The same clause which gives to Congress the power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization, authorizes that body to establish "uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States."
The construction which has been given to this clause furnishes one of the few exceptions to the general rule that the technical terms of the Constitution are to be given the meanings which they had at the time the Constitution was adopted. In 1789 "bankruptcy" and "insolvency" had, in the English law, different and distinct meanings. Bankruptcy applied only to merchants or traders charged with having committed some fraudulent or quasi-fraudulent act upon their creditors, who thereupon might institute proceedings to have their debtor declared a bankrupt, his property taken and distributed in payment of his debts, and he himself either discharged from further liability therefor, or imprisoned as the court might think tit. Insolvency, upon the other hand, described the status of a debtor, not a trader, who, in order to obtain a discharge might in certain cases surrender, or offer to surrender, all his property in payment of his debts.
1 Collet v. Collet, 2 Dall. 294; 1 L. ed. 387. 2 2 Wh. 259; 4 L. ed. 234.
In this country, however, from the beginning Congress and the Supreme Court have given to the term "Bankruptcy" a meaning broad enough to cover "Insolvency" as well. Indeed no distinc-tion between the two was recognized in the colonies before the separation from England.3
By various acts Congress has, from time to time, enacted laws providing for both voluntary and involuntary bankruptcy, that is, for proceedings instituted by the debtor himself or in invitum by his creditors. The details of this legislation need not be here given. It is sufficient to say that the first law was enacted in 1800, and repealed in 1803; the second law in 1841 and repealed in 1843; the third in 1867, and after being several times amended, repealed in 1878; the fourth law, now in force, being passed July 1, 1898.