Maynard v. Hill

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Maynard v. Hill
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Date decided March 19, 1888


In 1850, Congress passed the Donation Land Claim Act to encourage settlement in the Oregon Territory. Under this Act, an adult man could receive 320 acres of land if he occupied & cultivated it for 4 years. Married couples would receive 640 acres as husband & wife.

In 1850, David Maynard in the state of Ohio, abandoned his family to head west to Oregon to take advantage of the Act. He discontinued supporting his family who remained in Ohio. In April 1852, Oregon awarded David and his absent wife 640 acres of land in Oregon. In December 1852, the territory legislature passed an act dissolving his marriage to his Ohio -living wife. 1 month later, David Maynard married an Oregon woman.

Oregon state officials gave David Maynard only 320 acres of land after 4 years of occupancy because neither wife was with his for the requisite 4 years.

Oregon sold the forfeited 320 acres to Hill and Lewis (defendants "Hill").

David's first wife, Lydia Maynard died in 1879.

Procedural History

The children of David Maynard + his 1st wife brought an action against Hill.

The Maynard children argued that they had to be awarded the 320 acres sold to Hill because the Oregon Territory legislature had violated the Contracts Clause of the US Constitution by dissolving the marriage contract of Maynard & his first wife Lydia.

The Maynard children lose in the trial court & territorial supreme court in the 1880s.


Is marriage a contract within the meaning of the Contracts Clause?


Some states utilized legislative divorces in the 1880s.


No. A marriage isn't a regular contract.

Marriage creates a special relationship & isn't a contract within the meaning of the Contracts Clause.


State legislatures control marriage in many ways by setting

  1. minimum marriage age
  2. prescribing the procedure for effectuating a marriage
  3. defining the rights & duties of the parties
  4. identify grounds for dissolution