feeding them mainly by requisitions, they were able to prosecute the contest after their credit was gone and their currency worthless; whereas, had the time ever arrived when ‘greenbacks’ would no longer buy bacon, at some not absolutely intolerable price, that circumstance must have ended the War
. The South was not so rich nor so populous that an invading army might there support itself, however amply provided with arms and munitions.
The rapid growth of our National Debt is summarily exhibited in the following table:--
|1866--Jan. 1 (less cash on hand)||2,749,491,745|
To make treasury notes, or any form of Government promise, a legal tender, is an exercise of sovereign power which only a great public exigency will justify, and which a statesman will hesitate long before resorting to; but there are cases wherein no practical alternative exists; and ours was such a case.
The banks of the loyal States were forced to suspend specie payments in December, 1861-followed, of course, by the Treasury, whose heavy demands had been the primary cause of suspension.
The act of Congress that authorized2
an issue of treasury notes, which should be a legal tender as money throughout the United States
, was a natural consequence.
The amount first provided for was $150,000,000; but the aggregate issued was increased, under subsequent acts, till it exceeded $433,000,000, beside a very large amount in notes which bore interest and were payable at a specified early day.
The general suspension of specie payment was instantly followed by a depreciation of the Currency — in other words, the bank notes which formed the usual, recognized circulating medium wherein payments were made, sank in value below the coin they represented — the disparity being indicated by the premium
at which gold could be purchased with irredeemable paper.
Throughout January, 1862, this ranged from 1 to 5 per cent.; in February, its range of fluctuation was within those extremes, or from 2 1/2 to 4 3/4 per cent. In March, April, and May-though the “ Legal Tender” act had meantime been passed and the issue of treasury notes (or ‘greenbacks’) commenced — the range was from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 per cent.; but in June it mounted to 9 1/2; and in July (after McClellan
's failure before Richmond
) to 20 1/2 per cent. In August, it fell off-varying from 12 1/2 to 15 1/2; but in September it mounted to 24 1/2, and in October to 36 1/2 per cent. In November and December, it ranged between 29 1/2 and 33 3/4; but, in January, 1863--under the disheartening influence of Burnside
's misfortunes at and near Fredericksburg
— it went up to 60 per cent. Here are its highest and lowest rulings during the two following years of anxiety and doubt — of alternate hope and despair: