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let him sit in a court-room where all can see and hear, instead of a re-modeled and condemned fire-house such as now constitutes the Fifth District court-room. You have improved things somewhat, but you have not struck a fatal blow at the "fake" instalment business. The ignorance of the purchaser, the alliance of marshal and dealer, the perjured testimony of hired witnesses will still do their work. “There is no inequality like the equal competition of unequals,” is as true in the court-room as outside of it.
What then, is to be done? We have about exhausted the list of palliative measures proposed and have dismissed them all as insufficient for the comprehensive reason that where a vicious system exists amid social and economic conditions that give wide opportunity for fraud, the ways and means of its workings are mere matters of detail, and those who work it will invent new methods to meet changed conditions. Only two possible alternatives, then, remain. Either put the business under the strictest possible public regulation and so reduce its evils to the lowest limit, or better, if possible, abolish it altogether. The immediate and practical way to accomplish this last highly desirable result is to abolish the right to the body execution in instalment cases where the amount involved is less than $50, or possibly $75, if such action can be constitutionally taken. The first figure would include more than 80% of all the cases in which arrests have been made, while the second would take in more than 90%. I should be inclined to favor the $75 limit because of the not inconsiderable trade in sixty dollar watches. The lower limit would, however, accomplish the result aimed at, in my opinion, an opinion in which I find myself in substantial agreement with most persons who have studied the matter carefully.
The operation of such a law would be as follows: In a very large proportion of cases, perhaps the majority, where a poor Italian buys a watch or jewelry which he does not need, he makes his payments, after the first two or three, not because of any particular sense of moral or business obligation, but because of his fear of being arrested in case he does not pay. Abolish the body execution in such cases, and before a great while it will become quite generally known that the dealer's power of arrest is gone. Then dishonest purchasers will be all the more eager to buy, all the more eager to refuse payment, and the business of pawning the dealers' goods will go merrily on. Every possible encouragement to dishonesty in such cases will be offered, with the result that the dealer will be obliged, in self-defence, to stop selling to that class of people whom he cannot trust, except as he holds over them the threat of arrest. This is to say, he will be practically forced out of business, for "fake" sales are made almost altogether to irresponsible people. Credit will necessarily resume its proper basis, a knowledge of the responsibility of the purchaser.
I wish to emphasize the fact that this will not interfere with legitimate business. In conversation with legitimate dealers of all sorts and conditions, I have failed to find one who objects to the abolition of the body execution. Invariably they state either that they never use it, or else only in such extraordinary cases that its abolition would make practically no difference to them, and they accordingly favor its abolition because of the serious abuses connected with it. This attitude of the legitimate dealers should dispose of the contention of those who maintain that such action would be putting a premium on dishonesty. Of course, if it were supposed that sales would continue to be made indiscriminately to everyone, this would be true, but actually a premium would be put on honesty instead, for sales would be made only to persons having a reputation for honesty. It is said, too, that it would mean a great limitation of credit. Perfectly true. And such is one of the chief benefits I should claim for the measure. I am satisfied that no enactment which does not restrict credit far below its present limits can do much toward bettering the present intolerable situation. Again, it is argued that such a limitation of credit will work injury by making it impossible, for example, for a woman to buy a sewing-machine on instalments, or else by raising its price. This is, after all, but another appearance of the traditional widow and orphan who did such valiant service in blocking early factory and child-labor legislation. I should reply, first, that the person who is known to be deserving of credit can get it whether the dealer holds the club of the body execution or not; and second, granting even a considerable amount of hardship and suffering in such cases as cited, is it for a moment to be compared with the suffering and serious social injury wrought by the instalment business at present? If the abolition of the body execution would work injury to the instalment machine trade (which at least one machine dealer has assured me it would not), so much the worse for the machine trade. Without hesitation I declare that no business which depends on the body execution has any right to exist. And I repeat that every real business man with whom I have talked, whether doing an instalment business or not, has favored the abolition of the body execution in instalment cases. This fact should be a sufficient answer to those who fear that such action would interfere with the legitimate instalment business.
An attorney for one of the instalment dealers has stated that the abolition of the body execution would destroy the business; but he has frequently boasted that any legislation which takes away the body execution in instalment cases will be defeated by them on the ground that it is unconstitutional, in that it discriminates against abusiveness which does not call for the police power interference of the state. It has been learned that when the Chandler bill was before Governor Black, Peter B. Olney was retained by the instalment dealers and presented a brief for them on the unconstitutionality of the act, which, it will be remembered, provided that no body execution should issue in an instalment case if the amount of judgment was less than fifty dollars. It has been impossible to obtain a copy of this brief although application has been made to Governor Black and Mr. Olney, both of whom have lost their respective copies. It is possible, therefore, that any proposed legislation may have to go so far as to abolish altogether the body execution, which is, of course, only a remnant of the old practice of imprisonment for debt. As heretofore stated, I have found practically no objection to this proposal among business men. The records of New York County for 1900 and 1901 show that the proportion of instalment cases to the whole number of body executions was over 83%. It is suggested that in all probability the records of other counties would show a still greater disuse of the body execution for general litigation, and that its abolition therefore would be no hardship.
THE INSTALMENT CONTRACT,
The instalment contract used by instalment dealers is as follows:
. under an agreement for a conditional sale... ...for which I agree to pay...
... dollars in weekly instalments of......... until the whole is paid. It is expressly agreed that no title shall be acquired by me, until said sum of... .. dollars is fully paid in cash; and in case of failure to make any of said payments when they become due, I will surrender said goods to said firm, its agent or attorney, without any process of law. In case I fail to deliver said goods to said firm, its agent or attorney at any time upon demand after any breach of this agreement, I hereby grant to said firm, its agent or attorney, full manner of entering my premises for the purpose of removing said goods, without rendering them liable for any unlawful trespass. If full payment of the purchase price is not made in the time specified, said firm shall be entitled to retain all sums paid by me, as a reasonable compensation for injury to and use of said goods and for its trouble and expense in connection with this transaction with me.
It is also agreed that if said firm takes possession of said goods for any breach of this agreement, I shall have the right to redeem the same at any time within thirty days after such taking by paying to it the full amount of the price then unpaid, together with all lawful charges and expenses due to said company.
Í also agree not to remove said goods from the premises I now occupy, without written notice to said firm, and having first obtained its written consent. I hereby certify that there is no contract or understanding, verbal or otherwise, between myself and said firm, any of its agents or salesmen, other than is here expressed.
When said goods have been fully paid for, according to the terms of this agreement, they shall become my property, and not otherwise. The first instalment after the delivery of this agreement shall be payable within a week after the date thereof and each subsequent payment during each succeeding week.
Husband's Place of Business..
THE SEWING-MACHINE, BOOK AND PIANO TRADE.
The facts regarding the sewing-machine trade are, in a general way, much the same as those regarding the house-furnishing trade, though the machine business is, on the whole, of a distinctly lower order. An enormous instalment business is done by several large concerns, of which the Singer Mfg. Co. is the most important. Their trade differs from that in house furnishings already described, in that sales are made largely by agents who go about from house to house. This gives far wider opportunity for the exercise of undue persuasion upon the part of the salesman. Moreover they deal chiefly with a poorer and less responsible class of people than the high-grade house furnishers. Accordingly, the methods of the dealers are more severe, losses of money and property by purchasers are more frequent, and cases of hardship and injustice calling for legal remedy are much more common. The frequent complaints of the loss of machines partly paid for are an indication of the greater severity of the methods of these companies, while the greater irresponsibility of the purchasers is clearly enough indicated by the fact that as many as nine persons were imprisoned by a single sewing machine company during the year 1900 under legal provisions already spoken of. Machine contracts commonly take the lease form, the title remaining, as usual, in the vender. A machine valued at $25 to $35 may be bought upon deposit of $1 and a weekly payment of fifty cents. Upon the high-grade machines, such as the Singer Co. sell upon this plan for $75, a larger deposit and a payment of at least $1 a week are required; thus the period of credit does not extend much over a year, though the actual period of payment is often much longer. As already suggested, the purchasers are largely poor