THE DARTMOUTH COLLEGE CASE
Dartmouth College has its origins in More's (later Moor's) Indian Charity School, an educational enterprise established in the year 1754 at Lebanon, Connecticut, by the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, a minister of the Congregational faith and a graduate of Yale. A search for support of this undertaking and difficulties in finding either Native Americans or a charter in Connecticut led Wheelock to relocate his mission in the province of New Hampshire, where offers of land and expressions of civic interest had earlier been elicited from the provincial authorities. Through the offices of Governor John Wentworth and others, a royal charter was obtained and approved on December 13, 1769, establishing a college "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing, and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and Christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal arts and sciences and also of English Youth and any others." The following year Mr. Wheelock settled in the township of Hanover and erected his single log hut as the home of the new school. Wheelock had suggested that the school be called Wentworth, but the governor, who was so instrumental in securing the royal charter, modestly preferred to name it for his friend William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, an important benefactor of the College, and a trustee of its original endowment.
The first class of four students was awarded baccalaureate degrees in the initial commencement exercises undertaken in 1771, and there has been a graduating class every year since.
The College was hardly established before jurisdictional disputes between John Wheelock, Eleazar's son and the second president, and the institution's board of trustees developed into a controversy that threatened its very life. Persuaded by President Wheelock, Governor Plumer of New Hampshire and the state legislature enacted measures to "pack" the board of trustees and to rename the institution "Dartmouth University." Refusing to be intimidated, the former board of trustees continued to operate Dartmouth College side by side with the university until the controversy was settled finally by proceedings before the Supreme Court of the United States, in which Daniel Webster represented the College.
A closer look into the roots of the Dartmouth College Case shows the true importance of the decision handed down by the Supreme Court. The New Hampshire legislature believed that since the majority of the funds to run the college were from the public sector, the college should be a University and therefore a public institution. The Supreme Court's decision to honor the original charter is landmark because it illustrates that even though the money for an institution may be from public funds, it is not necessarily considered a public institution. The Supreme Court indicated that the controlling factor as to whether an institution is public or not lies with who controls it and not where the funds come from. The decision handed down by Chief Justice Marshall in February 1819 to preserve the original charter making it free of interference from the state, is one of the most important statements on the educational freedom of private institutions existing in American jurisprudence. The future of the College was thus assured.
Prepared By Christopher DeLuca