« AnteriorContinuar »
Opinion of the Court.
circulation of coin is given to Congress. And it is settled by the uniform practice of the government, and by repeated de cisions, that Congress may constitutionally authorize the emission of bills of credit.” Congress, having undertaken to supply a national currency, consisting of coin, of treasury notes of the United States, and of the bills of national banks, is authorized to impose on all State banks, or national banks, or private bankers, paying out the notes of individuals or of State banks, a tax of ten per cent, upon the amount of such notes so paid out. Veazie Bank v. Fenno, above cited; National Bank v. United States, 101 U. S. 1. The reason for this conclusion was stated by Chief Justice Chase, and repeated by the present Chief Justice, in these words : “Having thus, in the exercise of undisputed constitutional powers, undertaken to pro vide a currency for the whole country, it cannot be questioned that Congress may, constitutionally, secure the benefit of it to the people by appropriate legislation. To this end, Congress has denied the quality of legal tender to foreign coins, and has provided by law against the imposition of counterfeit and base coin on the community. To the same end, Congress may restrain, by suitable enactments, the circulation as money of any notes not issued under its own authority. Without this power, indeed, its attempts to secure a sound and uniform currency for the country must be futile.” 8 Wall. 549 ; 101 U. S. 6.
By the Constitution of the United States, the several States are prohibited from coining 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. Most of the powers granted to Congress are described in the eighth section of the first article ; the limitations intended to be set to its powers, so as to exclude certain things which might otherwise be taken to be included in the general grant, are defined in the ninth section ; the tenth section is addressed to the States only. This section prohibits the States from doing some things which the United States are expressly prohibited from doing, as well as from doing some things which the United States are expressly authorized to do, and from doing some things which are
Opinion of the Court.
neither expressly granted nor expressly denied to the United States. Congress and the States equally are expressly pro hibited from passing any bill of attainder or ex post facto law, or granting any title of nobility. The States are forbidden, while the President and Senate are expressly authorized, to make treaties. The States 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, has, 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 the quality 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 conse quence, 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 governments of Europe, acting through the monarch or the legislature, according to the distribution of powers under their respective constitutions, had and have as sovereign a power of issuing paper money as of stamping coin. This power has been distinctly recognized in an important modern case, ably argued and fully considered, in which the Emperor of Austria, as King of Hungary, obtained from the English Court of Chancery an injunction against the issue in England, without his license, of notes purporting to be public paper money of Hungary. Austria v. Day, 2 Giff. 628, and 3 D. F. & J. 217. 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 counOpinion of the Court.
try by the several Colonies and States ; and during the Revolu tionary War the States, upon the recommendation of the Congress of the Confederation, had made the bills issued by Congress a legal tender. See Craig v. Missouri, 4 Pet. 435, 453; Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 11 Pet. 257, 313, 334-336; Legal Tender Cases, 12 Wall. 557, 558, 622; Phillips on American Paper Currency, passim. 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
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 under the power to coin money and to regulate the value thereof. Under the two powers, taken together, Congress is authorized 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. The decisions of this court, already cited, afford several examples of this.
Upon the issue of stock, bonds, bills or notes of the United States, the States are deprived of their power of taxation to the extent of the property invested by individuals in such obliga. Opinion of the Court.
tions, and the burden of State taxation upon other private prop erty is correspondingly increased. The ten per cent. tax, imposed by Congress on notes of State banks and of private bankers, not only lessens the value of such notes, but tends to drive them, and all State banks of issue, out of existence. The priority given to debts due to the United States over the private debts of an insolvent debtor diminishes the value of these debts, and the amount which their holders may receive out of the debtor's estate.
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, 1834, ch. 95, and with regard to silver by the act of February 28th, 1878, ch. 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. 1 Hale P. C. 192–194; Bac. Ab. Tender, B. 2; Pothier, Contract of Sale, No. 416; Pardessus, Droit Commercial, Nos. 204, 205; Searight v. Calbraith, 4 Dall. 324. As observed by Mr. Justice Strong, in delivering the opinion of the court in the Legal Tender Cases, “ Every contract for the payment of money, simply, is necessarily subject to the constitutional power of the government over the currency, whatever that power may be, and the obligation of the parties is, therefore, assumed with reference to that power.” 12 Wall. 549.
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 defence and general welfare of the United States,” and “to borrow money on the credit of the United States," 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
Opinion of the Court."
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 exigency is such, by reason of unusual and pressing demands on
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. To quote once more from the judgment in McCulloch v. Maryland: “Where the law is not prohibited, and is really calculated to effect any of the objects entrusted to the government, to undertake here to inquire into the degree of its necessity would be to pass the line which circumscribes the judicial department, and to tread on legislative ground.” 4 Wheat. 423.
It follows that the act of May 31st, 1878, ch. 146, is constitutional and valid; and that the Circuit Court rightly held that the tender in treasury notes, reissued and kept in circulation under that act, was a tender of lawful money in payment of the defendant's debt to the plaintiff.