Constitution Post: Article I, Section 8; Part 5

In today’s Constitution post, we’re continuing to study through Article I, Section 8.  Last time, Benjamin covered the Bankruptcy Clause; and, continuing with a monetary focus, we’ll look at two clauses — the Coinage Clause and the Weights and Measures Clause.

Coinage Clause

“The Congress shall have Power To…coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin…”

Under the Articles of Confederation, the coining of money, etc., was a “concurrent power of Congress and the states,” and cost much more and was inefficient.  The Constitution, however, lays this out as an issue that is strictly federal.  Congress is specifically given this power, and the states do not have a right to issue any money whatsoever.

Todd J. Zywicki writes in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution:

“…under Article I, Section 10, the states are not permitted to ‘coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; [or] make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts….’ Whereas the prohibitions on the states are clear and detailed, Congress’s grant of power under the Coinage Clause is open-ended.”

Here, a question is raised as to what forms of money are allowed in this clause.  When the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have the Power To…coin Money…,” does it allow Congress to print paper money (“greenbacks”), or just to produce metal coins (made gold, silver, copper, etc.)?

Just as we have seen today, paper money was printed under the Articles of Confederation to help America pay for the War for Independence, but, it wasn’t actually backed up by gold or silver.  Thus, inflation rose, and so did the national debt.

Because of this, it seems that the Framers were largely against paper money.  James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 44 about some of the differences between the Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution, said that it was “the pestilent effects of paper money” that caused “an enormous debt against the States.”  It seems that, by stating their dislike for paper money (under the Articles of Confederation), the phrase, “coin Money” would only allow Congress to produce metal coins.

It wasn’t until 1862, when the Legal Tender Act was passed, that paper money actually became legal.  During the Civil War, “greenbacks” were again printed in order to afford the rising costs of the war.

Todd J. Zywicki, again, writes:

“Unlike earlier issuances that were used to pay government obligations (as well as the paper money issued by the Confederate government), Civil War ‘greenbacks’ (for which redemption in gold was ‘postponed’) were for the first time declared legal tender for all debts, public or private.”

Weights and Measures Clause

“The Congress shall have Power To…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures…”

This phrase allows for uniformity in measures used in anything from medicine to construction, and everything in between.

Eric A. Chiappinelli writes that, in addition to providing a national standard, the purpose for this phrase “…was to facilitate domestic and international commerce by permitting the federal government to adopt and enforce national measurement standards based upon the prevailing consensus.  The clause excited no controversy among the Framers or in the ratifying conventions.”

The Free Dictionary also provides some helpful information on this subject:

“Though U.S. currency was settled in a decimal form, Congress has retained the English weights and measures systems.  France adopted the metric system in the 1790s, starting an international movement to make the system a universal standard, replacing national and regional variants that made scientific and commercial communication difficult.  Thomas Jefferson was an early advocate of the metric system and in an 1821 report to Congress, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams urged its acceptance.  However, Congress stead-fastly refused.

“Despite hostility to making the metric system the official U.S. system of weights and measures, its use was authorized in 1866.  The United States also became a signatory to the Metric Convention of 1875, and received copies of the International Prototype Meter and the International Prototype Kilogram in 1890.  In 1893 the Office of Weights and Measures announced that the prototype meter and kilogram would be recognized as fundamental standards from which customary units, the yard and the pound, would be derived.

“The metric system has been adopted by many segments of U.S. commerce and industry, as well as by virtually all of the medical and scientific professions.  The international acceptance of the metric system led Congress in 1968 to authorize a study to determine whether the United States should convert.  Though the resulting 1971 report recommended shifting to the metric system over a ten-year period, Congress declined to pass appropriate legislation.”


I hope this has provided some food for thought, and that you’ll continue to study what our Constitution has to say!

Keep fighting for Liberty!

Julia Bender

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