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United States Supreme Court

27 U.S. 370

Dandridge  v.  Washington

APPEAL from the circuit court of the county of Alexandria, in the district of Columbia.

In the circuit court, the appellant filed his bill against George W. Curtis and Thomas Peter, as executors of Mrs Martha Washington, late of Mount Vernon; claiming the payment of a sum of money due to him, under the bequests in the will of the testatrix, for the expenses of his education; and also for a distributive share of the residuary estate of the deceased, in the hands of the executors, acting as trustees under the will. The facts of the case are stated at large in the opinion of the court.

The circuit court dismissed the bill for want of parties; and the case was argued in this Court for the appellant by Mr Swann and Mr Lear; and by Mr Taylor for the appellees.

For the appellant, it was contended; that the circuit court erred in dismissing the bill, and that this Court should correct the decree, and direct the payment of so much of the fund in the hands of the executors and trustees, as by the terms of the will was to be appropriated to the education of the appellant.

The counsel for the appellant admitted, that the general rule in chancery is, that all who are interested in the decree shall be made parties to the proceedings; but the rule is not without exceptions; and it does not prevail where parties cannot be found, and where great inconvenience would result from its application. Cited 2 Mason's Rep. 189.

Neither creditors or legatees are required to be parties, unless where one or more residuary legatees sue.

But if all the parties interested under the will should have been absolutely, or constructively before the court, still it was error in the circuit court to dismiss the bill. The proper course was for the defendants below to enter a demurrer. Practical Register, 261; 16 Ves. 321. 325; 4 Munford, 485. If the court could have dismissed the bill, because all the residuary legatees were not parties, yet in this case the complainant below sought to obtain a specific legacy, that sum to which he was entitled for his education; and as to this part of the bill the dismissal was error. 2 Chancery Cases, 124; 3 Johns. Chan. Rep. 555; Finch. 243.

A sound construction of the will does not confine the education of those who were the objects of the bequest to preparation for a 'trade.' The appellant had obtained an education for the law, which he afterwards studied, and by no interpretation could it be claimed to restrict the expenses of his instruction to the acquisition of such knowledge as was necessary for a mechanic art. The words of the will are to receive a liberal construction, and to be so applied as will fully execute the generous purposes of the testatrix. 'Trade' is 'business,' and not a 'manual,' or 'mechanic' employment. To the profitable use of every business knowledge is necessary; and in the United States men are called to the highest stations from every occupation. To limit the education of the appellant only to a preparation for a mechanical employment, was contrary to those principles which should have been applied, taking into consideration the situation and relations of the testatrix, and of the appellant.

Upon general principles, the appellant is entitled to the proportion of the fund claimed by him. Although it was not expended in his education, it is nevertheless his. Cited, 5 Ves. 461. 1 Swanston, 35.

This Court has all the facts before them, upon which a decree may be made, and it may determine what sum out of the fund appropriated for the education of the nephew of the testatrix. As it would not have been necessary to bring all the parties before the court, if a claim had been preferred while the education of the appellant was going on, it is not essential that this should now be done. What is a reasonable and proper sum to be paid to the appellant, depends on no other circumstances but those with which he is exclusively connected.

Mr Taylor, for the appellees, stated that the executors of the testatrix had instructed him to offer to restore the bill to the circuit court, if the appellant would there make all the legatees, the residuary legatees included, parties. The executors are trustees bound to protect the fund for all who are interested in it. If this Court shall decide that they can make a final decree, and shall do so, it will be entirely satisfactory to the appellees. The residuary legatees are interested in the whole of the funds in the hands of the executors. If the expenses of the education of the appellant, and of Bartholomew and Samuel Henley are limited according to the construction of the will assumed by the executors, that fund, for all, is increased.

The rule is settled, that when an interest can be shown to be in a party not before the court, he must be brought in; unless special circumstances authorise an exception to this rule. 1 Ves. Jun. 311. 8 Wheaton, 451. 2 Atk. 510.

Were not the Henleys interested in this proceeding? This is not a specific legacy. The fund is to be raised out of the residuary estate, and thus all interested in the residuum ought to be parties. No legacy is specific, unless it is clearly so, and the amount of it not dependant on an account. 4 Ves. 573. 2 Mad. 8, 9.

By a fair construction of the will, the residuary legatees were interested in the sum to be appropriated to the education of the appellant, and B. and S. Henley; who were to be educated for a trade, not a profession; as, if those expenses were less than the dividends on the stock, the residuary fund would be increased. It was therefore proper, that all those thus interested should be before the circuit court.

Want of parties may be objected to at the hearing. This point came before the court of appeals of Virginia, and was so decided in the case of Clark vs. Long, 4 Randall's Rep. 451.

The court may dismiss the proceedings for want of parties, or order parties to be made, 1 P. Williams, 428.

Mr Chief Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).