THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the western district of Pennsylvania, sitting as a court of equity. It was a bill filed by Nachtrieb, under the circumstances mentioned in the opinion of the court. The Circuit Court, after having referred the case to a master to state an account, decreed that the trustees should pay to Nachtrieb the sum of $3,890; from which decree the trustees appealed to this court. It was argued by Mr. Stanberry and Mr. Loomis for the appellants, and by Mr. Stanton for the appellee.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Campbell delivered the opinion of the court.
The appellee, who describes himself as a member in the common and joint-stock association for mutual benefit and advantage, and for the mutual acquisition and enjoyment of property, called the 'Harmony Society,' filed a bill in the Circuit Court against the appellants, as the trustees and managers of its business and estate. The object of the bill is to obtain for the plaintiff a decree for an account of the share to which he is entitled in the property of the society, or compensation for his labor and service during the time he was a member.
In 1819 he became associated with George Rapp and others, in the Harmony Society in Indiana, and remained with them there, or at Economy, in Beaver county, Pennsylvania, till 1846. He devoted his time, skill, attention, and care, during that period, to the increase of the wealth and the promotion of the interest of the society.
These facts are admitted in the pleadings of either party.
The bill avers, that in 1846, the plaintiff being then forty-eight years old, and worn out with years and labor for said association, was wrongfully and unjustly excluded from it, and deprived of any share in its property, benefits, or advantages, by the combination and covin of George Rapp and his associates; that at the time of his exclusion he was entitled to a large sum of money, which those persons unjustly and illegally appropriated to their own use; that George Rapp was the leader and trustee of the association, invested with the title to its property; and that, since his death, the defendants have acquired the control and management of its business and affairs, and the possession of its effects. The plaintiff calls for the production of the articles of association, which from time to time have regulated this society, and prays for an account and distribution of its property, or a compensation for his labor.
The defendants produce a series of articles, by which the association has been governed since its organization in 1805.
They admit, that from small beginnings the society have become independent in their circumstances, being the owners of lands ample for the supply of their subsistence, warm and comfortable houses for the members, and engines and machinery to diminish and cheapen their labors. They affirm that the plaintiff participated in all the individual, social, and religious benefits which were enjoyed by his fellows, under their contract, until he became possessed by a spirit of discontent and disaffection, a short time before his membership terminated. They deny that the plaintiff was wrongfully excluded from the association, or deprived of a share or participation in the property and effects, by the combination or covin of George Rapp and his associates; but assert, that voluntarily, and of his own accord, he separated himself from the society. They deny that he had a title to any compensation for labor and service while he was a member, other than that which was expended for his support, maintenance, and instruction, and that which he derived during the time from the spiritual and social advantages he enjoyed. To support this averment, they epitomize the history of the Harmony Society, and the agreements, which, from time to time, have been the basis of its organization.
The society was composed at first of Germans, who emigrated to the United States in 1805, under the leadership of George Rapp. The members were associated and combined by the common belief that the government of the patriarchal age, united to the community of property, adopted in the days of the Apostles, would conduce to promote their temporal and eternal happiness. The founders of the society surrendered all their property to the association, for the common benefit. The society was settled originally in Pennsylvania, was removed in 1814 and 1815 to Indiana, and again in 1825 to Economy, in Pennsylvania.
The organic law of the society, in regard to their property, is contained in two sections of the articles of association, adopted in 1827 by the associates, of whom the plaintiff was one. They are as follows: 'All the property of the society, real, personal, and mixed, in law or equity, and howsoever contributed and acquired, shall be deemed, now and forever, joint and indivisible stock; each individual is to be considered to have finally and irrevocably parted with all his former contributions, whether in land, goods, money, or labor, and the same rule shall apply to all future contributions, whatever they may be.
'Should any individual withdraw from the society, or depart this life, neither he, in the one case, nor his representatives, in the latter, shall be entitled to demand an account of said contributions, whether in land, goods, money, or labor; or to claim anything from the society as matter of right. But it shall be left altogether to the discretion of the superintendent to decide whether any, and, if any, what allowance shall be made to such member, or his representatives, as a donation.'
The defendants, admitting, as we have seen, that the plaintiff, until 1846, was a contented member of the association, answer and say, that during that year he became disaffected; used violent threats against the associates; made repeated declarations of his intentions to leave the society, and in that year fulfilled his design by a voluntary withdrawal and separation from the society, receiving at the same time from George Rapp two hundred dollars as a donation. They exhibit, as a part of the answer, a writing, signed by the plaintiff, to the following effect:
'To-day I have withdrawn myself from the Harmony Society, and ceased to be a member thereof; I have also received of George Rapp two hundred dollars as a donation, agreeably to contract.