On this day in 1862, Congress passed the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the Treasury to print $150 million in paper currency — so-called greenbacks. Opponents of the bill, largely Democrats, claimed the law was unconstitutional (“to coin money,” they argued, literally meant making only coins), ungodly (the Almighty had created gold and silver; turning away from those precious metals thus spurned the divine), and impractical (inflation would, in short order, render paper money worthless, throwing the Union economy into an inflationary spiral like that plaguing the Confederacy).

Republicans, though, realized that there was no choice. After bad news from the front lines the previous fall — especially McClellan’s comic dithering outside Richmond — a run on the banks in December had nearly emptied the Treasury of specie. The federal government could not pay its debts, could not prosecute the war. Lincoln, surveying the scene, said: “The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do?”

Print money, that’s what. And not just any money, but paper money that would be honored in almost any setting in the nation. After the bill passed, the United States, in other words, had its first national currency, one among many ways — including, later that spring, the Internal Revenue Act — that the federal government expanded during the Civil War. Which, in turn, spawned all manner of conspiracy theories.

You see, Lincoln and Chase, before turning to the Legal Tender Act to solve the Union’s financial woes, had first approached bankers (this part is true). Sorry, they had approached Jewish bankers (probably also true, at least in part) in the North and abroad. Those bankers, eyeing the Union’s precarious situtation through beady eyes, demanded high rates of interest on any loans they’d offer (again, true). Lincoln and Chase had rejected those terms and printed greenbacks instead (also true). Sounds simple, right? Not so fast — please fasten your tinfoil hat before going on. The Rothschilds (super-duper Jewish bankers), working through the Illuminati, had, you’ll remember, started the Civil War for personal profit. And they recognized that the Legal Tender Act threatened their evil scheme. And so they deployed agents, including John Wilkes Booth, to kill Lincoln. Now that’s simple. Or at least it explains the otherwise inexplicable, which is the point of conspiracy theories.