Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/663

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645
THE WAGE-CONTRACT AND PERSONAL LIBERTY.

does not hesitate to prescribe their terms and conditions and to prevent forfeitures by contract; and the constitutionality of such State statutes interfering with the freedom of contract has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States and by the highest State courts of Ohio and Wisconsin.[1]Besides these, there is a numerous class of contracts which the State declares shall not be made at all, or if made shall be void in law, because contrary to public policy, such as contracts in restraint of trade, gambling contracts, and contracts between husband and wife. Does Mr. Atkinson consider these State acts infringements of personal liberty or unjustifiable interferences with the freedom of contract? If so, he constitutes one of a small minority.

Turning now to the wage-contract, the question arises, "Is the State justified in fixing a minimum wage and a maximum time for work?" It is perhaps needless to say that the term "State" is here used to mean the people or the public acting through an agency or tribunal created by the people and in furtherance of their will. It does not mean something extrinsic and superior to the people's will, such as the monarchy of France was at the time when Louis XIV exclaimed, "I am the state!" In this country, if the State ever undertakes to regulate these matters, it will be done in pursuance of the will of the majority, and not of any one man or a minority. The businesses in which labor wishes the assistance of the State in the direction of restricting the freedom of contract are conducted almost exclusively by corporations under charters granted by the State. The three principal ones are railroading, manufacturing, and mining, and only an insignificant fraction of any one of these businesses is conducted by private individuals or partnerships. Although it may be of theoretic value, it is therefore of very little practical value to inquire into the right of the State to regulate the wage-contract between individuals. Now, the individual employer or partnership stands upon firmer ground in this respect than does the corporate employer. The State is justified in interfering with the latter more than with the former, for the reason that the corporation has received certain privileges and immunities from the State which the other employer has not received. In the first place, the corporation derives its being or existence from the State, and also its right to transact business. In the next place, the corporate form enables the capital of many individuals to be combined and used for one common purpose. But the most important immunity is that of limited liability, whereby the members of the corporation escape the uni-


  1. Equitable Life Insurance Company vs. Clements, 140 U. S., 226; Insurance Company vs. Leslie, 47 Ohio St., 409; Queen Insurance Company vs. Leslie, 24 N. E. Rep. (Ohio), 1072; Reilly vs. Franklin Insurance Company, 43 Wis., 449.