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Tear Up the Contract

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"Say goodbye to the WWE title, say goodbye to John Cena... and say goodbye to CM Punk!"

Cersei Lannister: Is this meant to be your shield, Lord Stark? A piece of paper?
Cersei shreds the king's will to pieces.
Barristan Selmy: Those are the king's words.
Cersei Lannister: We have a new king now.
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Do you know that contract you or a friend signed? Perhaps you didn't Read the Fine Print, or maybe you were forced into a Leonine Contract, or perhaps you just want to tell the other party to Take This Job and Shove It. Wouldn't it be nice to simply tear up the paper the contract is written on, and make everything go away?

If it's a Magically Binding Contract, that might work, or you might anger whatever it is that enforces such contracts.

In Real Life though, destroying the paper does not magically nullify the agreement. The contract still exists, even if you Destroy the Evidence. It might just land you in jail though. Of course, if there is no remaining evidence that the contract was ever signed, the other party may have trouble proving this in court. Just remember modern contracts are usually signed in triplicate.

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If you're the one in the advantageous position, tearing up the contract may simply be a theatrical way of agreeing to let the other party out of of it.

If you haven't signed the contract yet, it's not in force yet, so tearing up the paper is equivalent to rejecting it. (and throwing away the option of signing it later, if the other party has already done so)

Physically ripping the paper is not required, but the trope is typically invoked in the form of Paper Destruction of Anger or Burn Baby Burn.

Similarly, attempting to destroy any type of legal document in order to make what it represents go away qualifies.


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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Food Wars!: In the match between Soma and Subaru, the two agree to the terms that if Soma loses, he'll have to give up cooking forever, made official with Soma signing a contract stating such. After Soma wins the match, the official tears up the contract to the joy of Soma's friends.

    Comic Books 
  • Gaston Lagaffe: One of the series' main Running Gags is the rich businessman De Masmaeker ripping up the contracts with Spirou magazine (sometimes before and sometimes after being signed) in a fit of rage after Gaston's idiocy has soured the deal for him (assuming Gaston didn't cause the contract's destruction in the first place). Note that this was still in the era of typewriters, so reprinting the contracts isn't an option.
    • One strip has Gaston choose the moment when the contracts are being signed to vacuum the office, inadvertently sucking up the contracts.
    • One has Gaston accidentally turn the office building chimney's into an impromptu Anti-Air rocket, which of course shoots down De Masmaeker's brand-new executive jet onboard which he was about to sign the contracts.
    • Prunelle once managed to have De Mesmaeker finally sign a contract but it got destroyed by Gaston's flying toy's propeller while being held in the air by both signatories.
  • Lucky Luke: In "Sarah Bernhardt", Sarah's manager Jarrett discovers the saloon owner who'd booked her also hired a bunch of can-can girls for the same time. Jarrett goes up to the owner, holding the contract, and the owner just rips it in half. Meanwhile, Sarah gets into a fight with the can-can girls on their merits of their respective artistic performances.
  • Empyre: At the end the Profiteer shows up with contracts signed by the Kree and Skrull empires. Hulkling breaks the datapad in half because not only are both empires defunct, he's in charge of their alliance.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a Peanuts arc from the 1960s, Charlie Brown tears up the contract he made with Peppermint Patty, hoping that it will release Snoopy from her baseball team.

    Film - Animated 

     Film - Live-Action 
  • Airheads: After finally getting a record deal but realizing that the executive actually hasn't heard the band's demo tape, Chazz destroys his contract by stuffing it down the front of his pants and pulling it out again through the back.
    Ian: "He wipes his ass with his record contract! I love this guy!"
  • The Goonies: After the Goonies' adventure, Mikey's father is about to sign the foreclosure paper to their home. But Rosalita, the Walshes' housekeeper, finds the jewels in Mikey's marble bag that the Fratellis didn't seize when they caught up to the group. When Mikey's father sees it, he realizes their worth will give them more than enough money to avoid foreclosing and tears up the paper in joy.
  • Pete's Dragon (1977): Throughout the film, Lena shows people a "Bill of Sale" as proof that the Gogans own Pete, heart and soul. When she tries showing it to Elliot, he incinerates it with his fire breath.
  • Starship Troopers: Following an accident in boot camp that kills a fellow trainee, Rico signs his discharge papers and prepares to leave in disgrace until he learns that a Bug attack has destroyed his hometown and tells Sgt. Zim he wants to stay in the Mobile Infantry. Zim points out Rico signed the forms, then says, "Doesn't look like it to me," before ripping the papers up and ordering Rico to get in his gear.
  • The Four Musketeers. Cardinal Richelieu gives Milady de Winter a "carte blanche" - a piece of paper that gives her permission and authority to do anything she wants in his name, without fear of punishment. D'Artagnan manages to acquire the paper, and at the end of the film gives it to Cardinal Richelieu so that Richelieu won't punish him. Richelieu rips up the paper but decides not to punish him anyway.
  • In the American version of Fever Pitch, Lindsey rips apart the contract that Ben had signed to transfer his lifetime season tickets (which he had inherited from his uncle) to another person as a way of proving that he did genuinely love her more than the Boston Red Sox.
  • A variation occurs in A Night at the Opera. Groucho attempts to get Chico to sign a contract, and as Chico argues with the various clauses in the contract Groucho tears them off. Finally they are left with nothing but the signature line, which they dutifully sign.
  • The Rock: After Goodspeed gets Mason to cooperate, he has him sign an agreement that gives him a pardon from prison in exchange for helping the SEAL team infiltrate Alcatraz. Director Womack (who does NOT want Mason on the loose considering Womack was the one who put him away) tears up the pardon immediately, shocking Goodspeed.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), Klaus frees his sister from her marriage to Count Olaf by burning the marriage certificate.
  • At the the end of Crossroads, after Eugene wins the guitar duel against Jack Butler, Satan is shown ripping up Willie Brown's contract releasing him and his soul from the Devil's ownership.
  • In Babes in Toyland (1934), the villainous Barnaby (the crooked man who walked a crooked mile) owns the mortgage on Mother Peep's home (she's the little old lady who lives in a shoe). After she fails to pay, Barnaby threatens eviction for the family unless Little Bo Peep marries him. She tearfully agrees, but Ollie Dee cooks up a plan. On the day of the wedding, someone enters the house in a beautiful wedding dress and veil, but before the ceremony can continue, Ollie demands the mortgage; Barnaby happily hands it over and cackles as Ollie tears it up. It's then that the group reveals that the "Bo Peep" in the dress is actually Stannie Dum Disguised in Drag, leaving Barnaby without any legal means to threaten the Peeps—so he resorts to even eviller schemes instead.
  • At the end of Blackbeard's Ghost, Steve has won enough money from local crime boss Silky to help the Daughters of the Buccaneers pay off the mortgage on their inn. After Steve has them recite the spell that makes Blackbeard visible to them, Blackbeard himself is given the honor of burning the mortgage papers in a ceremonial fire.

    Literature 
  • A variation in the Heralds of Valdemar novel Redoubt. Mags has been kidnapped by two assassins from a faraway land, who got to Valdemar in the first place by accepting a contract from Karse. Mags offers a deal; if the assassins vow never to take another contract against Valdemar or the royal family again, he will voluntarily take the "herbs of remembrance" that would awaken his genetic memories as part of their clan, instead of making the assassins force-feed him the potion. The leader accepts the bargain by ripping up their safe-conduct pass from the Karsites.
  • The Repairman by Harry Harrison starts with the protagonist's boss sending him to do repairs in the middle of nowhere, producing his (metallic!) contract to remind him of the terms. The guy vaporizes it with his blaster, to which the boss prints out a copy and states its cost will be deducted from his pay - along with the fine for using a blaster inside a building.
  • In Dreaming is a Private Thing, when the dreamer, Sherman Hillary, tells Weill he wants to quit, Weill asks his secretary to bring Hillary's contract and then rips it in four. Subverted moments later, once Hillary leaves. As Weill explains to his assistant, for one thing, his secretary knows to bring him a fake contract in such cases, and for another, a dreamer's job isn't something one can avoid by quitting; it's a way of life which will always be with him, contract or not.
  • In Dorsai!, contracts (including what amounts to involuntary indentured servitude) are written on an indestructible artificial material to prevent this. And as these contracts are the basis for interstellar economy, even attempting to destroy one carries the death sentence. Anea Marlivana attempts to dispose of hers in an atomic incinerator, but is interdicted by our hero. That a 'well-balanced' individual would attempt to get out of her contract and risk execution is a clue to the protagonist about her employer.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel: Wesley burns Lilah's employment contract in an attempt to release her. It doesn't work because the magical contract automatically reappears when destroyed.
  • Austin & Ally: The episode "Solos & Stray Kitties" has Ally forced to be a part of the "Stray Kitties" a trio of cat-girls who are run by the sadistic Val, and in an effort to get Ally out of a five-year contract, Austin tries to tear up the contract, only for Val to state that she's already made several copies. They get her out of it by fooling Val into unknowingly signing one that renders hers null, and when she tears it up, Dez is revealed to have already made copies.
  • The Brady Bunch: Episode "Adios Johnny Bravo" Greg is approached by talent scouts after hearing him and his siblings perform and signs him...and only him...a recording deal and promising instant stardom. When he later finds out his voice is barely audible over the remastered track and they only signed him on because he fit the wardrobe suit, he rips his recording contract in half and walks out, of which the scouts just shrug it off. (In one Nick @ Nite airing that featured on-screen "pop-up" trivia throughout the episode, it mentioned that just ripping up the contract wouldn't get him out of the deal.)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: When she's about to marry Jake, Amy finds out that her ex-boyfriend managed to weasel his way into being booked to play at their wedding, and fully intends to use the opportunity to try and win her back. When she says she'll simply cancel him and make do with no wedding band, he reveals he slipped a clause into the contract that makes his cancellation fee fifteen thousand dollars—Jake, not realizing who he was and not having much of a mind for financials anyway, didn't read the fine print before signing. She winds up stealing the contract, jumping behind the bar, dousing it in alcohol, and lighting it on fire, destroying all evidence of the agreement.
  • Charmed (1998): In the season 6 episode "Soul Survivor", the Monster of the Week is Zahn, a demon who specializes in using contracts to get people's souls through a Deal with the Devil. The Charmed Ones initially can't vanquish him because if they do every soul Zahn has under contract will immediately be sent to purgatory where they will endure eternal torment. Piper eventually solves the situation by destroying all his contracts, thus releasing the souls from his control. The Charmed Ones then vanquish Zahn without endangering any of the souls.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, "The Campaign": Myra is a Spoiled Dove who is engaged to Horace, but she's bound by contract to work at Hank's saloon. Inspired by women taking part in local elections, she decides to leave at once and she rips her contract with Hank in half when he refuses to let her go.
  • In one episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, Boss Hogg eats a contract saying it's his responsibility to reimburse the gold that was placed in his care, then stolen. The contractor smiles and asks if Boss wants another, or more, because he had a dozen certified copies made, each proving he signed.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • When Ned Stark is named Hand of the King by the dying King Robert Baratheon, he brings the writ signed by the deceased king to the throne room at King's Landing to legitimize his role and prove the king's intentions. Unfortunately, he makes the blunder of handing said writ to the King's widow, Cersei, who tears it up immediately and thus leaves Ned nothing to protect himself with. When the armed forces brought by Petyr Baelish also betray Ned, he is promptly arrested on the spot and his fate is sealed.
    • Later on, when Tyrion Lannister is likewise named Acting Hand of the King by his father Tywin, he hands the writ to Varys, who reads it aloud for everyone in the Small Council to hear. It's implied that he knew that Cersei (and those loyal to her) would do exactly what she did to Ned. Later on, she threatens Tyrion by claiming that a "piece of paper" will help him as much as it did Ned Stark, but by this point, Tyrion has several other plays in place to save himself.
  • One I Love Lucy episode has Lucy bugging Ricky about buying another fancy dress. Ricky pulls out a paper she signed earlier that year promising to never ask for another dress if he bought her the one she currently wanted. Lucy tears it up, dismissing it as a forgery, but Ricky says he has a carbon copy.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: In "Paddy's Pub Original Kitten Mittens" when the Gang are attempting to cash in on the merchandising convention Dee points out that she has the agreement giving her all the profits made from any merchandise (which was up till now a meaningless gesture they didn't produce any) in response Mac flat out eats the contract and as it was the only copy everyone treats it as the deal is now nullified (granted the Gang's understanding of the law has been shown to be spotty at very best). At the episode after being tricked by the Lawyer into signing away all the profits of their merchandise and agreeing to a restraining order, Mac again eats the contract only for the Lawyer to reveal he's had thousands of copies made in anticipation they would try that.
  • Lodge 49: When the mysterious Captain is finally tracked down, we see a brief scene of him preparing to sign divorce papers; on a whim, he eats the papers as a defiant gesture at his now ex-wife. The gesture is largely symbolic, as he's next seen drunk and destitute in the street.
  • In one episode of M*A*S*H, Colonel Potter has a "mortgage burning party" in which he burns up the written mortgage on his house after it is paid off.
  • In an episode of The Nanny leading up to Fran and Maxwell's wedding, the central conflict revolves around Maxwell asking Fran to sign a prenuptial agreement. Fran sees it as a sign of him not trusting her because of her blue-collar roots, while Maxwell (or more likely his lawyer) sees it as just another legal agreement that should be signed to protect his assets in case something goes wrong. In the end, Fran signs the prenup and says that it's just a piece of paper, and it should not be seen as a measurement of the love they have for each other. After Maxwell signs it, he repeats Fran's exact words and rips it up before taking it to his lawyer's office.
  • Riverdale: In "The Pincushion Man", Cheryl's grandmother Rose sells the Blossom Maple Groves without telling Cheryl. When Cheryl confronts her about this, Nana Blossom argues that the groves are not only worthless but cursed. Cheryl angrily tears up the contract Rose signed. Later it is revealed that Cheryl had long since had Rose declared legally senile so any contract she signed is null and void. Unlike most examples of this trope, tearing up the contract is also accompanied by an attempt to legally neutralize it.
  • The final season of Roseanne features a Christmas Episode after the family wins the lottery and becomes absurdly wealthy. They're able to get extravagant gifts for each other, and Roseanne claims that she's tracked down the ultimate present for Dan. On Christmas morning, she brings out that present on a literal silver platter: a lighter and the mortgage on their house, finally paid in full. Dan is so overwhelmed after he lights the paper on fire that he breaks down in tears.
  • Tattoo Nightmares: In her account of her "69" tattoo (based on the picture of her astrological sign of Cancer), Mara mentions her father taking her signed rental agreement and ripping it to pieces. Upon which she signals for her new boyfriend.
  • The Wall: After the third round, the isolated player receives a contract via pneumatic tube. They must either sign it, guaranteeing them at least $20,000, or tear it, which guarantees them the final bank total on the wall. Doing the latter invalidates the contract.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller campaign The Traveller Adventure. The Player Characters' merchant ship operates under a subsidy contract that restricts their travel in the Imperium. During the campaign, a business executive named Oberlindes buys the contract. If the PCs successfully complete the campaign, Oberlindes will tear up the contract, which will allow them to travel anywhere they wish.
  • This is a distinction between magical contracts in Changeling: The Lost versus Demon: The Descent: Changelings (and Fae) can make pledges with mortals on nothing but a handshake, and the forces of fate will bind the parties, but demons make soul pacts that must be recorded in a document. Destroying the document will free both parties from obligation.

     Theatre 
  • In A Doll's House, the villainous Krogstad uses the loan papers that Nora Helmer forged her father's signature on to blackmail her after he's fired from the bank where he works, saying he'll reveal the truth to her husband Torvald unless she gets him his job back and a promotion. She refuses, so Krogstad sends a letter explaining everything to the Helmer home. When Torvald reads the letter, he's furious, unleashes a tirade of horrible insults at Nora, and says that he will never let her near their children again...but a few minutes later, another letter gets dropped off. Krogstad has fallen in love with Nora's friend Christine and sends over the promissory note to show that he's releasing Nora from the deal. Torvald eagerly tears up the paperwork in front of Nora—but in a famous twist, Nora realizes that Torvald's cruel words prove that he never truly loved her as a person, prompting her to leave him forever.
  • In Kinky Boots, the stress and expense of planning the Milan fashion show gets to Charlie and prompts him to treat everyone around him horribly. The workers at the boot factory he owns thus walk out and leave him without hope—until a few minutes later, when the machines start up again. Don comes out and reveals that he persuaded everyone to come back and support Charlie. In addition, he pulls out the paychecks for the entire factory's staff for that week (which he presumably convinced everyone to give him) and tears them up, thus supplying Charlie with the cash he needs to get to the show.

    Video Games 
  • Cuphead: At the end of the game, Cuphead and Mugman defeat the Devil and then proceed to throw all of the soul contracts they collected from his many debtors into a fire, freeing them from their eternal servitude. As a token of gratitude, the debtors throw a party in their honor, celebrating their victory and newfound freedom.
  • In BitLife, it's possible for someone to file a restraining order against you. One of the possible responses you can have is to tear up the paper in an attempt to nullify it.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn a Blood Pact can only be broken if one of the signatories is killed, and the document itself is destroyed.
  • 428: Shibuya Scramble: Late in the game, Minoru is pressured into taking on Toyama's debts by Yakuza debt collectors since Toyama is believed dead and Minoru doesn't want them going after Toyama's daughter. Chiaki objects to this by swallowing the signed contract right away and saying that she'll keep doing it even if they bring more papers. This buys enough time for the news to reveal that Toyama hadn't died which leaves both parties uninterested in setting up another contract.
  • In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: Strong Badia the Free, Strong Sad writes up a bunch of legal documents declaring the independence of the Bleak House (which is to say, the House of Strong) and defining its laws. You, as Strong Bad, need to strongarm him into assisting you, which you do by burning all his documents with your lighter. Strong Bad effortlessly wins the battle of wills that follows.

    Webcomics 
  • The Order of the Stick: Roy shreds the employment contracts of the rest of the Order after pointing out that they're still technically bound by them. As the stakes of their mission had dramatically raised recently, he wants to be sure they are following him of their own free will and not out of obligation.

    Web Original 
  • The Onion: Scrappy Band Of Lovable Misfits No Match For Rich Kids has an attempt to destroy eviction papers fail because, well, they can just be reprinted.
    "When Breckenridge's blue-blood camp director Mr. Harding - who we all called 'Mr. Hard-On' - came running out with the eviction papers, we set off a carefully orchestrated booby trap that sent him tumbling into the lake," Half-Pint said. "Then we all laughed and cheered and partied, like we'd somehow defeated him. Meanwhile, Harding just drove back to his lawyer's office and got new copies of the papers. Duh. You obviously can't nullify litigation just by getting somebody wet."

    Web Videos 
  • Game Grumps: In the second "Tie-Dye" episode of the Ten Minute Power Hour, the Grumps get visited by Jacksepticeye, who wants to sue them for making a show similar to his own "Jacksepticeye Power Hour". He produces a huge packet of legal documents for Arin to read. In response, Arin destroys the documents in the tie-dye water. It doesn't really matter though, since Jack can just make more.

    Western Animation 
  • Back to the Future: In "Gone Fishin'", after the final stunt, D.W. Tannen presents the younger Doc's Uncle Oliver with an unsigned contract to make his nephew famous. Given that Tannen had just admitted that he didn't care if Emmett died during one of the stunts, Uncle Oliver shreds the contract and pushes Tannen into a puddle.
  • Parodied in Family Guy "Fifteen Minutes of Shame", where a producer reminds the Griffins they are under contract for their TV show.
    Peter: *snatches contract* Oh yeah? Well here's what I think of your contract.......*puts it down intact*...I think it's awful and I don't much care for it at all, my good sir.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In "The Big Snooze", Elmer Fudd had enough of being made a fool of by Bugs Bunny and tears up his contract with Warner Bros. At the end, after Bugs invades his dreams and makes him reconsider, he reassembles the contract and gets back to work.
    • Subverted in "You Ought to Be in Pictures". Porky Pig walks into producer Leon Schlesinger's office and asks to be let out of his cartoon contract. Leon seems to oblige and tears up some papers, but as soon as Porky leaves, he tells the audience "He'll be back." After Porky's attempts to be a live-action star fail and he comes back to beg for his old job back, he takes the papers out of the trash and reassembles them. Leon then reveals that the papers he tore up weren't Porky's contract after all and he can return to work.
  • The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: In "The Nutcracker Scoob", the evil Winslow Nickelby is planning to destroy the orphanage that the gang is helping out at- and he has the deed to do so. At the end, however, he has a change of heart and decides to rip up the deed, meaning the orphanage is safe.
  • Regular Show: The episode "Peeps" revolves around Benson purchasing surveillance equipment from a company called Peeps to keep Mordecai and Rigby from slacking off. However, their ways of avoiding Benson's watch makes him desperate enough to upgrade to Jeepers Peepers X-Infinity (having a giant eyeball named Peeps constantly surveil all the park employees), which requires a signature on a lifetime contract. When Peeps's constant surveillance stresses everyone out, Benson attempts to cancel the contract, only for Peeps to remind him that he signed a lifetime contract (the deal is active 24/7/365, until Benson dies). Benson then proceeds to tear up the contract in frustration, with Peeps nonchalantly saying it's okay and that he made copies of it.
  • In the first episode of Total Drama Island, Gwen, upon seeing the state of Camp Wawanakwa, says that she didn't sign up for this. Chris pulls out a contract pointing out that she, in fact, did sign up for this, prompting her to grab the contract and rip it up. However, Chris pulls out another one, saying that he made several copies of the contract.
  • In the Goofy cartoon "Double Dribble", the coach of a basketball team is forced to put a ridiculously short player in the game. Thinking he'll lose them the game, the coach tears up his contract and readies a cannon to shoot himself with. After the little guy improbably wins the game, the coach is seen reassembling the contract.
  • We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story: When Louie and Cecillia meet Professor Screweyes, he has them sign a contract that makes them a part of his Circus of Fear. When the dinosaurs arrive to take them back, Screweyes offers them pills that will turn them back into their primitive states, telling them that he will rip up the contract the kids signed and let them go if they do.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Attempted in "Eight Misbehavin'". After Apu learns that the deal he made with Larry Kidkill is far worse than he thought it would be, he tries to tear up the contract... only to fail, as Kidkill had the contract laminated.
    • In "On a Clear Day, I Can't See My Sister", Lisa files a restraining order against Bart. Once she notices him going wild in the backyard, she takes it back, throwing the paper into the fire where Bart can see.
  • In the Pinky and the Brain episode where Pinky sells his soul so that Brain can rule the world, has Brain go down to Hades and challenges Mr. Itch to get Pinky back. Mr. Itch wins by cheating, and tells Brain there was nothing in their deal that said he couldn't cheat, thus Pinky's original contract is still in effect. However, when Mr. Itch can't provide Pinky with a kitchen appliance, because he doesn't know what it looks like, Brain tears up the contract, since Pinky's soul was to be exchanged for Brain ruling the world and the appliance.

    Real Life 
  • The Cry of Pugad Lawin (Sigaw ng Pugad Lawin in Filipino) counts as this. During this event, Bonifacio and other members of the Katipunan secret society ripped their cédulas personales, and screamed thereafter. This would signal the beginning of the Philippine Revolution, and what a signal it was.
  • On 2014, in Chile, activist artist Papas Fritas went to the Universidad del Mar, a very corrupt private university who effectively conned its students, and managed to convince managers he wanted documentation for an artistic project. Instead, he got tuition contracts and burned them, destroying an evidence that these students owed them any money.
  • In his autobiography Angela's Ashes, Frank Mc Court tells about his job writing dunning notices for a woman who lends money to impoverished local families. When he arrives one day to find the woman dead, he takes enough of her money to return to the United States, where he was born, and destroys the woman's account book by dumping it in a body of water, effectively cancelling all the debts recorded in it.

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