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But neither this nor any other measure can be reached so as to save us from those convulsions and disasters which have visited every nation that has gone headlong into the use of paper money of this description, so long as it is insisted that the promissory notes of the Federal Government shall be accepted as the basis of all banking, all pecuniary relations, all values; and gold is thrust out of the office assigned to it by the univer. sal consent of mankind, by the Constitution of the United States, and by the constitution of this, commercially speaking, the most important State in the Union.
May it please the Court, Your Honors, I am certain, can scarcely expect an apology from me for putting in print the body of the argument that I have the honor to submit on this occasion. Considering the gravity of the case, its national importance and bearing, that it involves the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and hence requires greater care and precision than an ordinary oral discussion,--it has seemed to me that that mode of presentation was due both to the dignity of the cause, and of this high tribunal which is to determine it.
Before entering upon the discussion of the questions and princi. ples involved, I wish to direct the attention of the Court, briefly, to the precise nature of the questions in the case, and the manner in which they are presented. The parties to this controversy have availed themselves of that valuable provision contained in the Code, by which a simple and economical mode of obtaining de
cisions upon controversies that exist between them may be had.
They have determined, as they have a right to do, what those questions were. They have foreclosed all inquiry in relation to matters of fact, including the question presented by my honored adversary, as to whether or not a proper case for an injunction WaS established, with an exact reference to the issues which the parties have made, and upon which a judgment shall be pronounced by this Court. The argued case is in these words:
“The plaintiffs and defendants have therefore agreed upon the foregoing case, and upon the same the parties to this controversy submit to the Court the questions:
Whether the aforesaid Act of Congress, approved February 25, 1862, is Constitutional and valid; and also, whether the refusal of the plaintiffs to redeem their said notes so issued by them, upon demand, in the gold and silver coin of the United States, and their offer to redeem said notes in the notes of equal denominations issued as aforesaid, by the authority of Congress, was a failure or refusal to redeem their notes in the lawful money of the United States.”
That is the question which they have agreed upon, and which is submitted to your Honors for judgment.
“If the Court be of the opinion that the said act is Constitutional, and that the plaintiffs offered to redeem their notes in the lawful money of the United States, their judgment is to be entered restraining the defendant, as superintendent, from taking any further steps towards redeeming any of the notes of the plaintiffs, in cases where the plaintiffs have offered to redeem in the legal tender notes of the United States, and that he be restrained from taking any steps towards the sale of the stocks or trust funds in his hands belonging to those plaintiffs, upon facts similar to the foregoing. But if, on the contrary, the Court be of the opinion that the said Act of Congress is unconstitutional, and that a refusal to redeem in the gold or silver coin of the United States, is a refusal to redeem in the lawful money of the United States, then a judgment is to be entered dismissing the complaint of the plaintiffs.”
At the proper stage of my argument, I shall endeavor to show that the attempt made by my learned adversaries here to distinguish between bank notes issued under the Constitution and laws of the State of New York, and other debts and demands recognized by the law, is as fallacious, as we believe and hope we shall show, is the objection to the power of Congress to pass an act making treasury notes a legal tender in payment of any and all demands existing within the jurisdiction of the United States.
This case shows that the plaintiffs are banking associations organized under the general banking law of New York. They had deposited their securities with the Superintendent of the Bank Department, and received circulating notes, which had been only put in circulation. The holders of some of these bills presented them to the banks and demanded payment, and the banks tendered, in payment, legal tender treasury notes, which the holders refused to receive, and they demanded payment in specie. The bankers refusing to make any other payment, the holders caused the bills to be protested, and sent to the Superintendent, requiring him to proceed and sell the securities of the banks deposited in the Bank Department, for the purpose of redeeming these bills or notes. The Superintendent, being about to take measures to sell such securities, and the banks being about to commence an action to restrain him from taking any such steps, the parties to this action agreed upon a case, to obtain a judicial determination of the questions involved in the controversy. The only points presented by the case are, whether the act of Congress, approved February 25th, 1862, declaring the Treasury notes, issued under and by virtue of that act, a legal tender in payment of debts, is constitutional and valid, and whether a tender of such notes in payment of bank bills issued before the passage of the act, was a good and sufficient legal tender, to prevent any further proceedings to compel the redemption of such bank notes. This act of Congress is entitled “An Act to authorize the issue of United States notes, and for the redemption or funding thereof, and for funding the floating debt of the United States.” It is provided in the first section of this act, that the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized to issue, on the credit of the United States, one hundred and fifty millions of dollars of United States notes not bearing interest, payable to bearer, at the Treasury of the United States, and of such denominations as he may deem expedient, not less than five dollars each; and it is further provided, that “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 ahd demands against the United States, of every kind whatsoever, except for interest upon bonds or notes, which shall be paid in coin, and shall 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.” It is difficult to over estimate the importance of the principles involved in this case. They affect, in some degree, the pecuniary interests of all persons holding debts, or who may hereafter hold debts, payable within the United States. What is far more serious than any mere pecuniary consideration, however, is, the influence which the determination of this case must produce upon the ability of our Federal Government, according to the authorized exposition of the Constitution of the United States, to sustain itself in the tremendous struggle through which it is now passing, by the employment of those means, and by the exercise of those governmental powers which all civilized nations are accustomed to use, for the purpose of borrowing money, supporting armies and navies, and maintaining their national credit and authority. The necessity for an early adjudication of the question, by the Court of last resort in this State, is enhanced by the fact, that the law may be regarded as wholly unsettled, by reason of conflicting decisions in the Supreme Court, upon the precise questions presented in this case. In April last, the General Term of the Supreme Court, held at Rochester, in the Seventh District, decided, in the case of Hague v. Powers, all four of the Judges concurring in the result, in favor of the constitutionality of the legal tender clause in the act of February, 1862. Two months later, the General Term of the Supreme Court, held at New York, decided, in the First District, in the case of Meyer v. Roosevelt, that the legal tender clause was invalid, or at least, that it could not apply to existing debts. In the latter case, the published opinion of the Chief Justice indicates that he places his decision upon the sole ground that the act of Congress must be construed so as to act only upon contracts made after its passage. It is respectfully submitted, that this narrow ground for a decision, upon a great Constitutional question, cannot be sound. While the general doctrine, that laws are to be construed prospectively, unless their terms require, or plainly indicate the in