Sinking-Fund Cases/Dissent Field
MR. JUSTICE FIELD.
I also dissent from the judgment of the court in these cases.
The decision will, in my opinion, tend to create insecurity in the title to corporate property in the country. It, in effect, determines that the general government, in its dealings with the Pacific Railroad Companies, is under no legal obligation to fulfil its contracts, and that whether it shall do so is a question of policy and not of duty. It also seems to me to recognize the right of the government to appropriate by legislative decree the earnings of those companies, without judicial inquiry and determination as to its claim to such earnings, thus sanctioning the exercise of judicial functions in its own cases. And in respect to the Central Pacific Company it asserts a supremacy of the Federal over the State government in the control of the corporation which, in my judgment, is subversive of the rights of the State. I therefore am constrained to add some suggestions to those presented by my associates, Justices Strong and Bradley. In what I have to say I shall confine myself chiefly to the case of the Central Pacific Company. That company is a State corporation, and is the successor of a corporation of the same name, created before the railroad acts of Congress were passed, and of four other corporations organized under the laws of the State. No sovereign attributes possessed by the general government were exercised in calling into existence the original company, or any of the companies with which it is now consolidated. They all derived their powers and capacities from the State, and held them at its will.
The relation of the general government to the Pacific companies is twofold: that of sovereign in its own territory and that of contractor. As sovereign, its power extends to the enforcement of such acts and regulations by the companies as will insure, in the management of their roads, and conduct of their officers in its territory, the safety, convenience, and comfort of the public. It can exercise such control in its territory over all common carriers of passengers and property. As a contractor it is bound by its engagements equally with a private individual; it cannot be relieved from them by any assertion of its sovereign authority.
Its relation to the original Central Pacific Company, and to the present company as its successor, in the construction and equipment of its road, and its use for public purposes, was and is that of a contractor; and the rights and obligations of both are to be measured, as in the case of similar relations between other parties, by the terms and conditions of the contract.
By the first section of the original railroad act of Congress, passed in July, 1862, certain persons therein designated were created a corporation by the name of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and authorized to construct and operate a continuous railroad and telegraph line from a designated point on the one hundredth meridian of longitude west from Greenwich to the western boundary of Nevada Territory, and were invested with the powers, privileges, and immunities necessary for that purpose, and with such as are usually conferred upon corporations.
By subsequent provisions of the act and the amendatory act of 1864, three grants were made to the company thus created: a grant of a right of way over the public lands of the United States for the road and telegraph line; a grant of ten alternate sections of land on each side of the road, to aid in its construction and that of the telegraph line; and a grant of a certain number of subsidy bonds of the United States, each in the sum of $1,000 payable in thirty years, with semi-annual interest,-patents for the lands and the bonds to be issued as each twenty consecutive miles of the road and telegraph should be completed. These grants were made upon certain conditions as to the completion of the road and telegraph line, their construction and use by the government, and their pledge as security for the ultimate payment of the bonds. They were the considerations offered by the government to the company for the work which it undertook.
By the act which thus incorporated the Union Pacific Company, and made the grants mentioned, the United States proposed to the Central Pacific that it should construct in like manner a railroad and a telegraph line through the State of California from a point near the Pacific coast to its eastern boundary, upon the same terms and conditions, and after completing them across the State, to continue their construction through the Territories of the United States until they should meet and connect with the road and telegraph line of the Union Pacific.
They, in effect, said to the company, that if it would construct a railroad and a telegraph line from the Pacific Ocean eastward to a connection with the Union Pacific,-the road to be in all respects one of first class,-and keep them in repair, so that they could be used at all times by any department of the government for the transmission of despatches and the transportation of mails, troops, munitions of war, supplies, and public stores, at reasonable rates of compensation, not exceeding such as were charged private persons for similar services, and allow the government at all times the preference in the use of the road and telegraph,-they would grant the company a right of way over the public lands for the construction of the road and telegraph line, and grant to it ten alternate sections of land on each side of the road, and give it their bonds, each for the sum of $1,000, payable thirty years after date, with semiannual interest, such bonds to be issued at the rate of sixteen, thirty-two, or forty-eight the mile, according to the character of the country over which the road should be constructed; and would issue patents for the lands, and the subsidy bonds, as each twenty consecutive miles of the road and telegraph should be completed in the manner prescribed; t being agreed that the company should pay the bonds as they should mature, and that for the security of their payment they should constitute a second mortgage upon the whole line of the road and telegraph, and that one-half of the compensation earned for services to the government, and, after the completion of the road, five per cent of its net earnings should be retained and applied to the payment of the bonds; and also, that the company should complete the road by the 1st of July, 1876, and keep it in repair and use thereafter, or upon failure to do so, that the government might take possession of the road and complete it, or keep it in repair and use as the case might be. And they further, in effect, said that if these terms and conditions were satisfactory, the company should file its written acceptance thereof with the Secretary of the Interior, within six months thereafter; and that thereupon there should be a contract between them.
This proposition of the government the Central Pacific accepted, and filed its acceptance as required; and thereupon the provisions of the act became a contract between it and the United States, as complete and perfect as could be made by the most formal instrument. The United States thus came under obligation to the company to make the grants and issue the bonds stipulated, upon the construction of the road and telegraph line in the manner prescribed. The corporate capacity of the company in no respect affected the nature of the contract, or made it in any particular different from what it would have been had a natural person been one of the parties. The company was not a creature of the United States, and Congress could neither add to nor subtract from its corporate powers. The exercise of the right of eminent domain allowed in the Territories was not the exercise of a corporate power. That right belongs to the sovereign authority, and whoever exercises it does so as the agent of that sovereignty. Nor was its character as a State institution changed by the fact that it was permitted by Congress to extend its road through the territory of the United States. This permission was no more than the license which is usually extended by positive agreement, or by comity in the absence of such agreement, by one State to the corporations of another State, to do business and own property in its jurisdiction. Such license is not the source of the corporate powers exercised. Insurance companies, express companies, and, indeed, companies organized for almost every kind of business, are, by comity, permitted throughout the United States, and generally throughout the civilized world, to do business, make contracts, and exercise their corporate powers in a jurisdiction where, in a strict legal sense, they have no corporate existence. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company, for example, to take an illustration mentioned by counsel, is a corporation created under the laws of the State of New York, and, like the Central Pacific, has been subsidized by the United States. Its ships visit Central America, California, Japan, and China, and in all these places it leases or owns wharves, and makes and enforces contracts necessary to the transaction of its business, yet no one has ever pretended or suggested that it derived any of its corporate powers from the United States, or from the authorities of any of the places named. By consent of those authorities, expressed in terms, or implied in what is understood as their comity, it exercises powers derived solely from the State of New York.
When, therefore, Congress assented to the extension into the territory of the United States of the road which the Central Pacific was authorized by its charter to construct in California, it was deemed important for the company to obtain also the consent and authority of the State to act without its limits and assume responsibilities not originally contemplated. Accordingly, in 1864, the legislature of the State, at its second session after the adoption of the original railroad act of Congress, in order to enab e the company to comply with its provisions and conditions, authorized the company to construct, maintain, and operate the road in the territory lying east of the State, and invested it with the rights, privileges, and powers granted by the act of Congress, with the reservation, however, that the company should be subject to all the laws of the State concerning railroad and telegraph lines, except that messages and property of the United States, of the State, and of the company should have priority of transmission and transportation. The extent of the power which was thus reserved we shall hereafter consider. It is sufficient at present to observe that it was an ample and complete as it is possible for one sovereignty to exert over institutions of its own creation, and that its exercise is incompatible with the control asserted by the law of Congress of 1878, which has given rise to the present suit.
The Central Pacific Company having accepted, as already stated, the conditions proffered by Congress, proceeded at once to the execution of its contract. In the face of great obstacles, doubts, and uncertainties, its directors commenced and prosecuted the work, and within a period several years less than that prescribed, its telegraph line and road were completed, the latter with all the appurtenances of a first-class road, and were accepted by the government. Patents for the land granted and the subsidy bonds mentioned were accordingly issued to the company. Since then the road and telegraph line have been kept in repair and use, and the government has enjoyed all the privileges in the transmission of despatches over the telegraph, and in the transportation of mails, troops, munitions of war, supplies, and public stores over the road, which were stipulated. There has been no failure on the part of the company to comply with its engagements, nor is any complaint of delinquency or neglect in its action made by the government. The road is more valuable now than on the day of its completion; it has been improved in its rails, bridges, cars, depots, turnouts, machine-shops, and all other appurtenances. Its earnings have been constantly increasing, and it constitutes to-day a far better security to the United States for the ultimate payment of the subsidy bonds than at any period since its completion, and to the government it has caused, with the connecting road of the Union Pacific, an immense saving of expense. The records of the different departments show an annual saving, as compared with previous expenditures, in the item of transportation alone of the mails, troops, and public stores, of $5,000,000, aggregating at this day over $50,000,000.
Whilst the company was thus complying in all respects with its engagements, the act of May 7, 1878, was passed, altering in essential particulars the contract of the company, and greatly increasing its obligations. By the contract, only one-half of the compensation for transportation for the government is to be retained and applied towards the payment of the bonds. By the act of 1878, the whole of such compensation is to be retained and thus applied. By the contract, five per cent only of the net earnings of the road are to be paid to the United States to be applied upon the subsidy bonds. By the act of 1878, twenty-five per cent of the net earnings are to be thus paid and applied. By the contract, the only security which the government had for its subsidy bonds was a second mortgage on the road and its appurtenances and telegraph line; and the company was allowed to give a first mortgage as security for its own bonds, issued for an equal amount. By the act of 1878, additional security is required for the ultimate payment of its own bonds, and the subsidy bonds of the United States, by the creation of what is termed a sinking-fund; that is, by compelling the company to deposit $1,200,000 a year in the treasury of the United States, to be held for such payment, or so much thereof as may be necessary to make the five per cent net earnings, the whole sum arned as compensation for services, and sufficient in addition to make the whole reach twenty-five per cent of the net earnings.
It is not material, in the view I take of the subject, whether the deposit of this large sum in the treasury of the creditor be termed a payment, or something else. It is the exaction from the company of money for which the original contract did not stipulate, which constitutes the objectionable feature of the act of 1878. The act thus makes a great change in the liabilities of the company. Its purpose, however, disguised, is to coerce the payment of money years in advance of the time prescribed by the contract. That such legislation is beyond the power of Congress I cannot entertain a doubt. The clauses of the original acts reserving a right to Congress to alter or amend them do not, in my judgment, justify the legislation. The power reserved under these clauses is declared to be for a specific purpose. The language in the act of 1862 is as follows: 'And the better to accomplish the object of this act, to promote the public interest and welfare by the construction of said railroad and telegraph line, and keeping the same in working order, and to secure to the government at all times (but particularly in time of war) the use and benefits of the same for postal, military, and other purposes, Congress may at any time having due regard for the rights of said companies named herein add to, alter, amend, or repeal this act.' Sect. 18. The language of the amendatory act of 1864 is more general: 'That Congress may at any time alter, amend, or repeal this act.' The two acts are to be read together; they deal with the same subject; and are to be treated as if passed at the same time. Prescott v. Railroad Company, 16 Wall. 603. The limitations, therefore, imposed upon the exercise of the power of alteration and amendment in the act of 1862 must be held to apply to the power reserved in the act of 1864. They are not repealed, either expressly or impliedly, by any thing in the latter act. If this be so, the legislation of 1878 can find no support in the clauses. The conditions upon which the reserved power could be exercised under them did not then exist. The road and telegraph had years before been constructed, and always kept in working order; and the government has at all times been secured in their use and benefits for postal, military, and other purposes.
But if the reserved power of alteration and amendment be considered as freed from the limitations designated, it cannot be exerted to affect the contract so far as it has been executed, or the rights vested under it. When the road was completed in the manner prescribed and accepted, the company became entitled as of right to the land and subsidy bonds stipulated. The title to the land was perfect on the issue of the patents; the title to the bonds vested on their delivery. Any alteration of the acts under the reservation clauses, or their repeal, could not revoke the title to the land or recall the bonds or change the right of the company to either. So far as these are concerned the contract was, long before the act of 1878, an executed and closed transaction, and they were as much beyond the reach of the government as any other property vested in private proprietorship. The right to hold the subsidy bonds for the period at which they are to run without paying or advancing money on them before their maturity, except as originally provided, or furnishing other security than that originally stipulated, was, on their delivery, as perfect as the right to hold the title to the land patented unincumbered by future liens of the government. Any alteration or amendment could only operate for the future and affect subsequent acts of the company: it could have no operation upon that which had already been done and vested.
There have been much discussion and great difference of opinion on many points as to the meaning and effect of a similar reservation in statutes of the States, but on the point that it does not author ze any interference with vested rights all the authorities concur. Such was the language of Chief Justice Shaw in the case cited from the Supreme Court of Massachusetts; and such is the language of Mr. Justice Clifford in the cases cited from this court. And such must be the case, or there would be no safety in dealing with the government where such a clause is inserted in its legislation. It could undo at pleasure every thing done under its authority, and despoil of their property those who had trusted to its faith. Commonwealth v. Essex Company, 13 Gray (Mass.), 239; Miller v. The State, 15 Wall. 478; Holyoke Company v. Lyman, id. 500. See also Shields v. Ohio, 95 U.S. 319, and Sage v. Dillard, 15 B. Mon. (Ky.) 349.
The object of a reservation of this kind in acts of incorporation is to insure to the government control over corporate franchises, rights, and privileges which, in its sovereign or legislative capacity, it may call into existence, not to interfere with contracts which the corporation created by it may make. Such is the purport of our language in Tomlinson v. Jessup, where we state the object of the reservation to be 'to prevent a grant of corporate rights and privileges in a form which will preclude legislative interference with their exercise, if the public interest should at any time require such interference,' and that 'the reservation affects the entire relation between the State and corporation, and place under legislative control all rights, privileges, and immunities derived by its charter directly from the State.' 15 Wall. 454. The same thing we repeated, with greater distinctness, in Railroad Company v. Maine, where we said that by the reservation the State retained the power to alter the act incorporating the company, in all particulars constituting the grant to it of corporate rights, privileges, and immunities; and that 'the existence of the corporation, and its franchises and immunities, derived directly from the State, were thus kept under its control.' But we added, that 'rights and interests acquired by the company, not constituting a part of the contract of incorporation, stand upon a different footing.' 96 U.S. 499.
Now, there was no grant by the United States to the Central Pacific Company of corporate rights, privileges, and immunities. No attribute of sovereignty was exercised by them in its creation. It took its life, and all its attributes and capacities, from the State. Whatever powers, rights, and privileges it acquired from the United States it took under its contract with them, and not otherwise. The relation between the parties being that of contractors, the rights and obligations of both, as already stated, are to be measured by the terms and conditions of the contract. And when the government of the United States entered into that contract, it laid aside its sovereignty and put itself on terms of equality with its contractor. It was then but a civil corporation, as incapable as the Central Pacific of releasing itself from its obligations, or of finally determining their extent and character. It could not, as justly observed by one of the counsel who argued this case, 'release itself and hold the other party to the contract. It could not change its obligations and hold its rights unchanged. It cannot bind itself as a civil corporation, and loose itself by its sovereign legislative power.' This principle is aptly expressed by the great conservative statesman, Alexander Hamilton, in his report to Congress on the public credit, in 1795: 'When a government,' he observes, 'enters into a contract with an individual, it deposes, as to the matter of the contract, its constitutional authority, and exchanges the character of legislator for that of a moral agent, with the same rights and obligations as an individual. Its promises may be justly considered out of its power to legislate, unless in aid of them. It is, in theory, impossible to reconcile the two ideas of a promise which obliges with a power to make a law which can vary the effect of it.' Hamilton's Works, vol. iii. pp. 518, 519.
When, therefore, the government of the United States entered into the contract with the Central Pacific, it could no more than a private corporation or a private individual finally construe and determine the extent of the company's rights and liabilities. If it had cause of complaint against the company, it could not undertake itself, by legislative decree, to redress the grievance, but was compelled to seek redress as all other civil corporations are compelled, through the judicial tribunals. If the company was wasting its property, of which no allegation is made, or impairing the security of the government, the remedy by suit was ample. To declare that one of two contracting parties is entitled, under the contract between them, to the payment of a greater sum than is admitted to be payable, or to other or greater security than that given, is not a legislative function. It is judicial action; it is the exercise of judicial power,-and all such power, with respect to any transaction arising under the laws of the United States, is vested by the Constitution in the courts of the country.
In the case of The Commonwealth v. Proprietors of New Bedford Bridge, a corporation of Massachusetts, the Supreme Court of that State, speaking with reference to a contract between the parties, uses this language: 'Each has equal rights and privileges under it, and neither can interpret its terms authoritatively so as to control and bind the rights of the other. The Commonwealth has no more authority to construe the charter than the corporation. By becoming a party to a contract with its citizens the government divests itself of its sovereignty in respect to the terms and conditions of the contract and its construction and interpretation, and stands in the same position as a private individual. If it were otherwise, the rights of parties contracting with the government would be held at the caprice of the sovereign, and exposed to all the risks arising from the corrupt or ill-judged use of misguided power. The interpretation and construction of contracts when drawn in question belong exclusively to the judicial department of the government. The legislature has no more power to construe their own contracts with their citizens than those which individuals make with each other. They can do neither without exercising judicial powers which would be contrary to the elementary principles of our government, as set forth in the Declaration of Rights.' 2 Gray, 350.
In that case the charter of the corporation authorized the building of a toll-bridge across a navigable river, with two suitable draws at least thirty feet wide. A subsequent act required draws to be made of a greater width; but the court held that the question whether the draws already made were suitable, and constructed so as not unreasonably or unnecessarily to obstruct or impede public navigation, was not a question to be determined by the legislature, or by the corporation, but by the courts. It was a question which could not be authoritatively determined by either party so as to control and bind the other. 'Like all other matters involving a controversy concerning public duty and private rights,' said the court, 'it is to be adjusted and settled in the regular tribunals, where questions of law and fact are adjudicated on fixed and established principles, and according to the forms and usages best adapted to secure the impartial administration of justice.' In the case at bar, the government, by the act of 1878, undertakes to decide authoritatively what the obligations of the Central Pacific are, and in effect declares that if the directors of the company do not respect its construction, and obey its mandates, founded upon such construction, they shall be subject to fine and imprisonment.
The distinction between a judicial and a legislative act is well defined. The one determines what the law is, and what the rights f parties are, with reference to transactions already had; the other prescribes what the law shall be in future cases arising under it. Wherever an act undertakes to determine a question of right or obligation, or of property, as the foundation upon which it proceeds, such act is to that extent a judicial one, and not the proper exercise of legislative functions. Thus an act of the legislature of Illinois authorizing the sale of the lands of an intestate, to raise a specific sum, to pay certain parties their claims against the estate of the deceased for moneys advanced and liabilities incurred, was held unconstitutional, on the ground that it involved a judicial determination that the estate was indebted to those parties for the moneys advanced and liabilities incurred. The ascertainment of indebtedness from one party to another, and a direction for its payment, the court considered to be judicial acts which could not be performed by the legislature. 3 Scam. 238. So also an act of the legislature of Tennessee authorizing a guardian of infant heirs to sell certain lands of which their ancestor died seised, and directing the proceeds to be applied to the payment of the ancestor's debts, was, on similar grounds, held to be unconstitutional. Jones v. Perry, 10 Yerg. (Tenn.) 59. Tested by the principle thus illustrated, the act of 1878 must be held in many ways to transcend the legislative power of Congress.
I cannot assent to the doctrine which would ascribe to the Federal government a sovereign right to treat as it may choose corporations with which it deals, and would exempt it from that great law of morality which should bind all governments, as it binds all individuals, to do justice and keep faith. Because it was deemed important, on the adoption of the Constitution, in the light of what was known as tender laws, appraisement laws, stay laws, and instalment laws of the States, which Story says had prostrated all private credit and all private morals, to insert a clause prohibiting the States from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts, and no clause prohibiting the Federal government from like legislation is found, it is argued that no such prohibition exists.
'It is true,' as I had occasion to observe in another case, 'there is no provision in the Constitution forbidding in express terms such legislation. And it is also true that there are express powers delegated to Congress, the execution of which necessarily operates to impair the obligation of contracts. It was the object of the framers of that instrument to create a national government, competent to represent the entire country in its relations with foreign nations, and to accomplish by its legislation measures of common interest to all the people, which the several States in their independent capacities were incapable of effecting, or if capable, the execution of which would be attended with great difficulty and embarrassment. They therefore clothed Congress with all the powers essential to the successful accomplishment of these ends, and carefully withheld the grant of all other powers. Some of the powers granted, from their very nature, interfere in their execution with contracts of parties. Thus war suspends intercourse and commerce between citizens or subjects of belligerent nations; it renders during its continuance the performance of contracts previously made, unlawful. These incidental consequences were contemplated in the grant of the war power. So the regulation of commerce and the imposition of duties may so affect the prices of articles imported or manufactured as to essentially alter the value of previous contracts respecting them; but this incidental consequence was seen in the grant of the power over commerce and duties. There can be no valid objection to laws passed in execution of express powers, that consequences like these follow incidentally from their execution. But it is otherwise when such consequences do not follow incidentally, but are directly enacted.'
'The only express authority or any legislation affecting the obligation of contracts is found in the power to establish a uniform system of bankruptcy, the direct object of which is to release insolvent debtors from their contracts upon the surrender of their property.' 12 Wall. 663. From this express grant in the case of bankrupts the inference is deducible, that there was no general power to interfere with contracts. If such general power existed, there could have been no occasion for the delegation of an express power in the case of bankrupts. The argument for the general power from the absence of a special prohibition proceeds upon a misconception of the nature of the Federal government as one of limited powers. It can exercise only such powers as are specifically granted or are necessarily implied. All other powers, not prohibited to the States, are reserved to them or to the people. As I said in the case referred to, the doctrine that where a power is not expressly forbidden it may be exercised, would change the whole character of our government. According to the great commentators on the Constitution, and the opinions of the great jurists, who have studied and interpreted its meaning, the true doctrine is, that where a power is not in terms granted, and is not necessary or proper for the exercise of a power thus granted, it does not exist. It would not be pretended, for example, had there been no amendments to the Constitution as originally adopted, that Congress could have passed a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or the right of the people to assemble and petition for a redress of grievances. The amendments prohibiting the exercise of any such power were adopted in the language of the preamble accompanying them, when presented to the States, 'in order to prevent misconception or abuse' of the powers of the Constitution.
Independent of these views, there are many considerations which lead to the conclusion that the power to impair contracts, by direct action to that end, does not exist with the general government. In the first place, one of the objects of the Constitution, expressed in its preamble, was the establishment of justice, and what that meant in its relations to contracts is not left, as was justly said by the late Chief Justice, in Hepburn v. Griswold, to inference or conjecture. As he observes, at the time the Constitution was undergoing discussion in the convention, the Congress of the Confederation was engaged in framing the ordinance for the government of the Northwestern Territory, in which certain articles of compact were established between the people of the original States and the people of the Territory, for the purpose, as expressed in the instrument, of extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, upon which the States, their laws and constitutions, were erected. By that ordinance it was declared, that, in the just preservation of rights and property, 'no law ought ever to be made, or have force in the said Territory, that shall, in any manner, interfere with or affect private contracts or engagements bona fide and without fraud previously formed.' The same provision, adds the Chief Justice, found more condensed expression in the prohibition upon the States against impairing the obligation of contracts, which has ever been recognized as an efficient safeguard against injustice; and though the prohibition is not applied in terms to the government of the United States, he expressed the opinion, speaking for himself and the majority of the court at the time, that it was clear 'that those who framed and those who adopted the Constitution intended that the spirit of this prohibition should pervade the entire body of legislation, and that the justice which the Constitution was ordained to establish was not thought by them to be compatible with legislation of an opposite tendency.' 8 Wall. 623.
Similar views are found expressed in the opinions of other judges of this court. In Calder v. Bull, which was here in 1798, Mr. Justice Chase said, that there were acts which the Federal and State legislatures could not do without exceeding their authority, and among them he mentioned a law which punished a citizen for an innocent act; a law that destroyed or impaired the lawful private contracts of citizens; a law that made a man judge in his own case; and a law that took the property from A. and gave it to B. 'It is against all reason and justice,' he added, 'for a people to intrust a legislature with such powers, and therefore it cannot be presumed that they have done it. They may command what is right and prohibit what is wrong; but they cannot change innocence into guilt, or punish innocence as a crime, or violate the right of an antecedent lawful private contract, or the right of private property. To maintain that a Federal or State legislature possesses such powers if they had not been expressly restrained, would, in my opinion, be a political heresy altogether inadmissible in all free republican governments.' 3 Dall. 388.
In Ogden v. Saunders, which was before this court in 1827, Mr. Justice Thompson, referring to the clauses of the Constitution prohibiting the State from passing a bill of attainder, an ex post facto law, or a law impairing the obligation of contracts, said: 'Neither provision can strictly be considered as introducing any new principle, but only for greater security and safety to incorporate into this charter provisions admitted by all to be among the first principles of our government. No State court would, I presume, sanction and enforce an ex post facto law, if no such prohibition was contained in the Constitution of the United States; so, neither would retrospective laws, taking away vested rights, be enforced. Such laws are repugnant to those fundamental principles upon which every just system of laws is founded.'
In the Federalist, Mr. Madison declared that laws impairing the obligation of contracts were contrary to the first principles of the social compact and to every principle of sound legislation; and in the Dartmouth College Case Mr. Webster contended that acts, which were there held to impair the obligation of contracts, were not the exercise of a power properly legislative, as their object and effect was to take away vested rights. 'To justify the taking away of vested rights,' he said, 'there must be a forfeiture, to adjudge upon and declare which is the proper province of the judiciary.' Surely the Constitution would have failed to establish justice had it allowed the exercise of such a dangerous power to the Congress of the United States.
In the second place, legislation impairing the obligation of contracts impinges upon the provision of the Constitution which declares that no one shall be deprived of his property without due process of law; and that means by law in its regular course of administration through the courts of justice. Contracts are property, and a large portion of the wealth of the country exists in that form. Whatever impairs their value diminishes, therefore, the property of the owner; and if that be effected by direct legislative action operating upon the contract, forbidding its enforcement or transfer, or otherwise restricting its use, the owner is as much deprived of his property without due process of law as if the contract were impounded, or the value it represents were in terms wholly or partially confiscated.
In the case at bar the contract with the Central Pacific is, as I have said, changed in essential particulars. The company is compelled to accept it in its changed form, and by legislative decree, without the intervention of the courts, that is, without due process of law, to pay out of its earnings each year to its contractors, the United States, or deposit with them, a sum that may amount to $1,200,000, and this, twenty years before the debt to which it is to be applied becomes due and payable by the company. If this taking of the earnings of the company and kee ing them from its use during these twenty years to come is not depriving the company of its property, it would be difficult to give any meaning to the provision of the Constitution. It will only be necessary hereafter to give to the seizure of another's property or earnings a new name,-to call it the creation of a sinking-fund, or the providing against the possible wastefulness or improvidence of the owner,-to get rid of the constitutional restraint. To my mind the evasion of that clause, the frittering away of all sense and meaning to it, are insuperable objections to the legislation of Congress. Where contracts are impaired, or when operating against the government are sought to be evaded and avoided by legislation, a blow is given to the security of all property. If the government will not keep its faith, little better can be expected from the citizen. If contracts are not observed, no property will in the end be respected; and all history shows that rights of persons are unsafe where property is insecure. Protection to one goes with protection to the other; and there can be neither prosperity nor progress where this foundation of all just government is unsettled. 'The moment,' said the elder Adams, 'the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.'
I am aware of the opinion which prevails generally that the Pacific railroad corporations have, by their accumulation of wealth, and the numbers in their employ, become so powerful as to be disturbing and dangerous influences in the legislation of the country; and that they should, therefore, be brought by stringent measures into subjection to the State. This may be true; I do not say that it is not; but if it is, it furnishes no justification for the repudiation or evasion of the contracts made with them by the government. The law that protects the wealth of the most powerful, protects also the earnings of the most humble; and the law which would confiscate the property of the one would in the end take the earnings of the other.
There are many other objections to the act of Congress besides those I have mentioned, each to my mind convincing; but why add to what has already been said? If the reasons given will not convince, neither would any others which could be presented. I will, therefore, refer only to the interference of the law with the rights of the State of California.
The Central Pacific being a State corporation, the law creating it is, by the Constitution of California, subject to alteration, amendment, and repeal by its legislature at any time, a power which the legislature can neither abdicate nor transfer. In its assent given to the company to extend its road into the territory of the United States,-the general government having authorized the extension,-the legislature reserved the same control which it possesses over other railroad and telegraph companies created by it. That control under the new constitution goes, as is claimed, to the extent of regulating the fares and freights of the company, thus limiting its income or earnings; and of supervising all its business, even to the keeping of its accounts, making disobedience of its directors to the regulations established for its management punishable by fine and imprisonment; and the legislature may impose the additional penalty of a forfeiture of the franchises and privileges of the company. The law in existence when the corporation was created, and still in force, requires the creation of a sinking-fund by the company to meet its bonds, and under it large sums have been accumulated for that purpose, and still further sums must be raised. In a word, the law of the State undertakes to control and manage the corporation, in all particulars required for the service, convenience, and protection of the public; and can there be a doubt in the mind of any one that over its own creations the State has, within its own territory, as against the U ited States, the superior authority? Yet the power asserted by the general government in the passage of the act of 1878 would justify legislation affecting all the affairs of the company, both in the State and in the Territories of the United States. It could treble the amount of the sum to be annually deposited in the sinking-fund; it could command the immediate deposit of the entire amount of the ultimate indebtedness; it could change the order of the liens held by the government and the first-mortgage bondholders; it could extend the lien of the government beyond the property to the entire income of the company, and, in fact, does so by the act in question (sect. 9); it could require the transportation for the government to be made without compensation; and it could subject the company to burdens which, if anticipated at the time, would have prevented the construction of the road. A power thus vast, once admitted to exist, might be exerted to control the entire affairs of the company, in direct conflict with the legislation of the State; its exercise would be a mere matter of legislative discretion in Congress. Yet it is clear that both governments cannot control and manage the company in the same territory, subjecting its directors to fine and imprisonment for disobeying their regulations. Under the Constitution the management of local affairs is left chiefly to the States, and it never entered into the conception of its framers that under it the creations of the States could be taken from their control. Certain it is that over no subject is it more important for their interests that they should retain the management and direction than over corporations brought into existence by them. The decision of the majority goes a great way-further, it appears to me, than any heretofore made by the court-to weaken the authority of the States, in this respect, as against the will of Congress. According to my understanding of its scope and reach, the United States have only to make a contract with a State corporation, and a loan to it, to oust the jurisdiction of the State, and place the corporation under their direction. It would seem plain that if legislation, taking institutions of the State from its control, can be sustained by this court, the government will drift from the limited and well-guarded system established by our fathers into a centralized and consolidated government.