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It follows as a corollary from these views, that it makes no difference in the principle of the thing, that the contract of the debtor is a specific engagement, in terms, to pay gold or silver money, or to pay in specie. So long as the money of the country, in whatever terms described, is in contemplation of the parties, it is the object of the legaltender laws to make the credit of the government a lawful substitute therefor. If the contract is for the delivery of a chattel or a specific commodity or substance, the law does not apply. If it is bona fide for so many carats of diamonds or so many ounces of gold as bullion, the specific contract must be performed. But if terms which naturally import such a contract are used by way of evasion, and money only is intended, the law reaches the case. Not but that Congress might limit the operation of the law in any way it pleased. It might make an exception of cases where the contract expressly promises gold and silver money. But if it has not done so; if the enactment is general in its terms, specific promises to pay the money in specie are just as much subject to the operation of the law as a mere promise to pay so many dollars—for that, in contemplation of law, is a promise to pay money in specie.
Hence I differ from my brethren in the decision of one of the cases now before the court, to wit, the case of TREBILCOCK VS. WILSON, in which the promise (made in June, 1861) was to pay, one year after date, the sum of nine hundred dollars with ten per cent. interest from date, payable in specie. Of course this difference arises from the different construction given to the legal-tender acts. I do not understand the majority of the court to decide that an act so drawn as to embrace, in terms, contracts payable in specie, would not be constitutional. Such a decision would completely nullify the power claimed for the government. For it would be very easy, by the use of one or two additional words, to make all contracts payable in specie.
It follows as another corollary from the views which I have expressed that the power to make treasury notes a legal tender, whilst a mere incidental one to that of issuing the notes themselves, and to one of the forms of borrowing money, it is nevertheless a power not to be resorted to except upon extraordinary and pressing occasions, such as war or other public exigencies of great gravity and importance; and should be no longer exerted than all the circumstances of the case demand.
I do not say that it is a war power, or that it is only to be called into exercise in time of war; for other public exigencies may arise in the history of a nation which may make it expedient and imperative to exercise it. But of the occasions when, and of the times how long, it shall be exercised and in force, it is for the legislative department of the government to judge. Feeling sensibly the judgments and wishes of the people, that department cannot long (if it is proper to suppose that within its sphere it ever can) misunderstand the business interests and just rights of the community.
I deem it unnecessary to enter into a minute criticism of all the sayings, wise or foolish, that have, from time to time, been uttered on
this subject by statesmen, philosophers, or theorists. The writers on political economy are generally opposed to the exercise of the power. The considerations which they adduce are very proper to be urged upon the depositary of the power. The question whether the power exists in a national government, is a great practical question relating to the national safety and independence, and statesmen are better judges of this question than economists can be. Their judgment is ascertained in the history and practice of governments, and in the silence as well as the words of our written Constitution. A parade of authorities would serve but little purpose after Chief Justice MARSHALL's profound discussion of the powers of Congress in the great case of McCULLOH vs. THE STATE of MARYLAND. If we speak not according to the spirit of the Constitution and authorities, and the incontrovertible logic of events, elaborate extracts cannot add weight to our decision.
Great stress has been laid on the supposed fact that ENGLAND, in all its great wars and emergencies, has never made its exchequer bills a legal tender. This imports a eulogium on British conservatism in relation to contracts, which that nation would hardly regard as flattering. It is well known that for over twenty years, from 1797 to 1820, the most stringent paper money system that ever existed prevailed in ENGLAND and lay at the foundation of all her elasticity and endur
It is true that the BANK OF ENGLAND notes, which the bank were required to issue until they reached an amount then unprecedented, were not technically made legal tenders, except for the purpose of relieving from arrest and imprisonment for debt; but worse than that, the bank was expressly forbidden to redeem its notes in specie, except for a certain small amount to answer the purpose of change. The people were obliged to receive them. The government had nothing else wherewith to pay its domestic creditors. The people themselves had no specie, for that was absorbed by the BANK OF ENGLAND, and husbanded for the uses of government in carrying on its foreign wars and paying its foreign subsidies. The country banks depended on the BANK OF ENGLAND for support, and of course they could not redeem their circulation in specie. The result was that the nation was perforce obliged to treat the bank notes as a legal tender or suffer inevitable bankruptcy. In such a state of things it went very hard with any man who demanded specie in fulfillment of his contracts. A man by the name of GRIGBY tried it, and brought his case into court, and elicited from Lord ALVANLY the energetic expression : “ Thank God, few such creditors as the present plaintiff have been found since the passing of the act.”——(2 B. & P., 528.) It is to be presumed that he was the last that ever showed himself in an English court.
It is well known that since the resumption of specie payments, the act of 1833, rechartering the bank, has expressly made the BANK OF ENGLAND notes a legal terder. It is unnecessary to refer to other examples. FRANCE is a notable
Her assignats, issued at the commencement and during the revolution, performed the same office as our Continental bills; and enabled the nation to gather up its latent strength and call out its energies. Almost every nation of EUROPE, at one time or another, has found it necessary, or expedient, to resort to the same method of carrying on its operations or defending itself against aggression.
It would be sad, indeed, if this great nation were now to be deprived of a power so necessary to enable it to protect its own existence, and to cope with the other great powers of the world. No doubt, foreign powers would rejoice if we should deny the power. No doubt, foreign creditors would rejoice. They have, from the first, taken a deep interest in the question. But no true friend to our government, to its stability and its power to sustain itself under all vicissitudes, can be indifferent to the great wrong which it would sustain by a denial of the power in question-a power to be seldom exercised, certainly; but one, the possession of which is so essential, and as it seems to me, so undoubted.
Regarding the question of power as so important to the stability of the government, I cannot acquiesce in the decision of HEPBURN vs. GRISWOLD (8 Wallace, 606). I cannot consent that the government should be deprived of one of its just powers by a decision made at the time, and under the circumstances, in which that decision was made. On a question relating to the power of the government, where I am perfectly satisfied that it has the power, I can never consent to abide by a decision denying it, unless made with responsible unanimity and acquiesced in by the country. Where the decision is recent, and is only made by a bare majority of the court, and during a time of public excitement on the subject, when the question has largely entered into the political discussions of the day, I consider it our right and duty to subject it to a further examination, if a majority of the court are dissatisfied with the former decision. And in this case, with all deference and respect for the former judgment of the court, I am so fully convinced that it was erroneous, and prejudicial to the rights, interests, and safety of the general government, that I, for one, have no hesitation in reviewing and overruling it. It should be remembered, that this court, at the very term in which, and within a few weeks after, the decision in HEPBURN VS. GRISWOLD was deliv. ered, when the vacancies on the bench were filled, determined to hear the question re-argued. This fact must necessarily have had the effect of apprising the country that the decision was not fully acquiesced in, and of obviating any injurious consequences to the business of the country by its reversal.
In my judgment, the decrees in all the cases before us should be affirmed.
DISSENTING OPINION BY MR. CHIEF JUSTICE CHASE.
Before the Supreme Court of the United States,
December Term, 1870.
The cases of WILLIAM B. Knox, Plaintiff in Error, vs. PHEBE G. LEE and Hugh LEE, her husband. In Error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Texas, and
THOMAS H. PARKER, Plaintiff in Error, vs. GEORGE DAVIS. In error to the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Mas
We dissent from the argument and conclusion in the opinion just announced.
The rule by which the constitutionality of an act of Congress passed in the alleged exercise of an implied power is to be tried, is no longer, in this court, open to question.
It was laid down in the case of McCULLOH VS. STATE OF MARYLAND, 4 Wheaton, 421, by Chief Justice MARSHALL, in these words: “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of this Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional."
And it is the plain duty of the court to pronounce acts of Congress not made in the exercise of an express power nor coming within the reasonable scope of this rule, if made in virtue of an implied power, unwarranted by the Constitution. Acts of Congress not made in pursuance of the Constitution are not laws.
Neither of these propositions was questioned in the case of HEPBURN vs. GRISWOLD, 8 Wallace, 606. The judges who dissented in that case maintained that the clause in the act of February 25, 1862, making the United States notes a legal tender in payment of debts was an appropriate, plainly adapted means to a constitutional end, not prohibited but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The majority of the court as then constituted, five judges out of eight, felt“ obliged to conclude that an act making mere promises to pay dollars a legal tender in payments of debts previously contracted is not a means appropriate, plainly adapted, really calculated to carry into effect any express power vested in Congress, is inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution, and is prohibited by the Constitution."
In the case of THE UNITED STATES VS. DE WITT, 9 Wallace, 41, we held unanimously that a provision of the internal revenue law prohibiting the sale of certain illuminating oil in the States was unconstitutional, though it might increase the production and sale of other oils, and consequently the revenue derived from them, because this consequence was too remote and uncertain to warrant the court in saying that the prohibition was an appropriate and plainly adapted means for carrying into execution the power to lay and collect taxes.
We agree, then, that the question whether a law is a necessary and proper means to execution of an express power, within the meaning of these words as defined by the rule, that is to say, a means appropriate, plainly adapted, not prohibited but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, is a judicial question. Congress may not adopt any means for the execution of an express power that Congress may see fit to adopt. It must be a necessary and proper means within the fair meaning of the rule. If not such it cannot be employed consistently with the Constitution. Whether the means actually employed in a given case are such or not, the court must decide. The court must judge of the fact-Congress of the degree of necessity.
A majority of the court, five to four, in the opinion which has just been read, reverses the judgment rendered by the former majority of five to three, in pursuance of an opinion formed after repeated arguments, at successive terms, and careful consideration; and declares the legal-tender clause to be constitutional; that is to say, that an act of Congress making promises to pay dollars legal tenders as coined dollars in payment of pre-existing debts is a means appropriate and plainly adapted to the exercise of powers expressly granted by the Constitution and not prohibited itself by the Constitution but consistent with its letter and spirit. And this reversal, unprecedented in the history of the court, has been produced by no change in the opinions of those who concurred in the former judgment. One closed an honorable judicial career by resignation after the case had been decided (27 November, 1869), after the opinion had been read and agreed to in conference (29 January, 1870), and after the day when it would have been delivered in court (31 January, 1870), had not the delivery been postponed for a week to give time for the preparation of the dissenting opinion. The court was then full, but the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr. Justice GRIER having been subsequently filled and an additional justice having been appointed under the act increasing the number of judges to nine, which took effect on the first Monday of December, 1869, the then majority find themselves in a minority of the court, as now constituted, upon the question.
Their convictions, however, remain unchanged. We adhere to the opinion pronounced in HEPBURN vs. GRISWOLD. Reflection has only wrought a firmer belief in the soundness of the constitutional doctrines maintained, and in the importance of them to the country.
We agree that much of what was said in the dissenting opinion in that case, which has become the opinion of the majority of the court as now constituted, was correctly said. We fully agree in all that was quoted from Chief Justice MARSHALL. We had indeed accepted,