October 28, 2007
Moral Responsibility in Business
Posted by Gordon Smith

After promulgation of the first Uniform Partnership Act in 1914, William Draper Lewis of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, one of the principal draftsman of the Act, described the debate over the legal personality of partnerships at a meeting of the UPA drafting committee and commentators:

"[T]hose with the largest practical experience present were opposed to regarding the partnership as a 'legal person' because of the effect of the theory in lessening the partner’s sense of moral responsibility for partnership acts."

William Draper Lewis, The Uniform Partnership Act — A Reply to Mr. Crane’s Criticism, 29 Harv. L. Rev. 158, 172-173 (1915).

Does this concern over the "moral responsibility" of partners seem odd to you? It is an argument that often has been raised with regard to limited liability, but in the partnership context, the supposed effect ("lessening the partner’s sense of moral responsibility for partnership acts") appears to emanate merely from a change in the nature of the partnership relationship, rather than any change in actual liability risk.

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