Sykes v. Chadwick
85 U.S. 141

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sykes v. Chadwick, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 141 141 (1873)

Sykes v. Chadwick

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 141

Syllabus

A woman's right of dower being a valuable right which she cannot be compelled to resign, and which the law protects very carefully from her husband's control, her release of it is a good consideration for a promise to pay money to her separate use. Accordingly, where a husband and another, owning a piece of land in the District of Columbia which they wanted to sell, applied to the wife (all parties being residents of the District) to release her dower, which she did in consideration of the husband's and the other's executing to her directly a joint promissory note for a sum of money.

Held:

1st. That in virtue of the Act of 10th April, 1869, 14 Stat. at Large 45, regulating the rights of property of married women in the District of Columbia, by which it is enacted

"That the right of a married woman to any property belonging to her at the time of marriage or acquired during marriage in any other way than by gift or conveyance from her husband shall be as absolute as if she were a feme sole, and not subject to the disposal of her husband or liable for his debts, and that she may convey or bequeath the same as if she were unmarried; also that any married woman may contract and sue and be sued in her own name in all matters having relation to her sole and separate property in the same manner as if she were unmarried."

And in virtue of the further act to amend the law of the District of Columbia in relation

Page 85 U. S. 142

to judicial proceedings therein of February 22, 1867, 14 id. 405, by the twentieth section of which it is enacted

"That where money is payable by two or more persons jointly or severally, one action may be sustained and judgment recovered against all or any of said parties by whom the money is payable, at the option of the plaintiff,"

she could sue the joint obligor of her husband at law.

2d. That though by the laws of the District as construed, the wife might in fact, under the special circumstances of the case, really have had no right of dower, still if her release was deemed requisite to secure the sale of the property, such release was a good consideration for the promise to pay her money.

James Sykes and H. A. Chadwick (the latter a married man, his wife being Eleanor Chadwick), owning a piece of real estate in the City of Washington, and wishing to borrow money on it, conveyed it by deed of trust -- that is to say, mortgaged it -- to Hyde to secure a sum which he lent them, Mrs. Chadwick joining in the mortgage, and her acknowledgment of the same being taken separately and apart from her husband in the way prescribed by the laws of the District in order to pass the estate of a feme covert.

Desiring afterwards to sell the same property (the mortgage being still unpaid), Sykes and Chadwick requested Mrs. Chadwick to join them in a deed to the purchaser for the purpose of releasing her right of dower.

She did so, and in consideration therefor they gave her a note in this form:

"$5000] WASHINGTON, October 15, 1869"

"Six months after date, we promise to pay to the order Eleanor Chadwick five thousand dollars, value received."

"JAMES SYKES"

"H. A. CHADWICK."

At the time when this note was thus given, there prevailed in the District an Act of Congress passed April 10, 1869, [Footnote 1] in these words:

Page 85 U. S. 143

"An Act regulating the Rights of Property of Married Women"

"in the District of Columbia"

"SEC. 1. The right of any married woman to any property, personal or real, belonging to her at the time of her marriage or acquired during marriage in any other way than by gift or conveyance from her husband shall be as absolute as if she were feme sole, and shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband nor liable for his debts, but such married woman may convey, devise, and bequeath the same or any interest therein in the same manner and with like effect as if she were unmarried."

"SEC. 2. Any married woman may contract and sue and be sued in her own name in all matters having relation to her sole and separate property in the same manner as if she were unmarried, but neither her husband nor his property shall be bound by any such contract, nor liable for any recovery against her in any such suit; but judgment may be enforced by execution against her sole and separate property as if she were sole."

Also another Act of February 22, 1867, [Footnote 2] in these words:

"An Act to amend the law of the District of Columbia in relation"

"to Judicial Proceedings therein"

"SEC. 20. Where money is payable by two or more persons jointly or severally, as by joint obligors, covenantors, makers, drawers, or endorsers, one action may be sustained and judgment recovered against all or any of said parties by whom the money is payable, at the option of the plaintiff."

In this state of facts and of statutes, the note to Mrs. Chadwick not being paid, she brought suit upon it against Sykes alone at law in the court below, a court having jurisdiction both in equity and at common law.

The court below sustained the suit, and from its judgment in the matter this writ of error was taken.

Page 85 U. S. 144

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