Daniel Webster: “To overthrow it would shake the whole system.”

June 12, 2011

by Ralph J. Benko

(Editor’s Note: I just discovered the cool website www.TheGoldStandardNow.org. I was listening to the Mike Church Show on Sirius radio and Mike interviewed Lewis Lehrman, president of Gold Standard Now. DumpDC will begin posting some of the articles Lehrman has written about gold money.)

Daniel Webster, long considered the greatest orator of his (and perhaps of any American) era, was one of the most colorful and distinguished, if controversial, statesmen in American history. He made an enormous impact on the formation of American jurisprudence and went on to serve in the House, the Senate, and, in three administrations, as Secretary of State.

Daniel Webster

As a United States Senator he addressed the Senate in 1836, stating:

“Currency, in a large and perhaps just sense, includes not only gold and silver and bank bills, but bills of exchange also. It may include all that adjusts exchanges and settles balances in the operations of trade and business; but if we understand by currency the legal money of the country, and that which constitutes a legal tender for debts, and is the standard measure of value, then undoubtedly nothing is included but gold and silver. Most unquestionably there is no legal tender, and there can be no legal tender in this country, under the authority of this government or any other, but gold and silver, either the coinage of our own mints or foreign coins at rates regulated by Congress. This is a constitutional principle, perfectly plain and of the highest importance. The states are expressly prohibited from making anything but gold and silver a legal tender in payment of debts, and although no such express prohibition is applied to Congress, yet as Congress has no power granted to it in this respect but to coin money and to regulate the value of foreign coins, it clearly has no power to substitute paper or anything else for coin as a tender in payment of debts and in discharge of contracts. Congress has exercised this power fully in both its branches; it has coined money and still coins it; it has regulated the value of foreign coins, and still regulates their value. The legal tender, therefore, the constitutional standard of value, is established and cannot be overthrown. To overthrow it would shake the whole system.” 4 Webster’s Works 271.

Joseph Story, a Supreme Court Justice and for much of the 19th century and beyond considered the definitive commentator on the United States Constitution, in 1820 wrote to a colleague that “Our friend Webster has gained a noble reputation. He was before known as a lawyer; but he has now secured the title of an eminent and enlightened statesman.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson commented, shortly after Webster’s death, “nature had not in our days or not since Napoleon, cut out such a masterpiece.”

© 2011 The Lehrman Institute.