Bills of credit

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Bills of credit are documents similar to banknotes issued by a government that represent a government's indebtedness to the holder. They are typically designed to circulate as currency or currency substitutes. [1] Bills of credit are mentioned in Article One, Section 10, Clause One (also known as the Contract Clause) of the United States Constitution, where their issuance by state governments is prohibited.

Contents

History

Use in the American Colonies (pre-1775)

British colonies in North America would issue bills of credit in order to deal with fiscal crises, although doing so without receiving them as revenue in like amounts would increase the money supply, resulting in price inflation and a drop in value relative to the pound sterling. The documents would circulate as if they were currency, and colonial governments would accept them as payment for debts like taxes. They were not always considered legal tender for private debts.

Colonial decisions on the issuance of bills of credit were also frequently the subject of disputes between differing factions within the colony, and with royally appointed governors. Between 1690 and 1750 the matter was regularly debated in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, where merchants and lenders stood to lose value when new bills were issued, and borrowers stood to gain, because they could repay their debts with depreciated bills. The Massachusetts bills were finally retired in 1749 when the province received a large payment in coin for its financial contributions to the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg. The Province of New Jersey issued bills of credit beginning in the 1710s, but successfully managed to avoid significant inflationary effects. [2]

Insertion in the United States Constitution

Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 prohibits the states from issuing Bills of Credit. The prohibition of states issuing Bills of Credit came in direct response to how states managed their financial policy during the era of the Articles of Confederation. While all states in theory recognized the American Continental as their official currency, in reality, nearly every state issued its own Bills of credit, which further devalued the Continental and led to its eventual collapse as a currency.

The painful experience of the runaway inflation and collapse of the Continental dollar prompted the delegates to the Constitutional Convention to include the Contract Clause into the United States Constitution, so that the individual states could not issue bills of credit or "make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts." [3] This restriction of bills of credit was extended to the Federal government, as the power to "emit bills" from the Articles of Confederation was abolished, leaving Congress with the power "to borrow money on credit." [4]

Usage throughout history

The United States Government has, at numerous times throughout American History, issued Bills of Credit to utilize in place of paper currency. Most instances of this have occurred during wartime.

18th century

American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)

During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress frequently issued bills of credit referred to as Continentals. Because of inflation they rapidly declined in value, leading to the unfavorable comparison that something was "not worth a Continental".

19th century

United States Notes

In 1862, the United States Department of the Treasury began to issue United States Notes as obligations of the United States. United States Notes are examples of Bills of Credit as they used to be inserted by the Treasury into circulation free of interest (production of these notes was halted in 1971 during termination of the Bretton Woods system, yet Congress retains the power to put more into circulation at any time, and $300 million remain in circulation still). [5]

Interest-bearing notes

Interest-bearing notes are a grouping of Civil War-era bills of credit-related emissions of the US Treasury. The grouping includes the one- and two-year notes authorized by the Act of March 3, 1863, which bore interest at five percent annually, were a legal tender at face value, and were issued in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. [6]

Compound interest treasury notes

Two-year $20 1864 compound interest treasury note US-$20-CITN-1864-Fr-191a.jpg
Two-year $20 1864 compound interest treasury note

Compound interest treasury notes were emissions of the United States Treasury Department authorized in 1863 and 1864 with aspects of both paper money and debt. They were issued in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. While they were legal tender at face value, they were redeemable after three years with six percent annual interest compounded semi-annually. [7]

In the absence of efficient investment banks, the hybrid nature of these instruments allowed the government to directly distribute debt by paying the notes out to creditors as legal tender, and then relying on interest-seeking parties to eventually remove them from circulation in order to redeem them with interest at maturity. [8]

Refunding Certificate

The Refunding Certificate was a type of interest-bearing banknote that the United States Treasury issued in 1879. They issued it only in the $10 denomination, depicting Benjamin Franklin. Their issuance reflects the end of a coin-hoarding period that began during the American Civil War, and represented a return to public confidence in paper money.

20th century

Federal Reserve Bank Notes

Federal Reserve Bank Notes, issued between 1915 and 1934, are bills of credit that are legal tender in the United States. They had the same value as other kinds of notes of similar face value. Federal Reserve Bank Notes differ from Federal Reserve Notes in that they are backed by one of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks, rather than by all collectively. They were backed in a similar way to National Bank Notes, using U.S. bonds, but issued by Federal Reserve banks instead of by chartered National banks. Federal Reserve Bank Notes are no longer issued. [9]

Confusion with paper money

Legal writers, as opposed to economic historians, incorrectly assume that the constitutional phrase "Bills of Credit" was simply a synonym for paper money, but it refers to only one, though a very important, type of paper currency. [10] The Constitution explicitly prohibits the states from issuing bills of credit and coining money. States are only permitted to make gold and silver coin legal tender.

Related Research Articles

A currency in the most specific sense is money in any form when in use or circulation as a medium of exchange, especially circulating banknotes and coins. A more general definition is that a currency is a system of money in common use, especially for people in a nation. Under this definition, U.S. dollars (US$), euros (€), Indian rupee (₹), Japanese yen (¥), and pounds sterling (£) are examples of currencies. Currencies may act as stores of value and be traded between nations in foreign exchange markets, which determine the relative values of the different currencies. Currencies in this sense are defined by governments, and each type has limited boundaries of acceptance.

Seigniorage, also spelled seignorage or seigneurage, is the difference between the value of money and the cost to produce and distribute it. The term can be applied in two ways:

Federal Reserve Note Current paper currency of the United States

Federal Reserve Notes, also United States banknotes, are the currently issued banknotes of the United States dollar. The United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces the notes under the authority of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and issues them to the Federal Reserve Banks at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The Reserve Banks then circulate the notes to their member banks, at which point they become liabilities of the Reserve Banks and obligations of the United States.

United States Note A type of paper money that was issued from 1862 to 1971 in the United States

A United States Note, also known as a Legal Tender Note, is a type of paper money that was issued from 1862 to 1971 in the U.S. Having been current for 109 years, they were issued for longer than any other form of U.S. paper money. They were known popularly as "greenbacks", a name inherited from the earlier greenbacks, the Demand Notes, that they replaced in 1862. Often termed Legal Tender Notes, they were named United States Notes by the First Legal Tender Act, which authorized them as a form of fiat currency. During the 1860s the so-called second obligation on the reverse of the notes stated:

This Note is a Legal Tender for all debts public and private except Duties on Imports and Interest on the Public Debt; and is receivable in payment of all loans made to the United States.

Legal tender is a form of money that courts of law are required to recognize as satisfactory payment for any monetary debt. Each jurisdiction determines what is legal tender, but essentially it is anything which when offered ("tendered") in payment of a debt extinguishes the debt. There is no obligation on the creditor to accept the tendered payment, but the act of tendering the payment in legal tender discharges the debt.

United States ten-dollar bill Current denomination of United States currency

The United States ten-dollar bill ($10) is a denomination of U.S. currency. The obverse of the bill features the portrait of Alexander Hamilton, who served as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. The reverse features the U.S. Treasury Building. All $10 bills issued today are Federal Reserve Notes.

United States fifty-dollar bill Current denomination of United States currency

The United States fifty-dollar bill ($50) is a denomination of United States currency. The 18th U.S. president (1869-1877), Ulysses S. Grant, is featured on the obverse, while the U.S. Capitol is featured on the reverse. All current-issue $50 bills are Federal Reserve Notes.

United States one-hundred-dollar bill Current denomination of United States currency

The United States one-hundred-dollar bill ($100) is a denomination of United States currency. The first United States Note with this value was issued in 1862 and the Federal Reserve Note version was launched in 1914, alongside other denominations. Statesman, inventor, diplomat, and American founding father Benjamin Franklin has been featured on the obverse of the bill since 1914. On the reverse of the banknote is an image of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which has been used since 1928. The $100 bill is the largest denomination that has been printed and circulated since July 13, 1969, when the denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 were retired. As of December 2018, the average life of a $100 bill in circulation is 22.9 years before it is replaced due to wear.

Large denominations of United States currency greater than $100 were circulated by the United States Treasury until 1969. Since then, U.S. dollar banknotes have only been issued in seven denominations: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.

Gold certificate

A gold certificate in general is a certificate of ownership that gold owners hold instead of storing the actual gold. It has both a historic meaning as a U.S. paper currency (1863–1933) and a current meaning as a way to invest in gold.

The history of the United States dollar began with moves by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America to establish a national currency based on the Spanish silver dollar, which had been in use in the North American colonies of the United Kingdom for over 100 years prior to the United States Declaration of Independence. The new Congress's Coinage Act of 1792 established the United States dollar as the country's standard unit of money, creating the United States Mint tasked with producing and circulating coinage. Initially defined under a bimetallic standard in terms of a fixed quantity of silver or gold, it formally adopted the gold standard in 1900, and finally eliminated all links to gold in 1971.

Demand Note

A Demand Note is a type of United States paper money that was issued between August 1861 and April 1862 during the American Civil War in denominations of 5, 10, and 20 US$. Demand Notes were the first issue of paper money by the United States that achieved wide circulation and they are still in circulation today, though they are now extremely rare. The U.S. government placed the Demand Notes into circulation by using them to pay expenses incurred during the Civil War including the salaries of its workers and military personnel.

Early American currency

Early American currency went through several stages of development during the colonial and post-Revolutionary history of the United States. John Hull was authorized by the Massachusetts legislature to make the earliest coinage of the colony, the willow, the oak, and the pine tree shilling in 1652.

Compound interest treasury note

Compound interest treasury notes were emissions of the United States Treasury Department authorized in 1863 and 1864 with aspects of both paper money and debt. They were issued in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. While they were legal tender at face value, they were redeemable after three years with six percent annual interest compounded semi-annually. In the absence of efficient investment banks, the hybrid nature of these instruments allowed the government to directly distribute debt by paying the notes out to creditors as legal tender, and then relying on interest-seeking parties to eventually remove them from circulation in order to redeem them with interest at maturity. Thus, in theory, the notes did not contribute to monetary inflation as did the greenbacks.

The Legal Tender Cases were two 1871 United States Supreme Court cases that affirmed the constitutionality of paper money. The two cases were Knox v. Lee and Parker v. Davis.

Greenback (1860s money) Paper currency issued by the United States during the American Civil War

Greenbacks were emergency paper currency issued by the United States during the American Civil War that were printed in green on the back. They were in two forms: Demand Notes, issued in 1861–1862, and United States Notes, issued in 1862–1865. A form of fiat money, the notes were legal tender for most purposes and carried varying promises of eventual payment in coin, but were not backed by existing gold or silver reserves.

United States dollar Official currency of the United States

The United States dollar is the official currency of the United States and its territories. The Coinage Act of 1792 introduced the U.S. dollar at par with the Spanish silver dollar, divided it into 100 cents, and authorized the minting of coins denominated in dollars and cents. U.S. banknotes are issued in the form of Federal Reserve Notes, popularly called greenbacks due to their historically predominantly green color.

Juilliard v. Greenman, 110 U.S. 421 (1884), was a Supreme Court of the United States case in which issuance of greenbacks as legal tender in peacetime was challenged. The Legal Tender Acts of 1862 and 1863 were upheld.

Treasury Note (19th century)

A Treasury Note is a type of short term debt instrument issued by the United States prior to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. Without the alternatives offered by a federal paper money or a central bank, the U.S. government relied on these instruments for funding during periods of financial stress such as the War of 1812, the Panic of 1837, and the American Civil War. While the Treasury Notes, as issued, were neither legal tender nor representative money, some issues were used as money in lieu of an official federal paper money. However the motivation behind their issuance was always funding federal expenditures rather than the provision of a circulating medium. These notes typically were hand-signed, of large denomination, of large dimension, bore interest, were payable to the order of the owner, and matured in no more than three years – though some issues lacked one or more of these properties. Often they were receivable at face value by the government in payment of taxes and for purchases of publicly owned land, and thus "might to some extent be regarded as paper money." On many issues the interest rate was chosen to make interest calculations particularly easy, paying either 1, 112, or 2 cents per day on a $100 note.

Multiple types of banknotes of the United States dollar have been issued, including Federal Reserve Notes, Silver Certificates, Gold certificates and United States Notes.

References

  1. "Definition of Bills of Credit". Web Finance Inc. Business Dictionary.com. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  2. Fleming, pp. 29–30
  3. U.S Constitution, Article 1, Section 10
  4. U.S Constitution, Article 1, Section 8
  5. Friedberg, Arthur L.; S., Ira (2006). Paper Money of the United States (18th ed.). Clifton, NJ: The Coin & Currency Institute, Inc. ISBN   0-87184-518-0.
  6. Hessler, Gene; Chambliss, Carlson (2006). The Comprehensive Catalog of U.S. Paper Money (7th ed.). Port Clinton, Ohio: BNR Press. ISBN   0-931960-66-5.
  7. Hessler, Gene; Chambliss, Carlson (2006). The Comprehensive Catalog of U.S. Paper Money (7th ed.). Port Clinton, Ohio: BNR Press. ISBN   0-931960-66-5..
  8. Backus, Charles K. (1878). The Contraction of the Currency. Chicago, Illinois: Honest Money League of the Northwest.
  9. "Legal Tender Status". United States Treasury Department. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  10. Natelson, Robert G. Paper Money and the Original Understanding of the Coinage Clause, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, vol. 31, pp. 1044–45

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