The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Legal Tender

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LEGAL TENDER, in its widest sense, an offer to perform a contract according to specified conditions. It also designates the coin and paper money which a creditor may be compelled to accept in payment of debts. Generally speaking, all kinds of United States money are legal tenders in ordinary transactions, either with or without limit as to amount. Specifically, gold coins are a legal tender for any amount; gold and silver certificates are not legal tenders; silver dollars, United States notes and the few United States treasury notes of 1890 still outstanding are unlimited tenders unless otherwise contracted; subsidiary silver coin are legal tenders for all dues to the amount of $10, and minor coin for all dues to the amount of 25 cents. National bank notes are not really legal tenders, but in ordinary business they pass as such. They are receivable at par in payment of dues to the United States, except duties on imports and for payments by the United States, except interest on the public debt or redemption of the national currency. Certificates of deposit payable to order are issued to national banks for United States notes; they bear no interest, and are chiefly used in the settlement of clearing-house balances and in the reserves of the banks. State banks are governed by varying local laws, and their circulation is almost wholly within the several States. Consult Breckenridge, S. P., ‘Legal Tender’ (Chicago 1903); Hepburn, A. B., ‘History of Coinage and Currency in the United States’ (New York 1903); Hunt, A. R., ‘Treatise on the Law of Tender’ (Saint Paul, Minn., 1903); Laughlin, J. L., ‘Economic Effects of Legal Tender,’ in Yale Review (Vol. X, New Haven 1902); Smith, J. C., ‘Legal Tender: Essays’ (London 1910), and United States Revised Statutes, §§ 3584-3590, as amended.