Trashing the Constitution:
How misconstruction of the monetary powers
and disabilities subverted the
Founding Fathers’ intent
Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Esq.,
Club of New York
2003 at the
Club, New York, NY
Parks, Executive Director, FAME
(Slightly edited for
Dr. Lawrence Parks:
Before I introduce Dr. Vieira, I want to
spend less than two minutes positioning his topic. Our monetary system is an
abomination. It violates almost all of the principles that civilized people
· From the
Biblical point of view, our monetary system violates the admonitions in Deuteronomy not to tamper with weights and
measures, and, as clergymen pointed out after the Civil War, it violates the Eighth Commandment not to steal.
· Under Jewish
Law, it violates the gnivas das
commandment not to misrepresent.
· From a moral
point of view, mindful that our money is legal tender, Salmon Chase, when he
was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1869, wrote that the legal tender
quality of money is only needed for the purposes of dishonesty.
fiat monetary systems such as ours have been collapsing for nearly 1,200 years
wiping out savings and promises of future payments, such as pensions and
annuities. There have been no successes.
· From a
scientific viewpoint, Isaac Newton put the kabaach
on fiat money at the end of the 17th century when he declared that such money
would have no defined unit of measure. That is, our money has nothing to tie it
to reality. It is part of the spiritual world. Today, economists describe money
as an “illusion.”
· In terms of
personal relationships, our monetary system violates the sanctity of contracts,
because one does not know what will be the value of future payments. That is,
it violates the notion of keeping promises, which is the glue that holds
· Now comes Dr.
Edwin Vieira who teaches that our monetary system violates the Rule of Law,
something that we all hold dear and that our politicians give lip service to.
Particularly, he teaches that it violates the supreme law of our land: the Constitution.
is no one better qualified to talk to us about this issue than Ed Vieira. A Harvard
trained attorney with a doctorate in chemistry, also from Harvard, Ed is the
world’s most foremost authority about the role of our Constitution as it relates to money.
is also one of our country’s most eminent constitutional attorneys, having
brought four cases that were accepted by the Supreme Court and having won three
of them. Those of you who are practicing attorneys know what an extraordinary
record this is.
work came to my attention by accident in the early 1980s. I was at a dinner
party sitting next to one Richard Solyom, who at that time was one of Ed’s
legal clients. It was Dick Solyom who first gave me a copy of Pieces of Eight: The Monetary Powers and Disabilities
of the United States Constitution, which was the outgrowth of a case
that Ed had argued on Solyom’s behalf. That book was 300 pages and made a very
tight case, I thought at the time.
the last six years, Ed has rewritten Pieces
of Eight. Now it is 1,700 pages with 6,000 citations. When he sent
me an early bound draft, which was then just one volume, Ed asked me if I
thought many people would read it. I told him that I didn’t think many people
would lift it.
reading such a large specialized book may seem like a daunting task, please
know that Ed is a very talented writer. There are large sections that read like
an adventure story. Pieces of Eight
is beautifully written and impeccably researched. It is a true masterpiece.
get a taste for Ed’s writings, I have brought a few complimentary copies of his
essay “The Forgotten Role of the Constitution in Monetary Law,” which appeared
in the Texas Review of Law & Politics.
There are also several of his essays on the FAME.org website. We are most
grateful that Ed has taken time from his busy schedule to travel up from Manassas
to speak to us.
you please join me, and give a very warm Rotary Welcome to Dr. Edwin Vieira.
Dr. Edwin Vieira:
you ladies and gentlemen. It’s my pleasure to be here all the way from
Manassas, Virginia, the very backwater of civilization. It’s outside of
Washington. My topic is the monetary powers and disabilities of our Constitution; what the government may do,
and what it may not do with respect to coinage, currency, credit, and banking.
Now these, to put it
bluntly, are not common knowledge. They’re not common knowledge among lay
people, and they’re not common knowledge among lawyers. Indeed, in my
experience, very few people can talk
intelligently about this subject.
may ask, “So what? Isn’t this a matter that’s really best left to Congress, and
the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve, and the Supreme Court, and so forth; the
legal and political elite?” Well, I could give you a number of very important
reasons why that is not the case, why this is a vitally important subject to
you. I could talk about economic reasons, the fundamental one being that a free
market functions most efficiently and most fairly when the market determines
the quality and the quantity of money that’s being used.
I could talk about political reasons: that
throughout history we have seen again and again the instability, the
turbulence, in fact the self-destructive tendencies of political systems in
which politicians and special-interest groups exercise the power to control or
manipulate the purchasing power of money.
Today I could give you geostrategic reasons,
because one could easily work out a theory whereby Islamic Fundamentalists, if
they understood what they were doing, could strike at the Great Satan by
attacking the fragile foundations of our monetary and banking system. I’m not
going to tell you about that, because I don’t want to give aid and comfort to
shall touch only on the legal reasons why monetary powers and disabilities are
of vital importance. I want to emphasize at the outset that this is not a
matter of my opinion or my views. This has nothing to do with personalities or
subjective ideas. It’s a matter of what the Constitution
provides. That is a matter of historical investigation and understanding from
which objective results can be obtained.
know it’s a little hard work, as Larry pointed out, to read Pieces of Eight. I had to be purer than
Caesar’s wife. Everything has been documented. The reason I did that was to
show people that everything can be documented. There is nothing in the book
that comes from my pen. It comes from the pen of the Founding Fathers. It comes
from the pen of the Supreme Court. It comes from the pen of the people that
keep the Congressional records. This is all a historical matter.
reason for getting into this subject is that I’ve always viewed the legal
perspective as being the most important aspect of the problem. Why? Because the
legal framework in any society is going to have a controlling, a directive, at
least an important influence on what happens economically. A society that is
based upon freedom of contract and private property is going to have a
different set of economic outcomes than a society that is based on a
Stalinesque model of central planning. The legal system has a tremendous effect
on the economy.
like to make a point here. The government of the United States has never
violated anyone’s constitutional rights. Did you know that? The government of
the United States will never violate anyone constitutional rights, because it
cannot violate anyone’s constitutional rights. The reason for that is: The
government of the United States is that set of actions by public officials that
are consistent with the Constitution.
Outside of its constitutional powers, the government of the United States has
no legitimacy. It has no authority; and, it really even has no existence. It is
what lawyers call a legal fiction. I give you the famous case Norton v. Shelby
County, when they were thinking straight about these issues: 1886.
The Court said: “An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it
imposes no duties. It is, in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it
had never been passed.” And that applies to any governmental action outside of
present constitutional system, with respect to money and banking, is
oxymoronic, because in fact, for a very long time, with respect to coinage,
currency, credit, and banking, the political class and the judicial class have
not conformed to the Constitution.
In the grand scheme of things, there are legal consequences that follow from
not adhering to constitutional powers and disabilities, especially
is the genius of, the condition sine qua
non, for a free society? It’s limited government, right? A
totalitarian society is one in which the government claims all power; there is
no freedom that the government doesn’t allow. There’s always a certain
interstitial amount of freedom even in totalitarian society. Remember 1984, Winston Smith? There was a little
place in his apartment where he could hide from the telescreen, right? And
write his memoirs.
interstitially, even a totalitarian society can’t control everything; but it
states, in principle, its right to do so. What are the defining characteristics
of a limited government? They are its disabilities; what it does not have legal
authority to do. Look at the First Amendment. Everyone’s familiar with the
First Amendment. What does it do? It guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of
press, freedom of religion.
how does it do that? I quote: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom
of speech or of the press” et cetera.
“Congress shall make no law;” that’s a statement of an absence of power. That’s
a statement of a disability. The problem we’ve had in the monetary system is
there has been an increasing misuse of Congress’ monetary powers, and an
increasing disregard of Congress’ monetary disabilities; and not only in this
particular field, of course, in many other fields. But what’s happened in the
area of money and banking exemplifies, and in many instances, is the source of
what’s happened in other areas.
can divide this degeneration essentially into two categories. One is the
application of the so-called “theory of the Living Constitution.” The other is
the overextension of Congressional powers, or the assertion of powers the
Congress doesn’t have. Many people may be familiar with the “Living
Constitution.” This is the idea that the meaning of the Constitution has to change with the times.
The Founding Fathers lived in the horse-and-buggy era. We live in the spaceship
era. Obviously, the Constitution
has to somehow evolve intellectually to deal with those changes. In effect,
this reduces the Constitution to
whatever the politically powerful find it expedient to mean from time to time.
You could call that “situation law.” I call it “Sante Fe law.” They railroad
their ideas through, and they expect us to accept it on faith.
me give you an example, the key example in the monetary field. Basic question:
“What is a dollar?” Interesting question: “What is a dollar?” That’s the unit
of our currency. What is it? Well, if you ask most people, some of them would
pull one out these things, a little Sacagawea coin. “This is a dollar.” Or more
likely they would probably pull out one of these, a George Washington Federal
Reserve Note, and say, “This is a dollar.” And if you asked that person, “Well,
why is this thing a dollar?” he or she would probably say, “Well, it’s because
Congress says so,” or “the Treasury says so,” or “the Federal Reserve System
says so,” or “the Supreme Court says so”—begging the question of whether
Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, or the Supreme Court has the
authority to say so. Is this simply a matter of raw power?
have a quick reality check. I have some learning aids here. Here’s a card that
says, “One cow.” Is this a cow? Next step: here’s a card that says, “By order
of Congress: one cow.” Is this a cow? You’re getting the picture, aren’t you?
Here we go, the next step: “By order of the Federal Livestock Board: one cow.”
And then the final absurdity: “By order of the Federal Livestock Board: one
cow. This is legal tender for all debts public and private.” You don’t have to
be a farmer to understand the meaning of this little demonstration.
take it to another level. “One dollar.” Is it a dollar? “By order of Congress:
one dollar.” “By order of the Federal Reserve Board: one dollar.” “By order of
the Federal Reserve Board: one dollar. This is legal tender for all debts
public and private.” Do you follow this? This is kindergarten material. As the
Gershwins told us in Porgy and Bess,
“it ain’t necessarily so” simply because someone writes it on a piece of paper.
do we look to find Congress’ powers and disabilities in this regard? Well, I
guess you look in the Constitution.
The Constitution actually
mentions the word “dollar” in Article One, Section Nine, Clause One, the famous
slave tax provision, that provided a tax or duty might be imposed on the
importation of slaves, not exceeding ten dollars for each person. Do you think
that was important at the time? It was one of the provisions that was put in as
part of the compromise between the Southern slave-owning states and the
Northern states. If something like that hadn’t been put in, the Constitution probably would never have
been ratified by all the original colonies.
also found in the Seventh Amendment, the word “dollars”: “In Suits at common
law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of
trial by jury shall be preserved.” Do you think that was important to those
people at that time? Trial by jury was known in that era as the palladium of
British liberty, going back to Magna Carta.
Do you think those people knew what the word “dollar” meant? Do you think they
thought it meant this? [holding up a Federal Reserve Note] It must have had an
accepted meaning at that time.
proponents of the “Living Constitution” will say: “That time has passed, and
now we have Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Supreme Court,
whatever, to make a new determination”—of course begging the question of
whether the definition of the “dollar” can be changed. I want to give you what
I think is a conclusive analogy on this point.
you read the Constitution, you’ll
find the word “year” used. For instance: “The House of Representatives shall be
composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the United
States.” “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators
from each State, chosen by the legislature, for six years.” If the meaning of
“dollar” can be changed by Congress, why can’t the meaning of “year” be
principle is exactly the same. Yet we all know that if the Congress passed a statute,
and the Supreme Court upheld it, saying that for constitutional purposes the
word “year” will no longer mean three hundred and sixty-five days, but seven
hundred and thirty days, or fourteen hundred and sixty days, or some arbitrary
number, they would he howled down in hoots of ridicule. No one in this country
would accept that. In fact, even we the people, amending the Constitution as we can do under Article
Five, could not change the true definition of the word “year.” We could change
the term of the Representative to something other than two years, the Senator
to something other than six years; but we could not amend the Constitution to say that a “year” is
something other than what it is. We cannot fly in the face of astronomical
reality. Well, if it’s obvious for the word “year,” why isn’t it just as
obvious for the word “dollar”?
all know what the word “year” means in its astronomical significance, and
therefore you know what it means in its constitutional significance. And if you
knew what the word “dollar” meant in its historical significance, you would
know what it meant, or what it means, in its constitutional sense. What did
that word mean to the Founding Fathers? It certainly didn’t mean the Sacagawea
dollar. It meant this: the Spanish milled dollar. [holding up a coin] And not
just in the late 1700s.
Spanish milled dollar was made the unit or standard for all foreign silver
coins in the American colonies in 1704 by Queen Anne (there was a Parliamentary
statute in 1707). It was made the standard for the United States by the
Continental Congress under the Articles of
Confederation, before the Constitution
was even written. So in fact the dollar preceded the writing of the Constitution. It preceded the ratification
of the Constitution. It preceded
the first Congress, the first President, the first Supreme Court, the Federal
Reserve Board, and everything else. Do you think it might be independent of all
those things, having preceded them?
a historical fact, the dollar is independent of the Constitution. The father of the dollar, in our system, was
Thomas Jefferson. He was the one who proposed it to the Continental Congress.
In the first government under the Constitution,
Jefferson was Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the
Treasury. They didn’t agree on very much, if anything, except this: They both
agreed on the monetary system. The Federalists and the Anti-federalists were in
complete agreement. And what did Congress and the Treasury do in 1792 with the
first coinage act? They went out to determine what the value of this “dollar”
did they do that? They went to the marketplace. In what we would call
statistical analysis, they collected a large sampling of Spanish milled dollars
that were circulating, and they did a chemical analysis of them to determine on
average how much silver they contained. This appears in the Coinage Act of 1792 where they wrote: “The
Dollar or Unit shall be of the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is
now current,” that is, running in the market, “to wit, three hundred and
seventy-one and one-quarter grains of silver.”
you know something that 99.999% of Americans do not know, and probably a higher
percentage of lawyers. The “dollar” is a silver coin containing three hundred
and seventy-one and one-quarter grains of silver—and it cannot be changed by
constitutional amendment, definitionally, any more than the term “year” can.
And yet, as I mentioned before, if you ask the average person what a dollar is,
he’ll probably hold this thing up. [holding up a Federal Reserve Note] Is there
something wrong here? Do we see some kind of cognitive dissonance when we have
a problem with this? I should hope so.
second area in which the misuse of monetary powers and the disregard for
monetary disabilities has corrupted the Constitution,
as I said before, is the overextension of powers. I won’t go into these in
great detail. If you look at the “Necessary and Proper” clause, which has been
wildly expanded to give fantastic powers to Congress, what is the foundational
case for that expansion? It’s usually cited to be McCulloch v. Maryland
in 1819. What was that case about? It was about the Bank of the United States.
It was a money case.
we go to the doctrine of “Emergency Powers,” which is having a great uplift
today, for obvious reasons, what was the foundational case that put that
doctrine on the constitutional map? It was Knox
vs. Lee, the legal tender cases brought after the Civil War. If
we go to the doctrine of “Aggregate Powers,” the doctrine that says, “You can
take a little here and a little there and kind of sum them all up, so that the
whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” again we go back to the Knox case, a monetary case.
very interesting is to read a dissenting opinion by Justice Stephen Field, the
only Justice on the Supreme Court who had the integrity to dissent in every
legal tender case that he heard. He wrote a dissenting opinion in Dooley vs.
Smith, in 1872. He wrote, “The
arguments in favor of the constitutionality of legal tender paper currency tend
directly to break down the barriers which separate a government of limited
powers from a government resting in the unrestrained will of Congress. Those
limitations must be preserved, or our government will inevitably drift from the
system established by our Fathers into a vast, centralized, and consolidated
notice he was not talking specifically about the monetary powers. He wasn’t
saying that these arguments would lead to the monetary powers being
unrestrained. It was destroying the concept of limited government. “The
arguments in favor of the constitutionality of legal tender paper currency tend
directly to break down the barriers which separate a government of limited
powers from a government resting in the unrestrained will of Congress.” How do
you define, or how would you characterize, a government resting in the
unrestrained will of Congress, or any other political body? It is by definition
a totalitarian government.
philosopher Richard Weaver, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this statement
that he made, said, “Ideas have consequences.” He could have gone further than
that. He could have said that bad ideas, once they are politicized, almost
inevitably generate crises and catastrophes. If we look throughout American
history, we will see that failures of various unconstitutional currency and
banking situations, and we’ve had different ones over different periods, have
inevitably led to crises and catastrophes. Pre-Civil War, we had a series of
cycle collapses (they called them panics in those days), which were brought
about by the unstable system of state banks and, to a certain extent, by the
national banks that Congress created, the two Banks of the United States.
you go into the Civil War, you have the crisis of massive inflation that was
caused by the emission of the greenbacks, and then the tremendous political
controversy over the continuation or the termination of paper money
inflationism. Then we come to the Federal Reserve System. Some people here may
know of the arguments that were made in favor of the Federal Reserve System. It
would have an elastic currency. Through scientific management of the monetary
system, depressions would be eliminated. There would be stability in the
banking system. What happened?
Federal Reserve System was there when the greatest banking collapse in American
history occurred, in 1932-1933, and in what was called the Great Depression of
the 1930s. In that period what happened? The Roosevelt New Deal. What were the
powers they were screaming for? Emergency powers. You’ll find that written into
many statutes, e.g., The Emergency Banking
Act of 1933. You should pay attention to the title, The Emergency Banking Act of 1933, and the
“Aggregate Powers” doctrine. It’s been all downhill since then.
I will not say, and I
doubt that anyone could say, or defend the idea, that if the constitutional
monetary system had been strictly enforced throughout American history there
would have been no economic crises, because we all know that economic crises
are not caused solely by bad monetary and banking arrangements. But, as sure as
I am standing here, I can say that if the Constitution
had been observed during that period, there would have been none of the crises
that did in fact occur. They would have been essentially impossible, bringing
me back to the point I made earlier about the primacy of law.
should that have been done? Well, Americans would have had to understand and
enforce their Constitution. You
notice I say Americans, not the Congress or the Supreme Court, because who is
the final arbiter of this document? [holding a copy of the Constitution] It is not Congress, and it
is not the Supreme Court. It is “we the people.” Read the thing. How does it
start? “We the people do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States”; not “we the politicians,” not “we the judges.” Those people are the
agents of the people. We the people are the principals.
doctrine is very clear that, being the principals, we are the Constitution’s ultimate interpreters and
enforcers. You don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s go back to the Founding
Fathers, if I can find the right place. [referring to a book]
Founding Fathers were profound students of law and political philosophy. Their
mentor in that era was William Blackstone, who wrote Blackstone’s Commentaries, probably the most widely read
legal treatise of its time, certainly here in the United States. What did
Blackstone write about this subject? He wrote, “Whenever a question arises
between the society at large and any magistrate vested with powers originally
delegated by that society, it must be decided by the voice of the society
itself; there is not upon earth any other tribunal to resort to.”
the people are the Constitution’s
ultimate interpreters. But we all know that no people leads itself. Every
people, for whatever reason, needs leadership. I look out on you people here
today. You are representatives, or a cross-section, if you will, of this
country’s elite. I don’t say that to be flattering. I don’t say that to be
patronizing. In fact, I’m a messenger who, in a sense, is bringing you some bad
news, because the American people out there have to depend on people like you
in here, and others like you, for leadership. There’s a very simple reason for
that. There’s no one else. Therefore, here’s the bad news: it ultimately is
your responsibility to find out what your Constitution
means with respect to monetary powers and disabilities, and then to do
something about it, before history takes the opportunity out of your hands, and
we all suffer the consequences.
Parks, Executive Director
625, FDR Station
York, NY 10150-0625