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under the authority of this Government or any other, but gold and silver, either the coinage of our own mints, or foreign coins, at rates regulated by Congress. This is a constitutional principle, perfectly plain, and of the very highest importance. The States are expressly prohibited from making any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts; and, although no such express prohibition is applied to Congress, yet, as Congress has no power granted to it, in this respect, but to coin money, and to regulate the value of foreign coins, it clearly has no power to substitute paper, or any thing else, for coio, as a tender in payment of debts, and in discharge of contracts. Congress has exercised this power, fully, in both its branches. It has coined money, and still coins it; it has regulated the value of foreign coins, and still regulates their value. The legal tender, therefore, the constitutional standard of value, is established, and cannot be overthrown. To overthrow it, would shake the whole system.
But if the Constitution knows only gold and silver as a legal tender, does it follow that the Constitution cannot tolerate the voluntary circulation of bank notes, convertible into gold and silver at the will of the holder, as part of the actual money of the country? Is a man not only to be entitled to demand gold and silver for every debt, but is he, or should he be, obliged to demand it in all cases? Is it, or should Government make it, unlawful to receive pay in any thing else? Such a notion is too absurd to be seriously treated. The constitutional tender is the thing to be preserved, and it outfit to be preserved sacredly, under all circumstances. The rest remains for judicious legislation by those who have competent authority.
I have already said that Congress has never supposed itself authorized to make any thing but coin a tender, in the payment of debts, between individual and individual; but it by no means follows from this, that it may not authorize the receipt of any thing but coin in payment of debts due to the United States.
These powers are distinct, and flow from different sources. The power of coinage is a general power; a portion of sovereignty, taken from the States and conferred on Congress, for the sake both of uniformity and of greater security. It is to be exercised for the benefit of all the People, by establishing a legal tender and standard of value in all transactions.
But when Congress lays duties and taxes, or disposes of the public lands, it may direct payment to be made in whatever medium it pleases. The authority to lay taxes includes the power of deciding bow they shall be paid; and the power granted by the Constitution to dispose of the territory belonging to the United States, carries with it, of course, the power of fixing not only the price, and the conditions, and time of payment, but also the medium of payment. Both in respect to duties and taxes, and payments for lands, it has been, accordingly, the constant practice of Congress, in its discretion, to provide for the receipt of sundry things, besides gold and silver. As early as seventeen hundred and ninetyseven, the public stocks of the Government were made receivable for lands sold; the six per cents, at par, and other descriptions of stock in proportion. This policy had, probably, a double purpose in view — the one to sustain the price of the public stocks, and the other to hasten the sale and settlement of the lands. Other statutes have given the like receivable character to Mississippi stock, and to Virginia land scrip. So Treasury notes were made receivable for duties and taxes; and, indeed, if any such should now be found outstanding, I believe they constitute a lawful mode of payment, at the present moment, whether for duties and taxes, or for lands.
But, in regard both to taxes and payments for lands, Congress has not left the subject without complete legal regulation. It has exercised its full power. The statutes have declared what should be received, from debtors and from purchasers, and have left no ground whatever for the interference of Executive discretion, or Executive control. So far as I know, there has been no period when this subject was not subject to express legal provision. When the duty act and the tonnage act were passed, at the first session of the first Congress, an act was passed also, at the same session, containing a section which prescribed the coins, and fixed their values, in which those duties were to be paid. From that time to this, the medivm for the payment of public debts and dues has been a matter of fixed legal right, and not a matter of Executive discretion at all. The Secretary of the Treasury has had no more power over these laws than over other laws. He can no more change the legal mode of paying the duty than he can change the amount of the duty to be paid; or alter the legal means of paying for lands, with any more propriety than he can alter the price of the lands themselves. It would be strange, indeed, if this were not so. It would be ridiculous to say that we lived under a Government of laws, if an Executive officer may say in what currency, or medium, a man shall pay his taxes and debts to Government, and may make one rule for one man, and another rule for another. We might as well admit that the Secretary had authority to remit or give in the debt of one, while he enforced payment on the other.
I desire, Sir, even at the expense of some repetition, to fix the attention of the Senate to this proposition, that Congress, having by the Constitution authority to dispose of the public territory, has passed laws for the complete exercise of that power; laws which not only have fixed the price of the public lands, the manner of sales, and the time of payment, but which have fixed also, with equal precision, the medium, or kinds of money, or of other things which shall be received in payment. It has neglected no part of this important trust; it has delegated no part of it; it has left no ground, not an inch for Executive interposition.
The onlv question, therefore, is, What u the law, or what voat the law, when the Secretary issued his order?
The Secretary considers that that which has been uniformly done for twenty years, that is to say, the receiving of payment for the public lands in the bills of specie-paying banks, n against law. tie calls it an " indulgence ;" and this " indulgence" the order proposes to continue for a limited time, and in favor of a particular class of purchasers. If this were an indulgence, and against law, one might well ask, how has it happened, that it should have continued so long, especially through recent years, marked by such a spirit of thorough and searching reform? It might be asked, too, If this bs illegal, and an indulgence only, why continue it longer, and especially why continue it as to some, and refuse to continue it as to others?
But, Sir, it is time to turn to the statute, and to see what the legal
S revision is. On the 30th of April, 1816, a resolution passed both louses of Congress. It was in the common form of a joint resolution, and was approved by the President; and no one doubts, I suppose, that, for the purpose intended by it, it was as authentic and valid as a law in any other form. It provides, that "from and after tho 20th day of February next, [1817,] no duties, taxes, debts, or sums of money, accruing or becoming payable to the United States, ought to be collected or received otherwise than in the legal currency of the United States, or Treasury notes, or notes of the Bank of the United States, or in notes of banks which are payable in specie oo demand in the said legal currency of the United States."
This joint resolution authoritatively fixed the rights of parties paying, and the duties of officers receiving. So far as respects the notes of the Bank of the United States, it was altered by a law of the last session; but in all other particulars, it is, as I suppose, in full force at the present moment; and as it expressly authorizes the receipt of such bank notes as are payable and paid on demand, I cannot understand how the receipt of such notes is a matter of "indulgence." We may as well say that to be allowed to pay in Treasury notes, or in foreign coins, or, indeed, in our own gold and silver, is an indulgence, since the act places all on the same ground. The honorable member from Missouri has, indeed, himself furnished a complete answer to the Secretary's idea; that is to say, he defends the order on grounds not only differing from, but -totally inconsistent with, those assumed by the Secretary. He does not consider the receipt of bank notes hitherto, or up to the time of issuing the order, as an indulgence, but as a lawful right while it lasted. How he proves this right to be now terminated, and terminated by force of the order, I shall consider presently. I only say now, that his argument entirely deprives the Secretary of the only ground assigned by him for the Treasury order.
The Secretary directs the receivers to "receive in payment of the public lands nothing except what is directed by the existing laws, viz. gold and silver, and, in the proper cases, Virginia land scrip." Gold and silver, then, and, in the proper cases, Virginia land scrip, are, in the opinion of the Secretary, all that is directed to be received by the existing laws. The receipt of bank notes he considers, therefore, but an indulgence, a thing against law, to be tolerated a little longer, as to some cases, and then to be finally suppressed.
Apparently not at all satisfied with this view of the Secretary, of the ground upon which his own order must stand, the member from Missouri not only abandons it altogether, but sets up another, wholly inconsistent with it. He admits the legality of payment in such bank notes up to the date of the order itself, but insists that the Secretary of the Treasury had a right of selection, and a right of rejection also; and that, although the various modes of payment provided by the resolution of 1816 were all good and lawful, till the Secretary should make some of them otherwise, yet that, by virtue of his power of selection or rejection, he might at any time strike one or more of them out of the list. And this power of selection or rejection he thinks he finds in the resolution of 1816 itself.
I incline to think, Sir, that the Secretary will be as little satisfied with the footing on which his friend, the honorable member from Missouri, thus places his order, as that friend is with the Secretary's own ground. For my part, I think them both just half right; that is to say, both, in my humble judgment, are just so far right as they distrust and disclaim the reasoning of each other. Let me state, Sir, as I understand it, the honorable member's argument. It is, that the law of 1816 gives the Secretary a selection; that it provides four different modes, or media, of payments; that the Secretary is to collect the revenue in one, or several, or all these modes, or media, at his discretion; that all are in the disjunctive, as I think he expressed it; and that the resolution, or law, is not mandatory or conclusive in favor of any one. According to the honorable member, therefore, if the Secretary had chosen to say that our own eagles and our own dollars should no longer be receivable, whether for customs, taxes, or public lands, he had a clear right to say so, and to stop their reception.
Before a construction of so extraordinary a character be fixed on the law of 1816, something like the appearance of argument, I think, might be expected in its favor. But what is there upon which to found such an implied power in the Secretary of the Treasury? Is there a syllable in the whole law which countenances any such idea for a single moment? There clearly is not. The law
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intended to provide, and does provide, in what sorts of money or other means of payment those who owe debts to the government shall pay those debts.
It enumerates four kinds of money or other means of payment; and can any thing be plainer than that he who has to pay may have his choice out of all four? All being equally lawful, the choice is with the payer, and not with the receiver. This would seem to be too plain either to be argued or to be denied. Other laws of the United States have made both gold and silver coins a tender in the payment of private debts. Did any man ever imagine that in that case the choice between the coins to be tendered was to lie with the party receiving? IS'o one could ever be guilty of such an absurdity. And unless there be something in the law of 1816 itself, which either expressly, or by reasonable inference, confers a similar power on the Secretary of the Treasury in regard to public payments, is there, in the nature of thin»s, any difference between the cases? Now, there is nothing, either in the law of 1H16, or any other law, which confers any such power on the Secretary of the Treasury, either directly or indirectly, or which suggests, or intimates, any ground u|wn which such power might be implied. Indeed, the statement of the argument seems to me enough to confute it. It makes the law of 1816 not a rule, but the dissolution of all rule; not a law, but the abrogation of all existing laws. According to the argument, the Secretary of the Treasury had authority, not only to refuse the receipt of Treasury notes, which had been issued upon the faith of statutes expressly making them receivable for debts and duties, and notes of the Bank of the United States, which were also made receivable by the law creating the bank, but to refuse also foreign coins, and the coinage of our own Mint; putting thus the legislation of Congress for five-and-twenty years at the unrestrained and absolute discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. It appears to me quite impossible that any gentleman, on reflection, can undertake to support such a construction.
But the gentleman relies on a supposed practice to maintain his interpretation of the law. What practice? Has any Secretary ever refused to receive the notes of specie-paying banks, either at the custom-house or the land offices, for a single hour; Never. Has any Secretary presumed to strike foreign coin, or Treasury notes, or our own coin out of the list of receivables? Such an ides certainly never entered into the head of any Secretary. The gentleman argues that the Treasury has made discriminations; but what discriminations? I suppose the whole truth to be simply this: that, admitting at all times the right of the party paying, to pay in notes of specie-paying banks, the collectors and receivers have not been held bound to receive notes of distant banks of which they knew nothing, and could not judge, therefore, whether their notes