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disposition, stands upon his utmost rights, the law cannot make equitable adjustments; it cannot apportion the property as seems best for the collective interest of all concerned ; if there are several parcels of land, and the heirs cannot agree about their value, the law cannot give a parcel to each, but every separate parcel must be either put up to sale or divided : if there is a residence, or a park or pleasure-ground, which would be destroyed, as such, by subdivision, it must be sold, perhaps at a great sacrifice both of money and of feeling. But what the law could not do, the parent could. By means of the liberty of bequest, all these points might be determined according to reason and the general interest of the persons concerned; and the spirit of the principle of equal division might be the better observed, because the testator was emancipated from its letter. Finally, it would not then be necessary, as under the compulsory system it is, that the law should interfere authoritatively in the concerns of individuals, not only on the occurrence of a death, but throughout life, in order to guard against the attempts of parents to frustrate the legal claims of their heirs, under colour of gifts and other alienations inter vivos. In conclusion; all owners of property should, I conceive, have power to dispose by will of every part of it, but not to determine the person who should succeed to it after the death of all who were living when the will was made. Under what restrictions it should be allowable to bequeath property to one person for life, with remainder to another person already in existence, is a question belonging to general legislation, not to political economy. Such settlements would be no greater hindrance to alienation than any case of joint ownership, since the consent of persons actually in existence is all that would be necessary for any new arrangement respecting the property.
§ 5. From the subject of Inheritance I now pass to that of Contracts, and among these, to the important subject of the Laws of Partnership. How much of good or evil
depends upon these laws, and how important it is that they should be the best possible, is evident to all who recognise / in the extension of the co-operative principle the great & economical necessity of modern industry. The progress of the productive arts requiring that many sorts of industrial occupation should be carried on by larger and larger capitals, the productive power of industry must suffer by whatever impedes the formation of large capitals through the aggregation of smaller ones. Capitals of the requisite magnitude, belonging to single owners, do not, in most countries, exist in the needful abundance, and would be still less numerous if the laws favoured the diffusion instead of the concentration of property: while it is most undesirable that all those improved processes, and those means of efficiency and economy in production, which depend on the possession of large funds, should be monopolies in the hands of a few rich individuals, through the difficulties experienced by persons of moderate or small means in associating their capital. Finally, I must repeat my conviction, that the industrial economy which divides society absolutely into two portions, the payers of wages and the receivers of them, the first counted by thousands and the last by millions, is neither fit for, nor capable of, indefinite duration: and the possibility of changing this system for one of combination without dependence, and unity of interest instead of organized hostility, depends altogether upon the future developments of the Partnership principle. Yet there is scarcely any country whose laws do not throw great, and in most cases, intentional obstacles in the way of the formation of any numerous partnership. In England it is already a serious discouragement, that differences among partners are, practically speaking, only capable of adjudication by the Court of Chancery: which is often worse than placing such questions out of the pale of all law; since any one of the disputant parties, who is either dishonest or litigious, can involve the others at his pleasure in the expense, trouble, and anxiety, which are the unavoid
able accompaniments of a Chancery suit, without their having the power of freeing themselves from the infliction even by breaking up the association.* Besides this, it required, until lately, a separate act of the legislature before any joint-stock association could legally constitute itself, and be empowered to act as one body. By a statute passed a few years ago, this necessity is done away; but the statute in question is described by competent authorities as a “mass of confusion,” of which they say that there “never was such an infliction” on persons entering into partnership.t When a number of persons, whether few or many, freely desire to unite their funds for a common undertaking, not asking any peculiar privilege, nor the power to dispossess any one of property, the law can have no good reason for throwing difficulties in the way of the realization of the project. On compliance with a few simple conditions of publicity, any body of persons ought to have the power of constituting themselves into a joint-stock company, or Société en nom collectif, without asking leave either of any public officer or of parliament. As an association of many partners must practically be under the management of a few, every facility ought to be afforded to the body for exercising the necessary control and check over those few, whether they be themselves members of the association, or merely its hired servants: and in this point the English system is still at a lamentable distance from the standard of perfection.
* Mr. Cecil Fane, the Commissioner of the Bankruptcy Court, in his evidence before the Committee on the Law of Partnership, says: “I remember a short time ago reading a written statement by two eminent solicitors, who said that they had known many partnership accounts go into Chancery, but that they never knew one come out. . . . Very few of the persons who would be disposed to engage in partnerships of this kind” (co-operative associations of working men) “have any idea of the truth, namely, that the decision of questions arising amongst partners is really impracticable.
“Do they not know that one partner may rob the other without any possibility of his obtaining redress?—The fact is so; but whether they know it or not, I cannot undertake to say.”
This flagrant injustice is, in Mr. Fane's opinion, wholly attributable to the defects of the tribunal. “My opinion is, that if there is one thing more easy than another, it is the settlement of partnership questions, and for the simple reason, that everything which is done in a partnership is entered in the books; the evidence therefore is at hand; if therefore a rational mode of proceeding were once adopted, the difficulty would altogether vanish.”—Minutes of Evidence annexed to the Report of the Select Committee on the Law of Partnership (1851), pp. 85–7.
+ Report, ut supra, p. 167.
§ 6. Whatever facilities, however, English law might give to associations formed on the principles of ordinary partnership, there is one sort of joint-stock association which until the year 1855 it absolutely disallowed, and which could only be called into existence by a special act either of the legislature or of the crown. I mean, associations with limited liability. Associations with limited liability are of two kinds: in one, the liability of all the partners is limited, in the other that of some of them only. The first is the société anonyme of the French law, which in England had until lately no other name than that of “chartered company:” meaning thereby a joint-stock company whose shareholders, by a charter from the crown or a special enactment of the legislature, stood exempted from any liability for the debts of the concern, beyond the amount of their subscriptions. The other species of limited partnership is that known to the French law under the name of commandite ; of this, which in England is still unrecognised and illegal, I shall speak presently. If a number of persons choose to associate for carrying on any operation of commerce or industry, agreeing among themselves and announcing to those with whom they deal that the members of the association do not undertake to be responsible beyond the amount of the subscribed capital; is there any reason that the law should raise objections to this proceeding, and should impose on them the unlimited responsibility which they disclaim? For whose sake? Not for that of the partners themselves; for it is they whom the limitation of responsibility benefits and protects. It must therefore be for the sake of third parties; namely,
those who may have transactions with the association, and to whom it may run in debt beyond what the subscribed capital suffices to pay. But nobody is obliged to deal with the association; still less is any one obliged to give it unlimited credit. The class of persons with whom such associations have dealings are in general perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, and there seems no reason that the law should be more careful of their interests than they will themselves be; provided no false representation is held out, and they are aware from the first what they have trust to. The law is warranted in requiring from all joint-stock associations with limited responsibility, not only that the amount of capital on which they profess to carry on business should either be actually paid up or security given for it (if, indeed, with complete publicity, such a requirement would be necessary) but also that such accounts should be kept, accessible to individuals, and if needful, published to the world, as shall render it possible to ascertain at any time the existing state of the company's affairs, and to learn whether the capital which is the sole security for the engagements into which they enter, still subsist unimpaired: the fidelity of such accounts being guarded by sufficient penalties. When the law has thus afforded to individuals all practicable means of knowing the circumstances which ought to enter into their prudential calculations in dealing with the company, there seems no more need for interfering with individual judgment in this sort of transactions, than in any other part of the private business of life. The reason usually urged for such interference is, that the managers of an association with limited responsibility, not risking their whole fortunes in the event of loss, while in case of gain they might profit largely, are not sufficiently interested in exercising due circumspection, and are under the temptation of exposing the funds of the association to improper hazards. It is, however, well ascertained that associations with unlimited responsibility, if they have rich
shareholders, can obtain, even when known to be reckless