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stitution] is designed to reach; that is, the obligation which is recognized by, and results from, the law of the [* 286] State in which it is made. If, therefore, a contract when
made is by the law of the place declared to be illegal, or deemed to be a nullity, or a nude pact, it has no civil obligation, because the law, in such cases, forbids its having any binding efficacy or force. It confers no legal right on the one party and no correspondent legal duty on the other. There is no means allowed or recognized to enforce it; for the maxim is ex nudo pacto non oritur actio. But when it does not fall within the predicament of being either illegal or void, its obligatory force is coextensive with its stipulations." 1
Such being the obligation of a contract, it is obvious that the rights of the parties in respect to it are liable to be affected in many ways by changes in the laws, which it could not have been the intention of the constitutional provision to preclude. "There are few laws which concern the general police of a State, or the government of its citizens, in their intercourse with each other or with strangers, which may not in some way or other affect the contracts which they have entered into or may thereafter form. For what are laws of evidence, or which concern remedies, frauds, and perjuries, laws of registration, and those which affect landlord and tenant, sales at auction, acts of limitation, and those which limit the fees of professional men, and the charges of tavernkeepers, and a multitude of others which crowd the codes of every State, but laws which affect the validity, construction, or duration, or discharge of contracts?" 2 But the changes in these laws are
577; Johnson v. Higgins, 3 Met. (Ky.) 566. A law giving interest on debts which bore none when contracted, was held void in Goggans v. Turnispeed, 1 S. C. N. s. 40; s. c. 7 Am. Rep. 273. The legislature cannot authorize the compulsory extinction of ground rents on payment of a sum in gross. Palairet's Appeal, 67 Penn. St. 479; s. c. 5 Am. Rep. 450.
Story on Const. § 1380. Slave contracts which were legal when made, are not rendered invalid by the abolition of slavery, nor can the States make them void by their constitutions, or deny remedies for their enforcement. White v. Hart, 13 Wall. 649; Osborn v. Nicholson, ib. 653. An act of indemnity held not to relieve a Sheriff from his obligation on his official bond to account for moneys which had been paid away under military compulsion. State v. Gatzweiler, 89 Mo. 17; s. c. 8 Am. Rep. 119.
2 Washington, J., in Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheat. 259. modification of contracts by the operation of police laws,
As to the indirect see post, 574–584.
not regarded as necessarily affecting the obligation of contracts, Whatever belongs merely to the remedy may be altered according to the will of the State, provided the alteration does not impair the obligation of the contract;1 and it does not impair it, provided it leaves the parties a substantial remedy, according to the course of justice as it existed at the time the contract was
made. [* 287] * It has accordingly been held that laws changing
remedies for the enforcement of legal contracts will be valid, even though the new remedy be less convenient than the old, or less prompt and speedy.3
“ Without impairing the obligation of the contract, the remedy may certainly be modified as the wisdom of the nation shall direct.” 4 To take a strong instance; although the law at the
The taxing power conferred upon a municipal corporation is not a contract between it and the State. Richmond v. Richmond, &c., R. R. Co., 21 Grat. 611.
· Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 316, per Taney, Ch. J.
? Stocking v. Hunt, 3 Denio, 274; Van Baumbach v. Bade, 9 Wis. 578; Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 316; McCracken v. Hayward, 2 How. 608; Butler v. Palmer, 1 Hill, 324; Van Renselaer v. Snyder, 9 Barb. 302, and 13 N. Y. 299; Conkey v. Hart, 14 N. Y. 22; Guild v. Rogers, 8 Barb. 502 ; Story v. Furman, 25 N. Y. 214; Coriell v. Ham, 4 Greene (Iowa), 455; Heyward v. Judd, 4 Minn. 483; Swist v. Fletcher, 6 Minn. 550 ; Maynes v. Moor, 16 Ind. 116; Smith v. Packard, 12 Wis. 371; Grosvenor v. Chesley, 48 Me. 369; Van Renselaer v. Ball, 19 N. Y. 100; Van Renselaer v. Hays, ib. 68; Litchfield v. McComber, 42 Barb. 288; Paschal v. Perez, 7 Texas, 365; Auld v. Butcher, 2 Kansas, 155; Kenyon v. Stewart, 44 Penn. St. 179; Clark v. Martin, 49 Penn. St. 299; Rison v. Farr, 24 Ark., 161; Sanders v. Hillsborough Insurance Co., 44 N. H. 238; Huntzinger v. Brock, 3 Grant's Cases, 243; Mechanics, &c., Bank Appeal, 31 Conn. 63.
3 Odgen v. Saunders, 12 Wheat. 270; Beers v. Haughton, 9 Pet. 359; Bumgardner v. Circuit Court, 4 Mo. 50; Trapley v. Hamer, 17 Miss. 310; Quackenbush v. Danks, 1 Denio, 128, 3 Denio 594, and i N. Y. 129; Bronson v. Newberry, 2 Doug. Mich. 38; Rockwell v. Hubbell's Adm’rs, ib. 197; Evans v. Montgomery, 4 W. & S. 218; Holloway v. Sherman, 12 Iowa, 282; Sprecker v. Wakeley, 11 Wis. 432 ; Smith v. Packard, 12 Wis. 371; Porter v. Mariner, 50 Mo. 364; Morse v. Goold, 11 N. Y. 281; Penrose v. Erie Canal Co., 56 Penn. $t. 46; Smith v. Van Gilder, 26 Ark. 527.
Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. 122, per Marshall, Ch. J. A statute allowing the defence of want of consideration in a sealed instrument previously given does not violate the obligation of contracts. Williams v. Haines, 27 Iowa, 251. See, further, Parsons v. Casey, 28 Iowa, 436 ; Curtis v. Whitney, 13 Wall. 68; Cook v. Gregg, 46 N. Y. 439. A statutory judgment lien may be taken away. Watson v. N. Y. Central R.R. Co., 47 N. Y. 157; Woodbury v. Grimes,
time the contract is made permits the creditor to take the body of his debtor in execution, there can be no doubt of the right to abolish all laws for this purpose, leaving the creditor to his remedy against property alone. “ Confinement of the debtor may be a punishment for not performing his contract, or may be allowed as a means of inducing him to perform it. But the State may refuse to inflict this punishment, or may with hold this means, and leave the contract in full force. Imprisonment is no part of the contract, and simply to release the prisoner does not impair the obligation.”1 Nor is there any constitutional objection to such a modification of those laws which exempt certain portions of a debtor's property from execution as shall increase the exemptions, nor to the modifications being made applicable to contracts previously entered into. The State “ may, if it thinks proper, direct that the necessary implements of agriculture, or the tools of the mechanic, or articles of necessity in household furniture, shall, like wearing apparel, not be liable to execution on judgments. Regulations of this description have always been considered, in every civilized community, as properly belonging to the remedy, to be exercised or not, by every sovereignty, according to its own views of policy and humanity. It *must [* 288] reside in every State to enable it to secure its citizens from unjust and harrassing litigation, and to protect them in those pursuits which are necessary to the existence and well-being of every community
1 Col. 100. Or extended before it has expired. Ellis v. Jones, 51 Mo. 180. The obligation of the contract is not impaired if a substantial remedy remains. Richmond v. Richmond, &c., R.R. Co., 21 Grat. 611.
· Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. 122, per Marshall, Ch. J.; Mason v. Haile, 12 Wheat. 370; Bronson v. Newberry, 2 Doug. (Mich.) 38; Maxey v. Loyal, 38 Geo. 540. A special act admitting a party imprisoned on a judgment for tort to take the poor debtors' oath was sustained in Matter of Nichols, 8 R. I. 50.
? Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 311, per Taney, Ch. J.; Rockwell v. Hubbell's Adm’rs, 2 Doug. (Mich.) 197; Quackenbush v. Danks, 1 Denio, 128, 3 Denio, 594, and 1 N. Y. 129; Morse v. Goold, 11 N. Y. 281; Sprecker v. Wakeley, 11 Wis. 432; Cusic v. Douglas, 3 Kansas, 123; Maxey v. Loyal, 38 Geo. 531; Hardiman v. Downer, 39 Geo. 425; Hill v. Kessler, 63 N. C. 437; Farley v. Dowe, 45 Ala. 324; Sneider v. Heidelberger, ib. 126; In re Kennedy, 2 S. C. N. 8. 216; Gunn v. Barry, 44 Geo. 351. The case of Kibbey v. Jones, 7 Bush, 243, seems to be contra. The increase in exemptions, however, must not go to the extent to render the remedy nugatory or impracticable. Stephenson v. Osborne, 41 Miss. 119. It has been decided that a homestead exemption may
And laws which change the rules of evidence relate to the remedy only; and while, as we have elsewhere shown, such laws may, on general principles, be applied to existing causes of action, so, too, it is plain that they are not precluded from such application by the constitutional clause we are considering. And it has been held that the legislature may even take away a commonlaw remedy altogether, without substituting any in its place, if another and efficient remedy remains. Thus, a law abolishing distress for rent has been sustained as applicable to leases in force at its passage ;? and it was also held that an express stipulation in the lease, that the lessor should have this remedy, would not prevent the legislature from abolishing it, because this was a subject concerning which it was not competent for the parties to contract in such manner as to bind the hands of the State. In the language of the court: “If this is a subject on which parties can contract, and if their contracts when made become by virtue of the Constitution of the United States superior to the power of the legislature, then it follows that whatever at any time exists as part of the machinery for the administration of justice may be perpetuated, if parties choose so to agree. That this can scarcely have been within the contemplation of the makers of the Constitution, and that if it prevail as law it will give rise to grave inconveniences, is quite obvious. Every such stipulation is in its
own nature conditional upon the lawful continuance of the [* 289] process. The State is no party to * their contract. It is
bound to afford adequate process for the enforcement of rights; but it has not tied its own hands as to the modes by which it will administer justice. Those from necessity belong to the supreme power to prescribe; and their continuance is not the
be made applicable to previously existing contracts. Hill v. Kessler, 63 N. C. 437; Hardiman v. Downer, 39 Geo. 425; Ladd v. Adams, 66 N. C. 164. Contra, Homestead Cases, 22 Grat. 266. Statutes pertaining to the remedy are merely such as relate to the course and form of proceedings, but do not affect the substance of a judgment when pronounced.” Per Merrick, Ch. J., in Morton v. Valentine, 15 La. An. 153. See Watson v. N. Y. Central R.R. Co., 47 N. Y. 157.
Neass v. Mercer, 15 Barb. 318. On this subject see the discussions in the Federal courts, Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. 122 ; Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheat. 213 ; Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 311; McCracken v. Hayward, 2 How. 608; Curtis v. Whitney, 13 Wall. 68.
? Van Renselaer v. Synder, 9 Barb. 302, and 13 N. Y. 299; Guild v. Rogers, 8 Barb. 502; Conkey v. Hart, 14 N. Y. 22.
subject of contract between private parties. In truth, it is not at all probable that the parties made their agreement with reference to the possible abolition of distress for rent. The first clause of this special provision is, that the lessor may distrain, sue, re-enter, or resort to any other legal remedy, and the second is, that in cases of distress the lessee waives the exemption of certain property from the process, which by law was exempted. This waiver of exemption was undoubtedly the substantial thing which the parties had in view ; but yet perhaps their language cannot be confined to this object, and it may therefore be proper to consider the contract as if it had been their clear purpose to preserve their legal remedy, even if the legislature should think fit to abolish it. In that aspect of it the contract was a subject over which they had no control.” 1
But a law which deprives a party of all legal remedy must necessarily be void. “ If the legislature of the State were to undertake to make a law preventing the legal remedy upon a contract lawfully made, and binding on the party to it, there is no question that such legislature would, by such act, exceed its legitimate powers. Such an act must necessarily impair the obligation of the contract within the meaning of the Constitution.”2 This has been held in regard to those cases in which it was sought to deprive certain classes of persons of the right to maintain suits, because of their having participated in rebellion against the government. And where a statute does not leave a party a
i Conkey v. Hart. 14 N. Y. 30; citing Handy v. Chatfield, 23 Wend. 35; Mason v. Haile, 12 Wheat. 370; Stocking v. Hunt, 3 Denio, 274; and Van Renselaer v. Snyder, 13 N. Y. 299.
2 Call v. Hagger, 8 Mass. 430. Osborne v. Nicholson, 13 Wall. 662; U. S. v. Conway, Hempst. 313; Johnson v. Bond, ib. 533; West v. Sansom, 44 Geo. 295. See Griffin v. Wilcox, 21 Ind. 370; Penrose v. Erie Canal Co., 56 Penn. St. 46. In Jackoway v. Denton, 25 Ark. 641, a clause in the Constitution of Arkansas declaring all contracts for the sale or purchase of slaves void, was held invalid. Affirmed in White v. Hart, 13 Wall. 649. An act withdrawing all the property of a debtor from the operation of legal process, leaving only a barren right to sue, is void. State v. Bank of South Carolina, 1 S. C. n. s. 63.
3 Rison v. Farr, 24 Ark. 161; McFarland v. Butler, 8 Minn. 116; Jackson v. Same, ib. 117. The case of Drehman v. Stifle, 8 Wall. 599, should be considered in connection with these. A remedy may, however, be denied to a party until he has performed his duty to the State in respect to the demand in suit : e. g. paid the tax upon the debt sued for. Walker v. Whitehead, 43 Geo. 538 ; Garrett o. Cordell, ib. 366; Welborn v. Akin, 44 Geo. 420.