Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1

Document 18

King v. Dedham Bank

15 Mass. 447 1819

[Per curiam:] Having ascertained the nature and legal effect of the contract when made, we cannot give it a different construction, in consequence of the statute, which was afterwards passed. The contract remains the same, and the present action is founded on that contract. No act of the legislature would authorize this court to render a judgment in any particular case, which should be contrary to law: and most certainly the Act in question was not so intended. If intended as declaratory merely, as suggested in the argument for the plaintiff, it was founded on a misapprehension of the pre-existing laws: and if it should have the effect contended for, it would make a new law applicable to the case at bar, instead of ascertaining what the law was before its enactment.

If the defendants have been in the habit of drawing bills of this description, and have thereby exceeded their lawful powers, and violated their charter; they may be prosecuted in a regular manner, and subjected to the legal consequences of the abuse of their charter.--So if their proceedings have been contrary to the spirit and design of the institution, and injurious to the people, the legislature may restrain and prevent such proceedings for the future. But no Act of the legislature can alter the nature and legal effect of an existing contract, to the prejudice of either party; nor give to such a contract a judicial construction, which shall be binding on the parties, or on the courts of law.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1, Document 18
The University of Chicago Press

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