§ 99. The next class of persons legally disabled from contracting, except under certain limitations, is that of infants. Human life is divided into four periods, each of which is a multiple of seven. Natural infancy ends at seven years; puberty begins at fourteen years; legal infancy ends at twenty-one years; and the natural life of a man is threescore years and ten.1 The law takes no cognizance of the acts or contracts of persons under seven years of age, whether they be civil or criminal. After seven years, any person may be capitally punished and may make voidable contracts. After fourteen years, which is the age of discretion, any person may become executor or executrix, and is presumed to have authority to make a will. But until a person is twenty-one years of age, he is a legal infant, and is incapable of making a binding contract. Before that age, the law presumes his faculties to be immature, undisciplined, and incompetent to guard against artifice and subtlety, and it therefore extends to all contracts, previously made, its protection and guardianship.2 A person is of full age to contract on the day preceding the twenty-first anniversary of his birth, and it has been adjudged, " that if one be born on the first day of February, at eleven at night, and on the last day of January, in the twenty-first year of his age, at one of the clock in the morning, he make a will of land, and die, 'tis a good will, for he was then of age." 3 This rule has. by some writers, been thought to have originated in the feudal law, by release by his sovereign, would seem to be inconsistent with this doctrine; as would also the rule, which was held in United States v. Wyngall, 5 Hill, 16, that an alien may enlist in the army of the United States, and his contract will be valid.
1 So, also, a person not heard from during seven years, is presumed to be dead.
2 Co. Litt. 172, 381; Bac. Abr. Infancy and Age, I. 3.
3 Anon., 1 Salk. 44; Herbert v. Turball, 1 Keb. 589; 1 Sid. 162; State v. Clarke, 3 Harrington, 557; Hamlin v. Stevenson, 4 Dana, 597; Roe v. Hersey, 3 Wils. 274; Fitz-Hugh v. Dennington, 6 Mod. 260. See Bingham on Infancy, American ed., and the valuable notes of Mr. Bennett, and Mac-pherson on Infancy, for a full discussion of the law applicable to infants.
§ 100. The law allows to infants certain privileges, as a security against that imposition to which they are peculiarly open from their ignorance and inexperience, and in respect of which they stand in need of protection and guardianship. These privileges are, however, entirely personal, and can only be taken advantage of by the infant himself; for, inasmuch as the reason for which they are allowed does not apply to any party of full age, they are therefore denied to him.4 If, therefore, any person being of full age, enter into an agreement with an infant, he is bound thereby, despite the want of reciprocal responsibility, and it is only at the option of the infant or his representatives to avoid it.1 Thus, where an adult promised a minor to marry her, it was held, that she could maintain an action against him for breach of promise, although he could not against her.2 So, also, in another case, an infant was allowed to maintain an action for money advanced on a crop of potatoes sold to him by an adult, although the adult could not have maintained an action against him.3 This rule is founded upon the theory, that the adult has entered into the contract with all the experience and knowledge requisite to counteract fraud and imposition, while the infant is presumed to be flexible of purpose, easily persuadable, and susceptible of influences which may be greatly injurious to his rights. So, also, for the same reason, a third person, not a party to the contract, cannot take advantage of the infancy of one of the parties to avoid it, unless it be void in its inception.4
1 1 Black. Comm. 464.
2 Code Civil, art. 488: " La majorite est fixee a vingt-un ans accomplis; a cet age on est capable de tous les actes de la vie civile, sauf la restriction portee au titre du Mariage."
3 This is the case in Vermont and Ohio, 9 Vt. 42, 79; 2 Kent, Coram, lect. 31, p. 231. In Maryland, 5H & J. 100.
4 Bac. Abr. Infancy and Age, I. 4; Co. Litt. 78 b, 171 b; Oliver v. Houdlet, 13 Mass. 240; Whitney v. Dutch, 14 Mass. 463; 2 Black. Comm. 67. See Douglas v. Watson, 17 C. B. 685 (1856); Putnam v. Hill, 38 Vt. 85 (1865). But a personal representative may of course avail himself of the plea. Dinsmore v. Webber, 59 Maine, 103 (1871).
§ 101. The contracts of infants are divided into three classes: namely, first, those which are absolutely void; second, those which are only voidable; and third, those which are binding. And, in the first place, if they be positively injurious to the interests of the infant, and can only operate to his prejudice, they are absolutely void; for in such case, the presumption is almost irresistible, that some unfair advantage has been taken of him, or some injurious influence has been exerted. The only difference in this respect between the contracts of adults and infants, is, that in the one case injury is only evidence of imposition, while in the other it is allowed as an uncontrollable presumption thereof, because of the inexperience of the infant.5
1 Coan v. Bowles, 1 Shower, 171 : Van Bramer v. Cooper, 2 Johns. 279; Hartness v. Thompson, 5 Johns. 160; 2 Inst. 483; Rose v. Daniel, 2 Const. Rep. (S. C.) 549; U. S. v. Bainbridge, 1 Mason, 71; Comyn on Cont. 153; Bac. Abr. Infancy and Age, I. 4. Yet as the remedy is not' mutual, a court of equity will refuse to decree specific performance, at the suit of the infant. Flight v. Bolland, 4 Russ. 298; Thompson v. Hamilton, 12 Pick. 429.
2 Holt v. Ward, 2 Strange, 937.
3 Warwick v. Bruce, 2 M. & S. 205.
4 Keane v. Boycott, 2 H. Black. 511; Bac. Abr. Infancy and Age, I. 4; Oliver v. Houdlet, 13 Mass. 237; Kendall v. Lawrence, 22 Pick. 540; Nightingale v. Withington, 15 Mass. 272; Worcester v. Eaton, 13 Mass. 371.