Legal Change and Legal Autonomy: Charitable Trusts in New York, 1777-1893
Law & History Review, Vol. 3, p. 51, 1985
39 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2010 Last revised: 16 Jul 2018
Date Written: 1985
The law of charitable trusts in New York provides a wonderful example of the complexity of legal change. We hope to show that the so-called “restrictive” policy followed by New York was not really a legal policy of the state in the sense that it represented a rule deliberately designed to achieve a specific policy goal. On the contrary, it was largely the result of a highly traditional common law judicial response to social policy inputs having nothing at all to do with either the law of charity or the law of trusts. To this extent, it is an example of the “autonomy of law.” There were changes in New York law during the period that is the subject of this paper. We trace these developments as they occurred, by first surveying the English law of charity as it existed at the time of the Revolution, and then tracing the development in New York of a state law of charity from that time until 1844, when the New York courts appeared to have established a systematic approach to the subject. We then discuss the political and judicial reforms that were manifested in the Constitution of 1846 and resulted in the abolition of charitable trusts. Finally we recount the failure of Tilden's will and the resulting legislation that ultimately changed the law of charity in New York. We conclude by assessing the importance of this analysis for the history of American charity law and the history of American charity itself.
Keywords: legal history, New York charitable trusts, charitable trusts, New York legal history
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation