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tion in respect to direct taxes, the power was ence that the word debts in the other clause was given without any express reservation.
not intended to include taxes. On the other hand, no power to tax exports, It must be observed that the first clause, which or imports except for a single purpose and to an may be called the receivability and payability insiguificant extent, or to lay any duty on ton- clause, imposes no restriction whatever upon the nage, was permitted to the States. In respect, States in the collection of taxes. It makes the however, to property, business, and persons notes receivable for national taxes, but does not within their respective limits, their power of make them receivable for State taxes. On the taxation remained and remains entire. It is contrary, the express reference to receivability indeed a concurrent power, and in the case of a by the national Government, and the omission tax on the same subject by both Governments, of all reference to receivability by the State gove the claim of the United States, as the supreme ernments, excludes the hypothesis of an intention authority, must be preferred; but with this on the part of Congress to compel the States to qualification it is absolute.
receive them as revenue. The extent to which it shall be exercised, the And it must also be observed that any consubjects upon which it shall be exercised, and struction of the second, or, as it may well enough the mode in which it shall be exercised are all be called, legal-tender clause, that includes dues equally within the discretion of the legislatures for taxes under the words debts, public and prito which the States commit the exercise of the vate, must deprive the first clause of all effect power. That discretion is restrained only by whatever. For if those words, rightly apprethe will of the people expressed in the State hended, include State taxes, they certainly in. constitutions or through elections, and by the clude national taxes also; and if they include condition that it must not be so used as to bar- national taxes, the clause making them receive den or embarrass the operations of the national able for such taxes was wholly unnecessary and Government.
superfluous. There is nothing in the Constitution which It is also proper to be observed that a techni. contemplates or authorizes any direct abridge cal construction of the words in question might ment of this power by national legislation. To defeat the main purpose of the act, which doubtthe extent just indicated it is as complete in the less was to provide a currency in which the reStates as tho like power, within the limits of the ceipts and payments incident to the exigencies Constitution, is complete in Congress.
of the then existing civil war might be made. II, therefore, the condition of any State, in In his work on the Constitution, the late Mr. the judgment of its legislature, requires the Justice Story, whose praise as a jurist is in all collection of taxes in kind, that is to say, by the civilized lands, speaking of the clause in the delivery to the proper officers of a certain pro- Constitution giving to Congress the power to lay portion of products, or in gold and silver bullion, and collect taxes, says of the theory which would or in gold and silver coin, it is not easy to see limit the power to the object of paying the debts, upon what principle the national legislature that, thus limited, it would be only a power to can interfere with the exercise, to that end, of provide for the payment of debts then existing. * this power, original in the States, and never as And certainly, if a narrow and limited interpreyet surrendered
tation would thus restrict the word debts in the If this be so, it is certainly a reasonable con. Constitution, the same sort of interpretation clusion that Congress did not end, by the would in like manner restrict the same word in general terms of the currency acts, to restrain the act. the exercise of this power in the manner shown Such an interpretation needs only to be menby the statutes of Oregon.
tioned to be rejected. We refer to it only to Other considerations strengthen this conclu- show that a right construction must be sought sion. It cannot escape observation that the pro- through larger and less technical views. vision intended to give currency to the United We may, then, safely decline either to limit States notes in the two acts of 1862 consists the word "debts to existing dues, or to extend its of two quite distinguishable clauses. The first meaning so as to embrace all dues of whatever of these clauses makes those notes receivable in origin and description. payment of all dues to the United States, and What then is its true sense? The most obvious, payable in satisfaction of all demands against and, as it seems to us, the most rational answer the United States, with specified exceptions; the to this question is, that Congress must have had second makes them lawful money, and a legal in contemplation debts originating in contract tender in payment of debts, public and private, or demands carried into judgment, and only within the United States, with the same excep- debts of this character. This is the commonest tions.
and most natural use of the word. Some strain It seems quite probable that the first clause is felt upon the understanding, when an attempt only was in the original bill, and that the second is made to extend it so as to include taxes im. was afterwards introduced during its progress posed by legislative authority, and there should into an act.
be no such strain in the interpretation of a law However this may be, the fact that both clauses like this. were made part of the act of February, and were We are the more ready to adopt this view, retained in the act of July, 1862, indicates clearly because the greatest of English elementary enough the intention of Congress that both shall writers upon law, when treating of debts in be construed together. Now, in the first clause, their various descriptions, gives no hint that taxes are plainly distinguished, in enumeration, from debts; and it is not an unreasonable infer
*1 Story on Cons., 630, 2021.
State of New
taxes come within either :* while American clause making the United States notes a legal State courts of the bighest authority bave re- tender for debts has no reference to taxes impored fused to treat liabilities for taxes as debts, in the by State authority, but relates only to debts, in ordinary sense of that word, for which actions the ordinary sense of the word, arising out of of debt may be maintained.
simple contracts or contracts by specialty, which The first of these cases was that of Pierce vs. include judgments and recognizances.* The City of Boston,t 1842, in which the de Whether the word debts, as used in the act, fendant attempted to set off against a demand of includes obligations expressly made payable, or the plaintiff certain taxes due to the city. The adjudged to be paid in coin, has been argued in statute allowed mutual debts to be set off, but another case. We express at present no opinion the court disallowed the right to set off taxes. on that question. This case went, indeed, upon the construction of The judgment of the supreme court of Oregon the statute of Massachusetts, and did not turn must be affirmed. on the precise point before us; but the language of the court shows that taxes were not regarded Express Contracts to Pay Coined Dollars can only as debts within the common understanding of
be satisfied by the Payment of Coined Dollarg. the word. The second case was that of Shaw vs. Pickett, I
No. 89.-DECEMBER TERM, 1868. in which the supreme court of Vermont said Frederick Bronson, executor of the In error to the
last will and testament of Arthur court of ap" The assessment of taxes does not create a debt
Bronson, deceased, plaintiff in error, peals of the that can be enforced by suit, or upon which a promise to pay interest can be implied. It is a
York. proceeding in invitum.”
Mr. Chief Justice Chase delivered the opinion The next case was that of the City of Camden of the court. vs. Allen.|| 1857. That was an action of debt This case comes before us upon a writ of error brought to recover a tax by the municipality to to the supreme court of New York. which it was due. The language of the supreme
The facts shown by the record may be briefly court of New Jersey was still more explicit :
stated. “A tax, in its essential characteristics," said the
In December, 1851, one Christian Metz, haycourt, "is not a debt, nor in the nature of a debt. ing borrowed of Frederick Bronson, executor of A tax is an impost levied by authority of gov- Arthur Bronson, $1,400, executed his bond for ernment upon its citizens or subjectå for the the repayment to Bronson of the principal sum support of the State. It is not founded on con borrowed on the 18th day of January, 1857, in tract or agreement. It operates in invitum. A gold and silver coin, lawful money of the United debt is a sum of money due by certain and ex- States, with interest also in coin until such repress agreement. It originates in and is founded payment, at the yearly rate of seven per cent. upon contracts express or implied."
To secure these payments, according to the These decisions were all made before the acts bond, at such place as Bronson might appoint, of 1862 were passed, and they may have had or, in default of such appointment, at the Mersome influence upon the choice of the words chants' Bank of New York, Metz executed a used
mortgage upon certain real property, which was Be this as it may, we all think that the inter-afterwards conveyed to Rodes, who assumed to pretation which they sanction is well warranted. pay the mortgage debt, and did, in fact, pay the
We cannot attribute to the legislature an in interest until and including the 1st day of Jantent to include taxes under the term debts without uary, 1864. something more than appears in the acts to show Subsequently, in January, 1865, there having that intention.
been no demand of payment nor any appointThe supreme court of California, in 1862, had ment of a place of payment by Bronson, Rodes the construction of these acts under consideration tendered to him United States notes to the in the case of Perry vs. Washburn.& The decis- amount of $1,507, a sum nominally equal to the ions which we have cited were referred to by principal and interest due upon the bond and Chief Justice Field, now holding a seat on this mortgage bench, and the very question we are now con
At that time one dollar in coin was equivalent sidering. " What did Congress intend by the act?" in market value to two dollars and a quarter in was answered in these words : “Upon this ques. United States notes. tion we are clear, that it only intended by the This tender was refused, whereupon Rodes terms debts, public and private, such obligations deposited the United States notes in the Merfor the payment of money as are founded upon chants’ Bank to the credit of Bronson, and filed contract.
his bill in equity praying that the mortgaged In whatever light, therefore, we consider this premises might be relieved from the lien of the question, whether in the light of the conflict be- mortgage, and that Bronson might be compelled tween the legislation of Congress and the taxing to execute and deliver to him an acknowledg: power of the States to which the interpretation ment of the full satisfaction and discharge of insisted on in behalf of the county of Lane would the mortgage debt. give occasion, or in the light of the language The bill was dismissed by the supreme court of the acts theinselves, or in the light of the de- sitting in Erie county ; but, on appeal to the cisions to which we have referred, we find our. supreme court in general term, the decree of disBelves brought to the same conclusion, that the missal was reversed, and a decree was entered
adjudging that the mortgage had been satisfied * 2 Black. Com., 475, 476.43 Met., 520. † 26 Vt., 486. 12 Dutch., 398. 820 California, 350.
1 Parsons on Contracts, 7.
by the tender, and directing Bronson to satisfy 1 of the note currency, this contract was not to be the same of record; and this decree was affirmed affected by them. It was to be paid, at all by the court of appeals.
events, in coined lawful money. The question which we have to consider, We have just adverted to the fact that the therefore, is this:
legal obligation of payment in coin was perfect Was Bronson bound by law to accept from without express stipulation. It will be useful Rodes United States notes equal in nominal to consider somewhat further the precise import amount to the sum due him as full performance in law of the phrase "dollars payable in gold and satisfaction of a contract which stipulated and silver coin, lawful money of the United for the payment of that sum in gold and silver States." coin, lawful money of the United States ? To form a correct judgment on this point, it
It is not pretended that any real payment and will be necessary to look into the statutes regusatisfaction of an obligation to pay fifteen hun- lating coinage. It would be instructive, doubtdred and seven coined dollars can be made by less, to review the history of coinage in the the tender of paper money worth in the market United States, and the succession of statutes by only six hundred and seventy coined dollars. which the weight, purity, forms, and impressions The question is, does the law compel the accept of the gold and silver coins have been regulated; ance of such a tender for such a debt?
but it will be sufficient for our purpose if we ex. It is the appropriate function of courts of amine three only--the acts of Apríl 2, 1792 * of justice to enforce contracts according to the law. January 18, 1837,† and March 3, 1849.5 ful intent and understanding of the parties.
The act of 1792 established a mint for the purWe must, therefore, inquire what was the in pose of a national coinage. It was the result of tent and understanding of Frederick Bronson very careful and thorough investigations of the and Christian Metz when they entered into the whole subject, in which Jefferson and Hamilton contract under consideration in December, 1851. took the greatest parts; and its general princi
And this inquiry will be assisted by reference ples have controlled all subsequent legislation. to the circumstances under which the contract. It provided that the gold of coinage, or standard was made.
gold, should consist of eleven parts fine and one Bronson was an executor, charged as a trustee part alloy, which alloy was to be of silver and with the administration of an estate. Metz was copper in convenient proportions, not exceeding a borrower from the estate. It was the clear one-half silver, and that the silver of coinage duty of the former to take security for the full should consist of fourteen hundred and eightyrepayment of the money loaned to the latter. five parts fine and one hundred and seventy
The currency of the country at the time nine parts of an alloy wholly of copper. consisted mainly of the circulating notes of
The same act established the dollar as the State banks, convertible, under the laws of the money unit, and required that it should contain States, into coin, on demand. This convertibil. four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver. ity, though far from perfect, together with the It provided further for the coinage of half-dolacts of Congress which required the use of coin lars, quarter-dollars, dimes, and half dimes, also for all receipts and disbursements of the national of standard silver, and weighing respectively a Government, insured the presence of some coin half, a quarter, a tenth, and a twentieth of the in the general circulation, but the business of the weight of the dollar. Provision was also made people was transacted almost entirely through for a gold coinage, consisting of eagles, halfthe medium of bank notes. The State banks eagles, and quarter-eagles, containing, respect. had recently emerged from a condition of great ively, two hundred and ninety, one hundred and depreciation and discredit, the effects of which thirty-five, and sixty-seven and a half grains of were still widely felt, and the recurrence of a like standard gold, and being of the value, respectcondition was not unreasonably apprehended by ively, of ten dollars, five dollars, and two-and-amany. This apprehension was, in fact, realized half dollars by the general suspension of coin payments, These coins were made a lawful tender in all which took place in 1857, shortly after the bond payments, according to their respective weights of Metz became due.
of silver or gold; if of full weight, at their deIt is not to be doubted, then, that it was to clared values, and if of less, at proportional guard against the possibility of loss to the estate, values. And this regulation as to tender rethrough an attempt to force the acceptance of a mained in full force until 1837. fluctuating and perhaps irredemable currency in The rule prescribing the composition of alloy payment, that the express stipulation for pay- has never been changed; but the proportion of ment in gold and silver coin was put into the alloy to fine gold and silver, and the absolute bond There was no necessity in law for such a weight of coins, have undergone some alteration, stipulation, for at that time no money, except of partly with a view to the better adjustment of gold or silver, had been made a legal tender. the gold and silver circulations to each other, The bond, without any stipulation to that effect, ani partly for the convenience of commerce. would have been legally payable only in coin. The only change of sufficient importance to The terms of the contract must have been se require notice, was that made by the act of 1837.|| lected, therefore, to fix definitely, the contract That act directed that standard gold, and stand" between the parties, and to guard against any ard silver also, should thenceforth consist of nine possible claim that payment in the ordinary parts pịre and one part alloy; that the weight currency ought to be accepted.
of standard gold in the eagle should be two hunThe intent of the parties is, therefore, clear. Whatever might be the forms or the fluctuations 397. 15 U. S. Stat., 137.
*1 U. S. Stat., 246. 5 U.S. Stat., 136. 19 U. 8. Stat.,
dred and fifty-eight grains, and in the half-eagle piece of gold or silver, certified to be of a certain and quarter-eagle, respectively, one-balf and weight and purity, by the form and impress one-quarter of that weight precisely; and that given to it at the mint of the United States, and the weight of standard silver should be in the therefore declared to be legal tender in payments. dollar four hundred twelve and a half grains, Any number of such dollars is the number of and in the half dollar, quarter-dollar, dimes, and grains of standard gold or silver in one dollar half-dimes, exactly one-half, one-quarter, one multiplied by the given number. tenth, and one-twentieth of that weight.
Payment of money is delivery by the debtor The act of 1849* authorized the coinage of gold to the creditor of the amount due. A contract double-eagles and gold dollars conformably in to pay a certain number of dollars in gold or all respects to the established standards, and, silver coins is, therefore, in legal import, nothing therefore, of the weights respectively of five hun. else than an agreement to deliver a certain dred and sixteen grains and twenty-five and weight of standard gold, to be ascertained by a eight-tenths of a rain.
count of coins, each of which is certified to The methods and machinery of coinage had contain a definite proportion of that weight. been so improved before the act of 1837 was It is not distinguishable, as we think, in prinpassed, that unavoidable deviations from the ciple, from a contract to deliver an equal weight prescribed weight became almost inappreciable; of bullion of equal fineness. It is distinguishaand the most stringent regulations were enforced ble, in circumstance, only by the fact that the to secure the utmost attainable exactness, both sufficiency of the amount to be tendered in payin weight and purity of metal.
ment must be ascertained, in the case of bullion, In single coins the greatest deviation tolerated by assay and the scales, while in the case of coin in the gold coins was half a grain in the double it may be ascertained by count eagle, eagle, or half-eagle, and a quarter of a grain We cannot suppose that it was intended by in the quarter eagle or gold dollar ;ť and in the the provisions of the currency acts to enforce silver coins, a grain and a half in the dollar and satisfaction of either contract by the tender of half dollar, and a grain in the quarter-dollar, depreciated currency of any description equivaand half a grain in the dime and half dime. I.
lent only in nominal amount to the real value In 1849 the limit of deviation in weighing of the bullion or of the coined dollars. Our large numbers of coins on delivery by the chief conclusion, therefore, upon this part of the case coiner to the treasurer and by the treasurer to is, that the bond under consideration was in ledepositors was still further narrowed.
gal import precisely what it was in the underWith these and other precautions against the standing of the parties, a valid obligation, to be emission of any piece inferior in weight or purity satisfied by a tender of actual payment according to the prescribed standard, it was thought safe to its terms, and not by an offer of mere nominal to make the gold and silver coins of the United payment. Its intent was that the debtor should States legal tender in all payments according to deliver to the creditor a certain weight of gold their nominal or declared values. This was done and silver, of a certain fineness, ascertainable by by the act of 1837. Some regulations as to the count of coins made legal tender by statute, and tender, for small loans, of coins of less weight this intent was lawful. and purity have been made; but no other pro Arguments and illustrations of much force vision than that made in 1837, making coined and value in support of this conclusion might be money a legal tender in all payments, now exists drawn from the possible case of the repeal of the upon the statute-books.
legal-tender laws relating to coin, and the conThe design of all this minuteness and strict-sequent reduction of coined money to the legal ness in the regulation of coinage is easily seen. condition of bullion, and also from the actual It indicates the intention of the legislature to condition of partial demonetization to which gire a sure guaranty to the people that the coins gold and silver money was reduced by the intromade current in payments contain the precise duction into circulation of the United States weight of gold or silver of the precise degree of notes and national bank currency; but we think purity declared by the statute. It recognizes it unnecessary to pursue this branch of the disthe fact, accepted by all men throughout the cussion further. world, that value is inherent in the precious Nor do we think it necessary now to examine metals; that gold and silver are in themselves the question whether the clauses of the currency values, and being such, and being in other reacts making the United States notes a legal tenspects best adapted to the purpose, are the only der are warranted by the Constitution. But we proper measures of value; that these values are will proceed to inquire whether, upon the asdetermined by weight and purity; and that form sumption that those clauses are so warranted, and impress are simply certificates of value, and upon the further assumption that engageworthy of absolute reliance only because of the ments to pay coined dollars may be regarded as known integrity and good faith of the Govern- ordinary contracts to pay money rather than as ment which gives them.
contracts to deliver certain weights of standard The propositions just stated are believed to be gold, it can be maintained that a contract to incontestible. If they are so in fact, the inquiry pay coined money may be satisfied by a tender concerning the legal import of the phrase "dol- of United States notes lars payable in gold and silver coin, lawful Is this a performance of the contract within money of the United States," may be answered the true intent of the acts ? without much difficulty. Every such dollar is a It must be observed that the laws for the 9 U. S. Stat , 793. †13 U. 8. Stat., 398. $15 U. S. Sat., coinage of gold and silver have never been re
Dealed or modiged. They remain on the statute.
book in full force; and the emission of gold and public debt, in the absence of other express prosilver coins from the mint continues, the actual visions, must also be paid in coin. And it hardly coinage during the last fiscal year having ex- requires argument to prove that these positive ceeded, according to the report of the director requirements cannot be fulfilled if contracts beof the mint, $19,000,000.
tween individuals to pay coin dollars can be Nor have those provisions of law which make satisfied by offers to pay their nominal equivathese coins a legal tender in all payments been lent in note dollars. The merchant who is to repealed or modified.
pay duties in coin must contract for the coin It follows that there were two descriptions of which he requires; the bank which receives the money in use at the time the tender under con- coin on deposit contracts to repay coin on desideration was made, both authorized by law, mand; the messenger who is sent to the bank and both made legal tender in payments. The or the custom-house contracts to pay or deliver statute denomination of both descriptions was the coin according to his instructions. These are dollars; but they were essentially unlike in na- all contracts, either express or implied, to pay ture. The coined dollar was, as we have said, a coin. Is it not plain that duties cannot be paid piece of gold or silver of a prescribed degree of in coin if these contracts cannot be enforced? purity, weighing a prescribed number of grains. An instructive illustration may be derived The note dollar was a promise to pay a coined from another provision of the same acts. It is dollar; but it was not a promise to pay on de-expressly provided that all dues to the Govern. mand nor at any fixed time, nor was it, in fact, ment, except for duties on imports, may be paid convertible into a coined dollar. It was impos- in United States notes. If, then, the Governsible, in the nature of things, that these two dol- ment, needing more coin than can be collected lars should be the actual equivalents of each from duties, contracts with some bank or indiother, nor was there anything in the currency vidual for the needed amount, to be paid at a acts purporting to make them such. How far certain day, can this contract for coin be per: they were, at that time, from being actual formed by the tender of an equal amount in equivalents has been already stated.
note dollars? Assuredly it may, if the note If, then, no express provision to the contrary dollars are a legal tender to the Government for be found in the acts of Congress, it is a just, if all dues except duties on imports. And yet a not a necessary inference, from the fact that construction which will support such a tender both descriptions of money were issued by the will defeat a very important intent of the act. same Government, that contracts to pay in either Another illustration, not less instructive, may were equally sanctioned by law. It is, indeed, be found in the contracts of the Government difficult to see how any question can be made with the depositors of bullion at the mint to pay on this point. Doubt concerning it can only them the ascertained value of their deposits in spring from that confusion of ideas which always coin. These are demands against the Governattends the introduction of varying and uncer- ment other than for interest on the public debt; tain measures of value into circulation as money. and the letter of the acts certainly makes United
The several statutes relating to money and States notes payable for all demands against the legal tender must be construed together. 'Let it Government except such interest. But can any be supposed then that the statutes providing for such construction of the act be maintained? Can the coinage of gold and silver dollars are found judicial sanction be given to the proposition that among the statutes of the same Congress which the Government may discharge its obligation to enacted the laws for the fabrication and issue of the depositors of bullion by tendering them a note dollars, and that the coinage and note number of note dollars equal to the number of acts, respectively, make coined dollars and note gold or silver dollars which it has contracted by dollars legal tender in all payments, as they law to pay? actually do.
Coined dollars are now worth But we need not pursue the subject further. more than note dollars; but it is not impossible It seems to us clear beyond controversy, that the that note dollars actually convertible into coin at act must receive the reasonable construction, not the chief commercial centres, receivable every only warranted, but required by the comparison where for all public dues, and made, moreover, of its provisions with the provisions of other a legal tender everywhere for all debts, may be acts, and with each other; and that upon such come, at some points, worth more than coined reasonable construction it must be held to susdollars. What reason can be assigned now for tain the proposition that express contracts to saying that a contract to pay coined dollars must pay coined dollars can oply be satisfied by the be satisfied by the tender of an equal number of payment of coined dollars. They are not " debts" note dollars, which will not be equally valid which may be satisfied by the tender of United then for saying that a contract to pay note dol- States notes. lars must be satisfied by the tender of an equal
It follows that the tender under consideration number of coined dollars ?
was not sufficient in law, and that the decres It is not easy to see how difficulties of this directing satisfaction of the mortgage was erro. sort can be avoided except by the admission that neous. the tender must be according to the terms of the Some difficulty has been felt in regard to the contract.
judgments proper to be entered upon contracts But we are not left to gather the intent of for the payment of coin. The difficulty arises these currency acis from mere comparison with from the supposition that damages can be assessthe coinage acts. The currency acts themselves ed only in one description of money. But the provide for paymenis in coin. Duties on im- act of 1792 provides that “the money of account ports must be paid in coin, and interest on the of the United States shall be expressed in dol.