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A Brief History of American Paper Money, with emphasis on Georgist Perspectives

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The provisions of the earlier acts of Congress, so far as it is necessary for the understanding of the recent statutes to quote them are reenacted in the following provisions of the Revised Statutes:

"SEC. 3579. When any United States notes are returned to the Treasury, they may be reissued, from time to time, as the exigencies of the public interest may require."

"SEC. 3580. When any United States notes returned to the Treasury are so mutilated or otherwise injured as to be unfit for use, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to replace the same with others of the same character and amounts."

"SEC. 3581. Mutilated United States notes, when replaced according to law, and all other notes which by law are required to be taken up and not reissued, when taken up shall be destroyed in such manner and under such regulations as the Secretary of the Treasury may prescribe."

"SEC. 3582. The authority given to the Secretary of the Treasury to make any reduction of the currency by retiring and canceling United States notes is suspended."

"SEC. 3588. United States notes shall be lawful money, and a legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private, within the United States, except for duties on imports and interest on the public debt."

Natelson further says:

"One might have expected an inquiry into whether the phrase "to coin Money" encompassed paper, for an affirmative answer would render the implied-powers arguments of both sides unnecessary. But neither side has made such an inquiry, and both have assumed that the phrase "to coin Money" was limited to metallic tokens. They have so assumed even though the Constitution's wording and structure should have encouraged investigation. As explained below, ascribing a purely metallic meaning to "coin" creates serious textual difficulties."

These "textual difficulties" might be summed up thusly: The Founders were perfectly capable of saying when, how, and who, should create actual Coins for repayment of debts, and when they used the action phrase (a verb) "to coin" they meant to make.   They were neither inarticulate, nor "cute," in using the phrase "to coin" but were using the frequently used nomenclature of the times.   For example, under the Supreme Court's decisions, [13] McCulloch v. Maryland, (1819) and Veazie Bank v. Fenno, (1869), the Supreme Court has affirmed the


The power "to coin money" and "regulate the value thereof" has been broadly construed to authorize regulation of every phase of the subject of currency. Congress may charter banks and endow them with the right to issue circulating notes, and it may restrain the circulation of notes not issued under its own authority.

In Veazie, the court said [14] :

It cannot be doubted that under the Constitution the power to provide a circulation of coin is given to Congress. And it is settled by the uniform practice of the government and by repeated decisions, that Congress may constitutionally authorize the emission of bills of credit."


Today, United States Notes can be bought for about twice their face value on eBay. And...

"As of June 2011, the U.S. Treasury calculates that $230 million in United States notes are in circulation, and excludes this amount from the statutory debt limit of the United States."[15]

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Scott Baker is a Managing Editor & The Economics Editor at Opednews, and a blogger for Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Global Economic Intersection.

His anthology of updated Opednews articles "America is Not Broke" was published by Tayen Lane Publishing (March, 2015) and may be found here:

Scott is a former President of Common Ground-NYC (, a Geoist/Georgist activist group. He has written dozens of articles for (more...)

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