Julliard vs. Greenman [1884]

GRAY, J.... The act of May 31st, 1878 ch. 146, under which the notes in question were reissued, is entitled "An act to forbid the further retirement of United States legal tender notes," and enacts as follows:

"From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury or other officer under him to cancel or retire any more of the United States legal tender notes. And when any of said notes may be redeemed or be received into the Treasury under any law from any source whatever and shall belong to the United States, they shall not be retired cancelled or destroyed, but they shall be reissued and paid out again and kept in circulation: Provided, That nothing herein shall prohibit the cancellation and destruction of mutilated notes and the issue of other notes of like denomination in their stead, as now provided by law. All acts and parts of acts in conflict herewith are hereby repealed."

The manifest intention of this act is that the notes which it directs, after having been redeemed, to be reissued and kept in circula tion, shall retain their original quality of being a legal tender. The single question, therefore, to be considered, . . .is whether notes of the United States, issued in time of war, under acts of Congress declaring them to be a legal tender in payment of private debts, and afterwards in time of peace redeemed and paid in gold coin at the treasury, and then reissued under the act of 1878, can, under the Constitution of the United States, be a legal tender in payment of such debts. . .

The breadth and comprehensiveness of the words of the Constitution are nowhere more strikingly exhibited than in regard to the powers, over the subjects of revenue, finance, and currency, of which there is no other express grant than may be found in these few brief clauses:
"The Congress shall have power—
"To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."
"To borrow money on the credit of the United States. "
"To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes. "
"To coin money, regulate the value, thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures."
The section which contains the grant of these and other principal legislative powers- ] Includes by declaring that the Congress shall have power—
"To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or any department or officer thereof." . .

The power "to borrow money on the credit of the United States" is the power to raise money for the public use on a pledge of the public credit, and may be exercised to meet either present or anticipated expenses and liabilities of the government. It includes the power to issue in return for the money borrowed, the obligations of the United States in any appropriate form, of stock, bonds, bills or notes; and in whatever form they are issued, being instruments ot the national government, they are exempt from taxation by the governments of the several States. Congress has authority to issue these obligations in a form adapted to circulation from hand to hand in the ordinary transactions of commerce and business. In order to promote and facilitate such circulation, to adapt them to use as currency, and to make them more current in the market, it may provide for their redemption in coin or bonds, and may make them receivable in payment of debts to the government. So much is settled beyond doubt, and was asserted or distinctly admitted by the judges who dissented from the decision in the Legal Tender Gases, as well as by those who concurred in that decision....

The constitutional authority of Congress to provide a currency for the whole country is now firmly established....
By the Constitution of the United States, the several States are prohibited from coming money, emitting bills of credit, or making anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts. But no intention can be inferred from this to deny to Congress either of these powers.... The tates are forbidden, but Congress is expressly authorized, to coin money. The States are prohibited from emitting bills of credit; but Congress, which is neither expressly authorized nor expressly forbidden to do so as, as we have already seen, been held to have the power of emitting bills of credit, and of making every provision for their circulation as currency, short of giving them equality of legal tender for private debts,even by those who have denied its authority to give them this quality.

It appears to us to follow, as a logical and necessary consequence, that Congress has the power to issue the obligations of the United States in such form, and to impress upon them such qualities as currency for the purchase of merchandise and the payment of debts, as accord with the usage of sovereign governments. The power, as incident to the power of borrowing money and issuing bills or notes of the government for money borrowed, of impressing upon those bills or notes the quality of being a legal tender for the payment of private debts, was a power universally understood to belong to sovereignty, in Europe and America, at the time of the framing and adoption of the Constitution of the United States.. .

. . . The power of issuing bills of credit, and making them, at the discretion of the legislature, a tender in payment of private debts, had long been exercised in this country by the several colonies and States; and during the Revolutionary War the States, upon the recommendation of the Congress of the Confederation, had made the bills issued by Congress a legal tender. The exercise of this power not being prohibited to Congress by the Constitution, it is included in the power expressly granted to borrow money on the credit of the United States.

This position is fortified by the fact that Congress is vested with the exclusive exercise of the analogous power of coining money and regulating the value of domestic and foreign coin, and also with the paramount power of regulating foreign and interstate commerce. Under the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States, and to issue circulating notes for the money borrowed, its power to define the quality and force of those notes as currency is as broad as the like power over a metallic currency udder the power to coin money and to regulate the value thereof. Under the two powers taken together, Congress is au|horized to establish a national currency, either in coin or in paper, and to make that currency lawful money for all purposes, as regards the national government or private individuals.

The power of making the notes of the United States a legal tender in payment of private debts, being included in the power to borrow money and to provide a national currency, is not defeated or restricted by the fact that its exercise may affect the value of private contracts. If, upon a just and fair interpretation of the whole Constitution, a particular power or authority appears to be vested in Congress, it is no constitutional objection to its existence, or to its exercise, that the property or the contracts of individuals may be incidentally affected. . .

So, under the power to coin money and to regulate its value, Congress may (as it did with regard to gold by the Act of June 28th, l834, c. 95, and with regard to silver by the Act of February 28th, 1878, c. 20), issue coins of the same denominations as those already current by law, but of less intrinsic value than those, by reason of containing a less weight of the precious metals, and thereby enable debtors to discharge their debts by the payment of coins of the less real value. A contract to pay a certain sum in money, without any stipulation as to the kind of money in which it shall be paid, may always be satisfied by payment of that sum in any currency which is lawful money at the place and time at which payment is to be made....

Congress, as the legislature of a sovereign nation, being expressly empowered by the Constitution, "to lay and collect taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," and "to borrow money on the credit of the United Sates," and "to coin money and regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin; " and being clearly authorized, as incidental to the exercise of those great powers, to emit bills of credit, to charter national banks, and to provide a national currency for the whole people, in the form of coin, treasury notes, and national bank bills; and the power to make the notes of the government a legal tender in payment of private debts being one of the powers belonging to sovereignty in other civilized nations, and not expressly withheld from Congress by the Constitution, we are irresistibly impelled to the conclusion that the impressing upon the treasury notes of the United States the quality of being a legal tender in payment of private debts is an appropriate means, conducive and plainly adapted to the execution of the undoubted powers of Congress, consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, and therefore, within the meaning of that instrument, "necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States."

Such being our conclusion in matter of law, the question whether at any particular time, in war or in peace, the execution is such by reason of unusual and pressing demands on the resources of the government, or of the inadequacy of the supply of gold and silver coin to furnish the currency needed for the uses of the government and of the people, that it is, as matter of fact, wise and expedient to resort to this means, is a political question, to be determined by Congress when the question of exigency arises,
and not a judicial question, to be afterwards passed upon by the courts....

It follows that the act of May 31, 1878 ch. 146, is constitutional and valid, and that he circuit court rightly held that the tender in treasury notes, reissued and kept in circulation under that act, was a tender of lawful Honey in payment of the defendant's debt to the plaintiff.

Judgment affirmed.
FIELD, J., delivered a dissenting opinion.