This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
The definitions of duress and the statements of its general nature may be grouped under two general classes, although there are a number of such definitions 770 and statements intermediate between these two types.1 Duress, according to the earlier view, consists of such violence, threats or other wrongful conduct as can, in contemplation of the law, overpower the mind of the party against whom they are directed, and does in fact so overpower it as to compel him to assent apparently to a contract to which in the absence of such duress he would not have assented.2 The modern definition of duress is rather that of a state of mind, induced by fear, in which it is impossible for the party subjected thereto to exercise his own free will.3 While the nature and effect of duress have been before the courts for a long cute the contract, but rather the state of mind which is induced by the means employed; while in the same opinion it is also said that threat must be of such a nature and made under such circumstances as would amount to a reasonable and adequate cause to control the will of the person who is threatened.7
1 For duress, in general, see Wrongful Intimidation, by S. H. Leonard, 7 Law Quarterly Review, 375; A Consideration of What Amounts to Duress, per minas at Law, by W. H. Phillips, 14 American Law Register (N.S.), 201.
2 United States. United States v. Huckabee, 83 U. S. (16 Wail) 414, 21 L. ed. 457.
Colorado. McClair v. Wilson, 18 Colo. 82, 31 Pac. 502.
Michigan. Feller, v. Green, 26 Mich. 70; Hackley v. Heardley, 45 Mich. 569, 8 N. W. 511; Cribbs v. Sowle, 87 Mich. 340, 24 Am. St. Rep. 166, 49 N. W. 587.
Nebraska. Nebraska Mutual Bond Association v. Klee, 70 Neb. 383, 97 N. W. 476.
New Jersey. Earle v. Hosiery Co., 36 N. J. Eq. 188.
Oregon. Parmentier v. Pater, 13 Or. 121, 9 Pac. 59.
Wisconsin. Galusha v. Sherman, 105 Wis. 263, 47 L. R. A. 417, 81 N. W. 495.
3 United States. International Harvester Co. v. Voboril, 187 Fed. 973, 110 C. C. A. 311.
Connecticut. McCarthy v. Tanska, 84 Conn. 377, 80 Atl. 84.
Kansas. Williamson-Halsell, Frazier Co. v. Ackerman, 77 Kan. 502, 94 Pac. 807.
Nebraska. Nebraska Mut. Bond Association v. Klee, 70 Neb. 383, 97 N. W. 476.
Oklahoma. Piekenbrock v. Smith, 43 Okla. 585, 143 Pac. 675; Huston v. Domeny, - Okla. - , 173 Pac. 805.
Oregon. Guinn v. Sumpter Valley Ry. Co., 63 Or. 368, 127 Pac. 987.
Pennsylvania. Fountain v. Bigham, 235 Pa. St. 35, 84 Atl. 131.
Wisconsin. Hodge v. Wallace, 129 Wis. 84, 116 Am. St. Rep. 938, 108 N. W. 212.
"Duress is 'such pressure or constraint as compels a man to go against his will, and virtually takes away Mb free agency, and destroys the power of refusing to comply with the unlawful demand of another.'" Snyder v. Samuelson, 140 Minn. 57, 167 N. W. 287.
Duress is "the deprivation by one person of the will power of another by putting that other in fear for the purpose of obtaining, by that means, some valuable advantage of him." Galusha v. Sherman, 105 Wis. 263, 47 L. R. A. 417, 81 N. W. 495.
"Duress of a person is that condition of his mind caused by the wrongful conduct of another, rendering him incompetent to contract by the exercise of his own free will." Batavian Bank v. North, 114 Wis. 637, 90 N. W. 1016 [citing Galusha v. Sherman, 105 Wis. 263, 47 L. R. A. 417, 81 N. W. 495].
"Duress exists when one, by the unlawful act of another, is induced to make a contract or perform some other act under circumstances which deprives time, the law is to-day in a transition stage.4 This is due to two causes: First, the old point of view looked to the nature of the threats or violence as the primary test of duress; the modern point of view looks to the effect of whatever threats or violence are used, on the mind of the person subjected thereto.5 Second, the union of legal and equitable actions in many jurisdictions has tended to swallow up the definite but limited eommon-law notion of duress in the broader but vaguer doctrine of undue influence which finds its operation chiefly in equity.6 In the same case, we frequently find both theories of duress adopted in definition and in abstract statement; and it is frequently said that the test of duress is not the means by which the party was compelled to exehim of the exercise of free will." Hack-ley v. Headley, 45 Mich. 560, 8 N. W. 511 [quoted in First National Bank v. Sargent, 65 Neb. 594, 91 N. W. 595]. "In other words, the general rule is laid down in Radich v. Hutchins, et al., 95 U. S. 212: 'To constitute the coercion or duress which will be regarded as sufficient to make a payment involuntary, * * • there must be some actual or threatened exercise of power possessed * # * by the party exacting or receiving the payment over the person or property of another from which the latter has no other means of immediate relief than by making the payment.' As stated by the Court of Appeals of Maryland; the doctrine established by the authorities is that 'a payment is not to be regarded as compulsory unless made to emancipate the person or property from an actual and existing duress imposed upon it by the party to whom the money is paid.' (Baltimore v. Lefferman, 4 Gill. [Md.] 425, 45 Am. Dec. 145; Brumagin v. Tilllnghast, 18 Oal. 265, 79 Am. Dec. 176; Mays v. Cincinnati, 1 Ohio St. 268. See also, Cribb v. Sowle, 87 Mich. 340, 49 N. W. 587, 24 Am. St. Rep. 166; Briggs v. Withey, et al., 24 Mich. 136.) What is there said as to compulsory payments is, of course, applicable here as to a compulsory promise to pay."
Piekenbrock v. Smith, 43 Okla. 585, 143 Pac. 675 [quoted in Huston v. Domeny, - Okla. - , 173 Pac. 805].
4 For a good history of the development of this topic see Galusha v. Sherman, 105 Wis. 263, 47 L. R. A. 417, 81 N. W. 495.
5 "The ancient law of duress applied only to duress of the person, such as amounted to a reasonable apprehension of imminent danger to life, limb or liberty, which was in law deemed sufficient to avoid a contract or enable the injured party to recover back money when so paid. The law, however, has progressed and gradually extended the doctrine so as to recognize duress of property as a species of moral duress which might equally with duress of the person constitute a defense to a contract induced thereby, or entitle a party to recover money paid under its influence." First National Bank v. Sargent, 65 Neb. 594, 91 N. W. 595.
6SuIzner v. Cappeau-Lemley & Miller Co., 234 Pa. St. 162, 39 L. R. A. (N.S.) 421, 83 Atl. 103. "Independent of other authorities we are of the opinion that the civil code which authorizes equitable defenses in common-law actions necessarily carries with it the rules of equity applicable to the disposition of such issues." Buford v. R. R., 82 Ky. 286.
Some of the definitions of duress lay stress on the idea of constraint. "Duress exists when one by the unlawful act of another is induced to make a contract or perform some act under circumstances which deprive him of the exercise of free will."8 "Duress is unlawful constraint exercised upon a man, whereby he is forced to do some act against his will."9
Other definitions emphasize the resemblance of duress to fraud. "Duress is a species of fraud."10 "Duress is a species of fraud in which compulsion of some form takes the place of deception in accomplishing the injury."11 "Duress is a species of fraud differing from deceit in that it overcomes volition by less artistic method."12 Duress as to the method whereby it is caused may be divided into two classes: (1) duress of the person, as by (a) violence or (b) imprisonment; and (2) duress of property. Each of these again may be (1) actual or (2) threatened. Further, the person subject to duress may be either (1) the very person against whom violence, threats, and the like, are directed, or (2) one standing in certain relations to such person. Each of these classes must be considered separately.