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 Common Law fixed the age of majority at twenty-one for both males and females. Persons under that age were infants or minors.1 This rule is, of course, an arbitrary one. There is but little difference in the discretion of one on the day before and on the clay after majority.2 "A minor who has nearly attained his majority may be as able to protect his interests in a contract as one who has passed that period. But the law must necessarily fix some precise age at which persons shall be held sui juris. It cannot measure the individual capacity in each case as it arises."3 Unless some arbitrary point of time is fixed by law, the capacity of the infant would necessarily be a question of fact in each case; and from the uncertainty and practical difficulty that would be thus caused the courts have always shrunk. The exact moment at which the age of twenty-one was reached and minority ended was settled at Common lAnon.. 1 Salk. 44; 1 Black. Com. 463; Rowland v. McGure. 64 Ark. 412; 42 S. W. 1068. "An infant or minor (whom we call any that is under the age of 21 years . . .)" Coke Litt., 2 b.
2McCarty v. Carter, 49 111. 53;
95 Am. Dec. 572; Baker v. Lovett.
6 Mass. 78; 4 Am. Dec. 88; Harner v. Dipple, 31 O. S. 72; 27 Am. Rep. 496.
3 McCarty v. Carter, 49 111. 53,
55; 95 Am. Dec. 572. "Whenever he arrives at majority, a time fixed by an arbitrary rule, which in the nature of things cannot affect the personal capabilities of its subject, the law presumes that he has acquired all the wisdom and prudence necessary for the proper management of its affairs; hence the law imposes on him full responsibility for all his acts and contracts." Harner v. Dipple, 31 0. S. 72, 74.
Law as the first moment of the day preceding the twenty-first anniversary of birth.4 "On the day before the twenty-first anniversary he is held to be twenty-one years of age."5 Thus limitations against an infant begins to run the day before his twenty-first birthday.6 This rule is said to rest upon the principle that the law does not recognize fractions of a day. It does not, however, follow from that principle at all; but it really rests on nothing but precedent. It is impossible to show why the rule ignoring fractions of a day is not complied with by making majority begin at the first moment of the twenty-first anniversary of birth. Still although some authorities quoted in its favor are really not all clear on the point,7 though it has been ably and logically criticised, it is probably too well fortified to be shaken and is, though illogical, as convenient a rule as any.