Bolton v Madden – Case Summary

Bolton v Madden

High Court

Citations: (1873-74) LR 9 QB 55.


The parties were both subscribers to a charity. The charity’s objects were determined by subscriber vote. The subscribers each had a number of votes proportionate to the value of their subscription. The claimant and the defendant agreed that at the next election, the claimant would put 28 of his votes towards an object which the defendant favoured. In return, the defendant would do the same for the claimant at the election after that.

The claimant performed, and then tried to enforce the agreement against the defendant. The defendant argued that the claimant had provided no consideration for the agreement, so it was not enforceable. This was because, he argued, the claimant was obligated to use his votes for the best object. That just happened to be the defendant’s preferred object. As such, the claimant suffered no inconvenience and provided no consideration. Alternatively, the defendant argued that any contract was void for being against public policy. This was because it required the defendant to breach his obligation to vote for the best object.

  1. Had the claimant provided consideration for the defendant’s promise?
  2. Was the agreement void for being against public policy?

The Court held in favour of the claimant. Subscribers to this kind of charity are under no obligation to vote for the best object. Therefore, the claimant’s promise to use their vote in the manner specified was good consideration. For the same reason, the agreement was not void for being against public policy.

This Case is Authority For…

A promise to do an act which benefits the offeree or inconveniences the offeror is good consideration. The adequacy of the consideration is not relevant.


A contract which is formed by the exchange of promises is known as an ‘executory’ contract.