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'seeks to destroy, in their origin, all the blandishments from foreign favors, and foreign titles, and all the temptations to a departure from official duty by receiving foreign rewards and emoluments. No officer of the United States can without guilt wear honors borrowed from foreign sovereigns, or touch for personal profit.any foreign treasure.
Prohibitions on the States.
§ 229. Such are the prohibitions upon the government of the United States. And we next proceed to the prohibitions upon the States, which are not less important in themselves, or less necessary to the security of the Union. They are contained in the tenth section of the first article.
$ 230. The first clause is, “ No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation ; grant letters of marque or reprisal; coin money ; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold or silver coin a tender in payment of debts ; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts; or grant any title of nobility.”
$ 231. The prohibition against a State's entering into any treaty, alliance, or confederation, is indispensable to the preservation of the rights and powers of the National Government. A State might otherwise enter into engagements with foreign governments, utterly subversive of the policy of the National Government, or injurious to the rights and interests of the other States. One State might enter into a treaty or alliance with France, and another with England, and another with Spain, and another with Russia, -each in its general objects inconsistent with the other; and thus, the seeds of discord might be spread over the whole Union.
§ 232. The prohibition to “grant letters of marque and reprisal” stands on the same ground. This power would hazard the peace of the Union by subjecting it to the passions, resentments, or policy of a single State. If any State might issue letters of marque or reprisal at its own mere pleasure, it might at once involve the whole Union in a public war; or bring on retaliatory measures by the foreign government, which might cripple the commerce, or destroy the vital interests of other States. The prohibition is, therefore, essential to the public safety.
§ 233. The prohibition to " coin money” is necessary to our domestic interests. The existence of the power in the States would defeat the salutary objects intended, by confiding the like power to the National Government. It would have a tendency to introduce a base and variable currency, perpetually liable to frauds, and embarrassing to the commercial intercourse of the States.
$ 234. The prohibition to “emit bills of credit.”— Bills of credit are a well-known denomination of paper money, issued by the Colonies before the Revolution, and afterwards by the States, in a most profuse degree. These bills of credit had no adequate funds appropriated to redeem them; and though on their face they were often declared payable in gold and silver, they were in fact never so paid. The consequence was, that they became the common currency of the country, in a constantly depreciating state, ruinous to the commerce and credit, and disgraceful to the good faith of the country.
The evils of the system were of a most aggravated nature, and could not be cured, except by an entire prohibition of any future issues of paper money. And, indeed, the prohibition to coin money would be utterly nugatory, if the States might still issue a paper currency for the same purpose.
$ 235. But the inquiry here naturally occurs; What is the true meaning of the phrase “ bills of credit” in the Constitution? In its enlarged, and perhaps in its literal sense, it may comprehend any instrument, by which a State engages to pay money at a future day, (and, of course, for which it obtains a present credit ;) and thus it would include a certificate given for money borrowed. But the language of the Constitution itself, and the mischief to be prevented, which we know froin the history of our country, equally limit the interpretation of the terms. The word “emit” is never employed in describing those contracts, by which a State binds itself to pay money at a future day for services actually received, or for money borrowed for present use. Nor are instruments, executed for such purposes, in common language denominated “ bills of credit.” To emit bills of credit, conveys to the mind the idea of issuing paper, intended to circulate through the community for ordinary purposes, as money, which paper is redeemable at a future day. This is the sense, in which the terms of the Constitution have been generally understood. The phrase (as we have seen) was well known, and generally used to indicate the paper currency, issued by the States during their colonial dependence. During the war of our Revolution, the paper currency issued by Congress was constantly denominated, in the acts of that body, bills of credit ; and the like appellation was applied to similar currency issued by the States. The phrase had thus acquired a determinate and appropriate meaning. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, bills of credit were universally understood to signify a paper medium intended to circulate between individuals, and between government and individuals, for the ordinary purposes of society. Such a medium has always been liable to considerable fluctuation. Its value is continually changing ; and these changes, often great and sudden, expose individuals to immense losses, are the sources of ruinous speculations, and destroy all proper confidence between man and man. In no country, more than our own, had these truths been felt in all their force. In none, had more intense suffering, or more wide-spreading ruin accompanied the system. It was, therefore, the object of the prohibition to cut up the whole mischief by the roots, because it had been deeply felt throughout all the States, and had deeply affected the prosperity of all. The object of the prohibition was not to prohibit the thing, when it bore a particular name; but to prohibit the thing, whatever form or name it might assume. If the words are not merely empty sounds, the prohibition must comprehend the emission of any paper medium by a State government for the purposes of common circulation. It would be preposterous to suppose, that the Constitution meant solemnly to prohibit an issue under one denomination, leaving the power complete to issue the same thing under another. It can never be seriously contended, that the Constitution means to prohibit names, and not things ; to deal with shadows, and to leave substances. What would be the consequence of such a construction ? That a very important act, big with great and ruinous mischief, and on that account forbidden by words the most appropriate for its description, might yet be performed by the substitution of a name. That the Constitution, even in one of its vital provisions, might be openly evaded by giving a new name to an old thing. Call the thing a bill of credit, and it is prohibited. Call the same thing a certificate, and it is constitutional.
$ 236. Connected with this, is the prohibition, No State shall “ make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts.” The history of the State laws on this subject, while we were Colonies, as well as during the Revolution, and afterwards before the adoption of the Constitution, is startling at once to our morals, to our patriotism, and to our sense of justice. In the intermediate period between the commencement of the Revolutionary War, and the adoption of the Constitution, the system had attained its most appalling character. Not only was paper money declared to be a tender in payment of debts; but other laws, having the same general object, and interfering with private debts, under the name of appraisement laws, instalment laws, and suspension laws, thickened upon the statute book of many States in the Union, until all public confidence was lost, and all private credit and morals were prostrated. The details of the evils, resulting from this source, can scarcely be comprehended in our day. But they were so enormous, that the whole country seemed involved in a general bankruptcy; and fraud and chicanery obtained an undisputed
mastery. Nothing but an absolute prohibition, like that contained in the Constitution, could arrest the overwhelming food ; and it was accordingly hailed with the most sincere joy by all good citizens. It has given us that healthy and sound currency, and that solid private credit, which constitute the true foundation of our prosperity, industry, and enterprise.
§ 237. The prohibition, to “ pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts,” requires scarcely any vindication or explanation, beyond what has been already given. The power to pass bills of attainder, and ex post facto laws, (the nature of which has been already sufficiently explained,) is quite as unfit to be intrusted to the States, as to the General Government. It was exercised by the States during the Revolutionary War, in the shape of confiscation laws, to an extent, which, upon cool reflection, every sincere patriot must regret. Laws “impairing the obligation of contracts” are still more objectionable. They interfere with, and disturb, and destroy, private rights, solemnly secured by the plighted faith of the parties. They bring on the same ruinous effects, as paper tender laws, instalment laws, and appraisement laws, which are but varieties of the same general noxious policy. And they have been truly described, as contrary to the first principles of the social compact and to every principle of sound legislation.
§ 238. Although the language of this clause, “ law impairing the obligation of contracts,” would seem, at first view, to be free from any real ambiguity ; yet there is not perhaps a single clause of the Constitution, which has given rise to more acute and vehement controversy. What is a contract ? What is the obligation of a contract? What is impairing a contract ? To what classes of laws does the prohibition apply? To what extent does it reach, so as to control prospective legislaiion on the subject of contracts ? These and many other questions, of no small nicety and intricacy, have vexed the legislative halls, as well as the judicial tribunals, with an uncounted variety and frequency of litigation and speculation.
$ 239. In the first place, What is to be deemed a con