Skip to main content

Van Horne's Lessee v. Dorrance 2 Dallas 304 (1795)

VAN HORNE'S LESSEE v. DORRANCE 2 Dallas 304 (1795)

Van Horne's Lessee, a circuit court case in the District of Pennsylvania, is memorable because of Justice william paterson's charge to the jury, instructing them that a state act unconstitutionally violated property rights. His opinion can be read as a roadmap of the direction that constitutional law would take as a law of judicially implied limitations on legislation adversely affecting property rights. In lucid nonlegal language, Paterson spelled out judicial presuppositions and constitutional principles that were to become orthodox for well over a century. In discussing "What is a Constitution?" and analyzing the legislature's authority to pass its act divesting land titles, Paterson joined together the doctrines of judicial review and vested rights. Prefiguring fletcher v. peck (1810) as well as the basic principle of marbury v. madison (1803), Paterson invoked the higher law concept and the contract clause against the statute.

Having declared that "it will be the duty of the Court to adhere to the constitution, and to declare the act null and void" if it exceeds the legislature's authority, Paterson discoursed on the relationship between fundamental law and the rights of property. He found such rights inalienable, their preservation a primary object of "the social compact." Property, when vested, must be secure. For the government to take property without providing a recompense in value would be "an outrage," a "dangerous" display of unlimited authority, "a monster in legislation" that would "shock all mankind." To divest a citizen of his freehold even with compensation was a necessary "despotic" power to be exercised only in "cases of the first necessity." The reason was that the Constitution "encircles, and renders [a vested right] an holy thing.… It is a right not exgratia from the legislature, but ex debito from the constitution. It is sacred.…"

Paterson informed the jury that courts must hold unconstitutional legislative encroachments on sacred property rights even in the absence of a written constitutional limitation on legislative powers. He relied on "reason, justice, and moral recitude," "the principles of social alliance in every free government," and the "letter and spirit of the constitution." The letter, in this instance, turned out to be the clause in Article I, section 10, of the Constitution, prohibiting a state law impairing the obligation of acontract. Paterson assumed that the contract clause extended to contracts to which the state was a party; that a previous state act recognizing a property interest of the original claimant was a contract within the protection of the contract clause; and that the divestiture of the titles, even with compensation, violated the clause. Paterson's charge was a textbook exposition of constitutionalism, higher law limitations, judicial review, courts as bulwarks of property rights, and the contract clause.

Leonard W. Levy
(1986)

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Van Horne's Lessee v. Dorrance 2 Dallas 304 (1795)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Van Horne's Lessee v. Dorrance 2 Dallas 304 (1795)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/politics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/van-hornes-lessee-v-dorrance-2-dallas-304-1795

"Van Horne's Lessee v. Dorrance 2 Dallas 304 (1795)." Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. . Retrieved November 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/politics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/van-hornes-lessee-v-dorrance-2-dallas-304-1795

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.