wall. 190, 212; Terrett v. Taylor, ubi sup.; Loan Association v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655, 662.
The act of Congress of March 3, 1887, not only purports to disapprove the territorial act incorporating the church, but it also decrees the dissolution of the corporation and confiscates its property.
What has been said in regard to the power of Congress to annul the charter of incorporation of the Church of Jesus
Argument for Appellants.
Christ of Latter-Day Saints applies to the act of July 1, 1862, and of March 3, 1887. In regard to the act of March 3, 1887, it may
be further said that it was an act of judicial legislation, even if it were a lawful act, so far as the mere disapproval of the act of incorporation is concerned.
The Congress of the United States is not content with dissolving the corporation and leaving the rights of property belonging to the corporation at the time of its dissolution to be determined by existing laws, but it makes, or undertakes to make, a new law in the nature of a judicial determination to the effect that this property no longer belongs to the corporation, nor to the individual members who composed the corporation, but that it belongs to the United States, and that the court will set apart so much as in its judgment shall be necessary for the convenience and use of the congregation, or the members composing the congregation, and that the balance shall be disposed of conformably to some law not pointed out in the act, but which the Congress of the United States assumes to have an existence, fixing rules for the disposition of such property.
The court, in its final judgment, adjudged the personal property escheated; set aside part of the real estate; and authorized the remainder to be proceeded against by information. It is difficult to understand why the realty was not escheated as well as the personalty. There was as much authority to do the one as the other; and there was no legal authority to do either.
IV. There is no such thing known to the jurisprudence of the United States as escheat. There is no rule of law by which personal property of any kind can escheat to the United States.
Under the laws of the United States, property may become subject to forfeiture under the provisions of various statutes, but no forfeiture can exist except by statutory provision. The doctrine of escheat belongs to the common law which was varied from time to time by acts of Parliament.
6 Escheats," said Lord Coke, "are of two kinds; First, propter defectum tenentis ; second, propter delictum tenentis." See Coke Lytt. 13 a, 92 b.