The institution of contractual exchange did not emerge of its own with the growth of commerce in early modern England, the classic abode of free market transactions. By English literary customs since the medieval era, individual obligation to carry out actions for others resulted from voluntary promises. Before the era of the Reformation, however, these workable schemas of promise could not be imported into the English common law without violating religious principles that the voluntary binding of the will belonged to a spiritual realm accessible to God but not to other observers. As a result, the exchange of goods and services under the common law into the sixteenth century was regulated by a system of grants rather than by contractual liability, as we take for granted in our time. A need for meaningful consistency established strong brakes on the transposition of moral schemas to solve everyday legal dilemmas. The Reformation-era adoption of methods for imputing inward commitments based on outward circumstances was a necessary and, in context, sufficient condition for the common law courts to authoritatively construe human intention and thus to introduce modern contract based on promissory liability.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 14, 2014