previous next

Evarts, William Maxwell, 1818-1881

Statesman; born in Boston, Mass., Feb. 6, 1818; graduated at Yale College in 1837; studied law, and was admitted to the bar, in the city of New York, in 1840, where he

William Maxwell Evarts.

afterwards resided and practised his profession. He was one of the ablest and most eloquent members of the bar, and held a foremost rank in his profession for many years. He was the leading counsel employed for the defence of President Johnson in his impeachment before the Senate in 1868. President Hayes appointed Mr. Evarts Secretary of State in March, 1877, and in January, 1885, he was elected United States Senator, holding the seat till 1891. He died in New York City, Feb. 28, 1901.


In 1881, after the conclusion of his term of service in the cabinet, he went to Paris as delegate of the United States to the International Monetary Conference. He there made the following plea for the employment of both gold and silver in the money of the world:

The question now put to us is—as is obvious everywhere in the progress of this conference—the question now put to us is, “Why is it that in your wealth, your strength, your manifold and flexible energies and opportunities in the conflicts and competitions of the system of nations represented here, why is it that you feel concern for mischiefs which carry no special suffering or menace to you or anxiety as to the methods of their cure, when you are so free-handed as to the methods and resorts at your choice? Why should these evils that have grown out of a short-sighted and uncircumspect policy, as you (the United States) think; why should you so persistently call upon all the nations to unite, and put yourselves, as it were, on the same footing of danger and solicitude with them?” The answer on our part is simple and honest. It needs no ingenuity [272] to frame it, and it asks no special courtesy or confidence on your part to believe it. It is our interest in the commerce of the world, and we consider no question of the money of the world alien from that interest. Why should we not feel an interest. and an urgent interest, in the commerce of the world? We are seated on a continent, so to speak, of our own, as distinguished from Asia and Europe. We are nearer to Europe and to Asia than either is to the other, and if there is to be a great battle between the Eastern and Western commerce and a public and solemn war declared between the silver of the East and the gold of the West, who so likely to make the profit of the interchange between these moneys, and necessarily, therefore, of the interchange between the commodities that those moneys master?

But there is another striking position of our country, not geographical. It is that we more than all other nations, perhaps first of all nations, in the history of the development of commerce, that our nation holds, in either hand, the great products of staples, of raw material, and the great, the manifold, the varied products of skilled industry, which we have developed and organized, and in which we contest with Europe the markets of the world. We propose to furnish the products of our agriculture, which feed in so great share the laborers of Europe and the machinery of Europe, as inexorable in its demands as the laborers; and we propose also to deal with the world at large in the skilled products of industry in every form applied to those raw materials, and prosecuted under the advantages of their home production. We contemplate no possibility of taking place with the less civilized or poorer nations, to sit at the feet of the more civilized and richer nations. We have no desire to place ourselves, on the side of skilled industry, in the position of a superior nation to inferiors, though they may depend on us for this supply. We occupy, quite as much as in our geographical position, in this aspect towards the different forms of wealth, production, and industry, an entirely catholic and free position, having no interest but the great interest that all nations, as far as money is concerned, should not be embarrassed in trading with us, and that we, so far as money is concerned, should not be obstructed in selling cur raw products to the skilled nations of Europe, or the products of our industry to the consumers in less developed nations. Besides this equilibrium of selfishness, which makes the general good our good, we are free from any bias in the matter of the production of the precious metals, trivial as that is in comparison with the immense and fervid march of commerce. We produce the two metals equally. Out of the same prolific silver mines even, the same ore gives us 55 per cent. of silver and 45 of gold. How could you imagine a nation in regard to its production of the precious metals more indifferent as to which is made the master of the world? It is a bad tyranny that we resist. It is the possession of freedom and of power in the commerce of the world by the service of both these metals, in place of the mastery of either, that we advocate.

It is hardly necessary to recapitulate the principal duties of money, but they have always been of a nature that presented itself in a double aspect. From the time that money needed to be used in any considerable volume, and for any considerable debts among the advancing nations of the world, there never has been a time in which the money for man's use did not present itself in reference to its service and duties in two aspects. One is to deal with the petty transactions of every-day and neighborhood use, where the smallness of transactions required money susceptible of easy division; the other for a transfer in larger transactions required money to be used in the mass and with a collective force, money that was capable of easy multiplication and of easy management in aggregate values. But, besides that, there soon came to be a use of money between the distant parts of one country and between distant countries, and so an opportunity for disparity in the treatment of money in these opposing aspects, with no longer a common sovereignty that could adjust them one to the other. In the progress, so rapid, so vast, so wide, of the interchange of the products and industries of the world, there came to intrude itself more and more necessarily and familiarly, the elements [273] of distance in space and remoteness of dates of beginning and closing transactions. These developments of commerce alone embarrassed both of these moneys in the discharge of their double duty, were there no exposure to discord between themselves. But long ago this ceased to be the limit of the trouble. The actual service of intrinsic money in the transaction of the petty traffic and the great commerce of the world, in providing for its own transfer from place to place, within a nation, or from country to country, across the boundaries or across the seas, made it impossible for the volume of both the metals that the bounty of nature could yield to the urgent labor of man to perform the task. Every form and device of secondary money, of representative money, which the wit of man could compass, and which could maintain its verity as money by its relation to the intrinsic money of the world, was brought in to relieve the precious metals from the burden under which, unaided, they must have succumbed. All these forms, whether the bills of exchange to run between country and country, or of notes or checks at home, or of paper money-all are but forms of credit. While, then, they relieve intrinsic money from the intolerable burden of actually carrying the transactions of the world, they burdened it, so to speak, with moral obligations which it must discharge. All this vast expanse of credit in the developed commerce of the world rests finally upon the intrinsic money of the world, and if you would have fixity, unity, and permanence in the credit operations of the world there must be fixity, unity, and permanence in all the intrinsic money of the world upon which that credit rests. This credit is, almost without a figure, a vast globe, and this service of the precious metals to sustain it is that of an Atlas, upon whom the whole fabric rests. The strength of both arms, nerved by a united impulse of heart and will, is indispensable; neither can be spared. Consequently, if there should be any considerable failure in their force, or any waste of it by antagonism between the metals making up the intrinsic money of the world, the credit of the world is deprived of what nature in supplying the two precious metals and human wisdom in regulating them, together, are competent to supply for its maintenance.

Now, there are but two logical methods in which this disorder between gold and silver, this depreciation of their general and combined functions, this struggle between them, can be put an end to. One is to admit, as the intrinsic money of the world, only one metallic basis, and to drive out, extirpate, as a barbarism, as an anachronism, as a robber and a fraud, the other metal, that, grown old in the service and feeble in its strength, is no more a help, but a hinderance and a marplot. That is a task that might be proposed to the voluntary action of nations, and, if the monometallic proposition be the true one, that is the logical course to which the nations we represent ought to resort, unless they take the only other logical alternative — that is, to make one money out of the two metals, to have no two standards or kinds of money, but one money, adapted in its multiples and divisions to the united functions of the two precious metals.

I have said that these two are the only logical methods. There is another method, and that is, in despair of making one money out of the two metals, to make two moneys out of them. This project is not to discard either from the service of mankind, but to separate them and so mark them as that they shall not occupy the same regions, but divide the world between them. For the working of this scheme it is proposed that in some fashion a partition shall be made among nations, or sets of nations, and a struggle for the metals be set on foot to reach an equilibrium or alternating triumph, or undergo such fluctuations or vicissitudes, or enjoy such a degree of permanence as fortune, out of the chaos, may offer to mankind. This scheme might well be defined as harmonious discord and organized disorder. But this is nothing but a conelusion that although there is an intolerable evil, it is not within the compass of human wisdom, or human strength, or human courage, to attempt to remedy. This conclusion would leave things to take care of themselves. This notion found expression in the sentiments declared by some of the powers at the [274] conference of 1878. The hopeful expectation that was then indulged, that things would take care of themselves, has not been realized. Experience since has shown an aggravation of the mischief, a continued and widening extension of its pressure, and produced another appeal to the wisdom and courage of the nations to redress it, under which this conference has been convened.

But there is, confessedly, a great difficulty in arranging this partition of money among the nations. I will not enlarge upon that difficulty; it has already been sufficiently pointed out. It is inherent and ineradicable. Its terms cannot be expressed by its champions. Sometimes it is spoken of as a division between the Asiatic and European nations; sometimes as a division between the rich nations and the poor nations; sometimes as a division between the civilized and the less civilized nations. There seems to have been an easy confidence that these groups could be satisfactorily arranged for a reasonable equality in this battle of the precious metals. But I have been puzzled to know, and no one has distinctly stated, where the United States were to be arrayed. No one has ventured to determine whether they were to be counted as a rich nation or as a poor nation; whether as an Asiatic or a European nation; whether as a civilized nation or an uncivilized nation. Yet, I think it would be no vain assumption on the part of the United States to feel that any settlement of the money questions of the world that leaves us out, and our interest in them, and our wisdom about them, will not be the decree of an ecumenical council, or establish articles of faith that can be enforced against the whole world. The notion seems to be that the nations that sit above the salt are to be served with gold, and those that sit below the salt are to be served with silver. But who is to keep us in our seats? Who is to guard against an interruption of the feast by a struggle on the part of those who sit below the salt to be served with gold, or of those above the salt to be served with silver? This project purports to have neither wisdom nor courage, neither reason nor force, behind it. It is a mere fashion of speech for saying that we cannot by human will, by the power or the polity of nations, redress the mischief, but that we must leave the question to work itself out in discord, in dishonor, in disorder, in disaster.

This brings us fairly to consider how great the task is which is proposed for reason and for law to accomplish. How much is there wanting in the properties of these two metals, how much is missing from the already existing state of feeling, of habit, of the wishes and the wisdom of the world at large, and in the common-sense of mankind as exhibited in history or shown to-day, that stands in the way of the common use of the two precious metals to provide the common necessity of one money for the commerce of the world? The quarrel with nature seems to be with its perverse division of the necessary functions of money between the two precious metals. In their regret that nature has furnished us silver and gold, with the excellent properties of each, instead of one abundant, yet not redundant, metal that would have served all purposes, the monometallists strive to correct this perversity of nature by using only the not abundant gold and discarding the not redundant silver. Well, I do not know but one might imagine a metal, a single metal, that would combine all the advantages which these two metals in concert have hitherto offered to mankind. It may be within the range of imagination to conceive of a metal that would grow small in bulk when you wanted it to aggregate values, and grow large when you wanted to divide it into minute values. Yet, as I think, the mere statement, to the common apprehension of mankind, describes what we should call a perpetual miracle, and not an order of nature. Now, if such a metal is a mere figment of the imagination, if no such metal with these incompatible qualities is found in rerum natura, how are we going to dispense in our actual money with that fundamental, inexorable requirement of intrinsic money, a physical capability of multiplication and of division to serve these opposite uses? Why not then accept the reason, accept the duty of treating these two metals in which combined nature has done the [275] utmost for this special need of man, by supplying the consensus of positive law, that single nexus between them, that fixity of ratio by which they two shall be one money at all times and everywhere; by which silver, when its multiplication becomes burdensome and unmanageable, loses itself in the greater value of gold; and gold, when its division becomes too minute and trivial, breaks into pieces of silver. What nature, then, by every possible concurrence of utility has joined together let no man put asunder. It is a foolish speculation whether in rerum nature a metal might have been contrived combining these two opposing qualities. Let us accept the pious philosophy of the French bishop, as to the great gift of the strawberry— “Doubtless God Almighty might have made a better fruit than the strawberry, but, doubtless, He has not.”

This brings us to the essential idea which lies at the bottom of this effort at unity of money for the nations, the capacity of law to deal with the simple task of establishing a fixed ratio between the metals, so that their multiplication and division should make but a single scale. This, Mr. Pirmez would have us understand, would prove an ineffectual struggle of positive law against the law of nature. It is thus he denounces the attempt at a practical nexus between these metals by reason, which could not be supplied by the physical properties of matter. To me it seems to require no more than law and reason and the wit of man can readily supply, and have constantly supplied, in innumerable instances, and it should not be wanting here. The reason of man must either, in this instance, take the full bounties of nature and Providence, or must reject them, as the gross and ignorant neglect all the other faculties that are accorded to human effort and to human progress by the beneficence of God. Bring this matter to the narrowest limits. Here is a gap to be filled. Shall we supply it? Will you insist upon what is called one standard and have two moneys, or will you insist upon two standards with the result of one money? But one money is the object. All question of standards, one or two, is but a form and mode by which we may reach what we desire, one money. I insist, and challenge a refutation, that at bottom the theory of a gold standard is the theory of two moneys. It is the theory of discord between the metals. It is the theory of using one to buy the other, and robbing the exchange of commodities of what it requires to the utmost, the double strength, the double service of the two metals to buy and sell, not one another, but the commodities of the world.

But it is said that this pretence that law can regulate the metals in their uses as money involves a fundamental error in this, that money is itself a commodity and that law cannot regulate the ratio of the two metals as money any more than apportion values between other commodities. Well, silver and gold as they come from the mine no doubt are commodities. There might be imagined a metal that, besides having all the qualities which make it useful to men for money, might also miss all the qualities that would make it useful for anything else. You might have a metal suitable in all physical properties of gold and silver that was neither splendid for ornament, nor malleable, nor ductile for use; you might have a gold that did not glitter to the eyes, and a silver that would not serve to the use. In such case the confusion between gold and silver money, and gold and silver in their marketable uses, would be avoided. But, as matter of fact, besides the good qualities which benign nature has infused into these metals for our service as money, they have, as well, the properties which make them valuable in vulgar use. These latter uses, no doubt, in the infancy of mankind, directed attention to the recondite properties which fitted them for the institution of money, which later ages were fully to understand.

Although, then, the precious metals, in their qualities as metals, may remain commodities, whenever the act of the law, finding in their properties the necessary aptitudes, decrees their consecration to the public service as money, it decrees that they shall never after, in that quality of money, be commodities. In the very conception of money it is distinguished from all exchangeable, barterable commodities in this, that the law has set it apart, by the imprint of coinage, to be [276] the servant of the state and of the world in its use as money, and to abstain from all commixture, as a commodity, with the other commodities of the world. Wherever and howsoever this ideal of money fails to be real, it is because the law is either inefficient, within its jurisdiction, which is its disgrace, or because its jurisdiction is limited territorially, and because its vigor fails beyond the boundaries. In the latter case, I agree, silver or gold, in the shape of the coinage of one country or another, may become merchandise to be bought and sold, in other countries, as a mere money metal. Manifestly these exposures to demonetization, beyond the boundaries, because the legal force, which has made the metal money, stops with the boundaries, is the main cause of the mischiefs in the monetary system of the world which need redress. The cause understood, the cure is obvious. It is to carry, by some form of consensus among governments, the legal relations between the two metals, in their employment as money, beyond the boundaries of separate systems of coinage. These legal relations between the metals once fixed, no important evasions of it would be possible, and no serious disturbance of it could arise from diversities of coinage. It is for this result and by this means that we are striving.

But law, it is said, is inadequate in its strength, in its capabilities, in its vigilance, in its authority, to accomplish so great, so benign a result. It was accomplished up to the year 1870 by even the informal concurrence among the nations which till then subsisted. The spirit of the present age has led to manifold international applications of positive law on other subjects than money, while there is no subject to which its application is so important, or, within limits, so easy as money. For want of this consensus, the necessary conception of money, the institution of money, the consecration of money, is defeated, pro tanto, when any portion of the money loses its prerogative and incommunicable function of buying and selling all, and becomes purchasable or vendible. Whenever any portion of the money which should be used as the solvent for the exchange of commodities turns into a commodity, it thereby not only diminishes the force and volume of money, but adds to the weight and volume of exchangeable commodities. It is as little a condition of health, and may lead to as great calamities, as if the fevered blood should burn the tissues of the vital channels through which it circulates, or as if the coats of the stomach should turn to digesting themselves.

To me it seems certain that the nations must contemplate either the employment of the two metals as intrinsic money of the world upon a fixed, efficient concord and co-operation between them, or their surrender to perpetual struggle, aggravating itself at every triumph of one over the other, and finally ending in that calamity which overtakes, sooner or later, those who care not to use the bounties of nature according to the gift and responsibility of reason. I can see nothing valuable in the treatment of this subject which would leave the broken leash which so long held these metals to be repaired by chance, or the contest to be kept up at the expense of that unity, concord, common advantage, and general progress among nations which is the ideal and the hope, the pride and the enjoyment of the age in which we live.

Mr. Pirmez, however, would have us understand that this simple law of fixing the ratio between the metals, to be observed among concurring nations, although this consensus should include all the nations most engaged in the interchanges of the world, would be powerless because it would be opposed to the law of nature. The law of nature, no doubt, has made two metals, but, according to the best inspection of them by science and common-sense, the law of nature has made them as little diverse as possible compatibly with their best use as money. I agree that there may be foolish laws. There may be laws theoretically wise, but which, by the lawgiver not computing the difficulties to be overcome, or the repugnances that will resist their execution, are unwise for the time and the circumstances to which they are applied. I believe, as Mr. Pirmez does, that an ill-matched struggle between arbitrary decree and the firm principles of human nature will result in the overthrow of the law. But that doctrine, at bottom, if you are to apply it without regard to [277] the very law and without measuring the actual repugnance and resistance it has to meet, is simply impugning civilization for having fought with nature as it has done from the beginning. We had some years ago a revenue law in the United States, called forth by the exigencies of war expenditure, by which we undertook to exact a tax of $2 a gallon on whiskey, yet whiskey was sold all over the United States, tax paid, at $1.60 a gallon. This was a case of miscalculation of how far authority could go against a natural appetite and a national taste. When we reduced the tax to 60 cents on the gallon, the law triumphed over this opposition of appetite and cupidity and produced an immense revenue to the treasury. It is the old puzzle, how to reconcile the law of nature, that abhorred a vacuum, with its ceasing to operate beyond 33 feet in height. This was solved by the wise accommodation between philosophy and fact. that nature abhorred a vacuum, to be sure, but only abhorred it to a certain extent. As I have said, the informal, the unconscious, the merely historical and traditionary consensus of mankind made and maintained an equilibrium between the metals among the nations up to 1870. With more vigorous aid from positive law, that “written reason,” which, Mr. Pirmez says, is all the law there ever is or can be, I cannot but anticipate the suppression of the discord and struggle between the moneys of the world which now trouble commerce.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Pirmez (4)
William Maxwell Evarts (3)
Richard M. Johnson (1)
Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1881 AD (2)
1870 AD (2)
February 28th, 1901 AD (1)
1891 AD (1)
January, 1885 AD (1)
1878 AD (1)
March, 1877 AD (1)
1868 AD (1)
1840 AD (1)
1837 AD (1)
February 6th, 1818 AD (1)
1818 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: