Dead Presidents

DEFINITION of 'Dead Presidents'

Slang referring to U.S. paper currency. Dead presidents can refer to any unit of currency, but most often refers to George Washington, whose picture is on the $1 bill. Therefore an item that costs six dead presidents would mean that it costs $6.

BREAKING DOWN 'Dead Presidents'

During the Civil War, the Union Congress ordered the printing of half a million 5-cent notes due to a shortage of the metals used to produce traditional coinage. However, when the notes appeared to the public, the engraved portrait on the bill was of someone named Spencer M. Clark. Naturally, no one in the Union (or anywhere else) had any idea who this was. An investigation quickly revealed that Lincoln had appointed him as the first superintendent of the National Currency Bureau. Because Congress had not specified that any particular historical figure be placed upon the bill, he had simply taken the liberty of putting his own picture there. Needless to say, Congress was furious. They immediately enacted a law stipulating that from that point on, any person who appeared on the face of any U.S. currency had to be famous -and dead.