The Public Interest

The case of Marjorie Webster

James D. Koerner

Summer 1970

IN the spring of 1818 a young lawyer named Daniel Webster pleaded eloquently and tearfully before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the trustees of his alma mater, Dartmouth College. For several years Dartmouth had been fighting what seemed a losing battle against the state of New Hampshire to retain its status as a private institution not subject to arbitrary control by the state. Chief Justice John Marshall and the Court found in favor of the college, overturning the Superior Court of New Hampshire. The Dartmouth College case became a landmark in American education, and the Supreme Court’s decision still protects educational institutions, as well as other organizations operating under state charters, from unilateral attempts by the state to void or alter the contracts on which they are founded. 

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