Last week, O’Reilly Factor producer Jesse Watters confronted Congressman Ron Paul at New England College to ask him why he was not interested in appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show. One thing led to another and eventually Watters asked Dr. Paul about his position on the Gold Standard. Dr. Paul responded that he wanted the country to return to the constitutional mandate that money should be either gold or silver. At the end of their discussion, Watters asked Dr. Paul why he couldn’t have just come on the show and explained gold and silver to O’Reilly. Dr. Paul responded, “He wouldn’t have understood it”.
Dr. Paul couldn’t have been more accurate in his assessment of O’Reilly’s knowledge of the Constitution. On his show on September 7, Bill O’Reilly had a segment where he and Watters ridiculed Dr. Paul for his constitutional position on gold and silver. They stated their joint belief that the Constitution ”…doesn’t say anything about gold and silver”. Both men indicated that Dr. Paul was misinterpreting the Constitution. O”Reilly even asked Watters if Paul is a “loon”.
If O’Reilly or his producer would have just done a little research (I mean it’s fairly easy today given a little thing called the internet) they would have understood that Dr. Paul was spot on with his interpretation of the constitutional mandate that gold and silver be used for money. .
If O’Reilly and Watters had done their homework they would have known that Dr. Paul bases his position about gold and silver as money on Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1, of the Constitution:
“No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.”
Now, on the surface it appears that Congressman Paul did misinterpret the Constitution given that Article 1 Section 10 specifically states that “No State shall… make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts… This clause clearly only relates to the states and what they are prohibited from doing. But, sometimes an issue is more than meets the eye.
As renowned constitutional lawyer, Edwin Vieira Jr. has written, during the colonial period of our history, the Spanish milled (silver) dollar was the predominant medium of exchange in the original Thirteen Colonies. This had to do with Spain’s important commercial and political power of that time. In July of 1785, Congress voted unanimously to make the dollar the monetary unit of the United States to emulate the Spanish milled (silver) dollar. On August 8, 1787, Congress resolved that the new American dollar would contain three hundred and seventy-five grains and sixty-four hundredths of a grain of fine silver. This measure of silver made the new American dollar equal in value to the Spanish dollar.
At the same time in Philadelphia, the Constitution was being written by many of the same people who adopted the silver dollar standard for the country in the Continental Congress. Thus, these men as well as their Constitutional Convention colleagues were well aware that the silver dollar had become and was the official monetary unit of the United States. As a matter of fact, the term “dollar” is referred to twice in the Constitution – Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 and in the Seventh Amendment.
I suppose what confused O’Reilly and Watters was that under Congress’ powers in Article 1 Section 8 the terms dollar, gold and silver are not mentioned. The only requirements for money in that section are that Congress has the power “…to coin money and regulate the value thereof…” And a month before the Constitutional Convention adjourned Congress did just that by making the silver dollar with three hundred and seventy-five grains and sixty-four hundredths of a grain of fine silver the monetary unit of the country.
Thus Ron Paul is correct when he says the Constitution calls for gold and silver money. It was implied in Article 1 Section 8 Clause 5 because that is what existed at the time of the writing of the Constitution. Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 was a reaffirmation of that fact and a prohibition for states to use anything but gold and silver in payment of debts. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Why would the states be prohibited from using non-gold and non-silver coins when the federal government isn’t? That would make no sense.
If Bill O’Reilly or Jesse Watters had done about a half hour of research on the internet they would have known what the Constitution said and the historical context of the issue. They would have known that the Constitution does call for money backed by gold and silver. Does O’Reilly’s egregious mistake give me the right to question whether he is a loon? No, perhaps a more appropriate question to ask is, is he an intellectual sloth?
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina