Smyth v. United States
Annotate this Case
302 U.S. 329 (1937)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Smyth v. United States, 302 U.S. 329 (1937)
Smyth v. United States
Argued November 18, 19, 1937
Decided December 13, 1937*
302 U.S. 329
1. Bonds of the United States promising payment of principal and interest in United States gold coin of the standard of value in force at the time of their issuance (25.8 grains of gold 9/10ths fine per dollar) were called by the Secretary of the Treasury for redemption and payment prior to their stated day of maturity, pursuant to provisions therein which reserved this right to the United States to be exercised through a published notice, and which declared that, from the date of redemption designated in such notice, interest on the called bonds should cease, and all coupons thereon maturing after that date should be void. Prior to the notices, the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, providing for the discharge of "gold clause" obligations upon payment, dollar for dollar, in any coin or currency which at the time of payment is legal tender for private debts, had been adopted, and in two of the cases the notices were later than the decisions of this Court in the Gold Clause Cases, including Perry v. United States, 294 U. S. 330.
(1) That the effect of the published notice was to accelerate the maturity of the bonds, the new date specified in the notice
supplanting the old one stated in the bonds as if there from the beginning. P 302 U. S. 353.
(2) Holders of the bonds had no claim against the United States on interest coupons covering a period subsequent to the new date, since, by the terms of the bonds, interest ceased to run on that date. P. 302 U. S. 353.
In the absence of contract or statute evincing a contrary intention, interest does not run upon claims against the Government even though there has been default in payment of the principal. The allowance of interest in eminent domain cases is only an apparent exception, which has its origin in the Constitution.
(3) The proposition that the notices of call were void, upon the ground that they must be read with the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, and, thus supplemented, promised payment different from that promised by the bonds, cannot be maintained. P. 302 U. S. 354.
The notices of call were not promises, and did not commit the Government, either expressly or by indirection, to a forbidden medium of payment. Notice that the bonds were called for redemption on the specified date implied that at that accelerated maturity the bondholders would be entitled to payment of principal and accrued interest in such form and measure as would discharge the obligation in accordance with the Constitution, statutes, and any controlling decisions.
The contention that the existence of the Joint Resolution, supra, amounted to an anticipatory breach is examined and rejected. The doctrine of anticipatory breach has, in general, no application to unilateral contracts, and particularly to contracts for the payment of money only. Moreover, an anticipatory breach, if it were made out, could have no effect upon the right of the complaining bondholders to postpone the time of payment to the date of natural maturity. The Government was not subject to a duty to keep the content of the dollar constant during the period intervening between promise and performance. The duty of the Government was to pay the bonds when due. P. 302 U. S. 358.
The fact that the statutory provision for payment in any legal tender remained unrepealed did not affect the date of maturity as accelerated by the notices.
(4) No question of constitutional law nor of fraud is involved in the decision of these cases. P. 302 U. S. 359.
(5) The Secretary of the Treasury did not exceed his lawful powers by issuing the calls without further authority from the Congress than was conferred by the statutes under which the bonds were issued. P. 302 U. S. 359.
2. The Act of March 18, 1869 (R.S. § 3693, 16 Stat. 1), which, in its day, placed restrictions upon the redemption by the Government of interest-bearing bonds, was for the protection of holders of United States obligations not bearing interest, the "greenbacks" of that era. Upon the resumption of specie payments in 1879, the aim of the statute was achieved, and its restrictions are no longer binding. P. 302 U. S. 360.
85 Ct.Cls. 318, 83 Ct.Cls. 656, affirmed.
87 F.2d 594 reversed.
Certiorari, 301 U.S. 679-680, post, p. 672, to review judgments in three suits against the United States to recover on interest coupons attached to Government bonds containing the gold clause, which had been called for redemption. In Nos. 42 and 43, the Court of Claims dismissed the claims. In No.198, the District Court gave judgment for the United States, which was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. In the first two cases, the plaintiffs had presented their bonds to the Treasurer of the United States and demanded payment in gold dollars each of 25.8 grains of gold 9/10ths fine, and declined a tender in coin or currency other than gold or gold certificates. They had then demanded, unsuccessfully, that coupons for interest periods subsequent to the date fixed in the calls for redemption of the bonds, be paid either in gold or in legal tender currency. Their suits were for the amounts of the coupons in current dollars. In No.198, the situation was similar. There had been no presentation of the bond or coupon for payment, but it was stipulated that the Treasurer of the United States and other fiscal agents had not at any time been directed by the Secretary of the Treasury to redeem the bonds in gold coin, but had been authorized and directed to redeem in legal tender currency; also that there was a refusal to pay similar coupons for interest accruing after the date of redemption.