A minor or infant is one who has not attained the age which the law deems necessary to give him his full maturity of mind and below which he requires a special protection from the state.
In the legal conception all children are under guardianship, directly by their parents or other legal guardian, and indirectly by the state. They are mentally incompetent through lack of experience and because of immaturity of mind, and therefore not legally competent to protect their own interests to the full extent. To afford them a protection to which the adult is not entitled, the law qualifies their liability upon contract.
Now the distinction between infancy and adult life is not arbitrary, and we all recognize the distinction and act upon it, but we cannot point to any particular moment or year as a dividing line. Yet to have a workable rule the law must do this rather arbitrary thing and apply it generally, although in specific instances it must accomplish the result of affording a person of a certain age a protection he does not need, as much as another of a greater age does need it to whom the protection is denied. Some young men of eighteen are more mature than others of twenty-two; but one can see at once that there is no workable test to measure these things except by setting a line to apply for all, as suggested by normal experience. This the law has done by saying that from the standpoint of contract, a person is an infant or a minor until his twenty-first birthday. In some jurisdictions, females attain full age at eighteen.
A minor has the power to contract, but for his own protection he is given the right to disaffirm, or withdraw from, any contract made by him, except that the law makes him absolutely liable for the reasonable value of necessaries furnished him at his request; and except also that in some jurisdictions he has no power whatever to appoint an agent for important purposes.
The careless statement is frequently made, that a minor has no power to contract, except for necessaries, but this conception is erroneous. The law does not deny him the power to contract, but furnishes him with relief by way of disaffirmance if he chooses to rely upon his infancy. This seems to be the true view of the present law. The contract made by the minor he may not care to disaffirm, and the other party cannot avoid on the ground of the minority of the party with whom he has contracted.2
In some states the position is taken that a minor cannot appoint an agent,3 but the better view is that there is no distinction between this and his other voidable contracts, and that the appointment of an agent is not void, but merely voidable. Being merely voidable, it is capable of ratification by him when he becomes of age.4
2. Wright v. Buchanan, 287 111. 468.
A minor is liable for the reasonable value of necessaries purchased by him upon his credit and actually supplied him.
The law gives a minor the right to elect whether he shall be bound for all contracts made by him except his executed contracts for necessaries. If a minor could not render himself absolutely liable for the things which are supplied to him as actual needs, he might be compelled to go in want.
He is not bound to pay what he may have promised, but only the reasonable worth of the thing supplied, that is to say, the market or real value. Thus, if he purchases a suit of clothes reasonably worth the sum of fifteen dollars, and gives his promissory note for thirty dollars, he may elect not to be bound upon the note, and fifteen dollars would be the measure of the seller's damage.
His liability has been said to be not strictly contractual, as it is imposed upon him by law, irrespective of his actual promise. "Its real foundation is an obligation which the law imposes on the infant to make a fair payment in respect to needs satisfied." 5 But it is of the nature of contract in this sense that the minor gets the benefit through agreement, and no harm is done to think of it as a true contract if we remember simply that the state in its regard for the welfare of the minor protects him against his unreasonable promises, and also that an executory contract even for necessaries is not enforce-able against a minor.
3. McDonald v. Spring Valley, 285 111. 52; Cole v. Pennoyer, 14 111. 158.
4. Coursolle v. Weyerhauser, 69 Minn. 328.
5. Nash v. Wyman (1908), 2 K. B. I.