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Written by John R. Vile, published on January 1, 2009 , last updated on February 18, 2024

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)

In Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) signaled the disestablishment of church and state in New Hampshire. Daniel Webster (pictured here), Dartmouth alumnus, represented Dartmouth College. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

In Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 481 (1819), the Supreme Court ruled that the state of New Hampshire had violated the contract clause in its attempt to install a new board of trustees for Dartmouth College. This case also signaled the disestablishment of church and state in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire attempted to convert a private college into a public university

Dartmouth College was founded by Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock, who had received in 1769 a charter from the English Crown that granted authority to a board of trustees created by Wheelock. After the American Revolution, the institution sometimes received state funds and was largely controlled by Federalist trustees, who continued to emphasize the college’s original religious mission. John Wheelock succeeded his father as president in 1779; the trustees fired him in 1816 because of his autocratic manner.

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