-Caveat Lector-

Debunking the Federal Reserve
Conspiracy Theories (and other financial myths)


Myth #9: President Kennedy was assassinated because he tried to usurp the
Federal Reserve's power.  Executive Order 11,110 proves it.

Presidential Executive Order 11,110 is quite infamous among conspiracy
buffs.  Jim Marrs, author of Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, writes
that the order instructs the Treasury secretary to issue about $4.2 billion
in silver certificates as a form of currency in place of Federal Reserve
Notes.1  Written by John F. Kennedy, Marrs also speculates this order was
part of a larger plan by Kennedy to reduce the influence of the Federal
Reserve by giving the Treasury more power to issue currency.  The order was
signed June 4, 1963.  A few months later, of course, Kennedy was killed, and
conspiracy theorists hypothesize a link between the murder and E.O. 11,110.
They argue that the Federal Reserve was somehow involved in the assassination
to protect its power over monetary policy.

The executive order modifies a pre-existing order issued by Harry Truman in
1951.  E.O. 10,289 states "The Secretary of the Treasury is hereby designated
and empowered to perform the following-described functions of the President
without the approval, ratification, or other action of the President..."
The order then lists tasks (a) through (h) which the Treasurer can now do
without bothering the President.  None of the powers assigned to the Treasury
in E.O. 10,289 relate to money or to monetary policy.  Kennedy's E.O. 11,110
then instructs that
  SECTION 1. Executive Order No. 10289 of September 9, 1951, as amended, is
hereby further amended (a) By adding at the end of paragraph 1 thereof the
following subparagraph (j):           '(j) The authority vested in the
President by paragraph (b) of section
          43 of the Act of May 12, 1933, as amended (31 U.S.C. 821(b)), to
          issue silver certificates against any silver bullion, silver, or
          silver dollars in the Treasury not then held for redemption of any
          outstanding silver certificates, to prescribe the denominations of
          such silver certificates, and to coin standard silver dollars and
          subsidiary silver currency for their redemption,' and

          (b) By revoking subparagraphs (b) and (c) of paragraph 2 thereof.
SECTION 2. The amendments made by this Order shall not affect any act done,
or any right accruing or accrued or any suit or proceeding had or commenced
in any civil or criminal cause prior to the date of this Order but all such
liabilities shall continue any may be enforced as if said amendments had not
been made. John F. Kennedy, THE WHITE HOUSE, June 4, 1963.

To understand exactly what Kennedy's order was trying to do, we must
understand the purpose of the legislation which gave the order its underlying
authority.  The Agricultural Adjustment Act of May 12, 1933 (ch. 25, 48 Stat
51) to which Kennedy refers permits the President to issue silver
certificates in various denominations (mostly $1, $2, $5, and $10) and in any
total volume so long as the Treasury has enough silver on hand to redeem the
certificates for a specific quantity and fineness of silver and that the
total volume of such currency does not exceed $3 billion. The Silver Purchase
Act of 1934 (ch. 674,48 Stat 1178) also grants this power to the Treasury
Secretary subject to similar limitations.  Nowhere in the text of the order
is a quantity of money mentioned, so it is unclear how Marrs arrived at his
$4.2 billion figure. Moreover, the President could not have authorized such a
large issue because it would have exceeded the statutory limit.2

As economic activity grew in the fifties and sixties, the public demand for
low denomination currency grew, increasing the Treasury's need for silver to
back additional certificate issues and to mint new coins (dimes, quarters,
half-dollars). However, during the late fifties the price of silver began to
rise and reached the point that the market value of the silver contained in
the coins and backing the certificates was greater than the face value of the
money itself.2

To conserve the Treasury's silver needs, the Silver Purchase Act and related
measures were repealed by Congress in 1963 with Public Law 88-36.  Following
the repeal, only the President could authorize new silver certificate issues,
and no longer the Treasury Secretary. The law, signed by Kennedy himself,
also permits the Federal Reserve to issue small denomination bills to replace
the outgoing silver certificates (prior to the act, the Fed could only issue
Federal Reserve Notes in larger denominations). The Treasury's shrinking
silver stock could then be used to mint coins only and not have to back
currency. The repeal left only the President with the authority to issue
silver certificates, however it did permit him to delegate this authority.
E.O. 11,110 does this by transferring the authority from the President to the

E.O. 11,110 did not create authority to issue new silver certificates, it
only affected who could give the order. The purpose of the order was to
facilitate the reduction of certificates in circulation, not to increase
them. In October 1964 the Treasury ceased issuing them entirely. The Coinage
Act of 1965 (PL 89-81) ended the practice of using silver in most U.S. coins,
and in 1968 Congress ended the redeemability of silver certificates (PL
90-29).  E.O.  11,110 was never reversed by President Johnson and remained on
the books until 1987 when there was a general cleaning-up of executive orders
(E.O. 12,608, 9/9/87). However, by this time the remaining legislative
authority behind E.O. 11,110 had been repealed by Congress with PL 97-258 in

In summary, E.O. 11,110 did not create new authority to issue additional
silver certificates. In fact, its intention was to ease the process for their
removal so that small denomination Federal Reserve Notes could replace them
in accordance with a law Kennedy himself signed.  If Kennedy had really
sought to reduce Federal Reserve power, then why did he sign a bill that gave
the Fed still more power?

Marrs also makes some other factual errors in his conspiracy tale that
suggest he is not very familiar with the Federal Reserve or the financial
system.  He writes that a source of tension between the Federal Reserve and
the Kennedy Administration was the Treasury's desire to allow banks to
underwrite state and local government bonds, thereby weakening the "dominant"
Federal Reserve banks. However, such a move, which was later permitted by
Congress, would not have affected the Federal Reserve system because it had
never been involved in underwriting bond issues.  Marrs also claims that
Kennedy signed a bill that changed the backing of small denomination currency
from silver to gold to "add strength to the weakened U.S. currency."   This
is completely false.  U.S. currency has not been on the gold standard since
1934, and silver certificates, as their name suggests, had never been
redeemable in anything but silver. In addition, U.S. currency was not "weak"
during Kennedy's time: There had not been any significant inflation since the
late forties, and the exchange rate value of the dollar was fixed according
to the Bretton Woods agreement.

In the introduction to his book, Marrs advises the reader not to trust his
book.  This appears to be good advice.


1. Marrs, Jim (1989), Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, New York:
Carroll & Graf Publishers.

2. Woodward, G. Thomas (1996), "Money and the Federal Reserve System: Myth
and Reality," Congressional Research Service.

(page last updated January 25, 1999)

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