By David Tulis
For probably more than 100 years Chattanooga city government has had an office called sealer, whose duty is to enforce honest weights and measures.
“The table of weights and measures provided by law as the legal and uniform standard of weights and measures in the state shall be the lawful table of weights and measures in the city,” intones the city codebook in a forgotten two pages.
A uniform standard of pounds, ounces, grams, kilograms, gallons and other forms of measure are essential to an honest society in which the crafty and duplicitous are brought to bar. Chattanooga’s sealer has the power to halt such fraud. The sealer is given authority to arrest people and oversee their prosecution if they claim a foot is 11.9 inches or a pound 15.9 ounces.
“Whenever, upon inspection, the sealer finds that any scales or measures are not in compliance with the laws of the state, he shall condemn such defective scales or measures, or, if practicable, mark and correct the same. It shall be unlawful for the owner to continue to use any scales or measures condemned by the sealer.” (Chattanooga City Code, chapter 37.)
The office hasn’t been filled as long as anyone can remember, according to Richard Beeland, the spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield. After my call Mr. Beeland said the mayor will put the chapter on a list for proposed deletion as an “antiquated” ordinance.
Why city cares about 8th commandment
The scriptures and American common law have long coincided on the matter of theft. The eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” readily breaks down into particular forms of theft, from burglary to slander, all of which are enforced in Hamilton County today either by positive or common law or privately under contract law and equity.
One obvious requirement for honest business dealings is accurate weights and measures. Scales weighing produce in the aisle and at the checkout need to be honest. The customer should head into the Publix parking lot with a clear sense that she got her red seedless grapes for F$1.99 a pound, and that the pound was 16 ounces. When buying No. 2 1×4 spruce boards at East Chattanooga Lumber & Supply for 52 cents a linear foot, the measuring device by the saw should be 12 inches. ‡ The pump at Steve Ray’s Midnite Oil should accurately dole out gallons of gasoline, and if it’s diluted with ethanol, a sticker on the pump should warn the customer.
God is angry against those who cheat with false weights. False weights not only invite judgment, but are themselves a judgment.
➤ “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord; but a just weight is his delight.” Prov. 11:1
➤ “Diverse weights and diverse measures, they are both alike, an abomination to the Lord.” Prov. 20:10
➤ “And he said unto them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.’” Luke 12:15
➤ “[A] just weight and just measure should be preserved,” Martin Luther says, “ *** so that a poor person and one’s neighbor are not cheated. This also has general validity for all exchanges of all contracts, that the seller give just and equitable wares for the money of the buyer. Here greed knows unbelievable injustices and tricks in changing, cheapening, imitating and adulterating merchandise; therefore it is no small part of the concern of government to have an eye here to the common good.”
Honest weights — what about honest payments?
Honest goods are required.They are lawful. So are honest payments. The scriptures account for money as a weight of silver or gold, measured out on a true balance in a known density. They have a lot to say about our day, when every nation runs a central bank and imposes inflationary currencies upon the populace.
The United States is under a godly judgment in its national currency, the Federal Reserve Note, and the system of credit built atop it. The green rectangle is no longer a “lawful” dollar bill. The words on the face of the paper don’t refer to any object. They don’t give the holder of that paper a lawful claim to collect a silver coin held by a bank who is party to the issuer of the note (the Fed). The paper dollar is an instrument of constructive fraud; the public is required to accept that instrument at face value in payment for debt. That statement about “legal tender for all debts, public and private” is so important it is inscribed on every bill. Say today you lend a friend F$1,000 with repayment in five years at no interest. The time passes, inflation eats away the marketplace strength of those F$1,000. When your friend is ready to repay, you realize you’ve lost 20 percent of the paper’s value. You have no liberty in your contract to demand more than the F$1,000 repayment. The debt was contracted in Federal Reserve dollars, and in these wispy bills it shall be repaid. Every lender, by these inscribed words, is forced to accept the bills even if inflation has wiped out their value.
One way of seeing the Bible’s complaint against the green rectangle is that it is inflation-ridden private currency, not a public money serving the public weal. It’s not issued by the people for popular use, but by a private banking cartel for secret gain. The Fed looks public enough. The bankers’ bank has figureheads nominated by the U.S. president, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies frequently before Congress about “growth” — inflation — in the economy. The currency is issued with no accountability to that member of the public for that 20 percent loss, which is in some sense a measure of private profitability to the bank.
When weight really matters
Fraudulent banknotes affect the rich depositor and well-heeled investor. But they also injure the poor, who often are the least aware of the evils of dishonest weights.
The city ordinance focuses on ice sellers, coal and fuel dealers, hucksters, grocers and others who sell “the necessities of life or which may be used for consumption or for the comfort of the public.”
Seeing that the scope of the ordinance is broad, could city government hire a sealer and sue the Federal Reserve System for fraud? The Fed is a company that has agents and representatives within the city limits, namely its member national banks. Is it remotely possible that the mayor’s office could hold Ben Bernanke accountable for his company’s scheme to defraud people in Ooltewah, Hixson, Highland Park and St. Elmo? The Fed has so debased the buying power of the dollar that it is now worth what four pennies used to be. ‡‡
Let me suggest two reasons why the sealer could not sue in Circuit or U.S. District Court.
➤ LIMITS OF MUNICIPAL CORPORATION — Chattanooga, like any other city, is a creature of the state. It got its charter from state government in 1838. An incorporated city is considered an “agent” of its inhabitants, but some cases indicate that it’s not. A city also is like a trustee of inhabitants, one entrusted to their care and benefit. Chattanooga, on one hand, is a division or subdivision of the state. It’s the hands, arms and feet of state government. But it is also a separate, distinct entity, and could be termed to be a “person,” at least in its private capacities.
Our musings about the city’s capacity to sue an interstate and national entity such as the Fed touch first on what legal authorities call “sovereignty.” We should object to this usage as a theft of power only God possesses. But in legal books the word is used to give to a state government a power God reserves to Himself. So I use the term as they use it, with my private reservation.
Does Chattanooga, via it office of inspector of weights, have sovereignty? One case says cities represent no sovereignty distinct from the state itself (Reynolds v. Sims, 337 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed. 2d 506 ). Other authorities indicate the exercise of the power of a city is no different from an exercise of power by the state. “There is no distinction between the power of a state to establish a municipality or a municipal corporation to carry out a public purpose and the vesting power to carry out such purpose in a municipality already in existence.” In other words, a city, once it exists, exercises the same power as the General Assembly, pursuant to its charter.
So while there are limits on the creature of a city, one could argue, poetically perhaps, that a city has the same authority as the state in serving the public’s interest and protecting its members’ safety. My suggestion is that if the state of Tennessee can object to inflationary paper money circulating in its limits, so can city government based on evidence of fraud collected through through the sealer office.
➤ DOLLARS NO LONGER HAVE WEIGHT — A hazard my musings face is the rejection of the Federal Reserve note of any physical properties. Dollar bills appear to be notes, but they are not notes in any lawful sense, or bills, as the words on them do not connect to the physical reality of silver. Is the paper dollar scheme beyond the reach of the sealer?
Though they look almost exactly like lawful dollar bills that were legally enforceable bills and certificates, they are really counterfeits. The words on the bill don’t let the holder obtain a real dollar (a silver coin) when submitted to the teller. A 2012 greenback gives you claim on nothing but another greenback, whether from 1989 or from 2019 (when the calendar rolls around).
Since the government took its national lender off the gold and silver standard established in the 1787 federal constitution, the dollar is outside the realm of any scale or measuring device.
Abraham weighed out money in silver for the burial place of Sarah. But no person disbursing and trafficking in Fed paper needs a measuring device for a transaction. Just as human conversation is diminished as it trampolines into the ether of Facebook, so the dollar has joined the ether of nonparticularity, nonspecificity and inarticulation. The dollar no longer has a front and a back that say anything. It no longer has two sides (just like Facebook conversations, one-sided, or just like that mythical book of all books in Borges’ story “Library of Babel”).
The sealer has authority only over things that are measurable, not over abstractions, over pretend money. But up to 1964, the dollar bills that circulated in Chattanooga were lawful, and since the modern green rectangle pretends by its look to be that dollar (and thus a counterfeit), one could argue that the sealer has authority to sue based on the paper dollar’s former reference to silvery discs of measurable weight.
Well, we deserve it
Are you sad? In considering the Chattanooga sealer, are you disappointed at my naysaying about his erstwhile powers? We are a Southern town. We hold Fed notes in our billfolds and electronic versions in our credit union accounts. But we cannot hold the Yankee bank responsible for that richly flowing fountain of unfailing woe.
We should not be too upset. Any indignation we feel at the pending deletion of the city code provision should be limited by our sense of Christian resignation. If Mayor Littlefield and council members extinguish the office arising from the days of coal dealers, they are not committing any sin against God and the 8th commandment.
For one, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture runs a weights and measures section that oversees measuring devices from liquid propane gas meters to fuel pumps to UPC codes. Secondarily, Christians in Hamilton County and the rest of the country have been indifferent to God’s law for a long time. Most of God’s people are happily unaware that weights are under God’s purview and care, and that He demands they be honest, for His glory and their benefit.
Sources: ‡ Thanks to Joey Tubbs, outside salesman for East Chattanooga Lumber and Supply Co.
‡‡ I base this figure on a practical consideration. If you want to buy money today, you have to make your purchase in cheap Fed paper. To buy a thousand dollars (in circulated silver coins, 90 percent fine) wholesale, you pay 21,950 units in paper money. A retail trade is F$23,950. A modern dollar is worth about 4½ cents in real money. (Source: Lewis Revels, Chattanooga Coin)
R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, “The Eighth Commandment”
(Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), pp 448-541
Corpus Juris Secundum, municipal corporations