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so much-his circumstances turn out, upon examination, worse than he was aware of. Here again the promise was erroneous, but, for the reason assigned in the last case, will nevertheless be obligatory.
The case of erroneous promises is attended with some difficulty; for to allow every mistake, or change of circumstances, to dissolve the obligation of a promise, would be to allow a latitude, which might evacuate the force of almost all promises : and, on the other hand, to gird the obligation so tight, as to make no allowances for manifest and fundamental errors, would, in many instances, be productive of great hardship and absurdity.
It has long been controverted amongst mo. ralists, whether promises be binding, which are extorted by violence or fear. The obligation of all promises results, we have seen, from the necessity or the use of that confidence which mankind repose in them. The question, therefore, whether these promises are binding, will depend upon this, whether mankind, upon the whole, are benefited by the confidence placed in such
promises ? A highwayman attacks you—and being disappointed of his booty, threatens or prepares to murder you-you promise with many folemn asseverations, that, if he will spare your life, he shall find a purse of money left for him, at a place appointed-upon the faith of this promise, he forbears from farther violence. Now your life was saved by the confidence repofed in a promise extorted by fear; and the lives of many others may be saved by the fame. This is a good consequence. On the other hand, confidence in promises like these greatly facilitates the perpetration of robberies. They may be made the instruments of almost unlimited extortion. This is a bad consequence; and in the question between the importance of these opposite consequences resides the doubt concerning the obligation of such promises.
There are other cases which are plainer; as where a magistrate confines a disturber of the public peace in jail, till he promise to behave better ; or a prisoner of war promises, if set at liberty, to return within a certain time, These promises, say moralists, are binding, because the violence or duress is just; but, the truth is, because there is the same use of confidence in these promises, as of confidence in the promises of a person at perfect liberty.
fidence * Acts xviii. 18. xxi. 23.
Vows are promises to God. The obligation cannot be made out upon the same principle as that of other promises. The violation of them, nevertheless, implies a want of reverence to the Supreme Being; which is enough to make it finful.
There appears no command or encouragement in the Christian scriptures to make vows; much less any authority to break through them, when they are made. The few instances * of vows which we read of in the New Testament were religiouly observed.
The rules we have laid down concerning promises are applicable to vows. Thus Jephthah's vow, taken in the sense in which that transaction is commonly understood, was not binding; because the performance, in that contingency, became unlawful.
CH A P.
CH A P. VI.
A CONTRACT is a mutual promise. The a obligation therefore of contracts ; the sense in which they are to be interpreted; and the cases where they are not binding, will be the fame as of promises.
From the principle established in the last chapter, “ that the obligation of promises is to be mea“ sured by the expectation, which the promiser “ any how voluntarily and knowingly excites,” results a rule, which governs the construction of all contracts, and is capable, from its fimplicity, of being applied with great ease and certainty, viz. That,
Whatever is expected by one side, and known to be so expected by the other, is to be deemed a part or condition of the contract.