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Hamilton, Alexander 1757-

Statesman; born in Nevis, W. I., Jan. 11, 1757. His father was a Scotchman; his mother, of Huguenot descent. He came to the English-American colonies in 1772, and attended a school kept by Francis Barber at Elizabeth, N. J., and entered King's (Columbia) College in 1773. He made a speech to a popular assemblage in New York City in 1774, when only seventeen years of age, remarkable in every particular, and he aided the patriotic cause by his writings. In March, 1776, he was made captain of artillery, and served at White Plains, Trenton, and Princeton; and in March, 1777, became aide-de-camp to Washington, and his secretary and trusted confidant. He was of great assistance to Washington in his correspondence, and in planning campaigns. In December, 1780, he married a daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler, and in 1781 he retired from Washington's staff. In July he was appointed to the command of New York troops, with the rank of colonel, and captured by assault a redoubt at Yorktown, Oct. 14, 1781. After the surrender of Cornwallis he left the army; studied law; was a member of Congress (1782- 83), and soon took the lead in his profession. He was a member of the New York legislature in 1787, and of the convention at Philadelphia, that year, that framed the national Constitution. With the aid of the able pens of Madison and Jay, Hamilton put forth a series of remarkable essays in favor of the Constitution, which, in book form, bear the name of The Federalist. Hamilton wrote the larger half of that work. He was called to the cabinet of Washington as Secretary of the Treasury, and was the founder of the financial system of the republic. Having finished the great work of assisting to put in motion the machinery of the government of the United States, and seeing it in successful working order, he resigned, Jan. 31, 1795, and resumed the practice of law; but his pen was much employed in support of the policy of the national government. When, in 1798, war with France seemed probable, and President Adams appointed Washington commander-in-chief of the armies of the republic, Hamilton was made his second in command, with the rank of major-general. On the death of Washington (December, 1799), Hamilton [207]

A. Hamilton

succeeded him as commander-in-chief, but the provisional army was soon disbanded.

On Sept. 3, 1780, Hamilton wrote to Duane, a member of Congress from New York, and expressed his views on the subject of State supremacy and a national government. He proposed to call for a convention of all the States on Nov. 1 following, with full authority to conclude, finally, upon a general confederation. He traced the cause of the want of power in Congress, and censured that body for its timidity in refusing to assume authority to preserve the infant republic from harm. “Undefined powers,” he said, “are discretionary powers, [208] limited only by the object for which they were given.” He said that “some of the lines of the army, but for the influence of Washington, would obey their States in opposition to Congress. . . . Congress should have complete sovereignty in all that relates to war, peace, trade, finance, foreign affairs, armies, fleets, fortifications, coining money, establishing banks, imposing a land-tax, poll-tax, duties on trade, and the unoccupied hinds.” He proposed that the general government should have power to provide certain perpetual revenues, productive and easy of collection. He claimed the plan of confederation then before Congress to be defective, and urged alteration. “It is neither fit for war,” he said, “nor for peace. The idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty in each State will defeat the powers given to Congress, and make our union feeble and precarious.” He recommended the appointment of joint officers of state—for foreign affairs, for war, for the navy, and for the treasury—to supersede the “committees” and “boards” hitherto employed; but he neither favored a chief magistrate with supreme executive power, nor two branches in the national legislature. The whole tone of Hamilton's letter was hopeful of the future, though written in his tent, in the midst of a suffering army.

Hamilton was afraid of democracy. He wished to secure for the United States a strong government; and in the convention at Philadelphia in 1787 he presented a plan, the chief features of which were an assembly, to be elected by the people for three years; a senate, to be chosen by electors voted for by the people, to hold office during good behavior; and a governor, also chosen to rule during good behavior by a similar but more complicated process. The governor was to have an absolute negative upon all laws, and the appointment of all officers, subject, however, to the approval of the Senate. The general government was to have the appointment of the governors of the States, and a negative upon all State laws. The Senate was to be invested with the power of declaring war and ratifying treaties. In a speech preliminary to his presentation of this plan, Hamilton expressed doubts as to republican government at all, and his admiration of the English constitution as the best model; nor did he conceal his theoretical preference for monarchy, while he admitted that, in the existing state of public sentiment, it was necessary to adhere to republican forms, but with all the strength possible. He desired a general government strong enough to counterbalance the strength of the State governments and reduce them to subordinate importance.

The first report to the national Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury was waited for with great anxiety not only by the public creditors, but by every thoughtful patriot. It was presented to the House of Representatives Jan. 15, 1790. It embodied a financial scheme, which was generally adopted, and remained the line of financial policy of the new government for more than twenty years. On his recommendation, the national government assumed not only the foreign and domestic debts of the old government, incurred in carrying on the Revolutionary War, as its own, but also the debts contracted by the several States during that period for the general welfare. The foreign debt, with accrued interest, amounting to almost $12,000,000, was due chiefly to France and private lenders in Holland. The domestic debt, including outstanding Continental money and interest, amounted to over $42,000,000, nearly one-third of which was accumulated accrued interest. The State debts assumed amounted in the aggregate to $21,000,000, distributed as follows: New Hampshire, $300,000; Massachusetts. $4,000,000; Rhode Island, $200,000; Connecticut, $1,600,000; New York, $1,200,000; New Jersey, $800,000; Pennsylvania, $2,200,000; Delaware, $200,000; Maryland, $800,000; Virginia. $3,000,000: North Carolina, $2,400,000: South Carolina, $4,000,000: Georgia. $300,000. Long and earnest debates on this report occurred in and out of Congress. There was but one opinion about the foreign debt, and the President was authorized to borrow $12,000,000 to pay it with. As to the domestic debt. there was a wide difference of opinion. The Continental bills, government certificates, and other evidences of debt were mostly held by speculators, who had purchased them at greatly reduced rates; and [209] many prominent men thought it would be proper and expedient to apply a scale of depreciation to them, as in the case of the paper money towards the close of the war, in liquidating them.

Hamilton declared such a course would be dishonest and impolitic, and that the public promises should be met in full, in whatever hands the evidences were found. It was the only way, he argued justly, to sustain public credit. He proposed the funding of the public debt in a fair and economical way by which the creditors should receive their promised 6 per cent. until the government should be able to pay the principal. He assumed that in five years, if the government should pursue an honorable course, loans might be made for 5, and even 4, per cent., with which the claims might be met. The propositions of Hamilton, though warmly opposed, were obviously so just that they were agreed to in March (1790), and a new loan was authorized, payable in certificates of the domestic debt at their par value in Continental bills of credit (new issue), at the rate of 100 to 1. Congress also authorized an additional loan to the amount of $21,000,000, payable in certificates of the State debts. A system of revenue from imports and internal excise, proposed by Hamilton, was also adopted.

The persistent and sometimes violent attacks upon the financial policy of the government, sometimes assuming the aspect of personality towards Hamilton, that appeared in Freneau's National gazette in 1792, at length provoked the Secretary of the Treasury to publish a newspaper article, over the signature of “An American,” in which attention was called to Freneau's paper as the organ of the Secretary of State, Mr. Jefferson, and edited by a clerk employed in his office. This connection was represented as indelicate, and inconsistent with Jefferson's professions of republican purity. He commented on the inconsistency and indelicacy of Mr. Jefferson in retaining a place in the cabinet when he was opposed to the government he was serving, vilifying its important measures, adopted by both branches of the Congress, and sanctioned by the chief magistrate; and continually casting obstacles in the way of establishing the public credit and providing for the support of the government. The paper concluded with a contrast, as to the effect upon the public welfare, between the policy adopted by the government and that advocated by the party of which Jefferson aspired to be leader. Freneau denied, under oath, that Jefferson had anything to do with his paper, and declared he had never written a line for it. To this “An American” replied that “actions were louder than words or oaths,” and charged Jefferson with being “the prompter of the attacks on government measures and the aspersions on honorable men.” The papers by “An American” were at once ascribed to Hamilton, and drew out answers from Jefferson's friends. To these Hamilton replied. The quarrel waxed hot. Washington (then at Mount Vernon), as soon as he heard of the newspaper war, tried to bring about a truce between the angry Secretaries. In a letter to Jefferson, Aug. 23, 1792, he said: “How unfortunate and how much to be regretted it is that, while we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing out our vitals.” He portrayed the public injury that such a quarrel would inflict. He wrote to Hamilton to the same effect. Their answers were characteristic of the two men, Jefferson's concluding with an intimation that he should retire from office at the close of Washington's term. Hamilton and Jefferson were never reconciled; personally there was a truce, but politically they were bitter enemies.

In the winter of 1804 Hamilton was in Albany, attending to law business. While there a caucus or consultation was held by the leading Federalists. It was a secret meeting to consult and compare opinions on the question whether the Federalists, as a party, ought to support Aaron Burr for the office of governor of the State of New York. In a bedroom adjoining the closed dining-room in which the caucus was held one or two of Burr's political friends were concealed, and heard every word uttered in the meeting. The characters of men were fully discussed, and Hamilton, in a speech, spoke of Burr as an unsuitable candidate, because no reliance could be placed in him. The spies reported the proceedings to their [210] principal, and on Feb. 17 a correspondent of the Morning chronicle wrote that at a Federal meeting the night before the “principal part of Hamilton's speech went to show that no reliance ought to be placed in Mr. Burr.” In the election which ensued Burr was defeated, and, though Hamilton had taken no part in the canvass, his influence was such that Burr attributed his defeat to him. Burr, defeated and politically ruined, evidently determined on revenge—a revenge that nothing but the life of Hamilton would satiate. Dr. Charles Cooper, of Albany, had dined with Hamilton at the table of Judge Taylor, where Hamilton spoke freely of Burr's political conduct and principles only, to which he declared himself hostile. Dr. Cooper, in his zeal, just before the election, in published letters, said:

Duel between Hamilton and Burr.

Hamilton and Kent both consider Burr, politically, as a dangerous man, and unfit for the office of governor.” He also wrote that Hamilton and Kent both thought that Burr ought not to be “trusted with the reins of government,” and added, “I could detail a still more despicable opinion which Hamilton had expressed of Burr.” The latter made these private expressions of Hamilton concerning his political character a pretext for a challenge to mortal combat; and, seizing upon the word “despicable,” sent a note to Hamilton, demanding “a prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial of having said anything which warranted such an expression.” Several notes passed between Hamilton and Burr, through the hands of friends, in one of which Hamilton frankly said that “the conversation which Dr. Cooper alluded to turned wholly on political topics, and did not attribute to Colonel Burr any instance of dishonorable conduct, nor relate to his private character; and in relation to any other language or conversation of General Hamilton which Colonel Burr will specify, a prompt and frank avowal or denial will be given.” This was all an honorable man could ask. But Burr seemed to thirst for Hamilton's life, and he pressed him to fight a duel in a manner which, in the public opinion which then prevailed concerning the “code of honor,” Hamilton could not decline. They fought at Weehawken, July 11, 1804, on the west side of the Hudson River, and Hamilton, who would not discharge his pistol at Burr, for he did not wish to hurt him, was mortally wounded, and died the next day. The public excitement, without regard to party, was intense. Burr fled from New York and became for a while a fugitive from justice. He was politically dead, and bore the burden of scorn and remorse for more than thirty years.

Report on the coinage.—On Jan. 28, 1791, Secretary Hamilton sent the following report to the House of Representatives:

The Secretary of the Treasury having attentively considered the subject referred to [211]

Where Hamilton fell.

him by the order of the House of Representatives of the 15th of April last, relatively to the establishment of a mint, most respectfully submits the result of his inquiries and reflections.

A plan for an establishment of this nature involves a great variety of considerations—intricate, nice, and important. The general state of debtor and creditor; all the relations and consequences of price; the essential interests of trade and industry; the value of all property; the whole income, both of the State and of the individuals—are liable to be sensibly influenced, beneficially or otherwise, by the judicious or injudicious regulation of this interesting object.

It is one, likewise, not more necessary than difficult to be rightly adjusted; one which has frequently occupied the reflections and researches of politicians, without having harmonized their opinions on some of the most important of the principles which enter into its discussion. Accordingly, different systems continue to be advocated, and the systems of different nations, after much investigation, continue to differ from each other.

But, if a right adjustment of the matter be truly of such nicety and difficulty, a question naturally arises, whether it may not be most advisable to leave things, in this respect, in the state in which they are. Why, might it be asked, since they have so long proceeded in a train which has caused no general sensation of inconvenience, should alterations be attempted, the precise effect of which cannot with certainty be calculated?

The answer to this question is not perplexing. The immense disorder which actually reigns in so delicate and important a concern, and the still greater disorder which is every moment possible, call loudly for a reform. The dollar originally contemplated in the money transactions of this country, by successive diminutions of its weight and fineness, has sustained a depreciation of 5 per cent.; and yet the new dollar has a currency in all payments in place of the old, with scarcely any attention to the difference between them. The operation of this in depreciating the value of property, depending upon past contracts, and (as far as inattention to the alteration in the coin may be supposed to leave prices stationary) of all other property is apparent. Nor can it require argument to prove that a nation ought not to suffer the value of the property of its citizens to fluctuate with the fluctuations of a foreign mint and to change with the changes in the regulations of a foreign sovereign. This, nevertheless, is the condition of one which, having no coins of its own, adopts with implicit confidence those of other countries.

The unequal values allowed in different parts of the Union to coins of the same [212] intrinsic worth, the defective species of them which embarrass the circulation of some of the States, and the dissimilarity in their several moneys of account, are inconveniences which, if not to be ascribed to the want of a national coinage, will at least be most effectually remedied by the establishment of one,—a measure that will at the same time give additional security against impositions by counterfeit as well as by base currencies.

It was with great reason, therefore, that the attention of Congress, under the late Confederation, was repeatedly drawn to the establishment of a mint; and it is with equal reason that the subject has been resumed, now that the favorable change which has taken place in the situation of public affairs admits of its being carried into execution.

But, though the difficulty of devising a proper establishment ought not to deter from undertaking so necessary a work, yet it cannot but inspire diffidence in one whose duty it is made to propose a plan for the purpose, and may perhaps be permitted to be relied upon as some excuse for any errors which may be chargeable upon it, or for any deviations from sounder principles which may have been suggested by others or even in part acted upon by the former government of the United States.

In order to form a right judgment of what ought to be done, the following particulars require to be discussed:—

1st. What ought to be the nature of the money unit of the United States?

2d. What the proportion between gold and silver, if coins of both metals are to be established?

3d. What the proportion and composition of alloy in each kind?

4th. Whether the expense of coinage shall be defrayed by the government or out of the material itself?

5th. What shall be the number, denominations, sizes, and devices of the coins?

6th Whether foreign coins shall be permitted to be current or not; if the former, at what rate, and for what period?

A prerequisite to determining with propriety what ought to be the money unit of the United States is to endeavor to form as accurate an idea as the nature of the case will admit of what it actually is. The pound, though of various value, is the unit in the money account of all the States. But it is not equally easy to pronounce what is to be considered as the unit in the coins. There being no formal regulation on the point (the resolutions of Congress of the 6th of July, 1785, and 8th of August, 1786, having never yet been carried into operation), it can only be inferred from usage or practice. The manner of adjusting foreign exchanges would seem to indicate the dollar as best entitled to that character. In these the old piaster of Spain or old Seville piece of eight reals, of the value of four shillings and sixpence sterling, is evidently contemplated. The computed par between Great Britain and Pennsylvania will serve as an example. According to that, one hundred pounds sterling is equal to one hundred and sixty-six pounds and two-thirds of a pound, Pennsylvania currency; which corresponds with the proportion between 4s. 6d. sterling and 7s. 6d., the current value of the dollar in that State by invariable usage. And, as far as the information of the Secretary goes, the same comparison holds in the other States.

But this circumstance in favor of the dollar loses much of its weight from two considerations. That species of coin has never had any settled or standard value, according to weight or fineness, but has been permitted to circulate by tale, without regard to either, very much as a mere money of convenience, while gold has had a fixed price by weight, and with an eye to its fineness. This greater stability of value of the gold coins is an argument of force for regarding the money unit as having been hitherto virtually attached to gold rather than to silver.

Twenty-four grains and six-eighths of a grain of fine gold have corresponded with the nominal value of the dollar in the several States, without regard to the successive diminutions of its intrinsic worth.

But if the dollar should, notwithstanding, be supposed to have the best title to being considered as the present unit in the coins, it would remain to determine what kind of dollar ought to be understood; or, in other words, what precise quantity of fine silver. [213]

The old piaster of Spain, which appears to have regulated our foreign exchanges, weighed 17 dwt. 12 grains, and contained 386 grains and 15 mites of fine silver. But this piece has been long since out of circulation. The dollars now in common currency are of recent date, and much inferior to that both in weight and fineness. The average weight of them upon different trials in large masses has been found to be 17 dwt. 8 grains. Their fineness is less precisely ascertained, the results of various assays, made by different persons, under the direction of the late superintendent of the finances and of the Secretary, being as various as the assays themselves. The difference between their extremes is not less than 24 grains in a dollar of the same weight and age, which is too much for any probable difference in the pieces. It is rather to be presumed that a degree of inaccuracy had been occasioned by the want of proper apparatus and, in general, of practice. The experiment which appears to have the best pretensions to exactness would make the new dollar to contain 370 grains and 933 thousandth parts of a grain of pure silver.

According to an authority on which the Secretary places reliance, the standard of Spain for its silver coin, in the year 1761, was 261 parts fine and 27 parts alloy, at which proportion a dollar of 17 dwt. 8 grains would consist of 377 grains of fine silver and 39 grains of alloy. But there is no question that this standard has been since altered considerably for the worse,—to what precise point is not as well ascertained as could be wished; but, from a computation of the value of dollars in the markets both of Amsterdam and London (a criterion which cannot materially mislead) the new dollar appears to contain about 368 grains of fine silver, and that which immediately preceded it about 374 grains.

In this state of things there is some difficulty in defining the dollar which is to be understood as constituting the present money unit, on the supposition of its being most applicable to that species of coin. The old Seville piece of 386 grains and 15 mites fine comports best with the computations of foreign exchanges, and with the more ancient contracts respecting landed property; but far the greater number of contracts still in operation concerning that kind of property and all those of a merely personal nature now in force must be referred to a dollar of a different kind. The actual dollar, at the time of contracting, is the only one which can be supposed to have been intended; and it has been seen that, as long ago as the year 1761, there had been a material degradation of the standard. And even in regard to the more ancient contracts, no person has ever had any idea of a scruple about receiving the dollar of the day as a full equivalent for the nominal sum which the dollar originally imported.

A recurrence, therefore, to the ancient dollar would be in the greatest number of cases an innovation in fact, and in all an innovation in respect to opinion. The actual dollar in common circulation has evidently, a much better claim to be regarded as the actual money unit.

The mean intrinsic value of the different kinds of known dollars has been intimated as affording the proper criterion. But, when it is recollected that the more ancient and more valuable ones are not now to be met with at all in circulation, and that the mass of those generally current is composed of the newest and most inferior kinds, it will be perceived that even an equation of that nature would be a considerable innovation upon the real present state of things, which it will certainly be prudent to approach, as far as may be consistent with the permanent order designed to be introduced.

An additional reason for considering the prevailing dollar as the standard of the present money unit rather than the ancient one is that it will not only be conformable to the true existing proportion between the two metals in this country, but will be more conformable to that which obtains in the commercial world generally.

The difference established by custom in the United States between coined gold and coined silver has been stated upon another occasion to be nearly as 1 to 15.6. This, if truly the case, would imply that gold was extremely overvalued in the United States; for the highest actual proportion in any part of Europe very little, if at all, exceeds 1 to 15, and the average [214] proportion throughout Europe is probably not more than about 1 to 14 4/5. But that statement has proceeded upon the idea of the ancient dollar. One pennyweight of gold of twenty-two carats fine at 6s. 8d. and the old Seville piece of 386 grains and 15 mites of pure silver at 7s. 6d. furnish the exact ratio of 1 to 15.6262. But this does not coincide with the real difference between the metals in our market or, which is with us the same thing, in our currency. To determine this, the quantity of fine silver in the general mass of the dollars now in circulation must afford the rule. Taking the rate of the late dollar of 374 grains, the proportion would be as 1 to 15.11. Taking the rate of the newest dollar, the proportion would then be as 1 to 14.87. The mean of the two would give the proportion of 1 to 15 very nearly: less than the legal proportions in the coins of Great Britain, which is as 1 to 15.2; but somewhat more than the actual or market proportion, which is not quite 1 to 15.

The preceding view of the subject does not indeed afford a precise or certain definition of the present unit in the coins, but it furnishes data which will serve as guides in the progress of the investigation. It ascertains, at least, that the sum in the money of account of each State, corresponding with the nominal value of the dollar in such State, corresponds also with 24 grains and 6/8 of a grain of fine gold, and with something between 368 and 374 grains of fine silver.

The next inquiry towards a right determination of what ought to be the future money unit of the United States turns upon these questions: Whether it ought to be peculiarly attached to either of the metals in preference to the other or not; and, if to either, to which of them?

The suggestions and proceedings, hitherto, have had for object the annexing of it emphatically to the silver dollar. A resolution of Congress of the 6th of July, 1785, declares that the money unit of the United States shall be a dollar; and another resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, fixes that dollar at 375 grains and 64 hundredths of a grain of fine silver. The same resolution, however, determines that there shall also be two gold coins, one of 246 grains and 268 parts of a grain of pure gold, equal to ten dollars, and the other of half that quantity of pure gold, equal to five dollars. And it is not explained whether either of the two species of coins, of gold, or silver, shall have any greater legality in payments than the other. Yet it would seem that a preference in this particular is necessary to execute the idea of attaching the unit exclusively to one kind. If each of them be as valid as the other in payments to any amount, it is not obvious in what effectual sense either of them can be deemed the money unit rather than the other.

If the general declaration, that the dollar shall be the money unit of the United States, could be understood to give it a superior legality in payments, the institution of coins of gold and the declaration that each of them shall be equal to a certain number of dollars, would appear to destroy that inference. And the circumstance of making the dollar the unit in the money of account seems to be rather matter of form than of substance.

Contrary to the ideas which have heretofore prevailed in the suggestions concerning a coinage for the United States. though not without much hesitation, arising from a deference for those ideas, the Secretary is, upon the whole, strongly inclined to the opinion that a preference ought to be given to neither of the metals for the money unit. Perhaps, if either were to be preferred, it ought to be gold rather than silver.

The reasons are these:—

The inducement to such a preference is to render the unit as little variable as possible, because on this depends the steady value of all contracts and, in a certain sense, of all other property. And it is truly observed that, if the unit belong indiscriminately to both the metals, it is subject to all the fluctuations that happen in the relative value which they bear to each other. But the same reason would lead to annexing it to that particular one which is itself the least liable to variation, if there be in this respect any discernible difference between the two.

Gold may perhaps, in certain senses, be said to have greater stability than silver, as, being of superior value, less liberties [215] have been taken with it in the regulations of different countries. Its standard has remained more uniform, and it has in other respects undergone fewer changes, as, being not so much an article of merchandise, owing to the use made of silver in the trade with the East Indies and China, it is less liable to be influenced by circumstances of commercial demand. And if, reasoning by analogy, it could be affirmed that there is a physical probability of greater proportional increase in the quantity of silver than in that of gold, it would afford an additional reason for calculating on greater steadiness in the value of the latter.

As long as gold, either from its intrinsic superiority as a metal, from its greater rarity, or from the prejudices of mankind, retains so considerable a preeminence in value over silver as it has hitherto had, a natural consequence of this seems to be that its condition will be more stationary. The revolutions, therefore, which may take place in the comparative value of gold and silver will be changes in the state of the latter rather than in that of the former.

If there should be an appearance of too much abstraction in any of these ideas, it may be remarked that the first and most simple impressions do not naturally incline to giving a preference to the inferior or less valuable of the two metals.

It is sometimes observed that silver ought to be encouraged rather than gold, as being more conducive to the extension of bank circulation, from the greater difficulty and inconvenience which its greater bulk compared with its value occasions in the transportation of it. But bank circulation is desirable rather as an auxiliary to than as a substitute for that of the precious metals, and ought to be left to its natural course. Artificial expedients to extend it by opposing obstacles to the other are, at least, not recommended by any very obvious advantages. And, in general, it is the safest rule to regulate every particular institution or object according to the principles which in relation to itself appear the most sound. In addition to this, it may be observed that the inconvenience of transporting either of the metals is sufficiently great to induce a preference of bank paper whenever it can be made to answer the purpose equally well.

But, upon the whole, it seems to be most advisable, as has been observed, not to attach the unit exclusively to either of the metals, because this cannot be done effectually without destroying the office and character of one of them as money and reducing it to the situation of a mere merchandise, which accordingly, at different times, has been proposed from different and very respectable quarters, but which would, probably, be a greater evil than occasional variations in the unit from the fluctuations in the relative value of the metals, especially if care be taken to regulate the proportion between them with an eye to their average commercial value.

To annul the use of either of the metals as money is to abridge the quantity of circulating medium, and is liable to all the objections which arise from a comparison of the benefits of a full with the evils of a scanty circulation.

It is not a satisfactory answer to say that none but the favored metal would in this case find its way into the country, as in that all balances must be paid. The practicability of this would, in some measure, depend on the abundance or scarcity of it in the country paying. Where there was but little, it either would not be procurable at all or it would cost a premium to obtain it, which in every case of a competition with others in a branch of trade would constitute a deduction from the profits of the party receiving. Perhaps, too, the embarrassments which such a circumstance might sometimes create in the pecuniary liquidation of balances might lead to additional efforts to find a substitute in commodities, and might so far impede the introduction of the metals. Neither could the exclusion of either of them be deemed in other respects favorable to commerce. It is often in the course of trade as desirable to possess the kind of money as the kind of commodities best adapted to a foreign market.

It seems, however, most probable that the chief, if not the sole, effects of such a regulation would be to diminish the utility of one of the metals. It could hardly prove an obstacle to the introduction of that which was excluded in the natural [216] course of trade, because it would always command a ready sale for the purpose of exportation to foreign markets. But such an effect, if the only one, is not to be regarded as a trivial inconvenience.

If, then, the unit ought not to be attached exclusively to either of the metals, the proportion which ought to subsist between them in the coins becomes a preliminary inquiry in order to its proper adjustment. This proportion appears to be in several views of no inconsiderable moment.

One consequence of overvaluing either metal in respect to the other is the banishment of that which is undervalued. If two countries are supposed, in one of which the proportion of gold to silver is as 1 to 16, in the other as 1 to 15, gold being worth more, silver less, in one than in the other, it is manifest that, in their reciprocal payments, each will select that species which it values least to pay to the other, where it is valued most. Besides this the dealers in money will, from the same cause, often find a profitable traffic in an exchange of the metals between the two countries. And hence it would come to pass, if other things were equal, that the greatest part of the gold would be collected in one, and the greatest part of the silver in the other. The course of trade might, in some degree, counteract the tendency of the difference in the legal proportions, by the market value; but this is so far and so often influenced by the legal rates that it does not prevent their producing the effect which is inferred. Facts, too, verify the inference. In Spain and England, where gold is rated higher than in other parts of Europe, there is a scarcity of silver; while it is found to abound in France and Holland, where it is rated higher in proportion to gold than in the neighboring nations. And it is continually flowing from Europe to China and the East Indies, owing to the comparative cheapness of it in the former, and dearness of it in the latter.

This consequence is deemed by some not very material, and there are even persons who from a fanciful predilection to gold are willing to invite it even by a higher price. But general utility will best be promoted by a due proportion of both metals. If gold be most convenient in large payments, silver is best adapted to the more minute and ordinary circulation.

But it is to be suspected that there is another consequence more serious than the one which has been mentioned. This is the diminution of the total quantity of specie which a country would naturally possess.

It is evident that as often as a country which overrates either of the metals receives a payment in that metal, it gets a less actual quantity than it ought to do or than it would do if the rate were a just one.

It is also equally evident that there will be a continual effort to make payment to it in that specie to which it has annexed an exaggerated estimation wherever it is current at a less proportional value. And it would seem to be a very natural effect of these two causes, not only that the mass of the precious metals in the country in question would consist chiefly of that kind to which it had given an extraordinary value, but that it would be absolutely less than if they had been duly proportioned to each other.

A conclusion of this sort, however, is to be drawn with great caution. In such matters there are always some local and many other particular circumstances which qualify and vary the operation of general principles, even where they are just; and there are endless combinations, very difficult to be analyzed, which often render principles that have the most plausible pretensions unsound and delusive.

There ought, for instance, according to those which have been stated, to have been formerly a greater quantity of gold in proportion to silver in the United States than there has been, because the actual value of gold in this country compared with silver was perhaps higher than in any other. But our situation with regard to the West Indian Islands, into some of which there is a large influx of silver directly from the mines of South America, occasions an extraordinary supply of that metal, and consequently a greater proportion of it in our circulation than might have been expected from its relative value.

What influence the proportion under consideration may have upon the state of prices and how far this may counteract [217] its tendency to increase or lessen the quantity of the metals, are points not easy to be developed; and yet they are very necessary to an accurate judgment of the true operation of the thing.

But, however impossible it may be to pronounce with certainty that the possession of a less quantity of specie is a consequence of overvaluing either of the metals, there is enough of probability in the considerations which seem to indicate it to form an argument of weight against such overvaluation.

A third ill consequence resulting from it is a greater and more frequent disturbance of the state of the money unit by a greater and more frequent diversity between the legal and market proportions of the metals. This has not hitherto been experienced in the United States, but it has been experienced elsewhere; and from its not having been felt by us hitherto it does not follow that this will not be the case hereafter, when our commerce shall have attained a maturity which will place it under the influence of more fixed principles.

In establishing a proportion between the metals, there seems to be an option of one or two things:—

To approach as nearly as can be ascertained the mean or average proportion in what may be called the commercial world; or

To retain that which now exists in the United States.

As far as these happen to coincide, they will render the course to be pursued more plain and more certain.

To ascertain the first with precision would require better materials than are possessed or than could be obtained without an inconvenient delay.

Sir Isaac Newton, in a representation to the treasury of Great Britain, in the year 1717, after stating the particular proportions in the different countries of Europe, concludes thus: “By the course of trade and exchange between nation and nation in all Europe fine gold is to fine silver as 14 4/5 or 15 to 1.”

But however accurate and decisive this authority may be deemed in relation to the period to which it applies, it cannot be taken at the distance of more than seventy years as a rule for determining the existing proportion. Alterations have been since made in the regulations of their coins by several nations, which, as well as the course of trade, have an influence upon the market values. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the state of the matter as represented by Sir Isaac Newton is not very remote from its actual state.

In Holland, the greatest money market of Europe, gold was to silver, in December, 1789, as 1 to 14.88; and in that of London it has been for some time past but little different, approaching, perhaps, something nearer 1 to 15.

It has been seen that the existing proportion between the two metals in this country is about as 1 to 15.

It is fortunate, in this respect, that the innovations of the Spanish mint have imperceptibly introduced a proportion so analogous as this is to that which prevails among the principal commercial nations, as it greatly facilitates a proper regulation of the matter.

This proportion of 1 to 15 is recommended by the particular situation of our trade, as being very nearly that which obtains in the market of Great Britain, to which nation our specie is principally exported. A lower rate for either of the metals, in our market than in hers, might not only afford a motive the more, in certain cases, to remit in specie rather than in commodities; but it might, in some others, cause us to pay a greater quantity of it for a given sum than we should otherwise do. If the effect should rather be to occasion a premium to be given for the metal which was underrated, this would obviate those disadvantages; but it would involve another—a customary difference between the market and legal proportions which would amount to a species of disorder in the national coinage.

Looking forward to the payments of interest hereafter to be made to Holland the same proportion does not appear ineligible. The present legal proportion in the coins of Holland is stated to be 1 to 14 9/10. That of the market varies somewhat at different times, but seldom very widely from this point.

There can hardly be a better rule, in any country, for the legal than the market proportion, if this can be supposed to [218] have been produced by the free and steady course of commercial principles. The presumption, in such case, is that each metal finds its true level, according to its intrinsic utility in the general system of money operations.

But it must be admitted that this argument in favor of continuing the existing proportion is not applicable to the state of the coins with us. There have been too many artificial and heterogeneous ingredients, too much want of order in the pecuniary transactions of this country, to authorize the attributing the effects which have appeared to the regular operations of commerce. A proof of this is to be drawn from the alterations which have happened in the proportion between the metals merely by the successive degradations of the dollar in consequence of the mutability of a foreign mint. The value of gold to silver appears to have declined wholly from this cause from 15 6/10 to about 15 to 1. Yet, as this last proportion, however produced, coincides so nearly with what may be deemed the commercial average, it may be supposed to furnish as good a rule as can be pursued.

The only question seems to be whether the value of gold ought not to be a little lowered to bring it to a more exact level with the two markets which have been mentioned. But, as the ratio of 1 to 15 is so nearly conformable to the state of those markets and best agrees with that of our own, it will probably be found the most eligible. If the market of Spain continues to give a higher value to gold (as it has done in time past) than that which is recommended, there may be some advantage in a middle station.

A further preliminary to the adjustment of the future money unit is to determine what shall be the proportion and composition of alloy in each species of the coins.

The first, by the resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, before referred to, is regulated at one-twelfth, or, in other words, at 1 part alloy to 11 parts fine, whether gold or silver, which appears to be a convenient rule, unless there should be some collateral consideration which may dictate a departure from it. Its correspondency in regard to both metals is a recommendation of it, because a difference could answer no purpose of pecuniary or commercial utility, and uniformity is favorable to order.

This ratio as it regards gold coincides with the proportion, real or professed, in the coins of Portugal, England, France, and Spain. In those of the two former it is real: in those of the two latter there is a deduction for what is called remedy of weight and alloy, which is in the nature of an allowance to the master of the mint for errors and imperfections in the process, rendering the coin either lighter or baser than it ought to be. The same thing is known in the theory of the English mint, where 1/6 of a carat is allowed. But the difference seems to be that there it is merely an occasional indemnity within a certain limit for real and unavoidable errors and imperfections, whereas, in the practice of the mints of France and Spain, it appears to amount to a stated and regular deviation from the nominal standard. Accordingly, the real standards of France and Spain are something worse than 22 carats, or 11 parts in 12 fine.

The principal gold coins in Germany, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and Italy, are finer than those of England and Portugal, in different degrees, from 1 carat and 1/4 to 1 carat and 7/8, which last is within 1/8 of a carat of pure gold.

There are similar diversities in the standards of the silver coins of the different countries of Europe. That of Great Britain is 222 parts fine to 18 alloy: those of the other European nations vary from that of Great Britain as widely as from about 17 of the same parts better to 75 worse.

The principal reasons assigned for the use of alloy are the saving of expense in the refining of the metals (which in their natural state are usually mixed with a portion of the coarser kinds) and the rendering of them harder as a security against too great waste by friction or wearing. The first reason drawn from the original composition of the metals is strengthened at present by the practice of alloying their coins, which has obtained among so many nations. The reality of the effect to which the last reason is applicable has been denied, and experience [219] has been appealed to as proving that the more alloyed coins wear faster than the purer. The true state of this matter may be worthy of future investigation, though first appearances are in favor of alloy. In the mean time the saving of trouble and expense are sufficient inducements to following those examples which suppose its expediency. And the same considerations lead to taking as our models those nations with whom we have most intercourse and whose coins are most prevalent in our circulation. These are Spain, Portugal, England, and France. The relation which the proposed proportion bears to their gold coins has been explained. In respect to their silver coins, it will not be very remote from the mean of their several standards.

The component ingredients of the alloy in each metal will also require to be regulated. In silver, copper is the only kind in use, and it is doubtless the only proper one. In gold there is a mixture of silver and copper, in the English coins consisting of equal parts, in the coins of some other countries varying from 1/3 to 2/3 silver.

The reason of this union of silver with copper is this: the silver counteracts the tendency of the copper to injure the color or beauty of the coin by giving it too much redness, or rather a coppery hue, which a small quantity will produce; and the copper prevents the too great whiteness which silver alone would confer. It is apprehended that there are considerations which may render it prudent to establish by law that the proportion of silver to copper in the gold coins of the United States, shall not be more than 1/2 nor less than 1/3 vesting direction in some proper place to regulate the matter within those limits, as experience in the execution may recommend.

A third point remains to be discussed as a prerequisite to the determination of the money unit, which is whether the expense of coining shall be defrayed by the public or out of the material itself, or, as it is sometimes stated, whether coinage shall be free or shall be subject to a duty or imposition. This forms, perhaps, one of the nicest questions in the doctrine of money.

The practice of different nations is dissimilar in this particular. In England coinage is said to be entirely free, the mint price of the metals in bullion being the same with the value of them in coin. In France there is a duty which has been, if it is not now, 8 per cent. In Holland there is a difference between the mint price and the value in the coins, which has been computed at .96 or something less than 1 per cent. upon gold, at 1.48 or something less than 1 1/2 per cent. upon silver. The resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, proceeds upon the idea of a deduction of 1/2 per cent. from gold and of 2 per cent. from silver as an indemnification for the expense of coining. This is inferred from a report of the late Board of Treasury, upon which that resolution appears to have been founded.

Upon the supposition that the expense of coinage ought to be defrayed out of the metals, there are two ways in which it may be effected—one by a reduction of the quantity of fine gold and silver in the coins, the other by establishing a difference between the value of those metals in the coins and the mint price of them in bullion.

The first method appears to the Secretary inadmissible. He is unable to distinguish an operation of this sort from that of raising the denomination of the coin—a measure which has been disapproved by the wisest men of the nations in which it has been practised and condemned by the rest of the world. To declare that a less weight of gold or silver shall pass for the same sum which before represented a greater weight or to ordain that the same weight shall pass for a greater sum are things substantially of one nature. The consequence of either of them, if the change can be realized, is to degrade the money unit, obliging creditors to receive less than their just dues and depreciating property of every kind. For it is manifest that everything would in this case be represented by a less quantity of gold and silver than before.

It is sometimes observed, on this head, that, though any article of property might, in fact, be represented by a less actual quantity of pure metal, it would, nevertheless, be represented by something [220] of the same intrinsic value. Every fabric, it is remarked, is worth intrinsically the price of the raw material and the expense of fabrication—a truth not less applicable to a piece of coin than to a yard of cloth.

This position, well founded in itself, is here misapplied. It supposes that the coins now in circulation are to be considered as bullion, or, in other words, as raw material. But the fact is that the adoption of them as money has caused them to become the fabric: it has invested them with the character and office of coins, and has given them a sanction and efficacy equivalent to that of the stamp of the sovereign. The prices of all our commodities at home and abroad, and of all foreign commodities in our markets, have found their level in conformity to this principle. The foreign coins may be divested of the privilege they have hitherto been permitted to enjoy, and may of course be left to find their value in the market as a raw material. But the quantity of gold and silver in the national coins corresponding with a given sum cannot be made less than heretofore without disturbing the balance of intrinsic value, and making every acre of land as well as every bushel of wheat of less actual worth than in time past. If the United States were isolated and cut off from all intercourse with the rest of mankind, this reasoning would not be equally conclusive. But it appears decisive when considered with a view to the relations which commerce has created between us and other countries.

It is, however, not improbable that the effect meditated would be defeated by a rise of prices proportioned to the diminution of the intrinsic value of the coins. This might be looked for in every enlightened commercial country, but, perhaps, in none with greater certainty than this, because in none are men less liable to be the dupes of sounds, in none has authority so little resource for substituting names for things.

A general revolution in prices, though only nominally and in appearance, could not fail to distract the ideas of the community, and would be apt to breed discontent as well among all those who live on the income of their money as among the poorer classes of the people, to whom the necessaries of life would seem to have become dearer. In the confusion of such a state of things ideas of value would not improbably adhere to the old coins, which, from that circumstance, instead of feeling the effect of the loss of their privilege as money, would, perhaps, bear a price in the market relatively to the new ones in exact proportion to weight. The frequency of the demand for the metals to pay foreign balances would contribute to this effect.

Among the evils attendant on such an operation are these: creditors both of the public and of individuals would lose a part of their property, public and private credit would receive a wound, the effective revenues of the government would be diminished. There is scarcely any point in the economy of national affairs of greater moment than the uniform preservation of the intrinsic value of the money unit. On this the security and steady value of property essentially depend.

The second method, therefore, of defraying the expense of the coinage out of the metals is greatly to be preferred to the other. This is to let the same sum of money continue to represent in the new coins exactly the same quantity of gold and silver as it does in those now current; to allow at the mint such a price only for those metals as will admit of profit just sufficient to satisfy the expense of coinage; to abolish the legal currency of the foreign coins, both in public and private payments; and of course to leave the superior utility of the national coins for domestic purposes, to operate the difference of market value, which is necessary to induce the bringing of bullion to the mint. In this case all property and labor will still be represented by the same quantity of gold and silver as formerly; and the only change which will be wrought will consist in annexing the office of money exclusively to the national coins, consequently withdrawing it from those of foreign countries, and suffering them to become, as they ought to be, mere articles of merchandise.

The arguments in favor of a regulation of this kind are:

First. That the want of it is a cause of extra expense. There being, then, no motive of individual interest to distinguish [221] between the national coins and bullion, they are, it is alleged, indiscriminately melted down for domestic manufactures, and exported for the purposes of foreign trade; and it is added that, when the coins become light by wearing, the same quantity of fine gold or silver bears a higher price in bullion than in the coins, in which state of things the melting down of the coins to be sold as bullion is attended with profit; and from both causes the expense of the mint, or, in other words, the expense of maintaining the specie capital of the nation, is materially augmented.

Secondly. That the existence of such a regulation promotes a favorable course of exchange and benefits trade not only by that circumstance, but by obliging foreigners in certain cases to pay dearer for domestic commodities and to sell their own cheaper.

As far as relates to the tendency of a free coinage to produce an increase of expense in the different ways that have been stated, the argument must be allowed to have foundation both in reason and in experience. It describes what has been exemplified in Great Britain.

The effect of giving an artificial value to bullion is not at first sight obvious; but it actually happened at the period immediately preceding the late reformation in the gold coin of the country just named. A pound troy in gold bullion of standard fineness was then from 19s. 6d. to 25s. sterling dearer than an equal weight of guineas as delivered at the mint. The phenomenon is thus accounted for: The old guineas were more than 2 per cent. lighter than their standard weight. This weight, therefore, in bullion, was truly worth 2 per cent. more than those guineas. It consequently had in respect to them a correspondent rise in the market.

And, as guineas were then current by tale, the new ones, as they issued from the mint, were confounded in circulation with the old ones, and by the association were depreciated below the intrinsic value in comparison with bullion. It became, of course, a profitable traffic to sell bullion for coin, to select the light pieces and reissue them in currency, and to melt down the heavy ones and sell them again as bullion. This practice, besides other inconveniences, cost the government large sums in the renewal of the coins.

But the remainder of the argument stands upon ground far more questionable. It depends upon very numerous and very complex combinations, in which there is infinite latitude for fallacy and error.

The most plausible part of it is that which relates to the course of exchange. Experience in France has shown that the market price of bullion has been influenced by the mint difference between that and coin, sometimes to the full extent of the difference; and it would seem to be a clear inference that, whenever that difference materially exceeded the charges of remitting bullion from the country where it existed to another in which coinage is free, exchange would be in favor of the former.

If, for instance, the balance of trade between France and England were at any time equal, their merchants would naturally have reciprocal payments to make to an equal amount, which, as usual, would be liquidated by means of bills of exchange. If in this situation the difference between coin and bullion should be in the market as at the mint of France 8 per cent., if also the charges of transporting money from France to England should not be above 2 per cent., and if exchange should be at par, it is evident that a profit of 6 per cent. might be made by sending bullion from France to England and drawing bills for the amount. One hundred louis d'ors in coin would purchase the weight of one hundred and eight in bullion, one hundred of which remitted to England would suffice to pay a debt of an equal amount; and, two being paid for the charges of insurance and transportation, there would remain six for the benefit of the person who should manage the negotiation. But, as so large a profit could not fail to produce competition, the bills in consequence of this would decrease in price till the profit was reduced to the minimum of an adequate recompense for the trouble and risk. And, as the amount of one hundred louis d'ors in England might be afforded for ninety-six in France with a profit of more than 1 1/2 per cent., bills upon England might fall in France to 4 per cent. below par, 1 per cent. being a sufficient profit to the [222] exchanger or broker for the management of the business.

But it is admitted that this advantage is lost when the balance of trade is against the nation which imposes the duty in question, because by increasing the demand for bullion it brings this to a par with the coins; and it is to be suspected that, where commercial principles have their free scope and are well understood, the market difference between the metals in coin and bullion will seldom approximate to that of the mint, if the latter be considerable. It must be not a little difficult to keep the money of the world, which can be employed to an equal purpose in the commerce of the world, in a state of degradation in comparison with the money of a particular country.

This alone would seem sufficient to prevent it. Whenever the price of coin to bullion in the market materially exceeded the par of the metals, it would become an object to send the bullion abroad, if not to pay a foreign balance, to be invested in some other way in foreign countries where it bore a superior value—an operation by which immense fortunes might be amassed, if it were not that the exportation of the bullion would of itself restore the intrinsic par. But, as it would naturally have this effect, the advantage supposed would contain in itself the principle of its own destruction. As long, however, as the exportation of bullion could be made with profit, which is as long as exchange could remain below par, there would be a drain of the gold and silver of the country.

If anything can maintain for a length of time a material difference between the value of the metals in coin and in bullion, it must be a constant and considerable balance of trade in favor of the country in which it is maintained. In one situated like the United States, it would in all probability be a hopeless attempt. The frequent demand for gold and silver to pay balances to foreigners would tend powerfully to preserve the equilibrium of intrinsic value.

The prospect is that it would occasion foreign coins to circulate by common consent nearly at par with the national.

To say that as far as the effect of lowering exchange is produced, though it be only occasional and momentary, there is a benefit the more thrown into the scale of public prosperity, is not satisfactory. It has been seen that it may be productive of one evil, the investment of a part of the national capital in foreign countries, which can hardly be beneficial but in a situation like that of the United Netherlands, where an immense capital and a decrease of internal demand render it necessary to find employment for money in the wants of other nations; and perhaps on a close examination other evils may be descried.

One allied to that which has been mentioned is this—taking France for the sake of more concise illustration as the scene: Whenever it happens that French louis d'ors are sent abroad from whatever cause, if there be a considerable difference between coin and bullion in the market of France, it will constitute an advantageous traffic to send back these louis d'ors and bring away bullion in lieu of them, upon all which exchanges France must sustain an actual loss of a part of its gold and silver.

Again, such a difference between coin and bullion may tend to counteract a favorable balance of trade. Whenever a foreign merchant is the carrier of his own commodities to France for sale, he has a strong inducement to bring back specie instead of French commodities, because a return in the latter may afford no profit, may even be attended with loss. In the former it will afford a certain profit. The same principle must be supposed to operate in the general course of remittances from France to other countries. The principal question with a merchant naturally is, In what manner can I realize a given sum with most advantage where I wish to place it? And, in cases in which other commodities are not likely to produce equal profit with bullion, it may be expected that this will be preferred, to which the greater certainty attending the operation must be an additional incitement. There can hardly be imagined a circumstance less friendly to trade than the existence of an extra inducement arising from the possibility of a profitable speculation upon the articles themselves to export from a country its gold and [223] silver rather than the products of its land and labor.

The other advantages supposed, of obliging foreigners to pay dearer for domestic commodities and to sell their own cheaper, are applied to a situation which includes a favorable balance of trade. It is understood in this sense— the prices of domestic commodities (such at least as are peculiar to the country) remain attached to the denominations of the coins. When a favorable balance of trade realizes in the market the mint difference between coin and bullion, foreigners who must pay in the latter are obliged to give more of it for such commodities than they otherwise would do. Again, the bullion, which is now obtained at a cheaper rate in the home market, will procure the same quantity of goods in the foreign market as before, which is said to render foreign commodities cheaper. In this reasoning much fallacy is to be suspected. If it be true that foreigners pay more for domestic commodities, it must be equally true that they get more for their own when they bring them themselves to the market. If peculiar or other domestic commodities adhere to the denominations of the coins, no reason occurs why foreign commodities of a like character should not do the same thing; and in this case the foreigner, though he receive only the same value in coin for his merchandise as formerly, can convert it into a greater quantity of bullion. Whence the nation is liable to lose more of its gold and silver than if their intrinsic value in relation to the coins were preserved. And whether the gain or the loss will, on the whole, preponderate, would appear to depend on the comparative proportion of active commerce of the one country with the other.

It is evident, also, that the nation must pay as much gold and silver as before for the commodities which it procures abroad; and whether it obtains this gold and silver cheaper or not turns upon the solution of the question just intimated, respecting the relative proportion of active commerce between the two countries.

Besides these considerations, it is admitted in the reasoning that the advantages supposed, which depend on a favorable balance of trade, have a tendency to affect that balance disadvantageously. Foreigners, it is allowed, will in this case seek some other vent for their commodities and some other market where they can supply their wants at an easier rate. A tendency of this kind, if real, would be a sufficient objection to the regulation. Nothing which contributes to change a beneficial current of trade can well compensate by particular advantages for so injurious an effect. It is far more easy to transfer trade from a less to a more favorable channel than, when once transferred, to bring it back to its old one. Every source of artificial interruption to an advantageous current is, therefore, cautiously to be avoided.

It merits attention that the able minister who lately and so long presided over the finances of France does not attribute to the duty on coinage in that country any particular advantages in relation to exchange and trade. Though he rather appears an advocate for it, it is on the sole ground of the revenue it affords, which he represents as in the nature of a very moderate duty on the general mass of exportation.

And it is not improbable that to the singular felicity of situation of that kingdom is to be attributed its not having been sensible of the evils which seem incident to the regulation. There is, perhaps, no part of Europe which has so little need of other countries as France. Comprehending a variety of soils and climates, an immense population, its agriculture in a state of mature improvement, it possesses within its own bosom most, if not all, the productions of the earth which any of its most favored neighbors can boast. The variety, abundance, and excellence of its wines constitute a peculiar advantage in its favor. Arts and manufactures are there also in a very advanced state, some of them of considrable importance and in higher perfection than elsewhere. Its contiguity to Spain, the intimate nature of its connection with that country—a country with few fabrics of its own, consequently numerous wants, and the principal receptacle of the treasures of the New World—these circumstances concur in securing to France so uniform and so considerable a balance of trade as in a great measure to counteract the natural tendency of any errors [224] which may exist in the system of her mint, and to render inferences from the operation of that system there, in reference to this country, more liable to mislead than to instruct. Nor ought it to pass unnoticed that with all these advantages the government of France has found it necessary on some occasions to employ very violent methods to compel the bringing of bullion to the mint—a circumstance which affords a strong presumption of the inexpediency of the regulation and of the impracticability of executing it in the United States.

This point has been the longer dwelt upon, not only because there is a diversity of opinion among speculative men concerning it, and a diversity in the practice of the most considerable commercial nations, but because the acts of our own government under the Confederation have not only admitted the expediency of defraying the expense of coinage out of the metals themselves, but upon this idea have both made a deduction from the weight of the coins and established a difference between their regulated value and the mint price of bullion, greater than would result from that deduction. This double operation in favor of a principle so questionable in itself has made a more particular investigation of it a duty.

The intention, however, of the preceding remarks is rather to show that the expectation of commercial advantages ought not to decide in favor of a duty on coinage, and that, if it should be adopted, it ought not to be in the form of a deduction from the intrinsic value of the coins, than absolutely to exclude the idea of any difference whatever between the value of the metals in coin and in bullion. It is not clearly discerned that a small difference between the mint price of bullion and the regulated value of the coins would be pernicious or that it might not even be advisable, in the first instance, by way of experiment merely as a preventive to the melting down and exportation of the coins. This will now be somewhat more particularly considered.

The arguments for a coinage entirely free are that it preserves the intrinsic value of the metals, that it makes the expense of fabrication a general instead of partial tax, and that it tends to promote the abundance of gold and silver, which, it is alleged, will flow to that place where they find the best price, and from that place where they are in any degree undervalued.

The first consideration has not much weight as an objection to a plan which, without diminishing the quantity of metals in the coins, merely allows a less price for them in bullion at the national factory or mint. No rule of intrinsic value is violated by considering the raw material as worth less than the fabric in proportion to the expense of fabrication. And by divesting foreign coins of the privilege of circulating as money they become the raw material.

The second consideration has perhaps greater weight. But it may not amount to an objection, if it be the best method of preventing disorders in the coins, which it is, in a particular manner, the interest of those on whom the tax would fall to prevent. The practice of taking gold by weight, which has of late years obtained in Great Britain, has been found in some degree a remedy; but this is inconvenient, and may on that account fall into disuse. Another circumstance has had a remedial operation. This is the delay of the mint. It appears to be the practice there not to make payment for the bullion which is brought to be exchanged for coin till it either has in fact, or is pretended to have, undergone the process of recoining.

The necessity of fulfilling prior engagements is a cause or pretext for postponing the delivery of the coin in lieu of the bullion. And this delay creates a difference in the market price of the two things. Accordingly, for some years past, an ounce of standard gold, which is worth in coin £ 3 17s. 10 1/2d. sterling, has been in the market of London, in bullion, only £ 3 17s. 6d., which is within a small fraction of 1/2 per cent. less. Whether this be management in the mint to accommodate the bank in the purchase of bullion or to effect indirectly something equivalent to a formal difference of price, or whether it be the natural course of the business is open to conjecture.

It at the same time indicates that, if the mint were to make prompt payment at about 1/2 per cent. less than [225] it does at present, the state of bullion in respect to coin would be precisely the same as it now is. And it would be then certain that the government would save expense in the coinage of gold, since it is not probable that the time actually lost in the course of the year in converting bullion into coin can be an equivalent to 1/2 per cent. on the advance, and there will generally be at the command of the treasury a considerable sum of money waiting for some periodical disbursement, which without hazard might be applied to that advance.

In what sense a free coinage can be said to promote the abundance of gold and silver may be inferred from the instances which have been given of the tendency of a contrary system to promote their exportation. It is, however, not probable that a very small difference of value between coin and bullion can have any effect which ought to enter into calculation. There can be no inducement of positive profit to export the bullion as long as the difference of price is exceeded by the expense of transportation. And the prospect of smaller loss upon the metals than upon commodities when the difference is very minute will be frequently overbalanced by the possibility of doing better with the latter from a rise of markets. It is, at any rate, certain that it can be of no consequence, in this view, whether the superiority of coin to bullion in the market be produced as in England by the delay of the mint or by a formal discrimination in the regulated values.

Under an impression that a small difference between the value of the coin and the mint price of bullion is the least exceptionable expedient for restraining the melting down or exportation of the former, and not perceiving that, if it be a very moderate one, it can be hurtful in other respects, the Secretary is inclined to an experiment of 1/2 per cent. on each of the metals. The fact which has been mentioned with regard to the price of gold bullion in the English market seems to demonstrate that such a difference may safely be made. In this case there must be immediate payment for the gold and silver offered to the mint. How far 1/2 per cent. will go towards defraying the expense of the coinage cannot be determined beforehand with accuracy. It is presumed that on an economical plan it will suffice in relation to gold. But it is not expected that the same rate on silver will be sufficient to defray the expense attending that metal. Some additional provision may therefore be found necessary if this limit be adopted.

It does not seem to be advisable to make any greater difference in regard to silver than to gold, because it is desirable that the proportion between the two metals in the market should correspond with that in the coins, which would not be the case if the mint price of one was comparatively lower than that of the other, and because, also, silver being proposed to be rated in respect to gold somewhat below its general commercial value, if there should be a disparity to its disadvantage in the mint prices of the two metals, it would obstruct too much the bringing of it to be coined, and would add an inducement to export it. Nor does it appear to the Secretary safe to make a greater difference between the value of coin and bullion than has been mentioned. It will be better to have to increase it hereafter, if this shall be found expedient, than to have to recede from too considerable a difference in consequence of evils which shall have been experienced.

It is sometimes mentioned as an expedient which, consistently with a free coinage, may serve to prevent the evils desired to be avoided, to incorporate in the coins a greater proportion of alloy than is usual, regulating their value, nevertheless, according to the quantity of pure metal they contain. This, it is supposed, by adding to the difficulty of refining them, would cause bullion to be preferred, both for manufacture and exportation.

But strong objections lie against this scheme—an augmentation of expense, an actual depreciation of the coin, a danger of still greater depreciation in the public opinion, the facilitating of counterfeits— while it is questionable whether it would have the effect expected from it.

The alloy being esteemed of no value, an increase of it is evidently an increase of expense. This, in relation to the gold [226] coins particularly, is a matter of moment. It has been noted that the alloy in them consists partly of silver. If, to avoid expense, the addition should be of copper only, this would spoil the appearance of the coin and give it a base countenance. Its beauty would indeed be injured, though in a less degree, even if the usual proportions of silver and copper should be maintained in the increased quantity of alloy.

And, however inconsiderable an additional expenditure of copper in the coinage of a year may be deemed, in a series of years it would become of consequence. In regulations which contemplate the lapse and operation of ages a very small item of expense acquires importance.

The actual depreciation of the coin by an increase of alloy results from the very circumstance which is the motive to itthe greater difficulty of refining. In England it is customary for those concerned in manufactures of gold to make a deduction in the price of fourpence sterling per ounce of fine gold for every carat which the mass containing it is below the legal standard. Taking this as a rule, an inferiority of a single carat, or one twenty-fourth part, in the gold coins of the United States, compared with the English standard, would cause the same quantity of pure gold in them to be worth nearly 4/10 per cent. less than in the coins of Great Britain. This circumstance would be likely in process of time to be felt in the market of the United States.

A still greater depreciation in the public opinion would be apprehended from the apparent debasement of the coin. The effects of imagination and prejudice cannot safely be disregarded in anything that relates to money. If the beauty of the coin be impaired, it may be found difficult to satisfy the generality of the community that what appears worse is not really less valuable, and it is not altogether certain that an impression of its being so may not occasion an unnatural augmentation of prices.

Greater danger of imposition by counterfeits is also to be apprehended from the injury which will be done to the appearance of the coin. It is a just observation that “the perfection of the coins is a great safeguard against counterfeits.” And it is evident that the color as well as the excellence of the workmanship is an ingredient in that perfection. The intermixture of too much alloy, particularly of copper, in the gold coins at least, must materially lessen the facility of distinguishing by the eye the purer from the baser kind, the genuine from the counterfeit.

The inefficacy of the arrangement to the purpose intended to be answered by it is rendered probable by different considerations. If the standard of plate in the United States should be regulated according to that of the national coins, it is to be expected that the goldsmith would prefer these to the foreign coins, because he would find them prepared to his hand in the state which he desires, whereas he would have to expend an additional quantity of alloy to bring the foreign coins to that state. If the standard of plate by law or usage should be superior to that of the national coins, there would be a possibility of the foreign coins bearing a higher price in the market; and this would not only obstruct their being brought to the mint, but might occasion the exportation of the national coin in preference. It is not understood that the practice of making an abatement of price for the inferiority of standard is applicable to the English mint; and, if it be not, this would also contribute to frustrating the expected effect from the increase of alloy. For, in this case, a given quantity of pure metal in our standard would be worth as much there as in bullion of the English or any other standard.

Considering, therefore, the uncertainty of the success of the expedient and the inconveniences which seem incident to it, it would appear preferable to submit to those of a free coinage. It is observable that additional expense, which is one of the principal of these, is also applicable to the proposed remedy.

It is now proper to resume and finish the answer to the first question, in order to do which the three succeeding ones have necessarily been anticipated. The conclusion to be drawn from the observations which have been made on the subject is this: That the unit in the coins of the United States ought to correspond with 24 grains and 3/4 of a grain of pure gold, and with 371 grains and 1/4 of a grain of [227] pure silver, each answering to a dollar in the money of account. The former is exactly agreeable to the present value of gold, and the latter is within a small fraction of the mean of the two last emissions of dollars—the only ones which are now found in common circulation, and of which the newest is in the greatest abundance; the alloy in each case to be one-twelfth of the total weight, which will make the unit 27 grains of standard gold and 405 grains of standard silver.

Each of these, it has been remarked, will answer to a dollar in the money of account. It is conceived that nothing better can be done in relation to this than to pursue the track marked out by the resolution of the 8th of August, 1786. This has been approved abroad as well as at home, and it is certain that nothing can be more simple and convenient than the decimal subdivisions. There is every reason to expect that the method will speedily grow into general use when it shall be seconded by corresponding coins. On this plan the unit in the money of account will continue to be, as established by that resolution, a dollar, and its multiples, dimes, cents, and mills, or tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.

With regard to the number of different pieces which shall compose the coins of the United States, two things are to be consulted—convenience of circulation and cheapness of the coinage. The first ought not to be sacrificed to the last; but, as far as they can be reconciled to each other, it is desirable to do it. Numerous and small (if not too minute) subdivisions assist circulation; but the multiplication of the smaller kinds increases expense, the same process being necessary to a small as to a large piece.

As it is easy to add, it will be most advisable to begin with a small number till experience shall decide whether any other kinds are necessary. The following, it is conceived, will be sufficient in the commencement:—

One gold piece, equal in weight and value to ten units or dollars.

One gold piece, equal to a tenth part of the former, and which shall be a unit or dollar.

One silver piece, which shall also be a unit or dollar. One silver piece, which shall be in weight and value a tenth part of the silver unit or dollar.

One copper piece, which shall be of the value of a hundredth part of a dollar.

One other copper piece, which shall be half the value of the former.

It is not proposed that the lighter piece of the two gold coins should be numerous, as, in large payments, the larger the pieces the shorter the process of counting, the less risk of mistake, and, consequently, the greater the safety and the convenience; and in small payments it is not perceived that any inconvenience can accrue from an entire dependence on the silver and copper coins. The chief inducement to the establishment of the small gold piece is to have a sensible object in that metal, as well as in silver, to express the unit. Fifty thousand at a time in circulation may suffice for this purpose.

The tenth part of a dollar is but a small piece, and, with the aid of the copper coins, will probably suffice for all the more minute uses of circulation. It is less than the least of the silver coins now in general currency in England.

The larger copper piece will nearly answer to the halfpenny sterling, and the smaller, of course, to the farthing. Pieces of very small value are a great accommodation and the means of a beneficial economy to the poor, by enabling them to purchase in small portions and at a more reasonable rate the necessaries of which they stand in need. If there are only cents, the lowest price for any portion of a vendible commodity, however inconsiderable in quantity, will be a cent; if there are half cents, it will be a half-cent; and in a great number of cases exactly the same things will be sold for a halfcent, which, if there were none, would cost a cent. But a half-cent is low enough for the minimum of price. Excessive minuteness would defeat its object. To enable the poorer classes to procure necessaries cheap is to enable them with more comfort to themselves to labor for less, the advantages of which need no comment.

The denominations of the silver coins contained in the resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, are conceived to be significant and proper. The dollar is recommended [228] by its correspondency with the present coin of that name for which it is designed to be a substitute, which will facilitate its ready adoption as such in the minds of the citizens. The dime, or tenth, the cent, or hundredth, the mill, or thousandth, are proper because they express the proportions which they are intended to designate. It is only to be regretted that the meaning of these terms will not be familiar to those who are not acquainted with the language from which they are borrowed. It were to be wished that the length and, in some degree, the clumsiness of some of the corresponding terms in English did not discourage from preferring them. It is useful to have names which signify the things to which they belong, and, in respect to objects of general use, in a manner intelligible to all. Perhaps it might be an improvement to let the dollar have the appellation either of dollar or unit (which latter will be the more significant), and to substitute “tenth” for dime. In time the unit may succeed to the dollar. The word cent being in use in various transactions and instruments will without much difficulty be understood as the hundredth, and the half-cent, of course, as the two-hundredth part.

The eagle is not a very expressive or apt appellation for the larger gold piece, but nothing better occurs. The smaller of the two gold coins may be called the dollar, or unit, in common with the silver piece with which it coincides.

The volume or size of each piece is a matter of more consequence than its denomination. It is evident that, the more superficies or surface, the more the piece will be liable to be injured by friction, or. in other words, the faster it will wear. For this reason it is desirable to render the thickness as great, in proportion to the breadth, as may consist with neatness and good appearance. Hence the form of the double guinea, or double louis d'or, is preferable to that of the half johannes, for the large gold piece. The small one cannot well be of any other size than the Portuguese piece of eight, of the same metal.

As it is of consequence to fortify the idea of the identity of the dollar, it may be best to let the form and size of the new one, as far as the quantity of matter (the alloy being less) permits, agree with the form and size of the present. The diameter may be the same.

The tenths may be in a mean between the Spanish 1-8 and 1-16 of a dollar.

The copper coins may be formed merely with a view to good appearance, as any difference in the wearing that can result from difference of form can be of little consequence in reference to that metal.

It is conceived that the weight of the cent may be eleven pennyweights, which will about correspond with the value of the copper and the expense of coinage. This will be to conform to the rule of intrinsic value, as far as regard to the convenient size of the coins will permit; and the deduction of the expense of coinage in this case will be the more proper, as the copper coins which have been current hitherto have passed till lately for much more than their intrinsic value. Taking the weight, as has been suggested, the size of the cent may be nearly that of the piece herewith transmitted, which weighs 10 dwt. 11 grs. 10 m. Two-thirds of the diameter of the cent will suffice for the diameter of the half-cent.

It may, perhaps, be thought expedient, according to general practice, to make the copper coinage an object of profit; but, where this is done to any considerable extent, it is hardly possible to have effectual security against counterfeits. This consideration, concurring with the soundness of the principle of preserving the intrinsic value of the money of a country, seems to outweigh the consideration of profit

The foregoing suggestions respecting the sizes of the several coins are made on the supposition that the legislature may think fit to regulate this matter. Perhaps, however, it may be judged not unadvisable to leave it to executive discretion.

With regard to the proposed size of the cent it is to be confessed that it is rather greater than might be wished, if it could with propriety and safety, be made less; and, should the value of copper continue to decline as it has done for some time past. it is very questionable whether it will long remain alone a fit metal for money. This has led to a consideration of the expediency of uniting a small proportion of silver with copper, in order to be able to [229] lessen the bulk of the inferior coins. For this there are precedents in several parts of Europe. In France the composition which is called billon has consisted of one part silver and four parts copper, according to which proportion a cent might contain seventeen grains, defraying out of the material the expense of coinage. The conveniency of size is a recommendation of such a species of coin, but the Secretary is deterred from proposing it by the apprehension of counterfeits. The effect of so small a quantity of silver in comparatively so large a quantity of copper could easily be imitated by a mixture of other metals of little value, and the temptation to doing it would not be inconsiderable.

The devices of the coins are far from being matters of indifference, as they may be made the vehicles of useful impressions. They ought, therefore, to be emblematical, but without losing sight of simplicity. The fewer sharp points and angles there are, the less will be the loss by wearing. The Secretary thinks it best on this head to confine himself to these concise and general remarks.

The last point to be discussed respects the currency of foreign coins.

The abolition of this in proper season is a necessary part of the system contemplated for the national coinage. But this it will be expedient to defer till some considerable progress has been made in preparing substitutes for them. A gradation may therefore be found most convenient.

The foreign coins may be suffered to circulate precisely upon their present footing for one year after the mint shall have commenced its operations. The privilege may then be continued for another year to the gold coins of Portugal, England, and France, and to the silver coins of Spain. And these may still be permitted to be current for one year more at the rates allowed to be given for them at the mint, after the expiration of which the circulation of all foreign coins to cease.

The moneys which will be paid into the treasury during the first year, being recoined before they are issued anew, will afford a partial substitute before any interruption is given to the pre-existing supplies of circulation. The revenues of the succeeding year and the coins which will be brought to the mint in consequence of the discontinuance of their currency will materially extend the substitute in the course of that year, and its extension will be so far increased during the third year by the facility of procuring the remaining species to be recoined, which will arise from the diminution of their current values, as probably to enable the dispensing wholly with the circulation of foreign coins after that period. The progress which the currency of bank-bills will be likely to have made during the same time will also afford a substitute of another kind.

This arrangement, besides avoiding a sudden stagnation of circulation, will cause a considerable proportion of whatever loss may be incident to the establishment in the first instance to fall as it ought to do upon the government, and will probably tend to distribute the remainder of it more equally among the community.

It may, nevertheless, be advisable in addition to the precautions here suggested to repose a discretionary authority in the President of the United States to continue the currency of the Spanish dollar, at a value corresponding with the quantity of fine silver contained in it, beyond the period above mentioned for the cessation of the circulation of the foreign coins. It is possible that an exception in favor of this particular species of coin may be found expedient; and it may tend to obviate inconveniences, if there be a power to make the exception, in a capacity to be exerted when the period shall arrive.

The Secretary for the Department of State, in his report to the House of Representatives on the subject of establishing a uniformity in the weights, measures, and coins of the United States, has proposed that the weight of the dollar should correspond with the unit of weight. This was done on the supposition that it would require but a very small addition to the quantity of metal which the dollar, independently of the object he had in view, ought to contain, in which he was guided by the resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, fixing the dollar at 375 grains and 64 hundredths of a grain.

Taking this as the proper standard of the dollar, a small alteration, for the sake of incorporating so systematic an [230] idea, would appear desirable. But, if the principles which have been reasoned from in this report are just, the execution of that idea becomes more difficult. It would certainly not be advisable to make on that account so considerable a change in the money unit as would be produced by the addition of five grains of silver to the proper weight of the dollar, without a proportional augmentation of its relative value; and to make such an augmentation would be to abandon the advantage of preserving the identity of the dollar, or, to speak more accurately, of having the proposed one received and considered as a mere substitute for the present.

The end may, however, be obtained without either of those inconveniences by increasing the proportion of alloy in the silver coins. But this would destroy the uniformity in that respect between the gold and silver coins. It remains, therefore, to elect which of the two systematic ideas shall be pursued or relinquished; and it may be remarked that it will be more easy to convert the present silver coins into the proposed ones if these last have the same or nearly the same proportion of alloy than if they have less.

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