Yep, our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison specifically, were responsible for proposing the first mechanic’s lien laws in the United States. Mechanic’s liens were not a new concept when the first law was passed in the United States; France, Spain and other countries already had them. But, in England, where landownership was limited to the upper classes, the concept of giving a tradesman an interest in the land for his labors was a truly foreign concept.
The Early Years—Pre Mechanic Lien
In the 1700s, there was no right to a mechanic’s lien. The possession of land was never deemed to be changed by its improvement and the laborer or material supplier was held to have acquired no right of lien in the property. The only remedy the laborer or material supplier had was to bring an action against the land owner. If the laborer or material supplier obtained a judgment, he would acquire the lien of a judgment creditor. A Treatise on the law of Mechanics’ Liens on Real and Person Property, 1893.
The Need to Protect Tradesmen
Maryland’s state legislature understood that developing land in and around the City of Washington, Maryland, which would eventually become Washington D.C., would remain difficult if laborers and material suppliers were not allowed to protect their interest, short of filing a lawsuit and obtaining a judgment. In 1791, during a meeting attended by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Maryland General Assembly was urged to pass an act securing to master-builders a lien on the houses erected and land occupied. Maryland’s Mechanic’s lien was passed later that year. Pennsylvania passed its own Mechanic’s lien act in 1803.
Evolution of Mechanic’s Liens Laws
These first statutes only protected the principal contractor on original construction. The laws were amended to aid subcontractors after they complained about principal contractors refusing to pay them for their work. The scope of the lien laws was eventually expanded to cover repairs to real property.
Why It’s Called a Mechanic’s Lien
Fun fact: When these laws were originally passed, the term “mechanic” referred to anyone who performed work with their hands or was skilled in the use of tools. Thanks to Z-Lien Construction Payment Blog.
Take Away: As we celebrate our Nation’s independence this July 4th, don’t forget to thank our founding fathers for pushing for mechanic’s lien laws to foster the growth of our country.
Happy and Safe 4th of July.