Debts of the United States.

The power to pay the debts of the United States is broad enough to include claims of citizens arising on obligations of right and justice.655 The Court sustained an act of Congress which set apart for the use of the Philippine Islands, the revenue from a processing tax on coconut oil of Philippine production, as being in pursuance of a moral obligation to protect and promote the welfare of the people of the Islands.656 Curiously enough, this power was first invoked to assist the United States to collect a debt due to it. In United States v. Fisher,657 the Supreme Court sustained a statute that gave the Federal Government priority in the distribution of the estates of its insolvent debtors. The debtor in that case was the endorser of a foreign bill of exchange that apparently had been purchased by the United States. Invoking the Necessary and Proper Clause, Chief Justice Marshall deduced the power to collect a debt from the power to pay its obligations by the following reasoning: “The government is to pay the debt of the Union, and must be authorized to use the means which appear to itself most eligible to effect that object. It has, consequently, a right to make remittances by bills or otherwise, and to take those precautions which will render the transaction safe.”658

Footnotes

655
United States v. Realty Co., 163 U.S. 427 (1896); Pope v. United States, 323 U.S. 1, 9 (1944). [Back to text]
656
Cincinnati Soap Co. v. United States, 301 U.S. 308 (1937). [Back to text]
657
6 U.S. (2 Cr.) 358 (1805). [Back to text]
658
6 U.S. at 396. [Back to text]