One Dollar cash in hand paid
On the 22nd day of March, 1910, Frank Allen of Tippah County, Mississippi, put up collateral consisting of an eight-year-old mouse colored mule named John, two red-horned cows named Cherry and Bertie and one calf, and his “entire crop of every description to be raised … during year 1910, in Tippah County.” It was to secure the payment of $122.43 on “account made for supplies furnished by M.L. Finger & Son to the amount of One hundred dollars.”1
On the 26th of March 1910, W. O. Barnes put up collateral consisting of one yoke of white oxen about three years old named Sam and Toprey together with one top buggy, to secure the payment of $120.00 to C. L. Jamisson.2
On the 23rd of April 1910, J. A. Adams put up collateral consisting of one seven-year-old black horse mule named Bill, one three-year-old red horse mule named Bin, and two bales of cotton to weight 500 pounds each, to secure the payment of $200 to R. B. Aldridge.3
Every one of these transactions was recorded as a chattel deed in Tippah County — a concept The Legal Genealogist has talked about before here4 — and every single chattel deed including these contained the exact same preprinted language: “That in consideration of the sum of One Dollar cash in hand paid” to the person putting up the collateral, the items were to secure the loan.
It’s the same sort of language you see in deeds all the time: “in consideration of the sum of One Dollar cash in hand paid.”
Why that language? What’s it doing there?
The fact is, in order to be valid, binding and enforceable in court, every contract like these has to have what the law calls consideration. By definition, it is “some benefit to the party by whom the promise is made, or to a third person at his instance; or some detriment sustained at the instance of the party promising, by the party in whose favor the promise is made.”5
In other words, each side to the deal has to be getting something he wasn’t otherwise entitled to and giving up something he didn’t have to give up.6
In a land deal, the seller gives up his land and gets the money paid by the buyer, while the buyer gives up his money and gets the land from the seller. In these chattel deeds, the lender was giving up money or goods or supplies in return for a promise to be paid money or to have specific items only in the case that the money wasn’t paid. The borrower was giving a promise to pay money or give up the specific items pledged, and getting the money or goods or supplies.
The key is that there has to be consideration on both sides. “A consideration of some sort or other, is so absolutely necessary to the forming a good contract, that … an agreement to do or to pay any thing on one side, without any compensation to the other, is totally void in law, and a man cannot be compelled to perform it.”7
The specification of one dollar was a legal fiction that didn’t have anything to do with the actual value of the deal. It was the American version of the common-law peppercorn concept. As explained by the New Jersey Supreme Court, “the consideration … in any form of simple contract, need not be … of intrinsic value; ‘a rose, a hawk or a peppercorn’ will suffice, provided it is what is asked for by the promisor and is not illegal.”8
And that terminology was so common that it was the consideration recited in the 1802 1802 Treaty of Fort Confederation with the Choctaw under which the boundary of tribal lands was redrawn:
The said line, when thus remarked and re-established, shall form the boundary between the United States and the said Choctaw Nation, in that quarter, and the said Choctaw Nation, for, and in consideration of one dollar, to them in hand paid by the said United States, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby release to the said United States, and quit claim for ever, to all that tract of land which is included by the before named line on the north, by the Chickasawhay river on the west, by the Tombigby and the Mobile rivers on the east, and by the boundary of the United States on the south.9
Again, the recital of the one dollar doesn’t mean a thing in terms of the real value of the transaction. It was simply the shorthand way that the lawyers writing the documents — and those printing the forms for those 1910 chattel deeds — made sure that the documents would be interpreted by a court to have consideration and so would be binding on both sides.
- Tippah County, Mississippi, Chattel Deed Book 30: 18, Frank Allen, 22 Mar 1910; County Clerk’s Office, Ripley, Mississippi; digital images, “Mississippi, Tippah County Records, 1836-1923,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 31 Jul 2013). ↩
- Ibid., Tippah County Chattel Deed Book 30: 5, W. O. Barnes, 26 Mar 1910. ↩
- Ibid., Tippah County Chattel Deed Book 30: 45, J.A. Adams, 23 Apr 1910. ↩
- See Judy G. Russell, “An IOU with teeth,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Apr 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 31 Jul 2013). ↩
- John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society (http://www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm : accessed 31 Jul 2013), “consideration.” ↩
- See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 255, “consideration.” ↩
- Bouvier, A Law Dictionary…, “consideration.” ↩
- Lucky Calendar Co. v. Cohen, 19 N.J. 399, 415 (1955). ↩
- Article II, 1802 Treaty of Fort Confederation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (http://www.choctawnation.com : accessed 31 Jul 2013)(emphasis added). ↩