Millett v. People of Illinois 117 Illinois 294 (1886)
MILLETT v. PEOPLE OF ILLINOIS 117 Illinois 294 (1886)
This was the first case in which a court held a regulatory statute unconstitutional on the ground that it violated the doctrine of freedom of contract. Illinois required coalmine owners to install scales for the weighing of coal in order to determine the wages of miners. Millett, an owner, contracted with his miners, in violation of the statute, to pay by the boxload rather than by weight. The state supreme court, overturning his conviction, unanimously declared that the statute deprived him of due process substantively construed. Miners, the court said, could contract as they pleased in regard to the value of their labor, and owners had the same freedom of contract. The court summarily dismissed the contention that the regulation was a valid exercise of the police power on the ground that the legislature had not protected the miners' safety or the property of others. A few months later the Pennsylvania high court, in Godcharles v. Wigeman (1886), held unconstitutional a state act that prohibited owners of mines or factories from paying workers in kind rather than in money wages. Such cases were forerunners of lochner v. new york (1905) and its progeny.
Leonard W. Levy