Harshman v. Bates County/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

92 U.S. 569

Harshman  v.  Bates County

This is an action brought to recover the amount due on certain coupons attached to bonds of Bates County, Mo., issued at the request and on account of Mount Pleasant Township in said county, in payment of a subscription, on behalf of the township, to the capital stock of the Lexington, Lake, and Gulf Railroad Company. The subscription was made under a law of Missouri, called the 'Township Aid Act,' passed in 1868; by which, on the application of twenty-five tax-payers and residents of any township, for election purposes, in any county, the County Court may order an election to be held in such township to determine whether and on what terms a subscription to any railroad to be built in or near the township shall be made; and if two-thirds of the qualified voters of the township, voting at such election, are in favor of the subscription, the County Court shall make it in behalf of the township, and, if bonds are proposed to pay the subscription, the court shall issue such bonds in the name of the county, but to be provided for by the township. It is contended that this law is repugnant to the fourteenth section of article 11 of the Constitution of Missouri, adopted in 1865; by which it is declared that 'the general assembly shall not authorize any county, city, or town to become a stockholder in, or to loan its credit to, any company, association, or corporation, unless two-thirds of the qualified voters of such county, city, or town, at a regular or special election to be held therein, shall assent thereto.' Now, the law of 1868 only requires the assent of two-thirds of the qualified voters who vote at such election. This is certainly a broad difference; and if the constitutional restriction extends, by implication, to townships, as well as to counties, cities, and towns, an election not conforming to the requirements of the constitution would be invalid and confer no authority to make a subscription. The petition in this case only alleges that two-thirds of the qualified voters voting at the election voted in favor of the subscription; which does not satisfy the demands of the constitution. The question, therefore, arises, whether townships are within the restriction of the constitutional provision. A township is a different thing from a town in the organic law of Missouri; the latter being an incorporated municipality, the former only a geographical subdivision of a county. As said in the State v. Linn County Court (44 Mo. 510), 'It has no power by itself to make independent contracts, or to become bound in its separate capacity. The law has not invested it with that power. It forms an integral part of the county, and the county to a certain extent controls and acts for it.' That the framers of the constitution intended to require the assent of two-thirds of all the qualified voters of a 'county, city, or town,' as a prerequisite to a subscription to a railroad or other company, and did not intend the same thing with regard to townships, seems almost absurd. It was undoubtedly supposed that every case was provided for. The thirteenth section of article 11 declared that the credit of the State should not be given or used in aid of corporations; the fourteenth section then imposes the restriction referred to with regard to counties, cities, and towns. This specification embraced every political organization which could be supposed capable of making a subscription. To contend that the mere subdivision of counties into townships enabled the legislature to defeat the constitutional provision, is to ignore the manifest intention and spirit of that instrument. It cannot be possible that it was intended to restrict the legislature as to counties, and not to restrict it as to mere sectional portions of counties. Had counties alone been mentioned, there might have been no restriction as to cities and towns; because they are separate and distinct organizations, corporate in character, and often clothed with legislative functions. But in Missouri, in 1865, when the constitution was adopted, a township had no corporate character; but, as before stated, was a mere geographical section of a county, partitioned off for purposes of local convenience in the matter of elections and a few other things. They had no power to act as corporate bodies. If the legislature could clothe these geographical portions of a county with power to subscribe to stock companies at all, it certainly could not set at nought the constitutional requirement of the people's consent thereto.

The court below did not decide the case on this ground, probably in consequence of certain decisions of the State courts which were deemed inconsistent with it. But we are not aware of any decisions of those courts which hold that the constitutional restriction in question could be ignored with regard to townships, any more than with regard to counties, cities, or towns.

Another objection to the validity of the subscription for which the bonds were give in this case is, that the township voted a subscription to one company and the County Court subscribed to another. This is sought to be justified on the ground that the former company became consolidated with another, thereby forming a third, to whose stock the subscription was made. This consolidation was effected under a law of Missouri authorizing consolidations, and declaring that the company formed from two companies should be entitled to all the powers, rights, privileges, and immunities which belong to either; and it is contended that this provision of the law justified the County Court in making the subscription, without further authority from the people of the township. But did not the authority cases by the extinction of the company voted for? No subscription had been made. No vested right had accrued to the company. The case of the State v. Linn County Court, supra, only decides, that, if the County Court refuses to issue bonds after making a subscription, a mandamus will lie to compel it to issue them. There the authority had been executed, and a right had become vested. But, so long as it remains unexecuted, the occurrence of any event which creates a revocation in law will extinguish the power. The extinction of the company in whose favor the subscription was authorized worked such a revocation. The law authorizing the consolidation of railroad companies does not change the law of attorney and constituent. It may transfer the vested rights of one railroad company to another, upon a consolidation being effected; but it does not continue in existence powers to subscribe for stock given by one person to another, which, by the general law, are extinguished by such a change. It does not profess to do so, and we think that it does not do so by implication.

As sufficient notice of these objections is contained in the recitals of the bonds themselves to put the holder on inquiry, we think that there was no error in the judgment of the Circuit Court.

Judgment affirmed.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).