Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Conflicts between the desire to meet the felt needs of society and the desire to maintain existing property rights have long perplexed modern governments. The methods adopted for the resolution of such conflicts quite naturally reflect the prevailing social and political ideology in each nation. In the United States in the period of the Philadelphia Convention, the prevailing temper, at least among the influential, was one of insistence upon the preservation of the sanctity of private property. This insistence and the widespread public reverence for law and judicial institutions determined that state interference with or modification of private contracts be subject to a constitutional limitation prohibiting impairment of the obligation of a contract. The constitutional framers, themselves extensive property holders and creditors, did not suggest in their debates that this prohibition be extended to contracts of a public character. However, such an extension was made within three decades of the framing of the Constitution through the judicial decision-making process of the Supreme Court of the United States.