U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

Welcome to the U.S. Capitol

From Gold to Greenbacks

The 37th Congress (1861–1863) faced a financial crisis in 1862, as spiraling costs of war rapidly depleted the Union’s reserves of gold and silver coin, the only legal tender of the United States. After intense debate, Congress authorized the issuance of paper U.S. Notes (popularly called “greenbacks”), declaring them lawful money for all payments except interest on public debt and import duties. The Legal Tender Act, intended as an emergency measure, dramatically extended federal power and changed the nation’s monetary standard.

2 Images Letter from Salmon P. Chase to Representative Thaddeus Stevens,... View All Images
1 Image HR 240, Legal Tender Act, February 25, 1862 View All Images
2 Images Greenbacks (United States notes) issued March 10, 1862 View All Images