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.
Apparently a sealed release was at one time inoperative as a discharge of a judgment or other so-called contract of record.1 This arose out of the fact that a contract of record was regarded as of a higher nature than a contract under seal, and that an obligation could be dissolved only by an obligation of at least as high a rank as that by which it was incurred. At modern law this rule is obsolete, either by statute or by the adoption by the common-law courts of the theory of equity, which prevented one whose obligation of record had been satisfied, from making an unconscientious use of his legal power to assert it again.2
5 Ford v. Beech, 11 Q. B. 852; Jones v. Quinnipiack Bank, 29 Conn. 25; Peddecord v. Hill, 20 Ky. (4 T. B. Mon.) 370.
6 See Sec. 2455
7Thimbleby v. Barron, 3 M. & W. 210; Ford v. Beech, 11 Q. B. 852; Webb v. Spicer, 13 Q. B. 886; Mendenhall v. Lenwell, 5 Blackf. (Ind.) 125, 33 Am. Dec. 458; Dow v. Tuttle, 4 Mass. 414, 3 Am. Dec. 226; Chandler v. Herrick, 19 Johns. (N. Y.) 120.
1 Mitchell v. Hawley, 4 Denio. (N.Y.) Y.) 414, 47 Am. Dec. 260.
It was generally assumed that a sealed release could operate as a discharge of a prior obligation under seal.3 These cases are cases in which a sealed defeasance was given after the original sealed obligation, and in which it was sought to show performance of the sealed defeasance as a defense in an action upon the original sealed obligation. This result was explained on the theory that the defeasance may be pleaded in bar in order not to put the debtor "to his writ of covenant by circuits of action."4 Some doubt was cast upon this rule in a subsequent case,5 but the reporter tells us that this case was decided by one judge, two being silent, and the third being absent, and that such judgment, originally pronounced with a nisi, was subsequently made absolute by the same judge in a rage.6 Whether this decision ever represented the law or not, it has long ceased to be the law, and it is regularly held that a sealed release may operate as a discharge of any claims arising on contract, whether under seal or simple;7 subject to the qualifications arising out of the nature of negotiability, that a release of a negotiable instrument, by the holder thereof, before maturity, can not operate as against a subsequent bona fide purchaser for value, who does not know of such release.8
2 See Sec. 2472 and ch. LXXXI.
3Hodges v. Smith, Cro. Eliz. 623; Cotton v. Clinton, Cro. Eliz. 755.
For a similar view, although in a case in which it was doubtful whether the original debt was incurred by a sealed obligation, see Y. B. 12 Hen. VI (Mich.) p. 1, pl. 3; Statham's Abridgment, Title, Relese (18); Fitz-herbert's Grand Abridgment, Title, Re-less (7).
4 Hodges v. Smith, Cro. Eliz. 623.
5Fowell v. Forrest, 2 Wms. Saund. 47ff.
6 Fowell v. Forrest, 2 Wms. Saund. 47ff.
7 United States. Perkins v. Fourni-quet, 55 U. S. (14 How.) 313, 14 L. ed. 435.
Alabama. Tennessee Coal, Iron & Ry. v. Moody, 192 Ala. 364. L. R. A. 1915E, 369, 68 So. 274.
Illinois. Woodbury v. United States Casualty Co., 284 111. 227, 120 N. E. 8; Kuaturin v. Chicago & A. R. Co., .287 111. 306, 122 N. E. 512. (Unsealed release on consideration.)
Iowa. Taylor v. Chicago, R. I. & P. Ry. Co., - Ia. - , 170 N. W. 388.
Massachusetts. La Croix v. Boston Elevated Ry., 223 Mass. 242, 111 N. E. 785.
Michigan. Butterfield v. Reynolds, 189 Mich. 152, 155 N. W. 442.
New York. Pratt v. Crocker, 16 Johns. (N. Y.) 270.
Oregon. Coopey v. Keady, 73 Or. 66, 144 Pac. 99.
8 See ch. LXXIL