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teenth century. There were then two distinct forms of consideration: (1) detriment; (2) a precedent debt. Of these detriment was the more ancient, having become established, in substance, as early as 1504. On the other hand, no case has been found recognizing the validity of a promise to pay a precedent debt before 1542. These two species of consideration, so different in their nature, are, as would be surmised, of distinct origin. The history of detriment is bound up with the history of special assumpsit, whereas the consideration based upon a precedent debt must be studied in the development of indebitatus assumpsit. These two forms of assumpsit will, therefore, be treated separately in the following pages.

The earliest cases in which an assumpsit was laid in the declaration were cases against a ferryman who undertook to carry the plaintiff’s horse over the river, but who overloaded the boat, whereby the horse was drowned;[1] against surgeons who undertook to cure the plaintiff or his animals, but who administered contrary medicines or otherwise unskilfully treated their patient;[2] against a smith for laming a horse while shoeing it;[3] against a barber who undertook to shave the beard of the plaintiff with a clean and wholesome razor, but who performed his work negligently and unskilfully to the great injury of the plaintiff’s face;[4] against a carpenter who undertook to build well and faithfully, but who built unskilfully.[5]

In all these cases, it will be observed, the plaintiff sought to recover damages for a physical injury to his person or property caused by the active misconduct of the defendant. The statement of the assumpsit of the defendant was for centuries, it is true, deemed essential in the count. But the actions were not originally, and are not to-day, regarded as actions of contract. They have always sounded in tort. Consideration has, accordingly,

never played any part in the declaration. In the great majority of


  1. Y.B. 22 Ass. 94, pl. 41.
  2. Y.B. 43 Ed. III. 6, pl. 11; 11 R. II. Fitz. Ab. Act. on the Case, 37; Y.B. 3 H. VI. 36, pl. 33; Y.B. 19 H. VI. 49, pl. 5 ; Y.B. 11 Ed. IV. 6, pl. 10; Powtuary v. Walton, 1 Roll. Ab. 10, pl. 5; Slater v. Baker, 2 Wils. 359; Sears v. Prentice, 8 East, 348.
  3. Y.B. 46 Ed. III. 19, pl. 19; Y.B. 12 Ed IV. 13, pl. 9 (semble).
  4. 14 H. VII. Rast. Ent. 2, b. 1.
  5. Y.B. 11 H. IV. 33, pl. 60; Y.B. 3 H. VI. 36, pl. 33; Y.B. 20 H. VI. 34, pl. 4; Y.B. 21 H. VI. 55, pl. 12; 18 H. VII. Keilw. 50, pl. 4; 21 H. VII. Keilw. 77, pl. 25; Y.B. 21 H. VII. 41, pl. 66; Coggs v. Bernard, 2 Ld. Ray. 909, 920; Elsee v. Gatward, 5 T.R. 143. See also Best v. Yates, 1 Vent. 268.