Open main menu

Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/381

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of its essence in equity also. It would be strange if it were not so, since the question is entirely one of construction, and the construction of a contract ought to be the same in all courts. The real difference between equity and law is the one already adverted to; namely, that at law it is not material whether a breach goes to the essence or not, unless there has been part-performance.

If a breach of an obligation to give a specified thing consist in a failure to give some portion of the thing at all, or to give it in the condition in which it was agreed to be given, there is no presumption that the breach does or does not go to the essence; but it seems that the defendant will always have to satisfy the court that the breach does go to the essence, in order to protect himself against specific performance. The question is always referred to a Master. The most common case is where the plaintiff, a vendor of land, is unable to perform the contract as to part of the land for want of title; and in that case the Master is directed to inquire whether the part of the land to which the plaintiff has no title is “material” to the enjoyment of the residue.

If a vendor of land be unable fully to perform his contract, not because his title fails as to a part of the land, but because there is a flaw in his title which extends to all the land, the breach will always go to the essence, however small the flaw may be, unless, indeed, it be so small as not to be a flaw at all in legal contemplation. In other words, a purchaser of land will never be compelled to accept a defective title, with a compensation in money for the defectiveness of the title. The reason seems to be that it is impossible to measure a flaw in a title by a money standard.[1]

If A and B make an agreement with each other for the purchase and sale of land, and A commit a breach of the agreement by failing to perform at the time agreed upon, B will be entitled at law to rescind the contract; and he will be entitled to rescind it in equity also, unless A have a right to specific performance on the ground that the breach committed by him did not go to the essence. B, therefore, immediately upon his committing a breach, may file a bill to have the contract rescinded; and A can resist a decree for rescission only by obtaining a decree for specific performance; and, in order to obtain such a decree, he should file a cross-bill.

If a contract be made for the purchase and sale of land which


  1. See supra, page 370.