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.
When it is said that time is of the essence of a contract, it means that the provision in the contract which fixes the time of performance is to be regarded as a vital term of the contract, the breach of which may operate, at the election of the party not in default, as a discharge of the entire contract.1 Accordingly, if time is of the essence of the contract, failure to perform at the time which is specified gives to the adversary party who is not in default the right to treat the contract as discharged.2 If time is not of the essence of the contract, failure to perform at the time specified does not justify the adversary party in treating the contract as discharged. It is sufficient if the contract is performed within a reasonable time after the time which is specified in the contract.3
3Barbour v. Hickey, 2 D. C. App. 207, 24 L. R. A. 763.
4Schultz v. O'Rourke, 18 Mont. 418, 45 Pac. 634.
1 Elliott v. Howison. 146 Ala. 568, 40 So. 1018; Blish Milling Co. v. Detherage, 155 Ky. 319, 150 S. W. 816; Sunshine Cloak & Suit Co. v. Roquette, 30 N. D. 143, L. R. A. 1916E. 932, 152 N. W. 359.
2 United States. Slater v. Emerson, 60 U. S. (19 How.) 224, 15 L. ed. 626.
Alabama. MoFadden v. Henderson, 128 Ala. 221, 29 So. 640; Elliott v. Howison. 146 Ala. 568, 40 So. 1018.
California. Vorwerk v. Nolte (Cal.), 24 Pac. 840.
Kansas. Garden City, Gulf & Northern Ry. Co. v. Scott County, 82 Kan. 795, 109 Pac. 684.
Kentucky. Monarch v. Owensboro City Ry., 119 Ky. 939, 85 S. W. 193.
Maryland." Staley v. Thomas. 68 Md. 439, 13 Atl. 53.
Montana. Talbott v. Heinze. 25 Mont. 4, 63 Pac. 624.
Texas. Sanborn v. Murphy, 86 Tex. 437, 25 S. W. 610.
Washington. Owen v. Henderson, 16 Wash. 39, 58 Am. St. Rep. 17, 47 Pac. 215; Jordan v. Coulter, 30 Wash. 116, 70 Pac. 257; Virtue v. Stanley, 87 Wash. 167, 151 Pac. 270.
West Virginia. Lewis v. West Virginia Pulp Co., 76 W. Va. 103, 84 S. E. 1063.
3 England. Hearne v. Tenant, 13 Ves. Jr. 287.
Arkansas. Butler v. Colson, 99 Ark. 340, 138 S. W. 467.
Iowa. University of Des Moines v. Trust Co., 87 Ia. 36, 53 N. W. 1080; Armstrong v. Breen, 101 Ia. 9, 69 N. W. 1125.
Kansas. Usher v. Hollister, 58 Kan. 431, 49 Pac. 525.
Michigan. Solomon v. Shewitz, 185 Mich. 620, 3 A. L. R. 557, 152 N. W. 196.
Wisconsin. MaItby v. Austin, 66 Wis. 527, 27 N. W. 162.
Whether or not time is of the essence of the contract is a question of construction.4 Time is of the essence of the contract if it appears that the provision as to time is of such importance that the parties would not have entered into the contract without such a provision.5 When it has been determined by the ordinary rules of construction that time is of the essence of the contract, the effect of the failure of the party in default to perform at the time stipulated is a question of breach. The question whether time is of the essence of the contract, therefore, might be treated under either or both of the headings of construction or discharge.