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fied between its creation and its end. If the law in question binds one party on the ground of assent to it, it binds both, and binds them until they agree to terminate its operation. (2.) If the party be bound by an implied assent to the law, as thereby making the law a part of the contract, how would it be if the parties had expressly dissented, and agreed that the law should make no part of the contract? Suppose the promise to have been, that the promiser would pay at all events, and not take advantage of the statute; still, would not the statute operate on the whole, on this particular agreement and all? and does not this show that the law is no part of the contract, but something above it? (3.) If the law of the place be part of the contract, one of its terms and conditions, how could it be enforced, as we all know it might be, in another jurisdiction, which should have no regard to the law of the place? Suppose the parties, after the contract, to remove to another State, do they carry the law with them as part of their contract? We all know they do not. Or take a common case; some States have laws abolishing imprisonment for debt; these laws, according to the argument, are all parts of the contract; how then can the party, when sued in another State, be imprisoned contrary to the terms of his contract? (4.) The argument proves too much, inasmuch as it applies as strongly to prior as to subsequent contracts. It is founded on a supposed assent to the exercise of legislative authority, without considering whether that exercise be legal or illegal. But it is equally fair to found the argument on an implied assent to the potential exercise of that authority. The implied reference to the control of legislative power, is as reasonable and as strong when that power is dormant, as while it is in exercise. In one case, the argument is, "the law existed, you knew it, and acquiesced." In the other, it is, "the power to pass the law existed, you knew it, and took your chance." There is as clear an assent in the one instance as in the other. Indeed, it is more reasonable and more sensible, to imply a general assent to all the laws of society, present and to come, from the fact of living in it, than it is to imply a particular assent to a particular existing enactment. The true view of the matter is, that every man is presumed to submit to all power which may be lawfully exercised over him, or his right, and no one should be presumed to submit to illegal acts of power, whether actual or contingent. (5.) But a main objection to this argument is, that it would render the whole constitutional provision idle and inoperative; and no explanatory words, if such words had been added in the constitution, could have prevented this consequence. The law, it is said, is part of the contract; it cannot, therefore, impair the contract, because a contract cannot impair itself. Now, if this argument be sound, the case would have been the same, whatever words the constitution had used. If, for example, it had declared that no State should pass any law impairing contracts prospectively or retrospectively; or law impairing contracts, whether existing or future; or whatever terms it had used to prohibit precisely such a law as is now before the Court, the prohibition would be totally nugatory if the law is to be taken as part of the contract; and the result would be, that, whatever may be the laws which the States by this clause of
the constitution are prohibited from passing, yet, if they in fact do pass such laws, those laws are valid, and bind parties by a supposed assent.
But further, this idea, if well founded, would enable the States to defeat the whole constitutional provision by a general enactment. Suppose a State should declare, by law, that all contracts entered into therein, should be subject to such laws as the legislature, at any time, or from time to time, might see fit to pass. This law, according to the argument, would enter into the contract, become a part of it, and authorise the interference of the legislative power with it, for any and all purposes, wholly uncontrolled by the constitution of the United States.
So much for the argument that the law is a part of the contract. We think it is shown to be not so; and, if it were, the expected consequence would not follow.
The inquiry, then, recurs, whether the law in question be such a law as the legislature of New York had authority to pass. The question is general. We differ from our learned adversaries on general principles. We differ as to the main scope and end of this constitutional provision. They think it entirely remedial: we regard it as preventive. They think it adopted to secure redress for violated private rights: to us it seems intended to guard against great public mischiefs. They argue it, as if it were designed as an indemnity or protection for injured private rights, in individual cases of meum and tuum: we look upon it as a great political provision, favorable to the commerce and credit of the whole country. Certainly we do not deny its application to cases of violated private right. Such cases are clearly and unquestionably within its operation. Still, we think its main scope to be general and political. And this, we think, is proved by reference to the history of the country, and to the great objects which were sought to be obtained by the establishment of the present government. Commerce, credit, and confidence, were the principal things which did not exist under the old confederation, and which it was a main object of the present constitution to create and establish. A vicious system of legislation, a system of paper money and tender laws, had completely paralysed industry, threatened to beggar every man of property, and ultimately to ruin the country. The relation between debtor and creditor, always delicate, and always dangerous whenever it divides society, and draws out the respective parties into different ranks and classes, was in such a condition in the years 1787, '88, and '89, as to threaten the overthrow of all government; and a revolution was menaced, much more critical and alarming than that through which the country had recently passed. The object of the new constitution was to arrest these evils; to awaken industry by giving security to property; to establish confidence, credit, and commerce, by salutary laws, to be enforced by the power of the whole community. The revolutionary war was over, the country had peace, but little domestic tranquillity; liberty, but few of its enjoyments, and none of its security. The States had struggled together, but their union was imperfect. They had freedom, but not an established course of justice. The constitution was therefore framed, as it professes, "to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, to secure the blessings of liberty, and to insure domestic tranquillity."
It is not pertinent to this occasion, to advert to all the means by which these desirable ends were to be obtained. Some of them, closely connected with the subject now under consideration, are obvious and prominent. The objects were, commerce, credit, and mutual confidence in matters of property; and these required, among other things, a uniform standard of value, or medium of payments. One of the first powers given to Congress, therefore, is that of coining money, and fixing the value of foreign coins; and one of the first restraints imposed on the States, is the total prohibition to coin money. These two provisions are industriously followed up and completed, by denying to the States all power emitting of bills of credit, or of making anything but gold and silver a tender in the payment of debts. The whole control, therefore, over the standard of value, and medium of payments, is vested in the general government. And here the question instantly suggests itself, why should such pains be taken to confide in Congress alone this exclusive power of fixing on a standard value, and of prescribing the medium in which debts shall be paid, if it is, after all, to be left to every State to declare that debts may be discharged, and to prescribe how they may be discharged, without any payment at all? Why say that no man shall be obliged to take in discharge of a debt paper money issued by the authority of a State, and yet say, that by the same authority the debt may be discharged without any payment whatever?
We contend, that the constitution has not left its work thus unfinished. We contend, that, taking its provisions together, it is apparent it was intended to provide for two things, intimately connected with each other.
1. A uniform medium for the payment of debts.
2. A uniform manner of discharging debts when they are to be discharged without payment.
The arrangement of the grants and prohibition contained in the constitution, are fit to be regarded on this occasion. The grant to Congress, and the prohibition on the States, though they are certainly to be construed together, are not contained in the same clauses. The powers granted to Congress are enumerated one after another in the eighth section; the principal limitations on those powers, in the ninth section; and the prohibitions to the States, in the tenth section. Now, in order to understand whether any particular power be exclusively vested in Congress, it is necessary to read the terms of the grant, together with the terms of the prohibition. Take an example from that power of which we have been speaking, the coinage power. Here the grant to Congress is, “To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coins." Now, the correlative prohibition on the States, though found in another section, is, undoubtedly, to be taken in immediate connexion with the foregoing, as much so as if it had been found in the same clause. The only just reading of these provisions, therefore, is this: "Con gress shall have power to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin; but no State shall coin money, emit bills of credit, or make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts."
These provisions respect the medium of payment, or standard of value, and, thus collated, their joint result is clear and decisive
We think the result clear also, of those provisions which respect the discharge of debts without payment. Collated in like manner, they stand thus: "Congress shall have power to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States; but no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts." This collocation cannot be objected to if they refer to the same subject matter; and that they do refer to the same subject matter, we have the authority of this Court for saying, because this Court solemnly determined, in Sturges vs. Crowninshield, that this prohibition on the States did apply to systems of bankruptcy. It must be now taken, therefore, that State bankrupt laws were in the mind of the Convention when the prohibition was adopted, and, therefore, the grant to Congress on the subject of bankrupt laws, and the prohibition to the State on the same subject, are properly to be taken and read together; and being thus read together, is not the intention clear to take away from the States the power of passing bankrupt laws, since, while enacted by them, such laws would not be uniform, and to confer the power exclusively on Congress, by whom uniform laws could be established?
Suppose the order of arrangement in the constitution had been otherwise than it is, and that the prohibitions to the States had preceded the grants of power to Congress, the two powers, when collated, would then have read thus: "No State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts; but Congress may establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies." Could any man have doubted, in that case, that the meaning was, that the States should not pass laws discharging debts without payment, but that Congress might establish uniform bankrupt acts? and yet this inversion of the order of the clauses does not alter their sense. We contend, that Congress alone possesses the power of establishing bankrupt laws; and although we are aware, that in Sturges vs. Crowninshield, the Court decided, that such an exclusive power could not be inferred from the words of the grant in the seventh section, we yet would respectfully request the bench to reconsider this point. We think it could not have been intended that both the States and general government should exercise this power; and, therefore, that a grant to one implies the prohibition on the other. But not to press a topic which the Court has already had under its consideration, we contend, that even without reading the clauses of the constitution in the connexion which we have suggested, and which is believed to be the true one, the prohibition in the tenth section, taken by itself, does forbid the enactment of State bankrupt laws, as applied to future, as well as present debts. We argue this from the words of the prohibition; from the association they are found in, and from the objects intended. 1. The words are general. The States can pass no law impairing contracts; that is, any contract. In the nature of things a law may impair a future contract, and, therefore, such contract is within the protection of the constitution. The words being general, it is for the other side to show a limitation; and this, it is submitted, they have wholly failed to do, unless they shall have established the doctrine that the law itself is part of the contract. It may be added, that the particular expression of the constitution is worth regarding. The thing prohibited is called a law, not an act; a law, in its general
acceptation, is a rule prescribed for future conduct, not a legislative interference with existing rights. The framers of the constitution would hardly have given the appellation of law to violent invasions of individual right, or individual property, by acts of legislative power. Although, doubtless, such acts fall within this prohibition, yet they are prohibited also by general principles, and by the constitutions of the States, and, therefore, further provision against such acts was not so necessary as against other mischiefs.
2. The most conclusive argument, perhaps, arises from the con nexion in which the clause stands. The words of the prohibition, so far as it applies to civil rights, or rights of property, are, "that no State shall coin money, emit bills of credit, make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in the payment of debts, or pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts." The prohibition of attainders, and ex post facto laws, refer entirely to criminal proceedings, and, therefore, should be considered as standing by themselves; but the other parts of the prohibition are connected by the subject matter, and ought, therefore, to be construed together. Taking the words thus together, according to their natural connexion, how is it possible to give a more limited construction to the term contracts," in the last branch of the sentence, than to the word "debts," in that immediately preceding? Can a State make anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of future debts? This nobody pretends. But what ground is there for a distinction? No State shall make anything but gold and silver a tender in the payment of debts, nor pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. Now, by what reasoning is it made out that the debts here spoken of, are any debts, either existing or future; but that the contracts spoken of are subsisting contracts only? Such a distinction seems to us wholly arbitrary. We see no ground for it. Suppose the article, where it uses the word debts, had used the word contracts The sense would have been the same then, as it now is; but the identity of terms would have made the nature of the distinction now contended for somewhat more obvious. Thus altered, the clause would read, that no State should make anything but gold and silver a tender in discharge of contracts, nor pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts; yet the first of these expressions would have been held to apply to all contracts, and the last to subsisting contracts only. This shows the consequence of what is now contended for in a strong light. It is certain that the substitution of the word contracts, for debts, would not alter the sense; and an argument that could not be sustained if such substitution were made, cannot be sustained now. We maintain, therefore, that if tender laws may not be made for future debts, neither can bankrupt laws be made for future contracts. All the arguments used here may be applied with equal force to tender laws for future debts. It may be said, for instance, that when it speaks of debts, the constitution means existing debts, and not mere possibilities of future debt; that the object was to preserve vested rights; and that if a man, after a tender law had passed, had contracted a debt, the manner in which that tender law authorised that debt to be discharged, became part of the contract, and that the whole debt, or whole obligation was thus