|Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge
100 U.S. 1
[ Taney ]
[ Mclean ]
[ Story ]
[ Thompson ]
Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge
TANEY, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court.
The questions involved in this case are of the gravest character, and the Court have given to them the most anxious and deliberate consideration. The value of the right claimed by the plaintiffs is large in amount, and many persons may, no doubt, be seriously affected in their pecuniary interests by any decision which the Court may pronounce; and the questions which have been raised as to the power of the several States in relation to the corporations they have chartered are pregnant with important consequences, not only to the individuals who are concerned in the corporate franchises, but to the communities in which they exist. The Court are fully sensible that it is their duty, in exercising the high powers conferred on them by the Constitution of the United States, to deal with these great and extensive interests with the utmost caution, guarding, so far as they have the power to do so, the rights of property, and at the same time, carefully abstaining from any encroachment on the rights reserved to the states.
It appears from the record that, in the year 1650, the Legislature of Massachusetts granted to the president of Harvard College "the liberty and power" to dispose of the ferry from Charlestown to Boston, by lease or otherwise in the behalf and for the behoof of the college, and that, under that grant, the college continued to hold and keep the ferry by its lessees or agents, and to receive the profits of it, until 1785. In the last-mentioned year, a petition was presented to the Legislature by Thomas Russell and others, stating the inconvenience of the transportation by ferries over Charles River and the public advantages that would result from a bridge, and praying to be incorporated for the purpose of erecting a bridge in the place where the ferry between Boston and Charlestown was then kept. Pursuant to this petition, the Legislature, on the 9th of March 1785, passed an act incorporating a company by the name of "The Proprietors of the Charles River Bridge" for the purposes mentioned in the petition. Under this charter, the company were empowered to erect a bridge in "the place where the ferry was then kept;" certain tolls were granted, and the charter was limited to [p537] forty years from the first opening of the bridge for passengers, and from the time the toll commenced, until the expiration of this term, the company were to pay £200 annually to Harvard College, and, at the expiration of the forty years, the bridge was to be the property of the Commonwealth,
saving (as the law expresses it) to the said college or university a reasonable annual compensation for the annual income of the ferry which they might have received had not the said bridge been erected.
The bridge was accordingly built, and was opened for passengers on the 17th of June 1786. In 1792, the charter was extended to seventy years from the opening of the bridge, and, at the expiration of that time, it was to belong to the Commonwealth. The corporation have regularly paid to the college the annual sum of £200, and have performed all of the duties imposed on them by the terms of their charter.
In 1828, the Legislature of Massachusetts incorporated a company by the name of "The Proprietors of the Warren Bridge" for the purpose of erecting another bridge over Charles River. This bridge is only sixteen rods, at its commencement on the Charlestown side, from the commencement of the bridge of the plaintiffs, and they are about fifty rods apart at their termination on the Boston side. The travelers who pass over either bridge proceed from Charlestown square, which receives the travel of many great public roads leading from the country, and the passengers and travelers who go to and from Boston used to pass over the Charles River Bridge, from and through this square, before the erection of the Warren Bridge.
The Warren Bridge, by the terms of its charter, was to be surrendered to the State as soon as the expenses of the proprietors in building and supporting it should be reimbursed, but this period was not, in any event, to exceed six years from the time the company commenced receiving toll.
When the original bill in this case was filed, the Warren Bridge had not been built, and the bill was filed, after the passage of the law, in order to obtain an injunction to prevent its erection, and for general relief. The bill, among other things, charged as a ground for relief that the act for the erection of the Warren Bridge impaired the obligation of the contract between the Commonwealth and the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge, and was, therefore, repugnant to the the Constitution of the United States. Afterwards, a supplemental bill was filed stating that the bridge had then been so far [p538] completed that it had been opened for travel, and that divers persons had passed over and thus avoided the payment of the toll which would otherwise have been received by the plaintiffs. The answer to the supplemental bill admitted that the bridge has been so far completed that foot passengers could pass, but denied that any persons but the workmen and the superintendents had had passed over with their consent. In this State of the pleadings, the cause came on for hearing in the Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at November Term 1829, and the Court decided that the act incorporating the Warren Bridge did not impair the obligation of the contract with the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge, and dismissed the complainants' bill, and the case is brought here by writ of error from that decision. It is, however, proper to State that it is understood that the State court was equally divided upon the question, and that the decree dismissing the bill, upon the ground above stated, was pronounced by a majority of the Court for the purpose of enabling the complainants to bring the question for decision before this Court.
In the argument here, it was admitted that, since the filing of the supplemental bill, a sufficient amount of toll had been reserved by the proprietors of the Warren Bridge to reimburse all their expenses, and that the bridge is now the property of the state, and has been made a free bridge, and that the value of the franchise granted to the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge has by this means been entirely destroyed. If the complainants deemed these facts material, they ought to have been brought before the State court by a supplemental bill, and this Court, in pronouncing its judgment, cannot regularly notice them. But in the view which the Court take of this subject, these additional circumstances would not in any degree influence their decision. And as they are conceded to be true, and the case has been argued on that ground, and the controversy has been for a long time depending, and all parties desire a final end of it, and as it is of importance to them that the principles on which this Court decide should not be misunderstood, the case will be treated, in the opinion now delivered, as if these admitted facts were regularly before us.
A good deal of evidence has been offered, to show the nature and extent of the ferry right granted to the college, and also to show the rights claimed by the proprietors of the bridge, at different times [p539] by virtue of their charter, and the opinions entertained by committees of the Legislature and others upon that subject. But as these circumstances do not affect the judgment of this Court, it is unnecessary to recapitulate them.
The plaintiffs in error insist, mainly, upon two grounds: 1st. that by virtue of the grant of 1650, Harvard College was entitled, in perpetuity, to the right of keeping a ferry between Charlestown and Boston, that this right was exclusive, and that the Legislature had not the power to establish another ferry on the same line of travel, because it would infringe the rights of the college, and that these rights, upon the erection of the bridge in the place of the ferry under the charter of 1785, were transferred to, and became vested in "The Proprietors of the Charles River Bridge," and that under, and by virtue of this transfer of the ferry right, the rights of the bridge company were as exclusive in that line of travel as the rights of the ferry. 2d. That, independently of the ferry right, the acts of the Legislature of Massachusetts of 1785 and 1792, by their true construction, necessarily implied that the Legislature would not authorize another bridge, and especially, a free one, by the side of this, and placed in the same line of travel, whereby the franchise granted to the "Proprietors of the Charles River Bridge" should be rendered of no value, and the plaintiffs in error contend that the grant of the ferry to the college, and of the charter to the proprietors of the bridge, are both contracts on the part of the state, and that the law authorizing the erection of the Warren Bridge in 1828 impairs the obligation of one or both of these contracts.
It is very clear that, in the form in which this case comes before us (being a writ of error to a State court), the plaintiffs, in claiming under either of these rights, must place themselves on the ground of contract, and cannot support themselves upon the principle that the law divests vested rights. It is well settled by the decisions of this Court that a State law may be retrospective in its character, and may divest vested rights and yet not violate the Constitution of the United States unless it also impairs the obligation of a contract. In Satterlee v. Matthewson, 2 Pet. 413, this Court, in speaking of the State law then before them and interpreting the article in the Constitution of the United States which forbids the States to pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts, uses the following language:
It (the State law) is said to be retrospective, be it so. But retrospective laws which do not impair the obligation of contracts [p540] or partake of the character of ex post facto laws are not condemned or forbidden by any part of that instrument
(the Constitution of the United States). And in another passage in the same case, the Court say:
The objection, however, most pressed upon the Court and relied upon by the counsel for the plaintiff in error was that the effect of this act was to divest rights which were vested by law in Satterlee. There is, certainly, no part of the Constitution of the United States which applies to a State law of this description, nor are we aware of any decision of this or of any Circuit Court, which has condemned such a law, upon this ground, provided its effect be not to impair the obligation of a contract.
The same principles were reaffirmed in this Court in the late case of Watson and others v. Mercer, decided in 1834, 8 Pet. 110:
As to the first point (say the Court), it is clear that this Court has no right to pronounce an act of the State Legislature void, as contrary to the Constitution of the United States, from the mere fact that it divests antecedent vested rights of property. The Constitution of the United States does not prohibit the States from passing retrospective laws, generally, but only ex post facto laws.
After these solemn decisions of this Court, it is apparent that the plaintiffs in error cannot sustain themselves here either upon the ferry right or the charter to the bridge, upon the ground that vested rights of property have been divested by the Legislature. And whether they claim under the ferry right or the charter to the bridge, they must show that the title which they claim was acquired by contract, and that the terms of that contract have been violated by the charter to the Warren Bridge. In other words, they must show that the State had entered into a contract with them, or those under whom they claim, not to establish a free bridge at the place where the Warren Bridge is erected. Such, and such only, are the principles upon which the plaintiffs in error can claim relief in this case.
The nature and extent of the ferry right granted to Harvard College in 1650 must depend upon the laws of Massachusetts, and the character and extent of this right has been elaborately discussed at the bar. But in the view which the Court take of the case before them, it is not necessary to express any opinion on these questions. For, assuming that the grant to Harvard College and the charter to the bridge company were both contracts, and that the ferry right was as extensive and exclusive as the plaintiffs contend for, still they [p541] cannot enlarge privileges granted to the bridge unless it can be shown that the rights of Harvard College in this ferry have, by assignment or in some other way, been transferred to the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge, and still remain in existence, vested in them, to the same extent with that in which they were held and enjoyed by the college before the bridge was built.
It has been strongly pressed upon the Court by the plaintiffs in error that these rights are still existing, and are now held by the proprietors of the bridge. If this franchise still exists, there must be somebody possessed of authority to use it, and to keep the ferry. Who could now lawfully set up a ferry where the old one was kept? The bridge was built in the same place, and its abutments occupied the landings of the ferry. The transportation of passengers in boats, from landing to landing was no longer possible, and the ferry was as effectually destroyed as if a convulsion of nature had made there a passage of dry land. The ferry, then, of necessity, ceased to exist as soon as the bridge was erected, and when the ferry itself was destroyed, how can rights which were incident to it be supposed to survive? The exclusive privileges, if they had such, must follow the fate of the ferry, and can have no legal existence without it, and if the ferry right had been assigned by the college, in due and legal form, to the proprietors of the bridge, they themselves extinguished that right when they erected the bridge in its place. It is not supposed by anyone that the bridge company have a right to keep a ferry. No such right is claimed for them, nor can be claimed for them, under their charter to erect a bridge, and it is difficult to imagine how ferry rights can be held by a corporation or an individual who have no right to keep a ferry. It is clear that the incident must follow the fate of the principal, and the privilege connected with property cannot survive the destruction of the property, and if the ferry right in Harvard College was exclusive, and had been assigned to the proprietors of the bridge, the privilege of exclusion could not remain in the hands of their assignees if those assignees destroyed the ferry.
But upon what ground can the plaintiffs in error contend that the ferry rights of the college have been transferred to the proprietors of the bridge? If they have been thus transferred, it must be by some mode of transfer known to the law, and the evidence relied on to prove it can be pointed out in the record. How was it transferred? It is not suggested that there ever was, in point of fact, a deed of [p542] conveyance executed by the college to the bridge company. Is there any evidence in the record from which such a conveyance may, upon legal principle, be presumed? The testimony before the Court, so far from laying the foundation for such a presumption, repels it in the most positive terms. The petition to the Legislature in 1785, on which the charter was granted, does not suggest and assignment nor any agreement or consent on the part of the college, and the petitioners do not appear to have regarded the wishes of that institution as by any means necessary to insure their success. They place their application entirely on considerations of public interest and public convenience and the superior advantages of a communication across Charles River by a bridge instead of a ferry. The Legislature, in granting the charter, show, by the language of the law, that they acted on the principles assumed by the petitioners. The preamble recites that the bridge "will be of great public utility," and that is the only reason they assign for passing the law which incorporates this company. The validity of the character is not made to depend on the consent of the college, nor of any assignment or surrender on their part, and the Legislature deal with the subject as if it were one exclusively within their own power, and as if the ferry right were not to be transferred to the bridge company, but to be extinguished, and they appear to have acted on the principle that the state, by virtue of its sovereign powers and eminent domain, had a right to take away the franchise of the ferry because, in their judgment, the public interest and convenience would be better promoted by a bridge in the same place; and, upon that principle, they proceed to make a pecuniary compensation to the college for the franchise thus taken away; and as there is an express reservation of a continuing pecuniary compensation to the college when the bridge shall become the property of the state, and no provision whatever for the restoration of the ferry right, it is evident that no such right was intended to be reserved or continued. The ferry, with all its privileges, was intended to be forever at an end, and a compensation in money was given in lieu of it. The college acquiesced in this arrangement, and there is proof in the record that it was all done with their consent. Can a deed of assignment to the bridge company which would keep alive the ferry rights in their hands be presumed under such circumstances? Do not the petition, the law of incorporation, and the consent of the college to the pecuniary provision made for it in perpetuity all repel the notion of an assignment of its rights to the bridge [p543] company, and prove that every party to this proceeding intended that its franchises, whatever they were, should be resumed by the state, and be no longer held by any individual or corporation? With such evidence before us, there can be no ground for presuming a conveyance to the plaintiffs. There was no reason for such a conveyance; there was every reason against it, and the arrangements proposed by the charter to the bridge, could not have been carried into full effect, unless the rights of the ferry were entirely extinguished.
It is, however, said that the payment of the £200 a year to the college, as provided for in the law, gives to the proprietors of the bridge an equitable claim to be treated as the assignees of their interest, and by substitution, upon chancery principles, to be clothed with all their rights. The answer to this argument is obvious. This annual sum was intended to be paid out of the proceeds of the tolls, which the company were authorized to collect. The amount of the tolls, it must be presumed, was graduated with a view to this incumbrance, as well as to every other expenditure to which the company might be subjected under the provisions of their charter. The tolls were to be collected from the public, and it was intended that the expense of the annuity to Harvard College should be borne by the public, and it is manifest that it was so borne from the amount which it is admitted they received until the Warren Bridge was erected. Their agreement, therefore, to pay that sum can give them no equitable right to be regarded as the assignees of the college, and certainly can furnish no foundation for presuming a conveyance; and as the proprietors of the bridge are neither the legal nor equitable assignees of the college, it is not easy to perceive how the ferry franchise can be invoked in aid of their claims, if it were even still a subsisting privilege, and had not been resumed by the state, for the purpose of building a bridge in its place.
Neither can the extent of the preexisting ferry right, whatever it may have been, have any influence upon the construction of the written charter for the bridge. It does not, by any means, follow that, because the legislative power of Massachusetts in 1650 may have granted to a justly favored seminary of learning the exclusive right of ferry between Boston and Charlestown, they would, in 1785, give the same extensive privilege to another corporation who were about to erect a bridge in the same place. The fact that such a right [p544] was granted to the college cannot, by any sound rule of construction, be used to extend the privileges of the bridge company beyond what the words of the charter naturally and legally import. Increased population, longer experience in legislation, the different character of the corporations which owned the ferry from that which owned the bridge, might well have induced a change in the policy of the State in this respect, and as the franchise of the ferry and that of the bridge are different in their nature, and were each established by separate grants which have no words to connect the privileges of the one with the privileges of the other, there is no rule of legal interpretation which would authorize the Court to associate these grants together and to infer that any privilege was intended to be given to the bridge company merely because it had been conferred on the ferry. The charter to the bridge is a written instrument which must speak for itself and be interpreted by its own terms.
This brings us to the act of the Legislature of Massachusetts of 1785, by which the plaintiffs were incorporated by the name of "The Proprietors of the Charles River Bridge," and it is here, and in the law of 1792 prolonging their charter that we must look for the extent and nature of the franchise conferred upon the plaintiffs. Much has been said in the argument of the principles of construction by which this law is to be expounded, and what undertakings on the part of the state may be implied. The Court think there can be no serious difficulty on that head. It is the grant of certain franchises by the public to a private corporation, and in a matter where the public interest is concerned. The rule of construction in such cases is well settled both in England and by the decisions of our own tribunals. In the case of the Proprietors of the Stourbridge Canal v. Wheeley and Others, 2 B. & Ad. 793, the Court say,
the canal having been made under an act of Parliament, the rights of the plaintiffs are derived entirely from that act. This, like many other cases, is a bargain between a company of adventurers and the public the terms of which are expressed in the statute, and the rule of construction in all such cases is now fully established to be this -- that any ambiguity in the terms of the contract must operate against the adventurers and in favor of the public, and the plaintiffs can claim nothing that is not clearly given them by the act.
And the doctrine thus laid down in abundantly sustained by the authorities referred to in this decision. The case itself was as strong a one as could well be imagined for giving to the [p545] canal company, by implication, a right to the tolls they demanded. Their canal had been used by the defendants, to a very considerable extent in transporting large quantities of coal. The rights of all persons to navigate the canal were expressly secured by the act of Parliament, so that the company could not prevent them from using it, and the toll demanded was admitted to be reasonable. Yet, as they only used one of the levels of the canal, and did not pass through the locks, and the statute, in giving the right to exact toll, had given it for articles which passed "through any one or more of the locks," and had said nothing as to toll for navigating one of the levels, the Court held that the right to demand toll in the latter case could not be implied, and that the company were not entitled to recover it. This was a fair case for an equitable construction of the act of incorporation, and for an implied grant, if such a rule of construction could ever be permitted in a law of that description. For the canal had been made at the expense of the company, the defendants had availed themselves of the fruits of their labors, and used the canal freely and extensively for their own profit. Still, the right to exact toll could not be implied, because such a privilege was not found in the charter.
Borrowing, as we have done, our system of jurisprudence from the English law, and having adopted, in every other case, civil and criminal, its rules for the construction of statutes, is there anything in our local situation or in the nature of our political institutions which should lead us to depart from the principle where corporations are concerned? Are we to apply to acts of incorporation a rule of construction differing from that of the English law, and, by implication, make the terms of a charter in one of the states more unfavorable to the public than upon an act of Parliament framed in the same words would be sanctioned in an English court? Can any good reason be assigned for excepting this particular class of cases from the operation of the general principle and for introducing a new and adverse rule of construction in favor of corporations while we adopt and adhere to the rules of construction known to the English common law in every other case, without exception? We think not, and it would present a singular spectacle, if, while the courts in England are restraining, within the strictest limits, the spirit of monopoly, and exclusive privileges in nature of monopolies, and confining corporations to the privileges plainly given to them in their charter, the courts of this country should be found enlarging [p546] these privileges by implication and construing a statute more unfavorably to the public and to the rights of community than would be done in a like case in an English court of justice.
But we are not now left to determine for the first time the rules by which public grants are to be construed in this country. The subject has already been considered in this Court, and the rule of construction above stated fully established. In the case of the United States v. Arredondo, 8 Pet. 738, the leading cases upon this subject are collected together by the learned judge who delivered the opinion of the Court, and the principle recognised that, in grants by the public, nothing passes by implication. The rule is still more clearly and plainly stated in the case of Jackson v. Lamphire, 3 Pet. 289. That was a grant of land by the state, and in speaking of this doctrine of implied covenants in grants by the state, the Court use the following language, which is strikingly applicable to the case at bar:
The only contract made by the state, is the grant to John Cornelius, his heirs and assigns, of the land in question. The patent contains no covenant to do or not to do any further act in relation to the land, and we do not feel ourselves at liberty in this case to create one by implication. The State has not by this act impaired the force of the grant; it does not profess or attempt to take the land from the assigns of Cornelius and gave it to one not claiming under him; neither does the award produce that effect; the grant remains in full force, the property conveyed is held by his grantee, and the State asserts no claim to it.
The same rule of construction is also stated in the case of Beaty v. Lessee of Knowler, 4 Pet. 168, decided in this Court in 1830. In delivering their opinion in that case, the Court say:
That a corporation is strictly limited to the exercise of those powers which are specifically conferred on it, will not be denied. The exercise of the corporate franchise, being restrictive of individual rights, cannot be extended beyond the letter and spirit of the act of incorporation.
But the case most analogous to this, and in which the question came more directly before the Court is the case of the Providence Bank v. Billings, 4 Pet. 514, which was decided in 1830. In that case, it appeared that the Legislature of Rhode Island had chartered the bank, in the usual form of such acts of incorporation. The charter contained no stipulation on the part of the State that it would not impose a tax on the bank, nor any reservation of the right to do so. It was silent on this point. Afterwards, a law [p547] was passed, imposing a tax on all banks in the state, and the right to impose this tax was resisted by the Providence Bank, upon the ground that if the State could impose a tax, it might tax so heavily as to render the franchise of no value, and destroy the institution, that the charter was a contract, and that a power which may in effect destroy the charter is inconsistent with it, and is impliedly renounced by granting it. But the Court said that the taxing power was of vital importance, and essential to the existence of government, and that the relinquishment of such a power is never to be assumed. And in delivering the opinion of the Court, the late chief justice states the principle, in the following clear and emphatic language. Speaking of the taxing power, he says,
as the whole community is interested in retaining it undiminished, that community has a right to insist that its abandonment ought not to be presumed in a case in which the deliberate purpose of the State to abandon it does not appear.
The case now before the Court is, in principle, precisely the same. It is a charter from a state; the act of incorporation is silent in relation to the contested power. The argument in favor of the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge is the same, almost in words, with that used by the Providence Bank -- that is, that the power claimed by the state, if it exists, may be so used as to destroy the value of the franchise they have granted to the corporation. The argument must receive the same answer, and the fact that the power has been already exercised so as to destroy the value of the franchise cannot in any degree affect the principle. The existence of the power does not, and cannot, depend upon the circumstance of its having been exercised or not.
It may, perhaps, be said that, in the case of the Providence Bank, this Court were speaking of the taxing power, which is of vital importance to the very existence of every government. But the object and end of all government is to promote the happiness and prosperity of the community by which it is established, and it can never be assumed that the government intended to diminish its power of accomplishing the end for which it was created. And in a country like ours, free, active and enterprising, continually advancing in numbers and wealth, new channels of communication are daily found necessary, both for travel and trade, and are essential to the comfort, convenience and prosperity of the people. A State ought never to be presumed to surrender this power, because, like the taxing power, the whole community have an interest in [p548] preserving it undiminished. And when a corporation alleges that a State has surrendered, for seventy years, its power of improvement and public accommodation in a great and important line of travel, along which a vast number of its citizens must daily pass, the community have a right to insist, in the language of this Court, above quoted, "that its abandonment ought not to be presumed in a case in which the deliberate purpose of the State to abandon it does not appear." The continued existence of a government would be of no great value if, by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation, and the functions it was designed to perform transferred to the hands of privileged corporations. The rule of construction announced by the Court was not confined to the taxing power, nor is it so limited in the opinion delivered. On the contrary, it was distinctly placed on the ground that the interests of the community were concerned in preserving undiminished the power then in question, and whenever any power of the State is said to be surrendered or diminished, whether it be the taxing power or any other affecting the public interest, the same principle applies, and the rule of construction must be the same. No one will question that the interests of the great body of the people of the state would, in this instance, be affected by the surrender of this great line of travel to a single corporation, with the right to exact toll and exclude competition for seventy years. While the rights of private property are sacredly guarded, we must not forget that the community also have rights, and that the happiness and wellbeing of every citizen depends on their faithful preservation.
Adopting the rule of construction above stated as the settled one, we proceed to apply it to the charter of 1785, to the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge. This act of incorporation is in the usual form, and the privileges such as are commonly given to corporations of that kind. It confers on them the ordinary faculties of a corporation for the purpose of building the bridge, and establishes certain rates of toll which the company are authorized to take; this is the whole grant. There is no exclusive privilege given to them over the waters of Charles River, above or below their bridge, no right to erect another bridge themselves, nor to prevent other persons from erecting one, no engagement from the State that another shall not be erected, and no undertaking not to sanction competition, nor to make improvements that may diminish the amount of its income. Upon all these subjects the charter is silent, and [p549] nothing is said in it about a line of travel, so much insisted on in the argument, in which they are to have exclusive privileges. No words are used from which an intention to grant any of these rights can be inferred. If the plaintiff is entitled to them, it must be implied, simply, from the nature of the grant, and cannot be inferred from the words by which the grant is made.
The relative position of the Warren Bridge has already been described. It does not interrupt the passage over the Charles River Bridge, nor make the way to it, or from it, less convenient. None of the faculties or franchises granted to that corporation has been revoked by the Legislature, and its right to take the tolls granted by the charter remains unaltered. In short, all the franchises and rights of property enumerated in the charter and there mentioned to have been granted to it remain unimpaired. But its income is destroyed by the Warren Bridge, which, being free, draws off the passengers and property which would have gone over it and renders their franchise of no value. This is the gist of the complainant, for it is not pretended that the erection of the Warren Bridge would have done them any injury, or in any degree affected their right of property, if it had not diminished the amount of their tolls. In order, then, to entitle themselves to relief, it is necessary to show that the Legislature contracted not to do the act of which they complain, and that they impaired, or, in other words, violated, that contract by the erection of the Warren Bridge.
The inquiry, then, is does the charter contain such a contract on the part of the state? Is there any such stipulation to be found in that instrument? It must be admitted on all hands that there is none -- no words that even relate to another bridge, or to the diminution of their tolls, or to the line of travel. If a contract on that subject can be gathered from the charter, it must be by implication, and cannot be found in the words used. Can such an agreement be implied? The rule of construction before stated is an answer to the question: in charters of this description, no rights are taken from the public or given to the corporation beyond those which the words of the charter, by their natural and proper construction, purport to convey. There are no words which import such a contract as the plaintiffs in error contend for, and none can be implied, and the same answer must be given to them that was given by this Court to Providence Bank. The whole community are interested in this inquiry, and they have a right to require that the power of promoting their [p550] comfort and convenience, and of advancing the public prosperity by providing safe, convenient and cheap ways for the transportation of produce and the purposes of travel, shall not be construed to have been surrendered or diminished by the state unless it shall appear by plain words that it was intended to be done.
But the case before the Court is even still stronger against any such implied contract as the plaintiffs in error contend for. The Charles River Bridge was completed in 1786, the time limited for the duration of the corporation, by their original charter, expired in 1826. When, therefore, the law passed authorizing the erection of the Warren Bridge, the proprietors of Charles River Bridge held their corporate existence under the law of 1792, which extended their charter for thirty years, and the rights, privileges and franchises of the company must depend upon the construction of the last-mentioned law, taken in connection with the Act of 1785.
The act of 1792 which extends the charter of this bridge incorporates another company to build a bridge over Charles River, furnishing another communication with Boston, and distant only between one and two miles from the old bridge. The first six sections of this act incorporate the proprietors of the West Boston bridge, and define the privileges and describe the duties of that corporation. In the 7th section, there is the following recital:
And whereas, the erection of Charles River Bridge was a work of hazard and public utility, and another bridge in the place of West Boston bridge may diminish the emoluments of Charles River Bridge, therefore, for the encouragement of enterprise,
they proceed to extend the charter of the Charles River Bridge, and to continue it for the term of seventy years from the day the bridge was completed, subject to the conditions prescribed in the original act, and to be entitled to the same tolls. It appears, then, that, by the same act that extended this charter, the Legislature established another bridge which they knew would lessen its profits, and this, too, before the expiration of the first charter, and only seven years after it was granted, thereby showing that the State did not suppose that, by the terms it had used in the first law, it had deprived itself of the power of making such public improvements as might impair the profits of the Charles River Bridge; and from the language used in the clauses of the law by which the charter is extended, it would seem that the Legislature were especially careful to exclude any inference that the extension was made upon the ground of [p551] compromise with the bridge company or as a compensation for rights impaired. On the contrary, words are cautiously employed to exclude that conclusion, and the extension is declared to be granted as a reward for the hazard they had run and "for the encouragement of enterprise." The extension was given because the company had undertaken and executed a work of doubtful success, and the improvements which the Legislature then contemplated might diminish the emoluments they had expected to receive from it.
It results from this statement that the Legislature, in the very law extending the charter, asserts its rights to authorize improvements over Charles River which would take off a portion of the travel from this bridge and diminish its profits, and the bridge company accept the renewal thus given, and thus carefully connected with this assertion of the right on the part of the state. Can they, when holding their corporate existence under this law and deriving their franchises altogether from it, add to the privileges expressed in their charter an implied agreement which is in direct conflict with a portion of the law from which they derive their corporate existence? Can the Legislature be presumed to have taken upon themselves an implied obligation contrary to its own acts and declarations contained in the same law? It would be difficult to find a case justifying such an implication even between individuals; still less will it be found where sovereign rights are concerned and where the interests of a whole community would be deeply affected by such an implication. It would, indeed, be a strong exertion of judicial power, acting upon its own views of what justice required and the parties ought to have done, to raise, by a sort of judicial coercion, an implied contract, and infer it from the nature of the very instrument in which the Legislature appear to have taken pains to use words which disavow and repudiate any intention, on the part of the state, to make such a contract.
Indeed, the practice and usage of almost every State in the Union old enough to have commenced the work of internal improvement is opposed to the doctrine contended for on the part of the plaintiffs in error. Turnpike roads have been made in succession, on the same line of travel, the later ones interfering materially with the profits of the first. These corporations have, in some instances, been utterly ruined by the introduction of newer and better modes of transportation and traveling. In some cases, railroads have rendered the turnpike roads on the same line of travel so entirely useless that the [p552] franchise of the turnpike corporation is not worth preserving. Yet in none of these cases have the corporation supposed that their privileges were invaded, or any contract violated on the part of the state. Amid the multitude of cases which have occurred, and have been daily occurring, for the last forty or fifty years, this is the first instance in which such an implied contract has been contended for and this Court called upon to infer it from an ordinary act of incorporation containing nothing more than the usual stipulations and provisions to be found in every such law. The absence of any such controversy, when there must have been so many occasions to give rise to it, proves that neither states nor individuals nor corporations ever imagined that such a contract could be implied from such charters. It shows that the men who voted for these laws never imagined that they were forming such a contract, and if we maintain that they have made it, we must create it by a legal fiction, in opposition to the truth of the fact and the obvious intention of the party. We cannot deal thus with the rights reserved to the states, and, by legal intendments and mere technical reasoning, take away from them any portion of that power over their own internal police and improvement, which is so necessary to their wellbeing and prosperity.
And what would be the fruits of this doctrine of implied contracts on the part of the states and of property in a line of travel by a corporation if it would now be sanctioned by this Court? To what results would it lead us? If it is to be found in the charter to this bridge, the same process of reasoning must discover it in the various acts which have been passed within the last forty years for turnpike companies. And what is to be the extent of the privileges of exclusion on the different sides of the road? The counsel who have so ably argued this case have not attempted to define it by any certain boundaries. How far must the new improvement be distant from the old one? How near may you approach without invading its rights in the privileged line? If this Court should establish the principles now contended for, what is to become of the numerous railroads established on the same line of travel with turnpike companies, and which have rendered the franchises of the turnpike corporations of no value? Let it once be understood that such charters carry with them these implied contracts, and give this unknown and undefined property in a line of traveling, and you will soon find the old turnpike corporations awakening from their sleep, and calling [p553] upon this Court to put down the improvements which have taken their place. The millions of property which have been invested in railroads and canals upon lines of travel which had been before occupied by turnpike corporations will be put in jeopardy. We shall be thrown back to the improvements of the last century, and obliged to stand still until the claims of the old turnpike corporations shall be satisfied and they shall consent to permit these States to avail themselves of the lights of modern science, and to partake of the benefit of those improvements which are now adding to the wealth and prosperity, and the convenience and comfort, of every other part of the civilized world. Nor is this all. This Court will find itself compelled to fix, by some arbitrary rule, the width of this new kind of property in a line of travel, for if such a right of property exists, we have no lights to guide us in marking out its extent unless, indeed, we resort to the old feudal grants, and to the exclusive rights of ferries by prescription, between towns, and are prepared to decide that, when a turnpike road from one town to another had been made, no railroad or canal between these two points could afterwards be established. This Court are not prepared to sanction principles which must lead to such results.
Many other questions, of the deepest importance have been raised and elaborately discussed in the argument. It is not necessary, for the decision of this case, to express our opinion upon them, and the Court deem it proper to avoid volunteering an opinion on any question involving the construction of the Constitution where the case itself does not bring the question directly before them and make it their duty to decide upon it. Some questions, also, of a purely technical character have been made and argued as to the form of proceeding and the right to relief. But enough appears on the record to bring out the great question in contest, and it is the interest of all parties concerned that the real controversy should be settled without further delay; and as the opinion of the Court is pronounced on the main question in dispute here, and disposes of the whole case, it is altogether unnecessary to enter upon the examination of the forms of proceeding in which the parties have brought it before the Court.
The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dismissing the plaintiffs' bill must, therefore be affirmed, with costs. [p554]