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.
Some states still adhere in form to the old English doctrine of moral obligation.1 A promise by a wife to her dying husband, to pay a claim against him which may not have been enforceable, is said to be supported by a moral obligation.2 In Maryland, the doctrine of the moral obligation was repeated in a number of cases in which it was not necessary to invoke it, as there was in each case sufficient consideration outside of the so-called moral obligation.3 The doctrine was then repudiated,4 but in a later case5 the court said that it had " never, when called upon, hesitated to say that a moral obligation is a sufficient consideration to support a promise to pay." In this case, a partner loaned partnership funds which were lost by reason of such loan. It did not appear that he incurred any legal liability by reason thereof. Subsequently he assigned a life insurance policy to the firm to cover such loss. It was held that as against his administrator, his moral obligation to reimburse the firm was a sufficient consideration to support such assignment. In most states no consideration of any sort would have been necessary; and in a later case,6 the foregoing statement from Robinson v. Hurst,7 was said to be an error. The doctrine of moral obligation was thereupon finally repudiated. In other states this doctrine has been adopted by statute and extended by construction.8 It has been said that if lumber furnished by a materialman to the contractor was placed in A's house, it would support a promise by A to pay for it.9 So where A was employed as supervising principal by a sectional school board and began work, and the board of education refused to confirm the election and abolished the office, and A was defeated in a mandamus suit to be certified on the roll of teachers, it was held that after an appropriation had been made to pay A for her time, an injunction against paying such appropriation would not lie, as the appropriation was supported by a moral obligation.10 Notes given by a father to his adult children as compensation for services rendered by them for him, for which he was not legally liable, were held to be supported by sufficient consideration.11 A's promise to B to pay for a well which A's tenant, X, had caused to be constructed upon A's property, was held to be supported by a sufficient consideration.12
15 Hurless v. Wiley, 91 Kan. 347, 137 Pac. 981.
18 Cotton States Building Co. v. Jones, 94 Tex. 497, 62 S. W. 741.
19Oatfield v. Waring, 14 Johns. 188; Doty v. Wilson, 14 Johns. 378; Glenn v. Savage, 14 Or. 567, 13 Pac., 442; Edson v. Poppe, 24 S. D. 466, 26 L. R. A. (N.S.) 534, 124 N. W. 441; Boothe v. Fitzpatrick, 36 Vt. 681.
20 Ferguson v. Harris, 39 S. Car. 323, 39 Am. St. Rep. 731, 17 S. E. 782.
1 Nebraska. Trayer v. Setter, 72 Neb. 845, 101 N. W. 989.
New York. Todd v. Weber, 95 N. Y. 181, 47 Am. Rep. 20.
Pennsylvania. Hemphill v. MoCli-mans, 24 Pa. St. 367; Stebbins v. Crawford Co., 92 Pa. St. 289, 37 Am. Rep. 687; Leonard v. Duffin, 94 Pa. St.
218; Brooks v. Bank, 126 Pa. St. 394, 17 Atl. 418; Holden v. Banes, 140 Pa. St. 63, 21 Atl. 239; Kelly v. Eby, 141 Pa. St. 176, 21 Atl. 512; Bailey v. Philadelphia, 167 Pa. St. 569, 46 Am. St. Rep. 691, 31 Atl. 925.
South Carolina. Ferguson v. Harris, 39 S. Car. 323, 39 Am. St. Rep. 731, 17 S. E. 782.
Washington. Olsen v. Hagan, - Wash. - , 172 Pac. 1173. "A perfect moral obligation is in this state a sufficient consideration to support a promise." Bank v. Mahon, 78 S. Gar. 408, 59 S. E. 31.
2 Olsen v. Hagan, - Wash. - , 172 Pac. 1173.
3 State v. Reigart, 1 Gill (Md.) 1, 39 Am. Dec. 628; Ellicott v. Turner, 4 Md. 476; Drury v. Briscoe, 42 Md. 154.
4Ingersoll v. Martin, 58 Md. 67, 42 Am. Rep. 322.
5 Robinson v. Hurst, 78 Md. 59, 44 Am. St. Rep. 266, 26 Atl. 956.
6Linz v. Schuck, 106 Md. 220, 124 Am. St. Rep. 481, 11 L. R. A. (N.S.) 789, 14 Am. & Eng. Ann. Cas. 495, 67 Atl. 286 [following, Ingersoll v. Martin, 58 Md. 67, 42 Am. Rep. 322].
7 Robinson v. Hurst, 78 Md. 59, 44 Am. St. Rep. 266, 26 Atl. 956 [sub nomine, Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association v. Hurst, 20 L. R. A. 761].
8 Gray v. Hamil, 82 Ga. 375, 6 L. R. A. 72, 10 S. E. 205. (A promise by a partner who had been habitually drunk to allow his partner extra compensation for extra services.)
9 Ferguson v. Harris, 39 S. Car. 323, 39 Am. St. Rep. 731, 17 S. E. 782; but in this case the evidence showed that the lumber was bought on A's credit.
The doctrine which is recognized in some states to the effect that the presence of unforeseen difficulties in the performance of a contract may be sufficient consideration for the promise of the adversary party to make extra compensation for performance,13 does not depend upon the theory of moral obligation;14 and in some states in which the doctrine of moral obligation is repudiated, a promise of this sort is held to be supported by sufficient consideration.15
Even though a moral obligation is not a consideration for an executory promise between private individuals, the legislature may authorize the payment of claims which individuals have against the state if they are just and are supported by a moral obligation, even though no technical legal consideration exists.16