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Pennsylvania College Cases (80 U.S. 190)

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United States Supreme Court

80 U.S. 190

Pennsylvania College Cases

ERROR in three different suits to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, there and here, argued and adjudged together; the case being thus:

On the 15th of January, 1802, the legislature of Pennsylvania incorporated a college in the western part of Pennsylvania known as Jefferson College. The title of the act was, 'An act for the establishment of a college at Canonsburg, in the county of Washington, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.'

The preamble set forth that 'the establishment of a college at Canonsburg,' & c., 'for the instruction of youth in the learned languages, in the arts and sciences, and in useful literature, would tend to diffuse information and promote the public good.' The statute in its enacting part proceeded:

'SECTION 1. That there be erected and hereby is erected and established in Canonsburg, &c., a college, &c., under the management, direction, and government of a number of trustees, not exceeding twenty-one,' &c.

'SECTION 2. The said trustees and their successors shall forever hereafter be one body politic and corporate, with perpetual succession in deed and in law, to all intents and purposes whatever, by the name, style, and title of 'The Trustees of Jefferson College, in Canonsburg, in the county of Washington."

There was given to the trustees the usual corporate powers, with all other powers, &c., usual in other colleges in the United States.

Section 3d provided for meetings of the trustees, 'at the town of Canonsburg,' for making by-laws and ordinances for the government of the college, &c., principal and professors, &c.

Section 5th provided for the succession in the trustees, how misnomers in gifts or grants by deeds, or in devises or bequests, should be treated; adding,

'And the constitution of the said college herein and hereby declared and established, shall be and remain the inviolable constitution of the said college forever, and the same shall not be altered or alterable by any ordinance or law of the said trustees, nor in any other manner than by an act of the legislature of this Commonwealth.'

In pursuance of this act the Jefferson College was established. Several buildings for a college were erected. The State made donations to the institution from time to time, and from these or other sources a library, as also a chemical and astronomical apparatus, was brought together.

In the year 1806, the same legislature incorporated another college, establishing it at the town of Washington, just seven miles from Canonsburg, where the former college had been established. Thus, although in the faculties of both colleges there have been from time to time professors of eminent ability and learning, and though from both colleges have come men who have done honor to the institutions in which they were reared, it yet came to pass-with the multiplicity of colleges throughout the State-that these two, so near to each other, slenderly endowed, and in a part of Pennsylvania until quite late times neither rich nor populous, never thrived; on the contrary, rather labored with existence. Accordingly, in 1853, the trustees of Jefferson College put into operation a plan of endowment whereby on the payment of $25 the subscriber to the plan became entitled to a single scholarship; on the payment of $50 to a family scholarship; on the payment of $100 to tuition for thirty years; on the payment of $400 to a perpetual scholarship, to be designated by whatever name the subscriber might select; it being provided that such a scholarship might be disposed of by sale or devised by will as any other property; by the payment of $1200 to a scholarship in full, entitling the holder to the tuition, room-rent, and boarding of one student in perpetuity; it being provided that such a scholarship might be disposed of as any other property. But in this 'Plan of Endowment,' as the paper proposing it was called, nothing was said of education at Canonsburg specifically, though it was declared that when $60,000 were subscribed 'the trustees of the college should issue certificates guaranteeing to the subscribers the privileges above enumerated.' Of these various scholarships upwards of 1500 were sold. To each of the subscribers to this plan of endowment a certificate in this form was issued under the seal of the corporation:

'Endowment Fund of Jefferson College, Pennsylvania.

'This certifies that A. B. has paid _____ dollars, which entitles him to the privileges of a _____ scholarship, as specified in the Plan of Endowment adopted by the trustees of Jefferson College, in Canonsburg, in the county of Washington, transferable only on the books of the college, personally or by attorney, on presentation of this certificate.

'Witness the seal of said corporation and the signatures of the president and secretary thereof, at Canonsburg, the ___ day of _____, A.D. 185.



'JAMES McCULLOUGH, Secretary.'

But this scheme did not prove an entirely wise one; for though it procured a certain amount of money for an endowment fund, it brought upon the college a large body of students to be educated at rates entirely too low, and the college was deprived of its former resources of tuition fees; always very small, but still much greater than the interest on the sum which now entitled a student, and even a whole family of students, to be educated, without paying anything. Thus it was with the Jefferson College, at Canonsburg. The other college, at Washington, adopted apparently some similar scheme and flourished no more than the Jefferson. Both colleges during the rebellion fell into a condition of debility undesirable for seats of learning. [1]

In this state of things, there having been a proposition to make a union of the colleges, a convention of the alumni of both was held at Pittsburg, September 27th, 1864, and the members of this convention having 'discussed in a candid and fraternal spirit the proposed union of the colleges,' passed a series of resolutions, of which this was the first:

'That we see the hand of Providence pointing to the union of the two ancient colleges, whose sons we are, and fixing the present as the time for the happy consummation by such evident facts as these: The great and constantly increasing number of literary institutions in the land; the urgent need in Western Pennsylvania of an eminently influential and richly endowed college; the desire for a union of Jefferson and Washington, so generally entertained, and so frequently and earnestly expressed; the proximity of the said colleges, soon to be made more apparently by the completion of a connecting railway; the very unsatisfactory condition of their antiquated buildings; the reduced number of students, partly the result of our national troubles; the inadequacy of the old salaries to meet the demands of the times and afford the professors a competent support; the difficulty of obtaining aid for either institution in its separate existence; the several offers made by liberal and reliable men to furnish large amounts of funds in case a union is effected, and depending also upon that event; the probable donation by our legislature of a valuable grant of lands given by Congress to the State for the advancement of agricultural knowledge.'

The convention then went on and recommended a plan of union for the two colleges and the procuring of appropriate legislation to effect the consolidation.

The matter in its general aspect was assented to by the boards of trustees of the respective colleges, and in the following year, March 4th, 1865, an act was passed by the legislature of Pennsylvania to carry out a union.

The title of the act was, 'An act to unite the colleges of Jefferson and Washington, in the county of Washington, and to erect the same into one corporation, under the name of Washington and Jefferson College.'

Its preamble recites that 'the trustees of those colleges (Jefferson and Washington) have agreed upon a union thereof, and have besought this General Assembly to give thereto the sanction and aid of a legislative enactment.'

Section 1 united the two colleges into one corporation by the name aforesaid.

Section 2 vested all the property and funds of each in the new corporation, 'and all the several liabilities of said two colleges or corporations, by either of them suffered or created, including the scholarships heretofore granted by, and now obligatory upon each of them, are hereby imposed upon and declared to be assumed by the corporation hereby created, which shall discharge and perform the same without diminution or abatement.'

Section 3 declared the objects of the corporation and provided how the trustees were to be selected and continued, and prescribed their powers and duties.

Section 10 directed that there should be four periods or classes of study, denominated the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior classes.

Section 11 created two additional departments of study, the scientific and preparatory; the first to qualify students for business avocations, the second for admission to the first, or to the freshman class of the college.

Section 12 provided prospectively for an agricultural department.

Section 13 declared 'that the studies of the senior, junior, and sophomore classes shall be pursued at or near Canonsburg, in the county of Washington, and those of the fresh man class and of the preparatory, scientific, and agricultural departments at or near Washington, in said county,' and provided how the income of endowment funds should be apportioned, &c.

Section 14 committed the instruction and government of the three higher classes named, to the president and professors of those classes, and the instruction and government of the freshman class and the departments, to the vice-president and professors, or instructors of their appropriate studies, &c.

Section 18 enacted:

'That from and after the organization of the corporation hereby created, as herein provided, the colleges of Jefferson and Washington, named in the first section of the act, shall be dissolved, except so far as may be found necessary to enable them to close up their business affairs and to perfect the transfer of their property and rights to the corporation by this act created.'

When this new act was passed (A. D. 1865), the then existing or amended constitution of Pennsylvania, [2] adopted in 1857, was in force. That constitution provided that:

'The legislature shall have power to alter, revoke, or annul any charter of incorporation hereafter conferred by or under any special or general law, whenever, in their opinion, it may be injurious to the citizens of the Commonwealth; in such manner, however, that no injustice shall be done to the corporators.'


^1  The net endowment of the institution in 1865, from all sources, was about $56,100. The income of this fund, at 6 per cent., equal to $3366, aided by contingent, matriculation, and diploma fees, amounting together to about $1111 per annum, composed the resources of Jefferson College, the scholarships issued by it having cut off the revenue from tuition. The annual expenditures of the institution were in excess of its income, although the cash salary of the president was only $1200 and the highest salary paid to a professor was $800.

^2  Article 1, § 26.

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).