Specie Payment Resumption Act

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The Specie Payment Resumption Act (January 14, 1874, ch. 15, 18 Stat. 296) provided for the redemption of United States paper currency, known colloquially as greenbacks, in gold, beginning in 1879.

Late in 1861, the federal government suspended specie payments, seeking to raise revenue for the American Civil War effort without exhausting its reserves of gold and silver. Early in 1862, the United States issued legal-tender notes, called greenbacks. By war's end, a total of $431 million in greenbacks had been issued, and authorization had been given for another $50 million in small denominations, known as fractional currency or "shin plasters."

During Reconstruction, a new coalition of agrarian and labor interests found common cause in the promotion of inflationary monetary policies. At the end of 1874, a total of $382 million of these notes still circulated. The Resumption Act of January 14, 1875 provided for the replacement of the Civil War fractional currency by silver coins. It also reduced the greenback total to $300 million. The Secretary of the Treasury was directed to "redeem, in coin" legal-tender notes presented for redemption on and after 1 January 1879.

The Resumption Act was hotly debated during the 1876 presidential election, with most western politicians opposed to it. Specie payments resumed during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. Aided by the return of prosperity, Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman accumulated gold to carry out the intent of the Resumption Act. However, when people found greenbacks to be on a par with gold, they lost their desire for redemption, thus making possible complete success for the legislation.

References

  • Ritter, Gretchen (1997). Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Antimonopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521561671. 
  • Weinstein, Allen (1970). Prelude to Populism: Origins of the Silver Issue, 1867–1878. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300012292. 

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