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Opinion of the Court.
or trust estate was vested in the corporation. The trustee held it for no other purpose; and the corporation being dissolved that purpose was at an end. The trust estate devolved to the United States in the same manner as the legal estate would have done had it been in the hands of the corporation. The trustee became trustee for the United States instead of trustee for the corporation. We do not now speak of the religious and charitable uses for which the corporation, through its trustee, held and managed the property. That aspect of the subject is one which places the power of the government and of the court over the property on a distinct ground.
Where a charitable corporation is dissolved, and no private donor, or founder, appears to be entitled to its real estate, (its personal property not being subject to such reclamation,) the government, or sovereign authority, as the chief and common guardian of the State, either through its judicial tribunals or otherwise, necessarily has the disposition of the funds of such corporation, to be exercised, however, with due regard to the objects and purposes of the charitable uses to which the property was originally devoted, so far as they are lawful and not repugnant to public policy. This is the general principle, which will be more fully discussed further on. In this direction, it will be pertinent, in the meantime, to examine into the character of the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the objects which, by its constitution and principles, it promoted and had in view.
It is distinctly stated in the pleadings and findings of fact, that the property of the said corporation was held for the purpose of religious and charitable uses. But it is also stated in the findings of fact, and is a matter of public notoriety, that the religious and charitable uses intended to be subserved and promoted are the inculcation and spread of the doctrines and usages of the Mormon Church, or Church of Latter-Day Saints, one of the distinguishing features of which is the practice of polygamy -- a crime against the laws, and abhorrent to the sentiments and feelings of the civilized world. Notwithstanding the stringent laws which have been passed by Congress — notwithstanding all the efforts made to suppress
Opinion of the Court.
this barbarous practice - the sect or community composing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints perseveres, in defiance of law, in preaching, upholding, promoting and defending it. It is a matter of public notoriety that its emissaries are engaged in many countries in propagating this nefarious doctrine, and urging its converts to join the community in Utah. The existence of such a propaganda is a blot on our civilization. The organization of a community for the spread and practice of polygamy is, in a measure, a return to barbarism. It is contrary to the spirit of Christianity and of the civilization which Christianity has produced in the Western world. The question, therefore, is whether the promotion of such a nefarious system and practice, so repugnant to our laws and to the principles of our civilization, is to be allowed to continue by the sanction of the government itself; and whether the funds accumulated for that purpose shall be restored to the same unlawful uses as heretofore, to the detriment of the true interests of civil society.
It is unnecessary here to refer to the past history of the sect, to their defiance of the government authorities, to their attempt to establish an independent community, to their efforts to drive from the territory all who were not connected with them in communion and sympathy. The tale is one of patience on the part of the American government and people, and of contempt of authority and resistance to law on the part of the Mormons. Whatever persecutions they may have suffered in the early part of their history, in Missouri and Illinois, they have no excuse for their persistent defiance of law under the government of the United States. One
pretence for this obstinate course is, that their belief in the practice of polygamy, or in the right to indulge in it, is a religious belief, and, therefore, under the protection of the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. This is altogether a sophistical plea. No doubt the Thugs of India imagined that their belief in the right of assassination was a religious belief; but their thinking so did not make it so. tice of suttee by the Hindu widows may have sprung from a supposed religious conviction. The offering of human sacri
Opinion of the Court.
fices by our own ancestors in Britain was no doubt sanctioned by an equally conscientious impulse. But no one, on that account, would hesitate to brand these practices, now, crimes against society, and obnoxious to condemnation and punishment by the civil authority.
The State has a perfect right to prohibit polygamy, and all other open offences against the enlightened sentiment of mankind, notwithstanding the pretence of religious conviction by which they may be advocated and practised. Davis v. Beason, 133 U. S. 333. And since polygamy has been forbidden by the laws of the United States, under severe penalties, and since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has persistently used and claimed the right to use, and the unincorporated community still claims the same right to use, the funds with which the late corporation was endowed for the purpose of promoting and propagating the unlawful practice as an integral part of their religious usages, the question arises, whether the government, finding these funds without legal ownership, has or has not, the right, through its courts, and in due course of administration, to cause them to be seized and devoted to objects of undoubted charity and usefulness – such for example as the maintenance of schools - for the benefit of the community whose leaders are now misusing them in the unlawful manner above described ; setting apart, however, for the exclusive possession and use of the church, sufficient and suitable portions of the property for the purposes of public worship, parsonage buildings and burying grounds, as provided in the law.
The property in question has been dedicated to public and charitable uses. It matters not whether it is the product of private contributions, made during the course of half a century, or of taxes imposed upon the people, or of gains arising from fortunate operations in business, or appreciation in values; the charitable uses for which it is held are stamped upon it by charter, by ordinance, by regulation and, by usage, in such an indelible manner that there can be no mo take as to their character, purpose or object.
The law respecting property held for charitable uses of
Opinion of the Court.
course depends upon the legislation and jurisprudence of the country in which the property is situated and the uses are carried out; and when the positive law affords no specific provision for actual cases that arise, the subject must necessarily be governed by those principles of reason and public policy which prevail in all civilized and enlightened communities.
The principles of the law of charities are not confined to a particular people or nation, but prevail in all civilized countries pervaded by the spirit of Christianity. They are found inbedded in the civil law of Rome, in the laws of European nations, and especially in the laws of that nation from which our institutions are derived. A leading and prominent principle prevailing in them all is, that property devoted to a charitable and worthy object, promotive of the public good, shall be applied to the purposes of its dedication, and protected from spoliation and from diversion to other objects. Though devoted to a particular use, it is considered as given to the public, and is, therefore, taken under the guardianship of the laws. If it cannot be applied to the particular use for which it was intended, either because the objects to be subserved have failed, or because they have become unlawful and repugnant to the public policy of the State, it will be applied to some object of kindred character so as to fulfil in substance, if not in manner and form, the purpose of its consecration.
The manner in which the due administration and application of charitable estates is secured, depends upon the judicial institutions and machinery of the particular government to which they are subject. In England, the court of chancery is the ordinary tribunal to which this class of cases is delegated, and there are comparatively few which it is not competent to administer. Where there is a failure of trustees, it can appoint new ones; and where a modification of uses is necessary in order to avoid a violation of the laws, it has power to make the change. There are some cases, however, which are beyond its jurisdiction ; as where, by statute, a gift to certain uses is declared void and the property goes to the king; and in some other cases of failure of the charity. In such cases the king as parens patriæ, under his sign, manual, disposes of
Opinion of the Court.
the fund to such uses, analogous to those intended, as seems to him expedient and wise.
These general principles are laid down in all the principal treatises on the subject, and are the result of numerous cases and authorities. See Duke on Char. Uses, c. 10, SS 4, 5, 6; Boyle on Char. Bk. 2, c. 3, c. 4; 2 Story's Eq. Jur. SS 1167 et seq.; Attorney General v. Guise, 2 Vernon, 266; Moggridge v. Thackwell, 7 Ves. 36, 77; De Themmines v. De Bonneval, 5 Russ. 289; Town of Pawlet v. Clark, 9 Cranch, 292, 335, 336; Beatty v. Kurtz, 2 Pet. 566; Vidal v. Girard's Executors, 2 How. 127; Jackson v. Phillips, 14 Allen, 539; Ould v. Washington Hospital, 95 U. S. 303; Jones v. Habersham, 107 U. S. 174.
The individual cases cited are but indicia of the general principle underlying them. As such they are authoritative, though often in themselves of minor importance. Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to see how far back the principle is recognized. In the Pandects of Justinian we find cases to the same effect as those referred to, antedating the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire. Amongst others, in the Digest, lib. 33, tit. 2, law 16, a case is reported which occurred in the early part of the third century, in which a legacy was left to a city in order that from the yearly revenues games might be celebrated for the purpose of preserving the memory of the deceased. It was not lawful at that time to celebrate these games. The question was, what was to be done with this legacy. Modestinus, a celebrated jurist of authority, replied, “Since the testator wished games to be celebrated which are not permitted, it would be unjust that the amount which he has destined to that end should go back to the heirs. Therefore let the heirs and magnates of the city be cited, and let an examination be made to ascertain how the trust may be employed so that the memory of the deceased may be preserved in some other and lawful manner.” Here is the doctrine of charitable uses in a nutshell.
Domat, the French jurist, writing on the civil law, after explaining the nature of pious and charitable uses, and the favor with which they are treated in the law, says, “ If a pious