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the experiment has never been tried; nor, so far as I know, ever before suggested.
Of the three great statesmen whose minds have been given to this subject of the currency, and the power of the National Government over it, no one has asserted the existence of this power. Mr. Madison and Mr. Webster have expressly denied its existence. Mr. Webster had, of all our statesmen, except perhaps Mr. Hamilton, the strongest convictions of the necessity of a national currency, and of the duty of Congress to control it; but, on the want of power in Congress to make any thing but coin legal tender, his language is clear, firm, and unequivocal. He says, —
“ But if we understand by currency the legal money of the country, and that which constitutes a legal tender for debts, and is the statute 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 very highest importance. The States are expressly prohibited from making any thing but gold and silver a 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 any thing 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.
“ But, if the Constitution knows only gold and silver as a legal tender, does it follow that the Constitution cannot tolerate the voluntary circulation of bank-notes, convertible into gold and silver at the will of the holder, as part of the actual money of the country? Is a man not only to be entitled to demand gold and silver for every debt, but is he, or should he be, obliged to demand it in all cases ? Is it, or should Government make it, unlawful to receive pay in any thing else ? Such a notion is too absurd to be seriously treated. The constitutional tender is the thing to be preserved ; and it ought to be preserved sacredly, under all circumstances. — Webster's Works, vol. iv.
Again he says, —
“ I am certainly of opinion, then, that gold and silver, at rates fixed by Congress, constitute the legal standard of value in this country; and that neither Congress nor any State has authority to establish any other standard or to displace this." - Ibid., vol. iv. p. 280.
This is good law and solid sense.
There is, Mr. Chairman, another difficulty in inferring from the power of Congress to regulate commerce the power to make treasury notes legal tender, which has not been adverted to. It is this: The power given to Congress is to regulate commerce “ among the States. Now, it is clear in principle, and well settled as authority, that the provision does not extend to and include the internal commerce of the States. This power is reserved to the States themselves (Gibbons vs. Ogden, 12 Wheaton, 1). Looking at this power to make these notes a legal tender as incident to the power of Congress to regulate commerce, the power of the incident cannot extend beyond the power of the principal. This bill clearly includes a commerce over which we have no control. It is scarcely necessary to say that this internal commerce would include nine out of ten of all thë bargains that are made.
It has been said, that, under the power to 5 borrow money on the credit of the United States,” we have the power to make the securities given for borrowed money legal tender; that is to say, under the power to borrow, we have the power to create.
It would seem to be a sufficient answer to this position to say, that, if the Government had the
to make its notes money by its superscription only, there would be no great need to borrow.
It has been argued, that because the power is denied to the States to make “ any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts," and is not denied in terms to Congress, it therefore exists in Congress. To this position the answer is twofold: First, that the express power has been given to Congress of coining money, and regulating its value; the value for which it is to be received in the marts of commerce in the payment of debts or the measure of damages. The money so coined is the only money known to the Constitution. The Constitution never confounds, as does this bill, money with the promise to pay money, the shadow with the substance, the sign with the thing signified. The second and obvious answer is, that the power, not being delegated to Congress, is reserved, under article ten of the Amendments, to the people. The people, acting in the light of their own terrible experience, would neither give the power to Congress, nor permit its exercise by the States. If the power to make money of paper is an attribute of sovereignty, as the friends of this bill aver, the attribute yet rests securely in the bosom of the sovereign. The people have not parted with this power of evil.
Mr. Chairman, though the legal question has not been judicially settled, I feel compelled to say that the weight of reasoning and authority is strongly against the validity of the clause making the treasury notes legal tender. If the validity of the provision be doubtful even, and it becomes, as it inevitably would, the subject of contest and litigation in the courts, the effect upon the credit of the paper will, in my judgment, be worse than if the tender clause had been wholly omitted.
I have a word or two to say upon the justice of this clause of the bill.
To make these notes legal tender for debts, private and public, contracted before the passage of the bill, seems to me a clear breach of good faith. Debts are obligations or promises to pay money, the only money known to the Constitution and laws; the universal equivalent having not merely intrinsic value, but being the measure and standard of value. Paper is not money. The draft, bill, or note, is the mere sign: money is the thing signified. Said John Locke, “ Men in their bargains contract, not for denominations or sounds, but for the intrinsic value.”
This bill, Mr. Chairman, changes the condition and practically impairs the obligation of every existing contract to pay money. When the contract to pay money matures, this bill compels the creditor to take for his debt, not money, not even paper convertible into money on demand, but the promise of Government to pay at a future day uncertain. It is a perfect answer of the creditor to this proposition to say, “ That is not my
agreement: a matured debt is not paid by a promise
But further: the faith of the contract is broken, because the creditor is not paid in gold or silver, nor in that which is equivalent to gold and silver. He neither gets the coin, nor its value in any form ; the money, nor the money's worth. Take, for example, one of the treasury notes issued under the act of July 17, payable in three years, with interest at the rate of seven and three-tenths per cent semi-annually. When the interest is due, the Government is asked to pay. It offers its note convertible into stock worth now eighty-eight cents on the dollar. The holder of the note reads the ninth section of the statute of July:
" And be it further enacted, That the faith of the United States is hereby solemnly pledged for the payment of the interest, and redemption of the principal, of the loan authorized by this act.”
If the lender had understood that by payment of interest was meant the giving another note, payable at the pleasure of the Government, would the loan have been effected ? When, by compulsion, he takes your note, and converts it into stock, worth, it may be, eightyeight or seventy-five cents on a dollar, will he go away with the conviction, that the faith of the United States, so solemnly pledged, has been as solemnly redeemed ? Will he not feel that faith without works is dead ? No craft of logic or of rhetoric can disguise the real nature of that transaction. If we feel stain like a wound, that wound is immedicable. Take from us, Mr. Chairman,
. our property, houses, and lands, they cannot be de