Hepburn v. Griswold

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Hepburn v. Griswold by Salmon P. Chase

Hepburn v. Griswold, 75 U.S. 603 (1870), was a Supreme Court of the United States case in which the Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase, speaking for the Court, declared certain parts of the legal tender acts to be unconstitutional. This included the issuance of greenbacks, which he was responsible for overseeing despite his disagreement with the policy during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. Excerpted from Hepburn v. Griswold on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 603

Hepburn  v.  Griswold

ERROR to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, the case being this:

On the 20th of June, 1860, a certain Mrs. Hepburn made a promissory note, by which she promised to pay to Henry Griswold on the 20th of February, 1862, eleven thousand two hundred and fifty 'dollars.'

At the time when the note was made, as also at the time when it fell due, there was, confessedly, no lawful money of the United States, or money which could lawfully be tendered in payment of private debts, but gold and silver coin.

Five days after the day when the note by its terms fell due, that is to say, on the 25th of February, 1862, in an exigent crisis of the nation, in which the government was engaged in putting down an armed rebellion of vast magnitude, Congress passed an act authorizing the issue of $150,000,000 of its own notes, [1] and enacted in regard to them, by one clause in the first section of the act, as follows:

'And such notes, herein authorized, shall be receivable in payment of all taxes, internal duties, excises, debts, and demands of every kind due to the United States, except duties on imports, and of all claims and demands against the United States of every kind whatsoever, except for interest upon bonds and notes, which shall be paid in coin; and shall also be lawful money and a legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private, within the United States, except duties on imports and interest as aforesaid.'

The note given by Mrs. Hepburn not being paid at maturity, interest accrued on it. And in March, 1864, suit having been brought on the note in the Louisville Chancery Court, she tendered in United States notes issued under the act mentioned, $12,720, the amount of principal of the note with the interest accrued to the date of tender, and some costs, in satisfaction of the plaintiff's claim. The tender was refused. The notes were then tendered and paid into court; and the chancellor, 'resolving all doubts in favor of the Congress,' declared the tender good and adjudged the debt, interest and costs to be satisfied accordingly.

The case was then taken by Griswold to the Court of Errors of Kentucky, which reversed the chancellor's judgment, and remanded the case with instructions to enter a contrary judgment.

From the judgment of the Court of Errors of Kentucky, the case was brought by Mrs. Hepburn here.

The cause was first argued at the Term of December, 1867, upon printed briefs submitted by Mrs. Preston for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. Griswold contra. Subsequently, upon the suggestion of Mr. Stanbery, then Attorney-General, as to the great public importance of the question, the court ordered the cause and other causes involving, incidentally, the same question, to stand over to December Term, 1868, for reargument, with leave to the government to be heard. Accordingly, at that term the constitutionality of the provision in the act making the notes above-described a legal tender, was elaborately argued by Mr. B. R. Curtis (counsel for the plaintiff in error, in Willard v. Tayloe,) and by Mr. Evarts, Attorney-General, for the United States, in support of the provision, and by Mr. Clarkson N. Potter (of counsel for the defendant in error in this case), against the provision.

And the constitutionality of the provision had been argued at different times, by other counsel, in five other cases, which it was supposed by their counsel might depend on it, but four of which were decided on other grounds; to wit, in support of the constitutionality by Mr. Carlisle, Mr. W. S.C.ox, Mr. Williams, Mr. S. S. Rogers, Mr. B. R. Curtis, Mr. L. P. Poland, Mr. Howe, and against it by Mr. Bradley, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. John J. Townsend, Mr. McPherson, Mr. Wills, in Thomson v. Riggs, [2] in Lane County v. Oregon, [3] in Bronson v. Rodes, [4] in Willard v. Tayloe, [5] and in Broderick v. Magraw. [6] The question was therefore thoroughly argued. And it was held long under advisement.

It is deemed unnecessary here to present the arguments, already in part presented, in some of the cases named, the matter in the present case being fully argued on both sides, from the bench.

The CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the court.


  1. For the general form of the notes, see 7 Wallace, 26.
  2. 5 Wallace, 663.
  3. 7 Id. 73.
  4. Id. 229.
  5. Supra, 557.
  6. Infra, 639.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).