The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Legal-Tender Cases

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LEGAL-TENDER CASES, in American finance, a series of cases before the United States Supreme Court, involving the question whether certain acts of Congress declaring United States notes a legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private, were constitutional. The cases were first argued in December 1867 and decided in November 1869, by a divided court. Five members of the court decided in the affirmative and three dissented. In 1871 after a reorganization of the Supreme Court, the cases were again brought up for argument. Again the court divided, five judges upholding the constitutionally of the act and four dissenting. All the judges agreed that Congress had full power to direct issues of paper money. In 1878 Congress decreed that legal tender notes which had been redeemed or received in the Treasury from any source should be reissued and kept in circulation. This latter act was assailed in the courts and the Supreme Court decided, with but one dissenting voice, that Congress had full power to make United States notes a legal tender in the payment of private debts in times of peace as well as in times of war. This decision closed all judicial action upon the subject. Consult Thayer, ‘Legal Tender’ in Harvard Law Review (1887); Legal Tender Cases (110 U. S. 421, 1884); Bancroft, George, ‘A Plea for the Constitution’ (New York 1886); Miller, ‘Lectures on the Constitution of the United States’ (ib. 1891).