Legal Tender Cases
Annotate this Case
79 U.S. 457 (1870)
U.S. Supreme Court
Legal Tender Cases, 79 U.S. 12 Wall. 457 457 (1870)
Legal Tender Cases
79 U.S. 457
1. A purchase of the property of a loyal citizen of the United States under a confiscation and sale made pursuant to statutes of the late rebel confederacy, passed in aid of their rebellion, is void. Texas v. While, 7 Wall. 700, affirmed on this point.
2. The acts of Congress known as the Legal Tender are constitutional, when applied to contracts made before their passage. Hepburn v. Griswold, 8 Wall. 603, on this point overruled.
3. They are also valid as applicable to contracts made since.
The case in the FIRST one, Knox v. Lee, was thus:
Before the rebellion, Mrs. Lee, a loyal citizen of the United States, resident in Pennsylvania, owned a flock of sheep in Texas, which, on the outbreak of the rebellion, she left there in charge of their shepherd. In March, 1863, the Confederate authorities, under certain statutes which they had passed in aid of the rebellion, confiscated and sold the sheep as the property of an "alien enemy," one Knox purchasing them at $10.87 1/2 apiece, "Confederate money," then worth but the third part of a like sum in coin. The rebellion being suppressed, Mrs. Lee brought trespass below against Knox for damages (laid at $15,000) for taking and converting the sheep. Knox pleaded in bar the confiscation and sale by the Confederate government -- a plea which the court overruled. The case then coming on to be tried, it was proved that the flock consisted of 608 sheep, of which 30, 40, or perhaps 50, were bucks, about 140 or 150 wethers, and about 300 ewes, the witnesses varying both as to the number of sheep and the proportion of bucks, wethers, and ewes. It was also proved that in 1860 and 1861, the flock was worth $8 per head for ewes, and about $4 per head for
wethers, and about from $20 to $25 per head for breeding bucks, in specie. The witnesses all testified that the sheep would not bring in March, 1863, the price that they would have brought in 1860 or 1861, though one witness testified that at the sale. one party remarked, that if he could get a good title to the sheep, he would give $10 or $12 a head for them. Whether he meant specie or Confederate paper was not testified to.
The ordinary money in use in the United States at the time of the sale and purchase being notes of the United States, commonly known as "greenbacks" -- notes whose issue was authorized by acts of Congress, and dated February 25, 1862, July 11, 1862, and March 3, 1863, [Footnote 1] and which the said acts declared should be a legal tender in the payment of all debts -- the plaintiffs offered to prove what was the difference in value between gold and silver and this United States currency known as greenbacks, for the purpose of showing that gold and silver had a greater value than greenbacks, and for the purpose of allowing the jury to estimate the difference between the two, to which evidence the defendant, at the time it was offered, objected, on the ground that the United States currency was made a legal tender by law, and that there was no difference in value in law between the two. The court sustained the objection, and excluded all evidence as to the difference in value between specie and legal tender notes of the United states, and no evidence was allowed to go to the jury on this point.
After having ruled as above, the court, on its own motion, at the conclusion of its charge, said as follows:
"In assessing damages, the jury will recollect that whatever amount they may give by their verdict can be discharged by the payment of such amount in legal tender notes of the United States."
The jury found, June, 1867, for the plaintiff, $7,368, and
the defendant brought the case here, complaining first of the overruling of his plea, and second, of the above-quoted sentence in the charge, which he alleged had led the jury improperly to increase the damages.
There had been a previous trial, when, so far as the record showed, without any instruction of the sort complained of as increasing the damages, the jury found a verdict for $7,376, an amount slightly greater than that given by the second verdict.