U.S. Supreme Court
Mason v. Haile, 25 U.S. 12 Wheat. 370 370 (1827)
Mason v. Haile
25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 370
The states have a right to regulate or abolish, imprisonment for debt as a part of the remedy for enforcing the performance of contracts.
Where the condition of a bond for the jail limits in Rhode Island required the party to remain a true prisoner in the custody of the keeper of the prison and within the limits of the prison
"until he shall be lawfully discharged, without committing any manner of escape or escapes during the time of restraint, then this obligation, to be void, or else to remain in full force and virtue,"
held that a discharge, under the insolvent laws of the state, obtained from the proper court in pursuance of a resolution of the legislature and discharging the party from all his debts &c. "and from all imprisonment, arrest, and restraint of his person therefor" was a lawful discharge, and that his going at large under it was no breach of the condition of the bond.
This was an action of debt brought in the Circuit Court of Rhode Island upon two several bonds given by the defendant, Haile, to the plaintiff, Mason and one Bates, whom the plaintiff survives, one of which bonds was executed on 14 and the other on 29 March, 1814. The condition in both bonds was the same except as to dates and sums, and is as follows:
"The condition of the above obligation is such that if the above bounden Nathan Haile, now a prisoner in the state's jail in Providence, within the County of Providence, at the suit of Mason and Bates, do, and shall from henceforth continue to be a true prisoner in the custody, guard, and safekeeping of Andrew Waterman, keeper of said prison, and in the custody, guard, and safekeeping of his deputy, officers, and servants, or some one of them, within the limits of said prison until he shall be lawfully discharged, without committing any manner of escape or escapes during the time of restraint, then this obligation to be void, or else to remain in full force and virtue. "
To the declaration upon these bonds the defendant pleaded several pleas, the substance of which was that in June, 1814, after giving the bonds, the defendant presented a petition to the Legislature of Rhode Island praying for relief, and the benefit of an act passed in June, 1756, entitled "an act for the relief of insolvent debtors," and that in the meantime all proceedings against him for debt might be stayed, and he be liberated from jail on giving bonds to return to jail in case his petition shall not be granted. Upon this petition, the legislature, in February, 1815, passed the following resolution:
"On the petition of Nathan Haile, praying, for the reasons therein stated, that the benefit of an act entitled, 'An act for the relief of insolvent debtors,' passed in the year 1756, be extended to him, voted that said petition be continued till the next session of this assembly and that in the meantime all proceedings against him, the said Haile, on account of his debts be stayed, and that the said Haile be liberated from his present confinement in the jail in the County of Providence on his giving sufficient bond to the sheriff of said county conditioned to return to jail in case said petition is not granted."
That on 28 February, 1815, he gave sufficient bond with surety to the sheriff, conditioned to return to jail in case the petition should not be granted, and thereupon the sheriff did liberate and discharge him from his said confinement, in said jail and permit him to go at large out of said Waterman's custody, and the custody of the keeper of said prison, his deputy, officers, and servants, and out of the limits of said jail and jail yard, and he, said Haile, did, upon being so liberated, depart and go at large out of the same accordingly, and so continued at large and liberated until the prayer of said petition was granted by the legislature at the February session, 1816, and ever since, as lawfully he might. That in February, 1816, the legislature, upon a due hearing, granted the prayer of the defendant's petition and passed the following resolution:
"On the petition of Nathan Haile, of Foster, praying for the reasons therein stated that the benefit of an act passed in June, 1756, for the relief of insolvent debtors may be extended to him, voted that the prayer of the petition be
and the same is hereby granted."
That the defendant afterwards, in pursuance of the above resolution and of the laws of the state, received in due form from the proper court a judgment
"that he should be and thereby was fully discharged of and from all debts, duties, contracts, and demands of every name, nature, and kind outstanding against him debts due to the state aforesaid, and to the United States, excepted, and from all imprisonment, arrest, and restraint of his person therefor."
To the pleas so pleaded the plaintiff demurred; there was a joinder in demurrer, and, on the argument of the cause, the opinions of the judges of the court below were opposed upon the question whether the defendant was entitled to judgment on the ground that the matters set forth on his part in his pleas were sufficient to bar the action or whether the plaintiff was entitled to judgment upon the demurrers and joinders. The question was thereupon certified to this Court for final decision. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary