Hepburn v. Griswold

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Hepburn v. Griswold
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Full case name Hepburn v. Griswold
Citations 75 U.S. 603 (more)
Certain parts of the legal tender acts are unconstitutional.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Chase
Overruled by
Legal Tender Cases, 79 U.S. (Wall. 12) 457 (1871)

Hepburn v. Griswold, 75 U.S. 603 (1870), was a Supreme Court of the United States case in which the Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase, speaking for the Court, declared certain parts of the legal tender acts to be unconstitutional. Specifically, Chase declared that making greenbacks a legal tender was unconstitutional.

The lawsuit originated when one Mrs. Hepburn attempted to pay a debt due to one Henry Griswold on a promissory note, which was made five days prior to the issuance of United States notes that this case questioned. Griswold sued Hepburn in the Louisville Chancery Court on the note and refused Mrs. Hepburn's tender of United States notes to satisfy his claim. She then tendered the notes into the chancery court, which declared her debt satisfied.

The Court of Errors of Kentucky reversed the chancery court's judgment, and Mrs. Hepburn appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which in this opinion affirmed the judgment of the Court of Errors.

The Supreme Court found that while the federal government was authorized to coin money, this power was distinct from the power to make paper legal tender, which was not authorized under the Constitution of the United States. It also found that the treatment of notes as legal tender represented an impairment to enforcing the obligations of contracts. The Constitution prohibited the several states from impairing the obligations of contracts. While the court found no similar constraint upon the federal government, it held that such an impairment would violate the spirit of the Constitution.

The dissent argued that the government was threatened by the war and making the notes legal tender provided the government with the necessary supplies to continue to fight the war. The majority affirmed that the government holds the power to wage war, but that making notes legal tender was not a necessary consequence of this power. Further the majority stated that making greenbacks a legal tender was unnecessary to fighting a war. All the federal government needed to do was make them "receivable for government dues". This argument is similar to the theory of Chartalism

The holding in this case was explicitly overruled by Knox v. Lee and other Legal Tender Cases, 79 U.S. (Wall. 12) 457 (1871), in which Chase dissented.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dietz, James A. (1993). "Personal Policy and Judicial Reasoning: Salmon P. Chase and Hepburn v. Griswold". Northern Kentucky Law Review 21: 235. 
  • Smith, Bryant (1929). "Neglected Evidence on an Old Controversy—Bronson v. Rodes as a Forecast of Hepburn v. Griswold". The American Historical Review (The American Historical Review, Vol. 34, No. 3) 34 (3): 532–535. doi:10.2307/1836281. JSTOR 1836281. 

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