Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date

1917

Abstract

It is common knowledge that the fully developed common law affords no means to compel the performance of a contract according to its terms. Does it follow from this that there is no legal obligation to perform a contract, or if obligation there be, that it is alternative: to perform or pay damages? A note in the XIV MICH. L. REV. 480 appears to give an affirmative answer to this question and at least one court (Frye v. Hubbell, 74 N. H. 358, at p. 374) has taken the same view. Probably the most forcible exposition of this position is given by Justice Holmes in his admirable address, "THE PATH OF THE LAW" (10 HARV. L. REV. at p. 462). The passage is sufficiently picturesque to deserve quotation: "Nowhere is the confusion between legal and moral ideas more manifest than in the law of contract. Among other things, here again the so called primary rights and duties are invested with a mystic significance beyond what can be assigned and explained. The duty to keep a contract at common law means a prediction that you must pay damages if you do not keep it,-and nothing else. If you commit a tort, you are liable to pay a compensatory sum. If you commit a contract, you are liable to pay a compensatory sum unless the promised event comes to pass, and that is all the difference. But such a mode of looking at the matter stinks in the nostrils of those who think it advantageous to get as much ethics into the law as they can. It was good enough for Lord Coke, however, and here, as in many other cases, I am content to abide with him."


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