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one is required at his peril to know, is the law of his own country. Ignorance of the law of a foreign state is ignorance of fact. In this respect the several States of the Union are foreign to each other. Hence, money paid through ignorance or mistake of the law of another State may be recovered back.
Fraud annuls all obligation and all contracts into which it enters, and the law relieves the party defrauded. If both of the parties act fraudulently, neither can take advantage of the fraud of the other; and if one acts fraudulently, he cannot set his own fraud aside for his own benefit. Thus, if one gives a fraudulent bill of sale of property, for the purpose of defrauding his creditors, he cannot set that bill aside and annul that sale, although those who are injured by it may.
WHAT IS AN ASSENT?
The most important application of the rule stated at the beginning of this chapter, is the requirement that an acceptance of a proposition must be a simple and direct affirmative, in order to constitute a contract. For if the party receiving the proposition or offer accepts it on any condition, or with any change of its terms or provisions which is not altogether immaterial, it is no contract until the party making the offer consents to those modifications.
Therefore, if a party offers to buy certain goods at a certain price, and directs how the goods shall be sent to him, and the owner accepts the offer and sends the goods as directed, and they are lost on the way, it is the buyer's loss, because the goods were his by the sale, which was completed when the offer was accepted. But if the owner accepts the offer, and in his acceptance makes any material modification of its terms, and then sends the goods, and they are lost, it is his loss now, because the contract of sale was not completed.
Nor will a voluntary compliance with the conditions and terms of a proposed contract always make it a contract obligatory on the other party, unless there have been an accession to, or an acceptance of, the proposition itself. In general, if A
says to B, if you will do this, I will do that; and B instantly does what was proposed to him, this doing so is an acceptance, and A is bound. But if the doing of the thing may be something else than an acceptance of the offer, or if the thing may be done for some other reason than to signify an acceptance or assent, there must be express acceptance also, or there is no bargain.
OFFERS MADE ON TIME.
It sometimes happens that one party makes another a cer. tain offer, and gives him a certain time in which he may accept it. The law on this subject was once somewhat uncertain, but may now be considered as settled. It is this: If A makes an offer to B, which В at once accepts, there is a bargain. But it is not necessary that the acceptance should follow the offer instantaneously. B may take time to consider, and although A may expressly withdraw his offer at any time before acceptance, yet if he does not do so, B may accept within a reasonable time; and if this is done, A cannot say: "I have changed my mind.” What is a reasonable time must depend upon the circumstances of each case. If A when he makes the offer says to B that he may have a certain time wherein to accept it, anı! is paid by B for thus giving him time, he cannot withdraw the offer; or if he withdraws it, for this breach of his contract, the other party, B, may have his action for damages. If A is not paid for giving the time, A may then withdraw the offer at once, or whenever he pleases, provided B has not previously accepted it. But if B has accepted the offer before the time which was given expired, and before the offer was withdrawn, then A is bound, although he gave the time voluntarily and without consideration. For his offer is to be regarded as a continuing offer during all the time given, unless it be withdrawn. A railroad company asked for the terms of certain land they thought they might wish to buy. The owner said in a letter, they might have it at a certain price, if they took it within thirty days. After some twenty-five days the railroad company wrote accepting the offer. The owner says, No, I have altered my mind; the land
is worth more; and I have a right to withdraw my offer, because you paid me nothing for the time of thirty days allowed you. But the court held that he was bound, because this was an offer continued through the thirty days, unless withdrawn. They said that the writing when made was without consideration, and did not therefore form a contract. It was then but an offer to contract, and the party making the offer most undoubtedly might have withdrawn it at any time before acceptance. But when the offer was accepted, the minds of the parties met, and the contract was complete, and no withdrawal could then be made.
A BARGAIN BY CORRESPONDENCE. WAEN a contract is made by correspondence, the question occurs, At what time, or by what act, is the contract completed! The law as now settled in this country may be stated thus. If A writes to B proposing to him a contract, this is a continued proposition or offer of A until it reaches B, and for such time afterwards as would give B a reasonable opportunity of accept. ing it. It may be withdrawn by A at any time before acceptance; but is not withdrawn in law until a notice of withdrawal reaches B. This is the important point. Thus if A, in Boston, writes to B, in New Orleans, offering him a certain price for one hundred bales of cotton; and the next day alters his mind, and writes to B, withdrawing his offer; if the first letter reaches B before the second reaches him, although after it was written and mailed, B has a right to accept the offer before he gets the letter withdrawing it, and by his acceptance he binds A. But if B delays his acceptance until the second letter reaches him, the offer is then effectually withdrawn. It is a sufficient acceptance if B writes to A declaring his acceptance, and puts his letter into the post office. It seems now quite clear, that as soon as the letter leaves the post-office, or is beyond the reach of the writer, the acceptance is complete. That is, on the 5th of May, A in Boston writes to B, in New Orleans, offering to buy certain goods there at a certain price. On the 8th of May, A writes that he has altered his mind and cannot give so much, and
mails the letter. On the 14th of May, B in New Orleans receives the first letter, and the next day, the 15th, answers it, saying that 'he accepts the offer and mails his letter. On the 17th, he receives the second letter of A withdrawing the offer. Nevertheless the bargain is complete and the goods are sold. But if B had kept his letter of acceptance by him until he had received A's letter of withdrawal, he could not then have put his letter into the mail and bound A by his acceptance.
The party making the offer by letter is not bound to use the same means for withdrawing it which he uses for making it ; because any withdrawal, however made, terminates the offer, if only it reaches the other party before his acceptance. Thus, if A in the case just supposed, a week after he has sent his offer by letter, telegraphs a withdrawal to B, and this withdrawal reaches him before he accepts the offer, this withdrawal would be effectual. So if he sent his offer by letter to England, in a sailing ship, and a fortnight after sent a revocation in a steamer, or by telegraph, if this last arrives before the first arrived and was accepted, it would be an effectual revocation.
WHAT EVIDENCE MAY BE RECEIVED IN REFERENCE TO A WRITTEN
IF an agreement upon which a party relies be oral only, it must be proved by evidence. But if the contract be reduced to writing, it proves itself; and now no evidence whatever is receivable for the purpose of varying the contract or affecting its obligations. The reasons are obvious. The law prefers written to oral evidence, from its greater precision and certainty, and because it is less open to fraud. And where parties have closed a negotiation and reduced the result to writing, it is presumed that they have written all they intended to agree to, and therefore, that what is omitted was finally rejected by them.
But some evidence may always be necessary, and therefore admissible; as, evidence of the identity of the parties to the contract, or of the things which form its subject matter. Quite often, neither the court nor the jury can know what person, or
what thing, or what land, a contract relates to, unless the parties agree in stating this, or evidence shows it. The rule on this subject is, that, while no evidence is receivable to contradictor vary a written contract, evidence may be received to explain its meaning, and show what the contract is in fact.
There are some obvious inferences from this rule. The first is, that, as evidence is admissible only to explain the contract, if the contract needs no explanation, that is, if it be by itself perfectly explicit and unambiguous, evidence is inadmissible, because it is wholly unnecessary unless it is offered to vary the meaning and force of the contract, and that is not permitted. Another, following from this, is, that if the evidence purports, under the name of explanation, to give to the contract a meaning which its words do not fairly bear, this is not permitted, because such evidence would in fact make a new contract.
A frequent use of oral evidence is to explain, by means of persons experienced in the particular subject of the contract, the meaning of technical or peculiar words and phrases; and such witnesses are called Experts, and are very freely admitted.
It may be remarked, too, that a written receipt for money is not within the general rule as to written contracts, being always open, not only to explanation, but even to contradiction, by extrinsic evidence. And this is true of the receipt part of any instrument. If a written instrument not only recites or acknowledges the receiving of money or goods, but contains also a contract or grant, such instrument, as to the contract or grant, is no more to be affected by any evidence than if it contained no receipt; but as to the receipt itself, it may be varied or contradicted in the same manner as if the instrument con. tained nothing else. Thus, if a deed recites that it was made in “consideration of ten thousand dollars, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged,” the grantor may sue for the money, or any part of it, and prove that the amount was not paid; for this affects only the receipt part of the deed. But he cannot say that the grant of the land was void because he never had his money, nor that any agreement the deed contained was void for such a reason; because, if he proved that the money was not paid for the purpose of thus annulling his grant or agree