Nos. 1031, 1054.

136 U.S. 1 (1890)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 19, 1890.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. James O. Broadhead (with whom was Mr. Franklin S. Richards on the brief) for appellants.

Mr. Solicitor General Jenks for the appellees.

Mr. Joseph E. McDonald (with whom was Mr. John M. Butler on the brief) for appellants made the following point, not made by Mr. Broadhead.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The principal questions raised are, first, as to the power of Congress to repeal the charter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; and, secondly, as to the power of Congress and the courts to seize the property of said corporation and to hold the same for the purposes mentioned in the decree.

The power of Congress over the Territories of the United States is general and plenary, arising from and incidental to the right to acquire the Territory itself, and from the power given by the Constitution to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory or other property belonging to the United States. It would be absurd to hold that the United States has power to acquire territory, and no power to govern it when acquired. The power to acquire territory, other than the territory northwest of the Ohio River, (which belonged to the United States at the adoption of the Constitution,) is derived from the treaty-making power and the power to declare and carry on war. The incidents of these powers are those of national sovereignty, and belong to all independent governments. The power to make acquisitions of territory by conquest, by treaty and by cession is an incident of national sovereignty. The territory of Louisiana, when acquired from France, and the territories west of the Rocky Mountains, when acquired from Mexico, became the absolute property and domain of the United States, subject to such conditions as the government, in its diplomatic negotiations, had seen fit to accept relating to the rights of the people then inhabiting those territories. Having rightfully acquired said territories, the United States government was the only one which could impose laws upon them, and its sovereignty over them was complete. No State of the Union had any such right of sovereignty over them; no other country or government had any such right. These propositions are so elementary, and so necessarily follow from the condition of things arising upon the acquisition of new territory, that they need no argument to support them. They are self-evident. Chief Justice Marshall, in the case of the American Insurance Company v. Canter, 1 Pet. 511, 542, well said: "Perhaps the power of governing a Territory belonging to the United States, which has not, by becoming a State, acquired the means of self-government, may result necessarily from the facts, that it is not within the jurisdiction of any particular State, and is within the power and jurisdiction of the United States. The right to govern may be the inevitable consequence of the right to acquire territory. Whichever may be the source whence the power is derived, the possession of it is unquestioned." And Mr. Justice Nelson delivering the opinion of the court in Benner v. Porter, 9 How. 235, 242, speaking of the territorial governments established by Congress, says: "They are legislative governments, and their courts legislative courts, Congress, in the exercise of its powers in the organization and government of the Territories, combining the powers of both the federal and state authorities." Chief Justice Waite, in the case of National Bank v. County of Yankton, 101 U.S. 129, 133, said: "In the organic act of Dakota there was not an express reservation of power in Congress to amend the acts of the territorial legislature, nor was it necessary. Such a power is an incident of sovereignty, and continues until granted away. Congress may not only abrogate laws of the territorial legislatures, but it may itself legislate directly for the local government. It may make a void act of the territorial legislature valid, and a valid act void. In other words, it has full and complete legislative authority over the people of the Territories and all the departments of the territorial governments. It may do for the Territories what the people, under the Constitution of the United States, may do for the States." In a still more recent case, and one relating to the legislation of Congress over the Territory of Utah itself, Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15, 44, Mr. Justice Matthews said: "The counsel for the appellants in argument seem to question the constitutional power of Congress to pass the act of March 22, 1882, so far as it abridges the rights of electors in the Territory under previous laws. But that question is, we think, no longer open to discussion. It has passed beyond the stage of controversy into final judgment. The people of the United States as sovereign owners of the national Territories, have supreme power over them and their inhabitants. In the exercise of this sovereign dominion, they are represented by the government of the United States, to whom all the powers of government over that subject have been delegated, subject only to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution, or are necessarily implied in its terms." Doubtless Congress, in legislating for the Territories would be subject to those fundamental limitations in favor of personal rights which are formulated in the Constitution and its amendments; but these limitations would exist rather by inference and the general spirit of the Constitution from which Congress derives all its powers, than by any express and direct application of its provisions.

The supreme power of Congress over the Territories and over the acts of the territorial legislatures established therein, is generally expressly reserved in the organic acts establishing governments in said Territories. This is true of the Territory of Utah. In the 6th section of the act establishing a territorial government in Utah, approved September 9, 1850, it is declared "that the legislative powers of said Territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act... . All the laws passed by the legislative assembly and governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and if disapproved shall be null and of no effect." 9 Stat. 454.

This brings us directly to the question of the power of Congress to revoke the charter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That corporation, when the Territory of Utah was organized, was a corporation de facto, existing under an ordinance of the so-called State of Deseret, approved February 8, 1851. This ordinance had no validity except in the voluntary acquiescence of the people of Utah then residing there. Deseret, or Utah, had ceased to belong to the Mexican government by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and in 1851 it belonged to the United States, and no government without authority from the United States, express or implied, had any legal right to exist there. The assembly of Deseret had no power to make any valid law. Congress had already passed the law for organizing the Territory of Utah into a government, and no other government was lawful within the bounds of that Territory. But after the organization of the territorial government of Utah under the act of Congress, the legislative assembly of the Territory passed the following resolution: "Resolved, by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, That the laws heretofore passed by the provisional government of the State of Deseret, and which do not conflict with the organic act of said Territory, be and the same are hereby declared to be legal and in full force and virtue, and shall so remain until superseded by the action of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah." This resolution was approved October 4, 1851. The confirmation was repeated on the 19th of January, 1855, by the act of the legislative assembly entitled, "An act in relation to the compilation and revision of the laws and resolutions in force in Utah Territory, their publication and distribution." From the time of these confirmatory acts, therefore, the said corporation had a legal existence under its charter. But it is too plain for argument that this charter, or enactment, was subject to revocation and repeal by Congress whenever it should see fit to exercise its power for that purpose. Like any other act of the territorial legislature, it was subject to this condition. Not only so, but the power of Congress could be exercised in modifying or limiting the powers and privileges granted by such charter; for if it could repeal, it could modify; the greater includes the less. Hence there can be no question that the act of July 1, 1862, already recited, was a valid exercise of congressional power. Whatever may be the effect or true construction of this act, we have no doubt of its validity. As far as it went it was effective. If it did not absolutely repeal the charter of the corporation, it certainly took away all right or power which may have been claimed under it to establish, protect or foster the practice of polygamy, under whatever disguise it might be carried on; and it also limited the amount of property which might be acquired by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; not interfering, however, with vested rights in real estate existing at that time. If the act of July 1, 1862, had but a partial effect, Congress had still the power to make the abrogation of its charter absolute and complete. This was done by the act of 1887. By the 17th section of that act it is expressly declared that "the acts of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah, incorporating, continuing or providing for the corporation known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the ordinance of the so-called general assembly of the State of Deseret, incorporating the said church, so far as the same may now have legal force and validity, are hereby disapproved and annulled, and the said corporation, so far as it may now have or pretend to have any legal existence, is hereby dissolved." This absolute annulment of the laws which gave the said corporation a legal existence has dissipated all doubt on the subject, and the said corporation has ceased to have any existence as a civil body, whether for the purpose of holding property or of doing any other corporate act. It was not necessary to resort to the condition imposed by the act of 1862, limiting the amount of real estate which any corporation or association for religious or charitable purposes was authorized to acquire or hold; although it is apparent from the findings of the court that this condition was violated by the corporation before the passage of the act of 1887. Congress, for good and sufficient reasons of its own, independent of that limitation, and of any violation of it, had a full and perfect right to repeal its charter and abrogate its corporate existence, which of course depended upon its charter.

The next question is, whether Congress or the court had the power to cause the property of the said corporation to be seized and taken possession of, as was done in this case.

When a business corporation, instituted for the purposes of gain, or private interest, is dissolved, the modern doctrine is, that its property, after payment of its debts, equitably belongs to its stockholders. But this doctrine has never been extended to public or charitable corporations. As to these, the ancient and established rule prevails, namely: that when a corporation is dissolved, its personal property, like that of a man dying without heirs, ceases to be the subject of private ownership, and becomes subject to the disposal of the sovereign authority; whilst its real estate reverts or escheats to the grantor or donor, unless some other course of devolution has been directed by positive law, though still subject as we shall hereafter see to the charitable use. To this rule the corporation in question was undoubtedly subject. But the grantor of all, or the principal part, of the real estate of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was really the United States, from whom the property was derived by the church, or its trustees, through the operation of the town site act. Besides, as we have seen, the act of 1862 expressly declared that all real estate acquired or held by any of the corporations or associations therein mentioned, (of which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was one,) contrary to the provisions of that act, should be forfeited and escheat to the United States, with a saving of existing vested rights. The act prohibited the acquiring or holding of real estate of greater value than $50,000 in a Territory, and no legal title had vested in any of the lands in Salt Lake City at that time, as the town site act was not passed until March 2, 1867. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the real estate of the corporation in question could not, on its dissolution, revert or pass to any other person or persons than the United States.

If it be urged that the real estate did not stand in the name of the corporation, but in the name of a trustee or trustees, and therefore was not subject to the rules relating to corporate property, the substance of the difficulty still remains. It cannot be contended that the prohibition of the act of 1862 could have been so easily evaded as by putting the property of the corporation into the hands of trustees. The equitable 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 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. The practice of suttee by the Hindu widows may have sprung from a supposed religious conviction. The offering of human sacrifices 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, as 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 mistake as to their character, purpose or object.

The law respecting property held for charitable uses of 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 imbedded 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 patriœ, under his sign manual, disposes of 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, §§ 4, 5, 6; Boyle on Char. Bk. 2, c. 3, c. 4; 2 Story's Eq. Jur. §§ 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 legacy were destined to some use which could not have its effect, as if a testator had left a legacy for building a church for a parish, or an apartment in an hospital, and it happened, either that before his death the said church, or the said apartment had been built out of some other fund, or that it was noways necessary or useful, the legacy would not for all that remain without any use; but it would be laid out on other works of piety for that parish, or for that hospital, according to the directions that should be given in this matter by the persons to whom this function should belong."1 And for this principle he cites a passage from the Pandects. Domat's Civil Law, book 4, title 2, section 6, par. 6.

By the Spanish law, whatever was given to the service of God, became incapable of private ownership, being held by the clergy as guardians or trustees; and any part not required for their own support, and the repairs, books and furniture of the church, was devoted to works of piety, such as feeding and clothing the poor, supporting orphans, marrying poor virgins, redeeming captives and the like. Partida III. tit. 28, ll. 12-15. When property was given for a particular object, as a church, a hospital, a convent or a community, etc., and the object failed, the property did not revert to the donor, or his heirs,-but devolved to the crown, the church or other convent or community, unless the donation contained an express condition in writing to the contrary. Tapia, Febrero Novisimo, lib. 2, tit. 4, cap. 22, §§ 24-26.

A case came before Lord Bacon in 1619, Bloomfield v. Stowe Market, Duke on Char. Uses, 624, in which lands had been given before the Reformation to be sold, and the proceeds applied, one-half to the making of a highway from the town in which the lands were, one-fourth to the repair of a church in that town, and the other fourth to the priest of the church to say prayers for the souls of the donor and others. The Lord Keeper decreed the establishment of the uses for making the highway and repairing the church, and directed the remaining fourth (which could not, by reason of the change in religion, be applied as directed by the donor) to be divided between the poor of the same town and the poor of the town where the donor inhabited.

In the case of Baliol College, which came before the court of chancery from time to time for over a century and a half, the same principle was asserted, of directing a charity fund to a different, though analogous use, where the use originally declared had become contrary to the policy of the law. There, a testator in 1679, when Episcopacy was established by law in Scotland, gave lands in trust to apply the income to the education of Scotchmen at Oxford, with a view to their taking Episcopal orders and settling in Scotland. Presbyterianism being reëstablished in Scotland after the Revolution of 1688, the object of the bequest could not be carried into effect; and the court of chancery, by successive decrees of Lord Somers and Lord Hardwicke, directed the income of the estate to be applied to the education of a certain number of Scotch students at Baliol College, without the condition of taking orders; and, in consideration of this privilege, directed the surplus of the income to be applied to the college library. See the cases of Attorney General v. Guise, 2 Vernon, 266; Attorney General v. Baliol College, 9 Mod. 407; Attorney General v. Glasgow College, 2 Collyer, 665; S.C. 1 H.L. Cas. 800. And see abridgment of the above cases in Jackson v. Phillips, 14 Allen, 581, 582.

Lord Chief Justice Wilmot, in his opinion in Attorney General v. Lady Downing, 1 Wilmot, 32, looking at the case in the supposition that the trusts of the will (which were for instituting a college) were illegal and void, or of such a nature as not fit to be carried into execution, said: "This court has long made a distinction between superstitious uses and mistaken charitable uses. By mistaken, I mean such as are repugnant to that sound constitutional policy, which controls the interest, wills and wishes of individuals, when they clash with the interest and safety of the whole community. Property, destined to superstitious uses, is given by law of parliament to the king, to dispose of as he pleases; and it falls properly under the cognizance of a court of revenue. But where property is given to mistaken charitable uses, this court distinguishes between the charity and the use; and seeing the charitable bequest in the intention of the testator, they execute the intention, varying the use, as the king, who is the curator of all charities, and the constitutional trustee for the performance of them, pleases to direct and appoint." "This doctrine is now so fully settled that it cannot be departed from." Ib.

In Moggridge v. Thackwell, 7 Ves. 36, 69, Lord Eldon said: "I have no doubt, that cases much older than I shall cite may be found; all of which appear to prove that if the testator has manifested a general intention to give to charity, the failure of the particular mode in which the charity is to be effectuated shall not destroy the charity: but, if the substantial intention is charity, the law will substitute another mode of devoting the property to charitable purposes, though the formal intention as to the mode cannot be accomplished." In Hill on Trustees, page 450, after citing this observation of Lord Eldon, it is added: "In accordance with these principles, it has frequently been decided that where a testator has sufficiently expressed his intention to dispose of his estate in trust for charitable purposes generally, the general purpose will be enforced by the court to the exclusion of any claim of the next of kin to take under a resulting trust; although the particular purpose or mode of application is not declared at all by the testator. And the same rule prevails, although the testator refers to some past or intended declaration of the particular charity, which declaration is not made or cannot be discovered; and although the selection of the objects of the charity and the mode of application are left to the discretion of the trustees. And it is immaterial that the trustees refuse the gift, or die, or that their appointment is revoked in the lifetime of the testator, causing a lapse of the bequest at law. The same construction will also be adopted where a particular charitable purpose is declared by the testator which does not exhaust the whole value of the estate; or where the particular trust cannot be carried into effect, either for its uncertainty or its illegality, or for want of proper objects. And in all these cases the general intention of the testator in favor of charity will be effectuated by the court through a cy-près application of the fund." The same propositions are laid down by Mr. Justice Story in his Equity Jurisprudence, sections 1167 et seq. But it is unnecessary to make further quotations.

These authorities are cited (and many more might be adduced) for the purpose of showing that where property has been devoted to a public or charitable use which cannot be carried out on account of some illegality in, or failure of the object, it does not, according to the general law of charities, revert to the donor or his heirs, or other representatives, but is applied under the direction of the courts, or of the supreme power in the State, to other charitable objects lawful in their character, but corresponding, as near as may be, to the original intention of the donor.

They also show that the authority thus exercised arises, in part, from the ordinary power of the court of chancery over trusts, and, in part, from the right of the government, or sovereign, as parens patriœ, to supervise the acts of public and charitable institutions in the interests of those to be benefited by their establishment; and, if their funds become bona vacantia, or left without lawful charge, or appropriated to illegal purposes, to cause them to be applied in such lawful manner as justice and equity may require.

If it should be conceded that a case like the present transcends the ordinary jurisdiction of the court of chancery, and requires for its determination the interposition of the parens patriœ of the State, it may then be contended that, in this county, there is no royal person to act as parens patriœ, and to give direction for the application of charities which cannot be administered by the court. It is true we have no such chief magistrate. But, here, the legislature is the parens patriœ, and, unless restrained by constitutional limitations, possesses all the powers in this regard which the sovereign possesses in England. Chief Justice Marshall, in the Dartmouth College Case, said: "By the revolution, the duties, as well as the powers, of government devolved on the people... . It is admitted that among the latter was comprehended the transcendent power of parliament, as well as that of the executive department." 4 Wheat. 651. And Mr. Justice Baldwin, in McGill v. Brown, Brightly, 346, 373, a case arising on Sarah Zane's will, referring to this declaration of Chief Justice Marshall, said: "The revolution devolved on the State all the transcendent power of parliament, and the prerogative of the crown, and gave their acts the same force and effect."

Chancellor Kent says: "In this country, the legislature or government of the State, as parens patriœ, has the right to enforce all charities of a public nature, by virtue of its general superintending authority over the public interests, where no other person is entrusted with it." 4 Kent Com. 508, note.

In Fontain v. Ravenel, 17 How. 369, 384, Mr. Justice McLean, delivering the opinion of this court in a charity case, said: "When this country achieved its independence, the prerogatives of the crown devolved upon the people of the States. And this power still remains with them except so far as they have delegated a portion of it to the federal government. The sovereign will is made known to us by legislative enactment. The State, as a sovereign, is the parens patriœ."

This prerogative of parens patriœ is inherent in the supreme power of every State, whether that power is lodged in a royal person or in the legislature, and has no affinity to those arbitrary powers which are sometimes exerted by irresponsible monarchs to the great detriment of the people and the destruction of their liberties. On the contrary, it is a most beneficent function, and often necessary to be exercised in the interests of humanity, and for the prevention of injury to those who cannot protect themselves. Lord Chancellor Somers, in Cary v. Bèrtie, 2 Vernon, 333, 342, said: "It is true infants are always favored. In this court there are several things which belong to the king as pater patriœ, and fall under the care and direction of this court, as charities, infants, idiots, lunatics, etc."

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts well said, in Sohier v. Mass. Gen. Hospital, 3 Cush. 483, 497: "It is deemed indispensable that there should be a power in the legislature to authorize a sale of the estates of infants, idiots, insane persons and persons not known, or not in being, who cannot act for themselves. The best interest of these persons, and justice to other persons, often require that such sales should be made. It would be attended with incalculable mischiefs, injuries and losses, if estates, in which persons are interested, who have not capacity to act for themselves, or who cannot be certainly ascertained, or are not in being, could under no circumstances, be sold, and perfect titles effected. But, in such cases, the legislature, as parens patriœ, can disentangle and unfetter the estates, by authorizing a sale, taking precaution that the substantial rights of all parties are protected and secured."

These remarks in reference to infants, insane persons and persons not known, or not in being, apply to the beneficiaries of charities, who are often incapable of vindicating their rights, and justly look for protection to the sovereign authority, acting as parens patriœ. They show that this beneficent function has not ceased to exist under the change of government from a monarchy to a republic; but that it now resides in the legislative department, ready to be called into exercise whenever required for the purposes of justice and right, and is as clearly capable of being exercised in cases of charities as in any other cases whatever.

It is true, that in some of the States of the Union in which charities are not favored, gifts to unlawful or impracticable objects, and even gifts affected by merely technical difficulties, are held to be void, and the property is allowed to revert to the donor or his heirs or other representatives. But this is in cases where such heirs or representatives are at hand to claim the property, and are ascertainable. It is difficult to see how this could be done in a case where it would be impossible for any such claim to be made, — as where the property has been the resulting accumulation of ten thousand petty contributions, extending through a long period of time, as is the case with all ecclesiastical and community funds. In such a case the only course that could be satisfactorily pursued, would be that pointed out by the general law of charities, namely, for the government, or the court of chancery, to assume the control of the fund, and devote it to lawful objects of charity most nearly corresponding to those to which it was originally destined. It could not be returned to the donors, nor distributed among the beneficiaries.

The impracticability of pursuing a different course, however, is not the true ground of this rule of charity law. The true ground is that the property given to a charity becomes in a measure public property, only applicable as far as may be, it is true, to the specific purposes to which it is devoted, but within those limits consecrated to the public use, and become part of the public resources for promoting the happiness and well-being of the people of the State. Hence, when such property ceases to have any other owner, by the failure of the trustees, by forfeiture for illegal application, or for any other cause, the ownership naturally and necessarily falls upon the sovereign power of the State; and thereupon the court of chancery, in the exercise of its ordinary jurisdiction, will appoint a new trustee to take the place of the trustees that have failed or that have been set aside, and will give directions for the further management and administration of the property; or if the case is beyond the ordinary jurisdiction of the court, the legislature may interpose and make such disposition of the matter as will accord with the purposes of justice and right. The funds are not lost to the public as charity funds; they are not lost to the general objects or class of objects which they were intended to subserve or effect. The State, by its legislature or its judiciary, interposes to preserve them from dissipation and destruction, and to set them up on a new basis of usefulness, directed to lawful ends, coincident, as far as may be, with the objects originally proposed.

The interposition of the legislature in such cases is exemplified by the case of The Town of Pawlet v. Clark, 9 Cranch, 292, which arose in Vermont. In the town charter, granted in the name of the king in 1761, one entire share of the town lands was granted "as a glebe for the Church of England as by law established." There was no Episcopal church in the town until 1802. In that year one was organized, and its parson laid claim to the glebe lands, and leased them to Clark and others. Of course, this church had never been connected with the "Church of England as by law established;" and the institution of such a church in 1802 was impossible, and would have been contrary to the public policy of the State. Meantime, in 1794, the legislature had granted the glebe lands to the several towns to be rented by the selectmen for the sole use and support of public worship, without restriction as to sect or denomination. This law was subsequently repealed, and in 1805 the legislature passed another act, granting the glebe lands to the respective towns, to apply the rents to the use of schools therein. This was held to be a valid disposition. Mr. Justice Story, in the course of an elaborate opinion, amongst other things, showed that a mere voluntary society of Episcopalians within a town could no more entitle themselves, on account of their religious tenets, to the glebe than any other society worshipping therein. "The glebe," he said, "remained hœreditas jacens, and the State, which succeeded to the rights of the crown, might, with the assent of the town, alien or encumber it, or might erect an Episcopal church therein," etc. p. 335. "By the revolution the State of Vermont succeeded to all the rights of the crown as to the unappropriated as well as the appropriated glebes." p. 335. Again: "Without the authority of the State, however, they [the towns] could not apply the lands to other uses than public worship; and in this respect the statute of 1805 conferred a new right which the towns might or might not exercise at their own pleasure."1 p. 336.

Coming to the case before us, we have no doubt that the general law of charities which we have described is applicable thereto. It is true, no formal declaration has been made by Congress or the territorial legislature as to what system of laws shall prevail there. But it is apparent from the language of the organic act, which was passed September 9, 1850, (9 Stat. 453,) that it was the intention of Congress that the system of common law and equity which generally prevails in this country should be operative in the Territory of Utah, except as it might be altered by legislation. In the 9th section of the act it is declared that the Supreme and District Courts of the Territory "shall possess chancery as well as common law jurisdiction," and the whole phraseology of the act implies the same thing. The territorial legislature, in like manner, in the first section of the act regulating procedure, approved December 30, 1852, declared that all the courts of the Territory should have "law and equity jurisdiction in civil cases." In view of these significant provisions, we infer that the general system of common law and equity, as it prevails in this country, is the basis of the laws of the Territory of Utah. We may, therefore, assume that the doctrine of charities is applicable to the Territory, and that Congress, in the exercise of its plenary legislative power over it, was entitled to carry out that law and put it in force, in its application to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Indeed, it is impliedly admitted by the corporation itself, in its answer to the bill in this case, that the law of charities exists in Utah, for it expressly says: "That it was, at the time of its creation, ever since has been, and still is, a corporation or association for religious or charitable uses." And again it says:

"That prior to February 28, 1887, it had, as such corporation, as it lawfully might by the powers granted to it by its acts of incorporation, acquired and held from time to time certain personal property, goods and chattels, all of which it had acquired, held and used solely and only for charitable and religious purposes; that on the 28th day of February, A.D. 1887, it still held and owned certain personal property, goods and chattels donated to it by the members of said church and friends thereof solely and only for use and distribution for charitable and religious purposes;" and "that on February 28, 1887, John Taylor, who then held all the personal property, moneys, stocks and bonds belonging to said defendant corporation as trustee in trust for said defendant, by and with the consent and approval of defendant, donated, transferred and conveyed all of said personal property, moneys, stocks and bonds held by him belonging to said defendant corporation, after setting apart and reserving certain moneys and stocks then held by him, sufficient in amount and necessary for the payment of the then existing indebtedness of said defendant corporation, to certain ecclesiastical corporations created and existing under and by virtue of the laws of the Territory of Utah, to be devoted by said ecclesiastical corporations solely and only to charitable and religious uses and purposes."

And the interveners, Romney and others, who claim to represent the hundred thousand and more individuals of the Mormon Church in their petition say:

"That the said Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is and for many years last past has been a voluntary religious society or association, organized and existing in the Territory of Utah for religious and charitable purposes.

"That said petitioners and others, for whose benefit they file this petition, are members of said church, residing in said Territory; that said church became possessed of all the above-described property, in accordance with its established rules and customs, by the voluntary contributions, donations and dedications of its said members, to be held, managed and applied to the use and benefit of said church and for the maintenance of its religion and charities by trustees appointed by said members semi-annually at the general conference or meeting of said members."

The foregoing considerations place it beyond doubt that the general law of charities, as understood and administered in our Anglo-American system of laws, was and is applicable to the case now under consideration.

Then looking at the case as the finding of facts presents it, we have before us — Congress had before it — a contumacious organization, wielding by its resources an immense power in the Territory of Utah, and employing those resources and that power in constantly attempting to oppose, thwart and subvert the legislation of Congress and the will of the government of the United States. Under these circumstances we have no doubt of the power of Congress to do as it did.

It is not our province to pass judgment upon the necessity or expediency of the act of February 19, 1887, under which this proceeding was taken. The only question we have to consider in this regard, is as to the constitutional power of Congress to pass it. Nor are we now called upon to declare what disposition ought to be made of the property of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This suit is, in some respects, an ancillary one, instituted for the purpose of taking possession of and holding for final disposition the property of the defunct corporation in the hands of a receiver, and winding up its affairs. To that extent, and to that only, the decree of the Circuit Court has gone. In the proceedings which have been instituted in the District Court of the Territory, it will be determined whether the real estate of the corporation which has been seized (excepting the portions exempted by the act) has, or has not, escheated or become forfeited to the United States. If it should be decided in the affirmative, then, pursuant to the terms of the act, the property so forfeited and escheated will be disposed of by the Secretary of the Interior, and the proceeds applied to the use and benefit of common schools in the Territory.

It is obvious that any property of the corporation which may be adjudged to be forfeited and escheated will be subject to a more absolute control and disposition by the government than that which is not so forfeited. The non-forfeited property will be subject to such disposition only as may be required by the law of charitable uses; whilst the forfeited and escheated property, being subject to a more absolute control of the government, will admit of a greater latitude of discretion in regard to its disposition. As we have seen, however, Congress has signified its will in this regard, having declared that the proceeds shall be applied to the use and benefit of common schools in the Territory. Whether that will be a proper destination for the non-forfeited property will be a matter for future consideration in view of all the circumstances of the case.

As to the constitutional question, we see nothing in the act which, in our judgment, transcends the power of Congress over the subject. We have already considered the question of its power to repeal the charter of the corporation. It certainly also had power to direct proceedings to be instituted for the forfeiture and escheat of the real estate of the corporation; and, if a judgment should be rendered in favor of the government in these proceedings, the power to dispose of the proceeds of the lands thus forfeited and escheated, for the use and benefit of common schools in the Territory, is beyond dispute. It would probably have power to make such a disposition of the proceeds if the question were merely one of charitable uses, and not of forfeiture. Schools and education were regarded by the Congress of the Confederation as the most natural and obvious appliances for the promotion of religion and morality. In the ordinance of 1787, passed for the government of the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, it is declared, Art. 3, "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Mr. Dane, who is reputed to have drafted the said ordinance, speaking of some of the statutory provisions of the English law regarding charities as inapplicable to America, says: "But in construing these laws, rules have been laid down, which are valuable in every State; as that the erection of schools and the relief of the poor are always right, and the law will deny the application of private property only as to uses the nation deems superstitious." 4 Dane's Abridg. 239.

The only remaining constitutional question arises upon that part of the 17th section of the act, under which the present proceedings were instituted. We do not well see how the constitutionality of this provision can be seriously disputed, if it be conceded or established that the corporation ceased to exist, and that its property thereupon ceased to have a lawful owner, and reverted to the care and protection of the government as parens patriœ. This point has already been fully discussed. We have no doubt that the state of things referred to existed, and that the right of the government to take possession of the property followed thereupon.

The application of Romney and others, representing the unincorporated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is fully disposed of by the considerations already adduced. The principal question discussed has been, whether the property of the church was in such a condition as to authorize the government and the court to take possession of it and hold it until it shall be seen what final disposition of it should be made; and we think it was in such a condition, and that it is properly held in the custody of the receiver. The rights of the church members will necessarily be taken into consideration in the final disposition of the case. There is no ground for granting their present application. The property is in the custody of the law, awaiting the judgment of the court as to its final disposition in view of the illegal uses to which it is subject in the hands of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, whether incorporated or unincorporated. The conditions for claiming possession of it by the members of the sect or community under the act do not at present exist.

The attempt made, after the passage of the act on February 19, 1887, and whilst it was in the President's hands for his approval or rejection, to transfer the property from the trustee then holding it to other persons, and for the benefit of different associations, was so evidently intended as an evasion of the law, that the court below justly regarded it as void and without force or effect.

We have carefully examined the decree, and do not find anything in it that calls for a reversal. It may perhaps require modification in some matters of detail, and for that purpose only the case is reserved for further consideration.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE FIELD and MR. JUSTICE LAMAR, dissenting.

I am constrained to dissent from the opinion and judgment just announced. Congress possesses such authority over the Territories as the Constitution expressly or by clear implication delegates. Doubtless territory may be acquired by the direct action of Congress, as in the annexation of Texas; by treaty, as in the case of Louisiana; or, as in the case of California, by conquest and afterwards by treaty; but the power of Congress to legislate over the Territories is granted in so many words by the Constitution. Art. 4, sec. 3, clause 2.

And it is further therein provided that "Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."

In my opinion Congress is restrained, not merely by the limitations expressed in the Constitution, but also by the absence of any grant of power, express or implied, in that instrument. And no such power as that involved in the act of Congress under consideration is conferred by the Constitution, nor is any clause pointed out as its legitimate source. I regard it of vital consequence, that absolute power should never be conceded as belonging under our system of government to any one of its departments. The legislative power of Congress is delegated and not inherent, and is therefore limited. I agree that the power to make needful rules and regulations for the Territories necessarily comprehends the power to suppress crime; and it is immaterial even though that crime assumes the form of a religious belief or creed. Congress has the power to extirpate polygamy in any of the Territories, by the enactment of a criminal code directed to that end; but it is not authorized under the cover of that power to seize and confiscate the property of persons, individuals, or corporations, without office found, because they may have been guilty of criminal practices.

The doctrine of cy-près is one of construction, and not of administration. By it a fund devoted to a particular charity is applied to a cognate purpose, and if the purpose for which this property was accumulated was such as has been depicted, it cannot be brought within the rule of application to a purpose as nearly as possible resembling that denounced. Nor is there here any counterpart in Congressional power to the exercise of the royal prerogative in the disposition of a charity. If this property was accumulated for purposes declared illegal, that does not justify its arbitrary disposition by judicial legislation. In my judgment, its diversion under this act of Congress is in contravention of specific limitations in the Constitution; unauthorized, expressly or by implication, by any of its provisions; and in disregard of the fundamental principle that the legislative power of the United States as exercised by the agents of the people of this republic is delegated and not inherent.


1. Si un legs pieux était destiné à quelque usage qui ne pût avoir son effet, comme si un testateur avait légué pour faire une église pour une paroisse, on un bâtiment dans un hôpital, et qu'il arrivât, ou qu'avant sa mort cette église ou ce bâtiment eût été fait de quelque autre fonds, ou qu'il n'y en cût point de nécessité ni d'utilité, le legs ne demeurerait pas pour cela sans aucun usage; mais il serait employé à d'autres œuvres de piété pour cette paroisse ou pour cet hôpital, selon les destinations qu'en feraient les personnes que cette fonction pourrait regarder.
1. Note by MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY. The frequency with which this power of the legislature is exerted is shown by a recurrence to the private laws of any of the States. Taking New Jersey for example; the Index of Private Laws, under the head of "Academies" alone, refers to the following acts:

1. By an ancient charter the trustees of the township of Bergen held certain lands for the common benefit of the freeholders, a portion of which was set apart for the free school of the township. An academy being organized and incorporated in the town, its trustees claimed this portion and sold certain parcels of it. The legislature, on the representation of the trustees of the township, confirmed the sales that had been made, but directed that the proceeds, and the land unsold should be vested in the trustees of the township, for the use and benefit of the free school alone. This, of course, the court of chancery could not have done. Laws of 1814, p. 202.

2. By an act of March 2, 1848, it was enacted, that the title of a lot in the village of Hackensack, formerly vested in the trustees of the Washington Academy, should be vested in the Washington Institute of Hackensack, to be held by them for the purposes and trusts, and subject to the conditions, of the articles of their association. Laws of 1848, p. 118. It is probable that the first institution had ceased to exist.

3. A certain school-house and lot in the city of Newark was held by trustees for the benefit of "The Female Union School Society," for the education of indigent female children. Not being longer needed for that purpose, in consequence of the establishment of public free schools in the city, the legislature authorized the trustees, with the assent of the association, to sell the property and pay over the proceeds to a new corporation created for the support and education of destitute orphan children of the city, called The Protestant Foster Home Society. Laws of 1849, p. 143.

4. In 1854 an act was passed, authorizing the trustees of the Camden Academy to convey their property to the Board of Education of the city of Camden. The reason appears from the following recital of the act "Whereas a certain lot of land [describing it] has heretofore been given or bequeathed for the purpose of erecting a school-house thereon; and whereas the building known as the Camden Academy has been erected thereon by voluntary subscription; and whereas the donors of said land and the subscribers to the funds, for the erection of said building, have, with few exceptions, departed this life, and the objects which they had in view have in a great degree been frustrated; and whereas it is considered that the same may be best promoted by securing said lot of land, and the building thereon, for the occupancy of public schools of the city of Camden; Be it enacted," etc. Laws of 1854, p. 353.

5. By an act passed in 1871, the trustees of Chatham Academy, in the county of Morris, were authorized to convey any part of the real estate held by them, or to sell the same and pay over the proceeds, to the trustees of Chatham School District No. 1, to be used by them for educational purposes only. Laws of 1871, p. 670. Here was, evidently, another case of an academy having run down, and its operations discontinued.

Instances of this kind of legislation, in which the legislature clearly acts as parens patriœ, may be found almost without number.


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