Skip to main content
Select Source:

Legal Tender Cases

LEGAL TENDER CASES

LEGAL TENDER CASES involved the question of the constitutionality of the measures enacted by the U.S. Congress during the Civil War for the issue of treasury notes to circulate as money without provision for redemption. The constitutional question hinged not on the power of the government to issue the notes, but on its power to make them legal tender for the payment of debts, particularly debts contracted before the legislation. The Supreme Court first ruled on the question on 7 February 1870 in the case of Hepburn v. Griswold (8 Wallace 603). The majority held that Congress had no power to enact the legal-tender provisions. The vote of the Court members was five to three, with the obvious senility of Justice Robert C. Grier, one of the majority, casting doubt on the weight of his opinion. He retired before the Court announced the decision, which left the alignment four to three. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who, as the secretary of the Treasury had shared responsibility for the original enactments, wrote the opinion against the constitutionality of the legislation.

Nominations of two new members of the Supreme Court arrived in the Senate on the day on which the Court announced the decision. At the ensuing term, the Court heard the reargument of the constitutional question in another case. On 1 May 1871, the Court reversed the Hepburn decision in Knox v. Lee and Parker v. Davis (12 Wallace 457). The question of whether President Ulysses S. Grant deliberately packed the Court to bring about a reversal of the original decision is still a matter of debate.

The Treasury withdrew some of the notes but reissued others under a later statute enacted without reference to wartime conditions. The Supreme Court upheld this statute on 3 March 1884, in Juilliard v. Greenman.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dunne, Gerald T. Monetary Decisions of the Supreme Court. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1960.

Kutler, Stanley I. Judicial Power and Reconstruction Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

Niven, John. Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Schwartz, Bernard. A History of the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Carl BrentSwisher/a. e.

See alsoLegal Tender Act ; Repudiation of Public Debt .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Legal Tender Cases." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Legal Tender Cases." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/legal-tender-cases

"Legal Tender Cases." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/legal-tender-cases

Legal Tender cases

Legal Tender cases, lawsuits brought to the U.S. Supreme Court involving the constitutionality of the Legal Tender Act of 1862, which was passed to meet currency needs during the Civil War. The act had authorized the issue of $150 million in "United States notes" (see greenback) without any reserve or specie basis. Intended originally as only a temporary measure during wartime, about $450 million had been issued in greenbacks by the end of the war. The paper money depreciated in terms of gold and became the subject of controversy, particularly because debts contracted earlier could be paid in this cheaper currency. Many cases concerning the greenbacks were entered in the courts, but it was not until 1870 that the Supreme Court attacked the constitutionality of paper money. In Hepburn v. Griswold (1870), the Majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Samuel P. Chase, declared the act unconstitutional as a violation of Fifth Amendment protections against the taking of property without due process. President Ulysses Grant, angered by the decision, promptly nominated two Republican justices to the Court who reversed the decision in Knox v. Lee and Parker v. Davis (1871), ruling that the act was valid on the basis of the implied powers of Congress. The constitutionality of the act was more widely sustained in Juillard v. Greenman (1884).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Legal Tender cases." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Legal Tender cases." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/legal-tender-cases

"Legal Tender cases." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/legal-tender-cases