Imágenes de páginas

the President. Although this clause of the Constitution prohibits him from appropriating them to his own use, it has not been deemed courteous to decline them; and they have been deposited in the public offices, or sold by order of Congress. Sometimes other presents are made, by direction of Congress, in return.




THIS section enumerates certain restrictions upon the powers of the States.

SECTION 10. [Clause 1.] "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

§ 343. For the several States to enter into treaties, alliances, and confederations, would interfere with those made by the general government, because the States might make treaties different from, or contrary to, those made by the general government. Besides, if foreign powers could form alliances with a State, they might obtain an influence which would be dangerous in time of peace, and still more so in war. The treaty-making power is there

fore taken from the States, and by a subsequent section of the Constitution is vested in the President and Senate.

§ 344. By the Articles of Confederation, (art. 6, sec. 5,) the States could issue letters of marque and reprisal against countries with which the United States had declared war. Under the Constitution the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal is vested solely in Congress in all cases. If the States could exercise it, a single State might involve the whole country in war, as the granting of letters of marque and reprisal is a hostile measure which generally leads to a war. It should, therefore, be exercised only by the national legislature, which has the exclusive power of declaring war. (See art. I., sec. 8, clause 11.) For definition of letters of marque see § 290.

§ 345. By the Articles of Confederation, (art. 9, sec. 5,) the States could coin money, subject, as to its alloy and value, to the regulation of Congress. The Constitution. (art. I., sec. 8, clause 5) vests in Congress the power to coin money for reasons already mentioned, (§ 249.) If this power were shared by the States, it would conflict with its exercise by Congress; it is, therefore, declared by this clause that no State shall coin money.

§ 346. By "bills of credit" is meant paper or bills intended to circulate among the people, and to be paid and received as money. The States cannot issue such bills. During the Revolutionary war bills of credit were issued by Congress, and are well known as "continental money.' They were issued to the amount of about $350,000,000, and gradually depreciated in value till they became worthless, occasioning great loss throughout the country. The object of this provision was to prevent a repetition of such evils, by restraining the States from creating a paper currency. The prohibition does not extend to bills of credit

issued by individuals, either singly or collectively, so long as they are not issued upon the authority of a State, and upon a pledge of its faith and credit.

§ 347. The states are also prohibited from making any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts. No State can, therefore, compel a creditor to receive payment of his debt in bank notes, or merchandise, or any thing but gold and silver coin. The object of this restriction, together with that relating to bills of credit, and to the coining of money, was to provide a fixed and uniform currency throughout the United States.

§ 348. We have seen already (§ 332) that Congress is prohibited from passing bills of attainder or ex post facto laws; this clause, for similar reasons, extends the same prohibition to the several States.

§ 349. The States are also prohibited from passing laws impairing the obligations of contracts. This is a very important provision, and has occasioned much discussion. A contract is an agreement to do, or not to do, a particular thing. By the obligation of a contract is here meant that duty of performing it which is recognised and enforced by the laws. If the law is so changed that the means of legally enforcing this duty are materially impaired, the obligation of the contract is no longer the same.

§ 350. Laws impairing the obligation of contracts are, for instance, such as change the intention of the parties to the contract; or affect its validity, construction, duration, or effect; or deviate from its terms by changing the time of its performance; or impose new conditions, or alter those agreed upon; or declare the contract invalid, or alter, or release it.

§ 351. A change merely in the form or manner of the remedy upon the contract, or in the legal proceedings by

which it is enforced, provided an effectual remedy of some sort is left remaining, is not considered to impair the obligation of the contract, as it simply gives a different mode of obtaining redress. But to take away all modes of obtaining redress, would impair and destroy the obligation of the contract.

§ 352. A law discharging the person of a bankrupt or insolvent debtor, or his future property, from liability for his debts, is a law impairing the obligation of contracts, and therefore void, if the debt was contracted before the passage of the law; but it would be otherwise if the debt were contracted after the passage of the law.

§ 353. This prohibition embraces all contracts, whether executed or to be executed; whether between private individuals, or a State and individuals, or between corporations, or between the States themselves.

§ 354. Charters of incorporation granted to private persons by a State Legislature, have been regarded as contracts between the corporations and the States, and they cannot, therefore, be altered, repealed, or impaired by the legislature, without the consent of the incorporated body, unless the power to do so is reserved in the original act of incorporation. For instance, the legislature of New Hampshire once passed an act changing the original charter of the Dartmouth College, and transferring the rights of trustees under it, to other trustees appointed by the new act; the Supreme Court of the United States, however, decided that the act of the legislature infringed this clause of the Constitution, and was therefore void. But the charters for public corporations, created for public purposes only, such as cities and boroughs, may be repealed and changed by the legislature, making compensation for any private rights which are thereby destroyed.

§ 355. Retrospective or retroactive laws, are those which operate upon controversies, suits, or facts, which existed before their passage. The Constitution does not prohibit the States from passing such laws, though they are generally unjust, unless they amount to ex post facto laws, or impair the obligation of contracts,

§ 356. We have seen that the United States cannot grant any title of nobility, (§ 340.) The clause we are now considering extends the same prohibition to the several States. Titles of nobility create distinctions of ranks and an aristocracy, which are contrary in their nature to that political equality of all the citizens, which our free institutions are designed to establish.

[Clause 2.] "No State shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress."

§ 357. The right to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises has been conferred upon Congress, (Art. I. sec. 8, clause 1;) and it has been declared that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. This uniformity could scarcely be maintained, if each of the States was at liberty, irrespective of Congress, to impose such duties on imports or exports as it thought proper.

§ 358. It is, therefore, provided that no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties

« AnteriorContinuar »