Skip to main content

Gelpcke v. Dubuque 1 Wallace 175 (1864)

GELPCKE v. DUBUQUE 1 Wallace 175 (1864)

In his introduction to the 1864 reports of the Supreme Court, John Wallace, the Supreme Court reporter, remarked that in Gelpcke the Court imposed "high moral duties … upon a whole community seeking apparently to violate them." The community was Dubuque, Iowa, which attempted to enhance its property values by issuing municipal bonds, backed by local taxes, to promote railroad development that would put Dubuque on the map. Dubuque acted on authority granted by the Iowa legislature, although the state constitution prevented the legislature from investing in private railroads, as Dubuque did, and from increasing the state's indebtedness as much as the legislature authorized the city to increase its indebtedness. Responding to railroad shenanigans and the objections of taxpayers, Dubuque repudiated its debt, and the Iowa Supreme Court held that the legislature had violated the state constitution when authorizing Dubuque to issue the bonds.

Bondholders, seeking federal relief against default, persuaded the Supreme Court to rule that a contract once valid under state law cannot have its validity or obligation impaired by the subsequent action of a state court. Justice noah h. swayne, speaking for all but Justice samuel f. miller, who dissented, refused to accept the state supreme court's ruling on a matter of state constitutional law. Swayne took the high ground by declaring, "We shall never immolate truth, justice, and the law, because a state tribunal has erected the altar and decreed the sacrifice." However, the ground of decision was not clear, and the Supreme Court construed a state judicial decision as a "law," contrary to conventional usage.

Justice oliver wendell holmes later remarked that the decision in Gelpcke took the Court a good while to explain. In fact, the explanation subsequently provided by the Court was that the state judicial decision had violated the contract clause. However construed, Gelpcke was a means of the Supreme Court's expansion of its jurisdiction, either under the doctrine of swift v. tyson (1842) or under the contract clause, which had previously applied only to statutes, not judicial decisions. And the Court established a basis for curbing municipal repudiation of debts and protecting municipal bondholders.

Leonard W. Levy
(1986)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gelpcke v. Dubuque 1 Wallace 175 (1864)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gelpcke v. Dubuque 1 Wallace 175 (1864)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/politics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gelpcke-v-dubuque-1-wallace-175-1864

"Gelpcke v. Dubuque 1 Wallace 175 (1864)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Retrieved November 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/politics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gelpcke-v-dubuque-1-wallace-175-1864

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.