Dartmouth College

With the following words, Daniel Webster concluded his successful defense of the inviolability of the royal charter of Dartmouth CollegeExternal, which was originally obtained on December 13, 1769:

Dartmouth College… Ammi B. Young, artist; Stodart & Currier, lithographers; [New York]: Published by B.O. Tyler, [1834 or 1835]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!

Archivist’s Notes. Letter, Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer regarding the Dartmouth College Case. July 21, 1816. (Thomas Jefferson Papers). Manuscript Division

Daniel Webster. Mathew Brady, photographer; Southworth & Hawes, [between 1851 and 1860]. Daguerreotypes. Prints & Photographs Division

In his landmark Dartmouth College v. Woodward decision (1819), Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835) supported the inviolability of the charter as a contract and ruled that the college, under the charter, was a private and not a public entity. As such, the school was protected from the state’s regulatory power through the contract clause of the United States Constitution.

Dartmouth and Wentworth Halls, Dartmouth College. [Hanover, New Hampshire]. ca 1900. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

The ninth oldest college in the United States, Dartmouth was founded when Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregationalist minister seeking to expand his school into a college, relocated his educational establishment from Connecticut to Hanover, in the royal Province of New Hampshire. Wheelock’s earlier school, the Moor’s Charity School, was primarily for the education of Native Americans. The Royal Governor John Wentworth provided the land Dartmouth was built on and conveyed the charter from King George III to establish the college. Wheelock’s charter was to create a college for the “education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land…and also of English Youth and any others.”

The college was named in honor of William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, a friend of Wentworth’s and an important benefactor. Salmon P. Chase and Robert Frost are among Dartmouth’s famous graduates.

Dartmouth’s first classes, consisting of just four students, were held in a single log hut in Hanover in 1770. As of 2023 there were approximately 4,500 undergraduates and 2,200 graduate students enrolled in the four-year, private, liberal arts college. The school has more than 40 undergraduate academic departments and programs in the arts and sciences. Dartmouth College is the home of one the nation’s oldest professional schools of engineering, the first graduate school of management, and one of the nation’s top medical schools.

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