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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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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