An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

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).

Three ways to watch and read

Videos Only

Binge watch the 12-hour video library


Videos + E-Book

Instantly access the video library and download the E-Book


Videos + Paperback

Read the paperback and stream the videos