Treaties, Alliances or Confederations

SECTION 10. Clause 1. 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.


At the time of the Civil War, the Court relied on the prohibition on treaties, alliances, or confederations in holding that the Confederation formed by the seceding states could not be recognized as having any legal existence.2015 Today, the prohibition’s practical significance lies in the limitations that it implies upon the power of the states to deal with matters having a bearing upon international relations.

In the early case of Holmes v. Jennison,2016 Chief Justice Taney invoked it as a reason for holding that a state had no power to deliver up a fugitive from justice to a foreign state. More recently, the kindred idea that the responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations rests exclusively with the Federal Government prompted the Court to hold that, because the oil under the three-mile marginal belt along the California coast might well become the subject of international dispute, and because the ocean, including this three-mile belt, is of vital consequence to the nation in its desire to engage in commerce and to live in peace with the world, the Federal Government has paramount rights in and power over that belt, including full dominion over the resources of the soil under the water area.2017 In Skiriotes v. Florida,2018 the Court, on the other hand, ruled that this clause did not disable Florida from regulating the manner in which its own citizens may engage in sponge fishing outside its territorial waters. Speaking for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Hughes declared, “When its action does not conflict with federal legislation, the sovereign authority of the State over the conduct of its citizens upon the high seas is analogous to the sovereign authority of the United States over its citizens in like circumstances.”2019

Bills of Credit

Within the sense of the Constitution, bills of credit signify a paper medium of exchange, intended to circulate between individuals, and between the government and individuals, for the ordinary purposes of society. It is immaterial whether the quality of legal tender is imparted to such paper. Interest-bearing certificates, in denominations not exceeding ten dollars, that were issued by loan offices established by the state of Missouri and made receivable in payment of taxes or other moneys due to the state, and in payment of the fees and salaries of state officers, were held to be bills of credit whose issuance was banned by this section.2020 The states are not forbidden, however, to issue coupons receivable for taxes,2021 nor to execute instruments binding themselves to pay money at a future day for services rendered or money borrowed.2022 Bills issued by state banks are not bills of credit;2023 it is immaterial that the state is the sole stockholder of the bank,2024 that the officers of the bank were elected by the state legislature,2025 or that the capital of the bank was raised by the sale of state bonds.2026

Legal Tender


Relying on this clause, which applies only to the states and not to the Federal Government, the Supreme Court has held that, where the marshal of a state court received state bank notes in payment and discharge of an execution, the creditor was entitled to demand payment in gold or silver.2028 Because, however, there is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting a bank depositor from consenting when he draws a check that payment may be made by draft, a state law providing that checks drawn on local banks should, at the option of the bank, be payable in exchange drafts, was held valid.2029

Bills of Attainder

Statutes passed after the Civil War with the intent and result of excluding persons who had aided the Confederacy from following certain callings, by the device of requiring them to take an oath that they had never given such aid, were held invalid as being bills of attainder, as well as ex post facto laws.2030

Other attempts to raise bill-of-attainder claims have been unsuccessful. A Court majority denied that a municipal ordinance that required all employees to execute oaths that they had never been affiliated with Communist or similar organizations, violated the clause, on the grounds that the ordinance merely provided standards of qualifications and eligibility for employment.2031 A law that prohibited any person convicted of a felony and not subsequently pardoned from holding office in a waterfront union was not a bill of attainder because the “distinguishing feature of a bill of attainder is the substitution of a legislative for a judicial determination of guilt” and the prohibition “embodies no further implications of appellant’s guilt than are contained in his 1920 judicial conviction.”2032

2015 Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176, 183 (1878).

2016 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 540 (1840).

2017 United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1947).

2018 313 U.S. 69 (1941).

2019 313 U.S. at 78–79.

2020 Craig v. Missouri, 29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 410, 425 (1830); Byrne v. Missouri, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 40 (1834).

2021 Virginia Coupon Cases (Poindexter v. Greenhow), 114 U.S. 270 (1885); Chaffin v. Taylor, 116 U.S. 567 (1886).

2022 Houston & Texas Central R.R. v. Texas, 177 U.S. 66 (1900).

2023 Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 257 (1837).

2024 Darrington v. Bank of Alabama, 54 U.S. (13 How.) 12, 15 (1851); Curran v. Arkansas, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 304, 317 (1854).

2025 Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 257 (1837).

2026 Woodruff v. Trapnall, 51 U.S. (10 How.) 190, 205 (1851).

2027 Juilliard v. Greenman, 110 U.S. 421, 446 (1884).

2028 Gwin v. Breedlove, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 29, 38 (1844). See also Griffin v. Thompson, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 244 (1844).

2029 Farmers & Merchants Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank, 262 U.S. 649, 659 (1923).

2030 Cummings v. Missouri, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 277, 323 (1867); Klinger v. Missouri, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 257 (1872); Pierce v. Carskadon, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 234, 239 (1873).

2031 Garner v. Board of Pub. Works, 341 U.S. 716, 722–723 (1951). Cf. Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, 366 U.S. 36, 47 n.9 (1961).

2032 De Veau v. Braisted, 363 U.S. 144, 160 (1960). Presumably, United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965), does not qualify this decision.