During the Civil War, as Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase had supported the constitutionality of the Legal Tender Act. The federal government even put his face on the $1 bill, known as a greenback.
The Chase Court Court (1867-1870). Seated, from left to right: Stephen J. Field, Samuel F. Miller, Nathan Clifford, Samuel Nelson, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, Robert C. Grier, Noah Swayne, and David Davis.
“An act making mere promises to pay dollars a legal tender in payment of debts previously contracted, is not a means appropriate, plainly adapted, really calculated to carry into effect any express power vested in Congress.”
The term “dollar” in the Constitution originally referred to a unit of silver--in particular to the Spanish Dollar coin, which was in wide circulation at the founding.
Randy is all about the Benjamins.
After arguments, there were five votes against the Legal Tender Act, and three votes in favor of it.
However, in January 1870, Justice Grier resigned before the decision was formally announced, making the final vote 4-3.
Implied powers on the Chase Court
Without question, Congress has the power to issue paper notes as currency. However, during the Civil War, Congress debated whether it could make this paper currency a legal tender. That is, could Congress require everyone to accept the government’s paper currency as payment for a debt, even if a contract called for payment with gold or silver. At the time of the framing, the term “dollar” in the Constitution referred to a unit of silver — in particular to the Spanish Dollar coin, which was in wide circulation. It was a big deal to force people to accept dollar bills in place of silver or gold. Does the Constitution give Congress this power?
In 1862, Congress determined that it had such a power, and enacted the Legal Tender Act. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase supported the constitutionality of the law. The federal government even put his face on the $1 bill, known as a greenback.
However, eight years later, Chase changed course as Chief Justice. He wrote the majority opinion in Hepburn v. Griswold (1870).
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