Scholarly Articles and Other Contributions
 

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1997

Abstract

In this Article, Professor Watson explores the historical record surrounding Mills v. Wyman, 20 Mass (3 Pick) 207 (1825), one of the leading American cases on moral obligation in contract law. In Mills, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court refused to enforce a father's promise to compensate a Good Samaritan who had cared for the father's dying son. Professor Watson combs the historical evidence--court records, census reports, genealogical data, probate records, military rolls, and so on-and argues that the Mills court got both the facts and the law wrong. According to Professor Watson, the father did not make the promise in question, the son did not die until years later, and the law did not mandate the holding in the case. Professor Watson then evaluates modem theories of moral obligation and argues that none of them fully explains or justifies the result in cases like Mills. He concludes by arguing for reform of moral obligation doctrine, and more generally, of consideration doctrine. He contends that promises should be binding if they are made with formalities indicating intent to be legally bound

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