The Public Debt Clause

One thing that would be helpful in the debate over what the Treasury could do if the debt ceiling is not raised is to ask if the Executive Branch has ever issued debt without Congress’ approval.  For example, did Lincoln borrow money in 1861 when he engaged in widespread unilateralism?  How about the Louisiana Purchase?  Or the 1895 gold bond deal between President Cleveland and J.P. Morgan, which is discussed in my book on William Jennings Bryan?  (You’d think I would know the answer on that one, but I don’t.)

The benefits of crowd sourcing start . . . now.

UPDATE:  On the Morgan deal, I now recall that the Treasury dug up some emergency statute from the Civil War that authorized the issuance of the bonds, since the Congress of 1895 would not approve.

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2 Responses

  1. Logan says:

    The Louisiana Purchase involved a treaty which was ratified by the Senate. However, a vote did occur in the house to forbid the purchase but failed by like one or two votes I think. I know we used some gold as a down payment and financed the rest with bonds but at the time I think the concern was with the constitutionality of the purchase itself and not how to actually pay for it.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    “For example, did Lincoln borrow money in 1861 when he engaged in widespread unilateralism? “

    I personally would not rely upon the actions of a President who suspended the great writ on his own say-so, and ordered a Supreme court justice jailed for issuing a ruling he didn’t like, as any guide at all to what is constitutional. We should restrict ourselves to Presidents who actually demonstrated some concern about obeying the Constitution.