Public Debt Clause

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Amdt14.S4.1.1 Public Debt Clause

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 4:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Although § 4 “was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War, its language indicates a broader connotation. . . . ‘[T]he validity of the public debt’. . . [embraces] whatever concerns the integrity of the public obligations,” and applies to government bonds issued after as well as before adoption of the Amendment.1

Perry v. United States, 294 U.S. 330, 354 (1935), in which the Court concluded that the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, insofar as it attempted to override the gold-clause obligation in a Fourth Liberty Loan Gold Bond “went beyond the congressional power.” On a Confederate bond problem, see Branch v. Haas, 16 F. 53 (C.C.M.D. Ala. 1883) (citing Hanauer v. Woodruff, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 439 (1873), and Thorington v. Smith, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 1 (1869)). See also The Pietro Campanella, 73 F. Supp. 18 (D. Md. 1947). back

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