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Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.
MR. JUSTICE FIELD, dissenting.
From the judgment of the court in this case, and from all the positions advanced in its support, I dissent. The question of the power of Congress to impart the quality of legal tender to the notes of the United States, and thus make them money and a standard of value, is not new here. Unfortunately it has been too frequently before the court, and its latest decision, previous to this one, has never been entirely accepted and approved by the country. Nor should this excite surprise ; for whenever it is declared that this government, ordained to establish justice, has the power to alter the condition of contracts between private parties, and authorize their payment or discharge in something different from that which the parties stipulated, thus disturbing the relations of commerce and the business of the community generally, the doctrine will not and ought not to be readily accepted. There will be many who will adhere to the teachings and abide by the faith of their fathers. So the question has come again, and will continue to come until it is settled so as to uphold and not impair the contracts of parties, to promote and not defeat justice.
If there be anything in the history of the Constitution which can be established with moral certainty, it is that the framers of that instrument intended to prohibit the issue of legal tender notes both by the general government and by the States; and thus prevent interference with the contracts of private parties. During the Revolution and the period of the old Confederation, the Continental Congress issued bills of credit, and upon its recommendation the States made them a legal tender, and the refusal to receive them an extinguishment of the debts for which they were offered. They also enacted severe penalties against those who refused to accept them at their nominal value, as equal to coin, in exchange for commodities. And previously, as early as January, 1776, Congress had declared that, if any person, should be “so lost to all virtue and regard for his country” as to refuse to receive in payment the bills then issued, he should, on conviction thereof, be “deemed, published, and treated as an enemy of his country, and pre
Dissenting Opinion: Field, J. cluded from all trade and intercourse with the inhabitants of the colonies.”
Yet, this legislation proved ineffectual; the universal law of currency prevailed, which makes promises of money valuable only as they are convertible into coin. The notes depreciated until they became valueless in the hands of their possessors. So it always will be; legislative declaration cannot make the promise of a thing the equivalent of the thing itself.
The legislation to which the States were thus induced to re sort was not confined to the attempt to make paper money a legal tender for debts; but the principle that private contracts could be legally impaired, and their obligation disregarded, being once established, other measures equally dishonest and destructive of good faith between parties were adopted. What followed is thus stated by Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries :
“The history, indeed,” he says, “of the various laws which were passed by the States, in their colonial and independent character, upon this subject, is startling at once to our morals, to our patriotism, and to our sense of justice. Not only was paper money issued and declared to be a tender in payment of debts, but laws of another character, well known under the appellation of tender laws, appraisement laws, instalment laws, and suspension laws, were from time to time enacted, which prostrated all private credit and all private morals. By some of these laws the due payment of debts was suspended ; debts were, in violation of the very terms of the contract, authorized to be paid by instalments at different periods ; property of any sort, however worthless, either real or personal, might be tendered by the debtor in payment of his debts; and the creditor was compelled to take the property of the debtor, which he might seize on execution, at an appraisement wholly disproportionate to its known value. Such grievances and oppressions, and others of a like nature, were the ordinary results of legislation during the Revolutionary War and the intermediate period down to the formation of the Constitution. They entailed the most enormous evils on the country, and introduced a system of fraud, chicanery, and profligacy which destroyed all private confidence and all industry and enterprise." 2 Story on the Constitution, g 1371.
Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.
To put an end to this vicious system of legislation which only encouraged fraud, thus graphically described by Story, the clauses which forbid the States from emitting bills of credit or making anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts, or passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts, were inserted in the Constitution.
“ The attention of the Convention, therefore,” says Chief Justice Marshall, “ was particularly directed to paper money and to acts which enabled the debtor to discharge his debt otherwise than was stipulated in the contract. Had nothing more been intended, nothing more would have been expressed, but in the opinion of the Convention much more remained to be done. The same mischief might be effected by other means. To restore public confidence completely, it was necessary, not only to prohibit the use of particular means by which it might be effected, but to prohibit the use of any means by which the same mischief might be produced. The Convention appears to have intended to establish a great principle, that contracts should be inviolable." Sturges v. Crown inshield, 4 Wheat. 122, 206.
It would be difficult to believe, even in the absence of the historical evidence we have on the subject, that the framers of the Constitution, profoundly impressed by the evils resulting from this kind of legislation, ever intended that the new government, ordained to establish justice, should possess the power of making its bills a legal tender, which they were unwilling should remain with the States, and which in the past had proved so dangerous to the peace of the community, so disturbing to the business of the people, and so destructive of their morality.
The great historian of our country has recently given to the world a history of the Convention, the result of years of labor in the examination of all public documents relating to its formation and of the recorded opinions of its framers; and thus he writes :
“ With the full recollection of the need or seeming need of paper money in the Revolution, with the menace of danger in future time of war from its prohibition, authority to issue bills of Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.
credit that should be legal tender was refused to the general gov. ernment by the vote of nine States against New Jersey and Maryland. It was Madison who decided the vote of Virginia, and he has left his testimony that 'the pretext for a paper currency, and particularly for making the bills a tender, either for public or private debts, was cut off.' This is the interpretation of the clause made at the time of its adoption, alike by its authors and by its opponents, accepted by all the statesmen of that age, not open to dispute because too clear for argument, and never disputed so long as any one man who took part in framing the Constitution remained alive. History cannot name a man who has gained enduring honor by causing the issue of paper money. Wherever such paper has been employed it has in every case thrown upon its authors the burden of exculpation under the plea of pressing necessity.” Bancroft's History of the Formation of the Constitution, 2 vol., 134.
And when the Convention came to the prohibition upon the States, the historian says that the clause, “No State shall make anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts," was accepted without a dissentient State:
“So the adoption of the Constitution,” he adds, “is to be the end forever of paper money, whether issued by the several States or by the United States, if the Constitution shall be rightly interpreted and honestly obeyed.” Id. 137:
For nearly three-quarters of a century after the adoption of the Constitution, and until the legislation during the recent civil war, no jurist and no statesman of any position in the country ever pretended that a power to impart the quality of legal tender to its notes was vested in the general government. There is no recorded word of even one in favor of its possessing the power. All conceded, as an axiom of constitutional law, that the power did not exist.
Mr. Webster, from his first entrance into public life in 1812, gave great consideration to the subject of the currency, and in an elaborate speech on that subject, made in the Senate in 1836, then sitting in this room, he said :
Dissenting Opinion: Field, J.
“Currency, in a large and perhaps just sense, includes not only gold and silver and bank bills, but bills of exchange also. It may include all that adjusts exchanges and settles balances in the operations of trade and business ; but if we understand by currency the legal money of the country, and that which constitutes a legal tender for debts, and is the standard measure of value, then undoubtedly nothing is included but gold and silver. Most unquestionably there is no legal tender, and there can be no legal tender in this country, under the authority of this government or any other, but gold and silver, either the coinage of our own mints or foreign coins at rates regulated by Congress. This is a constitutional principle, perfectly plain and of the highest importance. The States are expressly prohibited from making any. thing but gold and silver a legal tender in payment of debts, and although no such express prohibition is applied to Congress, yet, as Congress has no power granted to it in this respect but to coin money and to regulate the value of foreign coins, it clearly has no power to substitute paper or anything else for coin as a tender in payment of debts and in discharge of contracts. Congress has exercised this power fully in both its branches ; it has coined money, and still coins it; it has regulated the value of foreign coins, and still regulates their value. The legal tender, therefore, the constitutional standard of value, is established and cannot be overthrown. To overthrow it would shake the whole system.” 4 Webster's Works, 271.
When the idea of imparting the legal tender quality to the notes of the United States issued under the first act of 1862 was first broached, the advocates of the measure rested their support of it on the ground that it was a war measure, to which the country was compelled to resort by the exigencies of its condition, being then sorely pressed by the Confederate forces, and requiring the daily expenditure of enormous sums to maintain its army and navy and to carry on the government. The representative who introduced the bill in the House, declared that it was a measure of that nature, “ one of necessity and not of choice;" that the times were extraordinary and that extraordinary measures must be resorted to in order to save our government and preserve our nationality. Speech of Spauld