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R E P R E S E N T A T I V E S OB" 1 s t M A R C H , 1 8 1 9 ,


OP T.HE; D I E ? E R E N T



OP QOUV * 31A, . &*>•





%c. $c.


12th February,


feiR: In obedience re a i evolution of the H o u s e of Representatives,
passed on the Is* of M*«ch, 1 8 I 9 r directing «« the Secretary of the
Treasury to transmit to Congress ut an early period in the next
session, a general statement of the co:id*t< on of the Bank of the
tanked States and its offices, similar to .lie return made to him b y
rhs Bank; and ? s»:at-?mr-nt exhibiting as neirly as may be practicable, the amount of capital invested in the diirereuc chartered banks
in the several states ar»c* the dirt'-ict of Columbia, the amount o f
notes iosa«-d by those ba:i!:s and ia circulation, the public and private deposits in them, the amount of loans and discounts made
by them, and remaining unpaid, and the total quantity of specie
they possess; and also to report such measures as, in his opinion,
may be expedient to procure and retain a sufficient quantity o f
gold and silver coin in the TTnited States, or to supply a circulating
medium in place of specie, adapted to the exigencies of the country, and within the power of the government:" I have the honor
to submit the subjoined report and statements.
Statement A exhibits the condition of the Bank of the U n i t e d
States and its offices, on the 30th of September, 1819.
Statement B exhib.ts the amount of bank capital authorised b y
law> during the years 1 8 1 4 , 1 8 1 5 , 1 8 1 6 , and 1817. A s this


Report on the National Currency* <§c*


statement is founded upon the applications made to the T r e a s u r y
under the acts imposing stamp duties, it is belie\'ed to be substantially correct. T h e average dividends upon which the stamp duty
was paid, during those years, amounted to about 7^ p e r c e n t , upon
the nominal amount of capital; it is, however, a matter of general
notoriety, that die dividends upon bank capital, actually paid, e x ceeded that rate. If it is assumed, that the dividends declared and
u p o n which the duty was paid, amounted, during those years, to
10 per cent., then the capital actually paid in the year 1 8 1 7 ,
instead of being more than 1 2 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, as it is exhibited
in statement B , will be found to be about 945,000,000 dollars; but*
-when it is recollected that after the first payment required by the
charters of the different banks, they have generally gone into ope*
ration, it is probable that a considerable proportion of the remaining payments have added nothing to their active capital. T h i s
fact being assumed, and a deduction being made of the amount of
permanent accommodation enjoyed by the stockholders, in their
respective banks, the active bank capital of the U n i t e d States may
be fairly estimated at a sum not exceeding 7 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
T h a t these deductions ought to be made, in an attempt to ascertain
the real amount of bank capital, cannot, it is presumed, be contested. If a stockholder to the amount of 10,000 dollars has a permanent accommodation in the bank of 8,000 dollars, he has, in fact,
b u t 2 , 0 0 0 of capital in the bank. T h i s is equally true when a
portion of his subscription has been paid with his own note, h o w ever well indorsed: so long as the note remains unpaid, it adds
nothing to the real capital of the bank.
S u c h , it is believed, has been the process by which the capital
of most of the banks has been formed, w h i c h have been incorpoperiod,
rated since the commencement of the late "war. Since that
banks have been incorporated* not because there was capital seeking
not because the places "where they Were established had
commerce and mamtfactures
"which required their fostering
but because men without active capital wanted the means of obtain*
ing loans* which their standing in the community would not com*
banks or individuals having real capital and established
Hence* the multiplicity of local banks* scattered over the
Jace of the couyitry* in particular parts of the Union ; which* by the
depreciation of their paper* have levied a tax upon the communities
within the pale of their influence* exceeding the public
paid by them*
Statement C presents the condition of the state banks from
w h i c h returns have been receivecU^o* h*vs Jieen transmitted by t h e
Secretaries of State of diffefent s t ^ f ^ J f i ^ o n f o r m i t y w i t h the
request of the Treasury D e p a r t m e n t s j 3 y comparing this statement with statement B , it vf ill be perceived .that it is very imper


JReport on the National



feet. Independently of the banks which have been created since t h e
year 1817, it will be discovered that bank capital to the a m o u n t o f
m o r e than I S , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, comprehended in statement B , i s
not embraced in it. As the amount of bank capital exhibited irx
statement C, is 7 2 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, and its specie 9 , 8 2 8 , 0 0 0 , t h e
whole specie possessed by the state banks may be estimated a t
1 2 , 2 5 0 , 0 0 0 dollars; if to this sum be added the specie in t h e
possession of the bank of the U n i t e d States and its offices, t h e
specie capital of all the banks in the U n i t e d States may be estimate
ed at 1 5 , 5 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. T h e r e are no means of ascertaining,
-with any degree of precision, the a m o u n t of specie in circulation j
it is probable, however, that it does not exceed 4 , 5 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars*
A s s u m i n g this amount to be nearly correct, the whole metallic
currency of the U n i o n may be estimated at 2 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
Applying the same rule for ascertaining the circulation of t h e
banks, not embraced by statement C, which has been e m p l o y e d , t o
determine their specie, the whole amount of bank notes in circulation may be estimated at 4 6 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
It is probable*
however, that this estimate is too h i g h ; as, according to the general
practice of banks, all notes issued are considered in circulation,
w h i c h are not in the possession of the bank by which they w e r e
issued- A reasonable deduction being made from the notes sup*
posed to be in circulation, b u t which are in fact in the possession
of other banks, it is probable that the actual circulation both of
paper and specie, is less at this time than 4 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. B y
t h e same mode of calculation, the whole amount of discounts m a y
be estimated at 1 5 6 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
T h e destruction or loss of the returns made to the T r e a s u r y ,
before the year 1816, by the banks in which the public money w a s
deposited, prevents any satisfactory comparison being d r a w n
b e t w e e n their condition before and since that period.
statements, however, have been received from sixteen banks in
different parts of the U n i o n , showing their situation on the 3 0 t h
day of September, in the years 1 8 1 3 , 18 15, and 1819. By statem e n t D it appears that those banks, at the first period, with a c a p i tal of 6,903,262 dollars, and with 3 , 0 5 9 , 1 4 0 dollars of specie in
their vaults, circulated 6,845,34+ dollars of their notes, and discounted to the amount of 12,990,975 dollars; at the second period*
their capital was 8,852,37 1 dollars; specie, 1,693,918 dollars;
circulation, 9 , 9 4 4 , 7 5 7 dollars; and discounts, 1 5 , 7 2 7 , 2 1 8 dollars;
and at the third period, their capital was 9 , 7 1 1 , 9 6 0 dollars; specie,
l/726>065 dollars; circulation, 4 , 2 5 9 / 2 3 4 dollars; and discounts,
1 2 , 9 5 9 , 5 6 0 dollars.
By statement B , already referred t o , it has been shown, t h a t , in
the year 1814, the nominal bank capital in the U n i t e d States ex*


of the United States,


ceeded 8 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. It is understood, that a large addition
was made to it, in that year, in several of the states. If it be admitted that such addition amounted to 1 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, the
bank capital in operation, in the year 1813, may be stated at
6 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. Allowing to this capital the same amount
of specie, circulation, and discounts, as was comparatively possessed
by the banks comprehended in statement D , the estimate will b e ,
specie 2 8 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, circulation 6 2 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, and
discounts 1 1 7 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. In 1 8 1 5 , the bank capital had
increased to 8 8 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars; whilst, upon the same principle
of calculation, the specie would have been estimated at 1 6 , 5 0 0 , 0 0 0
dollars, circulation at 9 9 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, and discounts at
1 5 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. Applying this principle to the 1 2 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0
dollars of bank capital in operation during the year 1819, the
specie possessed by all the banks would amount to 2 1 , 5 0 0 , 0 0 0
dollars, circulation 5 3 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, and discounts 1 5 7 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0
T h e last results, with the exception of the discounts, very materially differ from those -which have been obtained by the mode of
calculation previously adopted. T h e y , nevertheless, furnish materials which may be useful in the progress of this enquiry. From
them the following deductions may be drawn:
1st. That, in the year 1 8 1 3 , the circulation of bank notes "was
nearly equal to the bank capital:
2d. That, in the year 1 8 1 5 , it exceeded the capital by one-eighth :
3d. That, in the year 1 8 1 9 , it was less than the capital nearly in
the proportion of 1 to 2 . 5 :
4th. That, whilst the amount of bank capital has increased since
1 8 1 3 from G5 to 125 millions; the metallic basis, upon which
the circulation of notes is founded, has decreased in the proportion
of 15.5 to 2 8 ; being equal to 4 4 . 6 per cent. :
5th. That the circulation of notes in the year 1 8 1 9 , in proportion to the specie in the possession of the banks, exceeded that of
1 8 1 3 , 2 5 . 9 per cent. :
6th. That, in the year 1 8 1 3 , the discounts, in proportion to the
bank capital employed, exceeded those of 1815, in the ratio of 18
to 17, and those of 1 8 1 9 , in the ratio of 18 to 12 :
7th. T h a t the increase of bank notes in circulation, between the
years 1813 and 1 8 1 5 , exceeded the increase of discounts during
the same period by 4 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars ; whilst the specie, in the
vaults of the banks, was diminished 1 1 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars :
8th. That, whilst, between the years 1815,and 1 8 1 9 , an addition
of 3 7 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars has been made to the nominal bank capital,
but 6 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars have been added to the aggregate amount of


Report on the National



It is probable, that, between the year 1811 and the year 1 8 1 3 , a
considerable addition was made to the paper circulation of the
country. From a return of the former bank of the United States,
made to the Treasury in 1808, it appears, that, with 1 5 , 3 0 0 , 0 0 0
dollars of specie, it circulated only 4 , 7 8 7 , 0 0 0 dollars of notes.
Another return made in 1S10 shows its condition was not materially changed* Shortly after the expiration of its charter, bank
capital, to a great amount, was incorporated in some of the states.
The expenditures produced by the war, which was declared in 18 12,
without doubt, contributed, in some degree, to produce the difference between the condition of the sixteen banks already referred
to, and that of the former bank of the United StatesIf
it be admitted, however, that the circulation in 1813 was not
redundant, it must have become excessive in 1315. An increase
of the cumencyy in the space of tnsoo yearsy in the proportion
to 6 2 , even if it had been wholly metallic, could not have Jailed to
have produced a very great depi-eciation ,- buty *when it is considered
thaty not only the increasey but the *whote circulation consisted of
papery not convertible into specie , some idea of its depreciation
T h e depreciation, however, was not uniform in every
part of the Union- T h e variation in the degree of depreciation
depended not only upon the greater issues of banks in one section
of the nation, than in others ; but, also, upon the local advantages
which they enjoyed as to commerce. It is impossible to determine,
with precision, where the most excessive issue of bank notes occurred* Statement E , which exhibits the rate of exchange between
the principal cities to the east of this place and London, and the
price of bills at N e w York upon Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, during the years 1813* 1814, 1615, and 1816, may be
considered presumptive evidence of that fact*
So far as it can
be relied upon for that purpose, Baltimore was the point of greatest depreciation among the above-mentioned places.
This is probably true \ as it is known that the banks in that place made
greater advances to the government in the loans which it obtained
during the late war, in proportion to their capital, than those of
Philadelphia, N e w York and Boston.
But the greatest depreciation of the currency existed in the interior states, where the issues
were not only excessive, but where their relation to the commercial cities greatly aggravated the effects of that excess.
This statement may also assist in explaining the cause of the
necessity which existed in 1814 for the suspension of specie payments
by the banks- From the commencement of the war until that
event, a large amount of specie was taken out of the United States
by the safe of English government bills, at a discount frequently of
from 15 to 2 o per cent. Immediately after the suspension, they
commanded a premium in those places where the banks had sus


of the United States.


pended payment, which gradually rose to 2 0 per cent, ; whilst at
Boston they remained at a discount of about 14 per cent, until F e b ruary, 1815*
W h a t e v e r may have been the degree of depreciation of the currency in 1 8 1 5 , it continued to augment throughout the first six
months of the year 1816, if the rate of exchange with London is
considered conclusive evidence of that fact. T h e excessive importations of British merchandise during that period, and in the p r e ceding year, might indeed account for the increase of premium
paid upon sterling bills, and was, probably, one of the principal
causes of it. T h e great fluctuations which occurred in the latter
part of that period furnish some reason, however, for ascribing
t h e m , in sonoe degree, to changes in the value of the currency, in
which their price was calculated, rather than to the ordinary principles of exchange. It is more probable that the currency, in those
places where it was not convertible into specie, fluctuated in value
according to the efforts which -were made, in particular places, to p r e pare for the resumption of specie payments, than that the balance of
payments between the two countries should have varied to such an
extent as is indicated by the sudden variations which occurred during
that period in the rate of exchange. So far as these fluctuations are
ascribable to the currency in which the rate of exchange was determined, a considerable appreciation of that currency took place in
the last months of the year 1816* From that period until the pre*
sent time, the circulation has rapidly diminished ; and all the evils
incident to a decreasing currency have been felt in every part
of the U n i o n , except in some of the eastern states.
If, as previously stated, the circulation of 1813 be admitted to
be the amount required to effect the exchanges of the community
w i t h facility and advantage, and that, in the year 1 8 1 5 , that circulation was extended to 9 9 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, which was, in some
degree, augmented in 18 16, the extent of the diminution of the currency, in the space of three years, may be perceived. But it is probable that the currency in 1815 exceeded 9 9 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. T h e
banks, upon whose situation that estimate is founded, were established at a period when the practice of dispensing with the pay*
ment of those portions of their capital falling due after they went
into operation, had not been generally introduced. Some of them
did noT suspend specie payments during the general suspension.
T h e rtsr wvre amowg the first to resume them, and have continued
them to rhe present time. It cannot be expected that banks w h i c h
went int<» operation during the war, and after the general suspension b-.H occurred, were conducted with an equal degree of p r u dence and circumspection, A reasonable allowance being made
for bank, notes supposed to be in circulation at that period, but


Report on the National



which were, in fact, in the possession of other banks, and for t h e
excess of issues beyond the estimate, the circulation may, it is b e lieved, be safely calculated at not less than 1 1 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
T h e paper circulation in 18 IS has been estimated at 6 2 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 d o l lars. A t that period, however, gold and silver formed a substantial
part of the currency. T h e condition of the old bank of the U n i t e d .
States, in 1 8 1 0 , and of the sixteen banks in 1 8 1 3 , proves that t h e
demand for specie from the vaults of the banks was inconsiderable*
It is, therefore, probable, that the whole circulation of 1 8 1 S
amounted to 7 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars. In 1 8 1 5 , it is estimated to h a v e
risen to 1 1 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, and this amount was probably a u g mented in 1816. A t the close of 1 8 1 9 , it has been estimated,
upon data believed to be substantially correct, at 4 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 d o l lars. According to these estimates^ the currency of the United States
hasi in the space of three years» been reduced from 1 1 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 ta
4 5 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars.
This reduction exceedsfifty-nine
per cent* of*
the whole circulation qfl&15.
T h e fact that the currency in 3 8 1 5
and 1816 was depreciated has not sensibly diminished the effect
upon the community, of this great and sudden reduction*
Whatever was the degree of its depreciation, it was still the m e a sure of value.
It determined the price of labor, and of all t h e
property of the community*
A change so violent could n o t
fail, under the most favorable auspices in other respects, to p r o duce much distress, to check the ardor of enterprise, and seriously to affect the productive energies of the nation. T h e reduction was, in fact* commenced under favorable auspices. D u r i n g
the year 1817 and the greater part of 1 8 1 8 , all the surplus
produce of the country commanded, in foreign markets, higher
prices than ordinary. T h e rate of foreign exchange afforded n o
inducement for the exportation of specie for the purpose of discharging debts previously contracted* T h e only drain, to w h i c h
the metallic currency was subject, was the demand for it, for t h e
prosecution of trade to the East Indies and to China. In this trade,
specie being the principal commodity, and indispensable to its p r o secution, the amount exported during those years was very great*
and seriously affected the amount of circulation, by compelling the
banks to diminish their discounts.
Notwithstanding the drains for this commerce during these
years was unusually large, every other circumstance was favorable to
the restoration of the currency to a sound state, with the least
possible distress to the community. T h e capacity of the country
to discharge a large portion of the debts contracted with banks,
and which had occasioned their excessive issues, was greater
than at any former period, and than it probably will be again for a
lapse of successive years. T h e effort to reduce the amount of


of the Untied States.


currency during those years, though successful to a considerable
degree, was not pursued w i t h sufficient earnestness. In the latter
part of 1 8 1 8 , w h e n the price of the principal articles of American
production had fallen nearly fifty per cent, in foreign m a r k e t s ;
Mrhen the merchant needed the aid of additional loans to sustain
h i m against the losses w h i c h he had incurred by the sudden reduction in the price of the commodities he had exported 5 he w a s
called upon to discharge loans previously contracted* T h e agriculturist, w h o saw his income reduced below his indispensable
necessities ; the manufacturer, w h o w a s not only struggling against
foreign competition, but w h o saw the sale of his manufactures
reduced by the incapacity of his customers to buy ; in fact all
classes of the community, under circumstances so adverse to the
command of funds, were subjected to curtailments wherever they
had obtained discounts.
A l l intelligent writers upon currency agree that where it is
decreasing in amount, poverty and misery must prevail.
correctness of the opinion is too manifest to require proof.
united voice of the nation attests its accuracy. As there is no
recorded example hi the history of ?tations of a reduction of the
currency so ?*apid and so extensive,
so9 but Jew> examples
occurred of distress so general and so severe as that which has been
exhibited in the United States*
T o the evils of a decreasing currency are superadded those of a deficient currency. But, notwithstanding it is deficient, it is still depreciated. In several of the
states the great mass of the circulation is not even ostensibly
convertible into specie at the will of the holder* D u r i n g the
greater part of the time that has elapsed since the resumption of
specie payments, the convertibility of bank notes into specie has
been rather nominal than real in the largest portion of the U n i o n .
O n the part of the banks, mutual weakness had produced
mutual forbearance. T h e extensive diffusion of bank stock among
the great body of the citizens in most of the states had produced
the same forbearance among individuals. T o demand specie of
the banks, w h e n it was k n o w n that they were unable to pay, w a s
to destroy their o w n interests, by destroying the credit of the
banks in w h i c h the ' productive portion of their property was
invested. In favor of forbearance, was also added the influence
of the great mass of bank debtors. Every dollar in specie drawn
out of the banks, especially for exportation, induced the necessity
o f curtailments. T o this portion of the community all other
evils were light, w h e n compared w i t h the imperious demands of
Their exertions to prevent the drain of specie in the
possession of those w h o controlled, their destiny, equalled the
magnitude of the evils which were to be avoided. In most parts



on the National



of the Union, this forced state of things is passing away. T h e
convertibility of bank notes into specie is becoming real wherever
it is ostensible. If public opinion does not correct the evil in
those states where this convertibility is not even ostensible, it will
be the imperious duty of those who are invested with the power of
correction to apply the appropriate remedy.
As the currency is, at least in some parts of the Union, depreciated, it must, in those parts, suffer a further reduction before it
becomes sound. The nation must continue to suffer until this is
effected. After the currency shall be reduced to the amount
which, when the present quantity of the precious metals is distributed among the various nations of the world, in proportion to
their respective exchangeable values, shall be assigned to the
United States ; when time shall have regulated the price of labor,
and of commodities, according to that amount, and when pre*
existing engagements shall have been adjusted, the sufferings from
a depreciated, decreasing, and deficient currency, will be terminated.
Individual and public prosperity will gradually revive,
and the productive energies of the nation resume their accustomed
activity. But new changes in the currency, and circumstances
adverse to the perpetuity of the general prosperity, may reasonably
be expected to occur. So far as these changes depend upon the
currency, their recurrence, to an extent sufficient to disturb the
prosperity of the nation, would be effectually prevented, if it could
be rendered purely metallic. In that event, we should always
retain that proportion of the precious metals which our exchangeable commodities bear to those of other nations. T h e currency
would seldom be either redundant or deficient, to an extent that
would seriously affect the interests of society. But when the
currency is metallic, and paper convertible into specie, changes to
such an extent, it is believed, will frequently occur.
T h e establishment of banks which are restrained from issuing
notes of small denominations, furnishes great facilities for the
transmission of money, and increases the efficiency of the capital
subject to their control, to the extent of the credit employed by
them. T h e degree of facility afforded by them for the transportation or transmission of money, depends upon the extent of country within which their notes circulate, and preserve a value equivalent to specie, Ordinarily, this extent is determined by the
interior trade of the country; they will circulate through the
whole extent of country, the produce of which is carried for sale
to the place of their establishment. If they are established only
in the principal commercial city of the nation, their notes will
circulate through the whole extent of its territory, and afford the
greatest possible facility for the transmission of money. If they


of the United States.


are established in several of the commercial cities, their circulation
will be circumscribed by the sections of country, the inhabitants
of which trade to those cities* T h e facility for transmitting
money will be diminished by their establishment- But if banks
should be established in all the interior towns, this facility
would be impaired to a still greater degree. In that events their
notes would circulate within very narrow limits ; but within those
limits the notes of the banks in the commercial cities would no
longer form part of the circulation. Should they by accident be
carried within it, the first individual having remittances to make,
and into whose hands they might come, would use them for that
T h e degree of credit which a bank can employ, in proportion
to its capital, depends upon a variety of circumstances. If the
community reposes great confidence in the prudence and integrity
of those who direct its concerns ; if the capital employed is small
in proportion to the demand for the transmission of m o n e y ; if
there is no other bank whose local situation repels its circulation
from those sections of country, the produce of which is ultimately
carried to the place where it is established, the credit which it
will be able to employ will be very great. W h e r e all these
facilities are wanting, the extent of the credit which it will
employ will be very inconsiderable*
T h e additional efficiency
which, in the latter case, will be imparted to capital invested in
banks, will, it is believed, not countervail the evils which necessarily result from their establishment*
Among the advantages which have been supposed most strongly
to recommend their establishment, especially in a community
whose resources are rapidly expanding, their capacity suddenly to
increase the currency to the utmost demand for it, has been
considered the most important.
In a country where the currency is purely metallic, no considerable addition can be made to it, without giving, at the time of its
acquisition, articles in exchange of equal value. N o addition can
be made to the currency without affecting, to the extent of such
addition, the enjoyments of the community. T h e amount so
added will, to the same extent, diminish the quantity of articles
which would otherwise be imported into the country for domestic
consumption, or for re-exportation.
Ordinarily, the currency of one country will not be exported to
another, because its value in every country is nearly the same. It
will not, therefore, like other comrrtodities, command a commercial profit upon exportation. It will be taken from one country
to another, only when the price of commodities in the former is
so high as to produce a loss in the latter equal to the expense of

transporting specie.

It is this condition, annexed to every acqui-


Report on the National Currency

£ 12

sition to the currency of a state, when it is purely metallic, of
diminishing, to the same extent, the enjoyments of the community,
which affords the most efficient protection against its becoming
redundant. It is equally efficient in guarding against a deficiency,
to an extent that can seriously affect the interest of the community.
But this condition is not annexed to the increase of the currency,
by the issue of bank notes, even when convertible into specie.
The notes, by which the currency is suddenly augmented, do not^
in any degree, diminish the enjoyments of the community.
equivalent is, by such issue, transferred to another community, as
is invariably done 'when an acquisition is made to a metallic currency. Whenever the currency can be augmented, exempt from
such transfer, it must be subject to some degree of fluctuation in
quantity. Every addition made to the currency by the issue of
bank notes, changes the relation which previously existed between
the amount of the currency, and the amount of tfce commodities
which are to be exchanged through its agency,—-Their issue
depends not upon receiving, in exchange, articles of equal value ;
but, upon the pledge of a credit of one or more individuals, to the
amount of such issue. N o evil can result to the community from
the advance of the capital of a bank in exchange for the credit of
individuals. In that case, no addition is made to the amount of
the currency previously in circulation. It is perfectly immaterial
to society, whether this capital be lent by individuals or by corporations. T h e relation between the currency and the exchangeable
commodities of the state is not disturbed- But, when their credit
is greatly extended, the currency is expanded, and that relation is
deranged. An expansion of the currency, through the agency qf
banks* "will generally occur only in periods of prosperity*
such periods* enterprise xvill be fostered* industry stimulated,
the comfort and happiness of the people advanced without the factitious aid qf an expansive currency*
But there can be no doubt
that a sudden increase of the currency during periods qf prosperity,
through the agency qfbank
issues, gives additional force and activity to the national enterprise.
Such an increase will he followed
by a general rise in the value of all articles* especially of those
which cannot be exported.
The price of lands* houses* and pntblic
stock* will be augmented in a greater degree than if no such inc7*ease
had taken place.
If these prices could be maintained ,- if they cordd even be protected against sudden reduction, they xvould be cause of
rather than of complaint.
But the expansion of the currency by
the issue of paper* in a peiiod of prosperityy
will inevitably be
succeeded by its contraction in pe?*iods qf adversity.
T h e extent
to which the currency may be contracted, through the agency


of the United States.


of Banks, depends upon the use which they may have made
of their credit.
T h e excess of their discounts beyond their
capital actually paid, determines the amount of the credit which
they have employed : T h u s , in 1813, the capita! of the banks
in the United States has been estimated at 65,000,000 ds., and
their discounts at 117,000,000 ds* T h e extent to which their
credit was then employed was 52,000,000 els. Their circulation, at
the same period, has been estimated at 62,000,000 ds. In this estimate no allowance was made for notes stated to be in circulation,
but which were probably in the possession of other banks. A
reasonable deduction being made on that account, it is probable
that the paper circulation did not much exceed 52,000,000 ds. But
the liability* of the banks for specie was equal to the whole amount
of notes represented to be in circulation, besides the individual
deposits. T o meet an immediate demand, they are estimated to
have had 28,000,000 ds. in specie. If the deposits of individuals
should be estimated at 18,000,000 ds. their ultimate means of meeting the demand of 62,000^000 ds., without sacrificing their capital,
'would consist of 10,000,000 ds. in specie, and 52,000,000 ds secured
by the notes of individuals ; this sum being the excess of their discounts over their capital. U n d e r ordinary circumstances, the
basis upon which the credit of this circulation rested, might be
considered sufficient to sustain it. A debt of 117,000,000 ds, could
not, under the most adverse circumstances, be considered inadequate to meet one of 52,000,000 ds. But, in the case of currency,
the capacity to ultimate redemption is not sufficient. T h e capacity to redeem it as it is presented is indispensable. Whenever
the public confidence, in this capacity, is impaired, an immediate
demand for specie will be created ; and, if it is not promptly mot,
depreciation will ensue. But, even in circumstances in some degree adverse to the operations of banks, if their discounts consisted
principally of notes founded upon real transactions, iu which the
idea of renewal was excluded; and if specie formed a considerable
proportion of the circulation, the capacity of the banks to meet
the demands upon them for specie, might have been sullicient to
sustain the credit of the currency.
If, on the other hand, the debts due to the banks consisted
chiefly of fixed or permanent loans, generally denominated accommodation paper ; if specie had been banished from circulation, by
the issue of dollar notes, the suspension of payment by the banks
could not fail to be the result of any considerable pressure upon
them for specie. In the former case, as their notes should be
withdrawn from circulation, they would gradually be reduced to
the demand for them for the transmission of money. If the
efibrt to withdraw them should be continued beyond that point,






Report an the National



specie would be paid into the banks by their debtors, in preference
to bank notes j and the just proportion between the paper circulation and the specie in their vaults, would be promptly restored.
In the latter case, as the debts due to the banks would n o t ,
according to the understanding of the parties, become due at short
intervals, the only mode of meeting the increasing demands upon
them for specie would be, to require of the whole mass of debtors,
the payment of a fixed proportion of the sums due by them.
the circumstances which would require this measure, on the part
of the banks, would generally affect the community in the same
degree, the capacity of their debtors to meet this demand w o u l d
generally be found to be in an inverse ratio to the demand,
demand itself, being inconsistent with the impression under w h i c h
the debt was contracted, would be resisted in everv case where
the interest of the debtor would be subserved by delay.
specie formed but an inconsiderable part of the currency, the reduction of the paper circulation would have to be carried to a greater
extent than in the former case- A just proportion between t h e
paper circulation and the specie necessary to support it, could be
obtained only by the positive reduction of the former, as it w o u l d
be impracticable to increase the latter while the demand continued.
U n d e r such circumstances the suspension of payment would b e
the probable result.
S u c h , in fact, were the circumstances under which the suspension in 1814 occurred*
X h e injudicious multiplication of banks, where capital in that
form, to some extent, might have been useful j the establishment
of them where they could only be injurious ; the permission to
issue dollar notes, by which specie was banished from circulation;
and the demand for specie for exportation, which existed during
the years 1813 and 1 8 1 4 , imposed upon the banks in the middle s
southern, and western states, the necessity of suspending payment,
A longer effort to discharge their notes in specie, would not only
have been ineffectual, but would certainly have postponed, to a
more remote period, the resumption of specie payments.
evils which have resulted to the community from that suspension
have certainly been great \ but it may well be doubted, whether
others, of equal magnitude, would not have been suffered, if that
event had not occurred. T h e extent to which the currency must
have been reduced, in order to have avoided the suspension, could
not have failed, at any period, to produce great embarrassment
and distress to the community. But in a time of war, when the
country was invaded ; when the public safety required that the
energies of the nation should be fully developed, a sudden and e x tensive reduction of the currency, by any cause whatever, would


of the United States.


have been fatal. U n d e r such circumstances, the demand for currency would have been too imperious to be resisted. It would,
from necessity, have been supplied by the issue of treasury
T h e fact that in a small portion of the U n i o n specie payments
were continued, cannot be admitted as evidence that it was practicable throughout the nation. In that part of the Country the
extensive bank issues consequent upon loans to the government in
the middle states, had not occurred. Foreign trade, which in the
other parts of the Union, was nearly annihilated, still preserved
there a languid existence through the permission or connivance of
the enemy. These circumstances could not fail to enable the
banks in the eastern states to continue specie payments longer
than those of the middle, southern, and western states* In an
efFort to preserve their credit, they would inevitably be the last
which would fall- In such a struggle, however, they must have
failed, had not the circulation of the paptrr of their weaker neighbours and the issues of treasury notes, come to their aid. B u t
for this adventitious assistance, wholly unconnected with the w i s dom and foresight of their directors, specie payments must have
been suspended there, or the best interests of the community have
been sacrificed. From that period until the resumption of specie
payments, in the early part of 1817, treasury notes, and the notes
of the banks which had suspended payment, formed the great mass
of the circulation in the eastern part of the U n i o n • Specie, or
the notes of banks which continued to pay specie, formed no part
of the receipts of the government in Boston and the districts
east of that town, until about the close of the year 1S16.
I n all great exigencies which, in the course of human events,
may be expected to arise in every nation, the suspension of payment by banks, where the circulation consists principally of bank
notes, is one of the evils which ought to be considered as the
inevitable consequence of their establishment. Even in countries
where paper does not form the principal part of the circulation,
such an event will sometimes happen. In the year 1 7 9 7 , w h e n
the restriction was imposed upon the bank of England, the average of its circulation for several successive years, was about
10,000,OOOZ* sterling, whilst the metallic currency was estimated
at 30,000,0002. Y e t , in that country, whose trade in time of
war, through the protection of its fleets, was rather expanded
than contracted, it was found necessary to authorise the bank to
suspend payment j which suspension, after a lapse of twenty-three
years still continues. "When the existence of banks depends
upon the authority which regulates the currency, it may be practicable to impose salutary checks against excessive issues of paper


Report on the National Currency

\ 16

during suspension, and, in some degree, to guard against an e x cessive depreciation of the currency. But, where these institutions are created by an authority having no power to regulate the
currency, and, especially, where they are created by a great va*
tiety of authorities, independent of each other, and practically i n capable of acting in concert, it is manifest that no such checks o r
restraints can be imposed. It is impossible to imagine a currency
more vicious than that which depends upon the will of nearly four
hundred banks, entirely independent of each other, when released
from all restraint against excessive issues. By the term currency t h e
issue of paper by government, as a financial resource, is excluded.
Even such an issue, in a state where the reign of law is firmly
established, and public opinion controls the public councils, would
be preferable to a currency similar to that which existed, in some
parts of the United States, during the general suspension, a n d
which now exists in some of the states. This truth has b e e n
practically demonstrated by the redemption of the whole of t h e
treasury notes issued during the war, within the short space of
about two years after the peace ; whilst a large amount of bank
notes, issued during the suspension, are yet unredeemed, a n d
greatly depreciated.
There can be no doubt that a metallic currency ^ connected xvit/i
a paper circtdationy convertible into specie^ and not exceeding the
demand Jbr the facile transmission of moneys is the most convenient
that can be devised- W h e n the paper circulation exceeds that
demand, the metallic cuireucy to the amount of the excess will
be exported, and a liability to sudden fluctuations to the sanae
extent will be produced.
If banks were established only in the principal commercial
cities of each state ; if they were restrained from the issue of
notes of small denominations ; if they should retain an absolute
control over one half of their capital, and the whole of the credit
which they employ, by discounting to that amount nothing b u t
transaction paper, payable at short dates -, the credit and stability
of the banks would, at least, be unquestionable. Their notes
could always be redeemed in specie, on demand. T h e remaining
part of their capital might be advanced upon long credits to m a nufacturers, and even to agriculturists, without the danger of being
under the necessity of calling upon such debtors to contribute t o
their relief, if emergencies should occur* Such debtors are, in
fact, unable to meet sudden exigencies, and ought never to accept
of advances from banks, but upon long credits, for which timely
provision may be made. T h e latter class, of all others, is t h e
least qualified to meet the sudden demands which a pressure upon
banks compels them to make upon their debtors. T h e returns


of the United States.


of capital invested in agriculture, are too slow and distant to j u s tify engagements with banks, except upon long credits. If the
payment of the principal should be demanded at other periods
than those at which the husbandman receives the annual reward
of his toil, the distress which would result from the exaction
would greatly outweigh any benefit which was anticipated from
the loan. T h a t the establishment of banks in agricultural districts
lias greatly improved the general appearance of the country, is
not denied, Comfortable mansions and spacious barns have been
erected ; lands have been cleared, and reduced to cultivation ; farms
have been stocked, and rendered more productive, by the aid of
bank credits. But these improvements will eventually be found,
in most cases, to effect the ruin of the proprietor* T h e farm,
with its improvements, will frequently prove unequal to the disrcharge of the debts incurred in its embellishment. Such, in fact,
is the actual or apprehended state of things, wherever banks have
been established in the small inland towns and villages. Poverty
and distress are impending over the heads of most of those w h o
have attempted to improve their farms by the aid of bank credits*
So general is this distress, that the principal attention of the state
legislatures, w h e r e the evil exists, is at this moment directed t o
the adoption of measures calculated to rescue their fellow citizens
from the inevitable effects of their o w n indiscretion* If, in affording a shield to the debtor against the legal demand of his creditor,
the axe shall be applied to the root of the evil, by the annihilation
of banks where they ought never to have existed, the interference,
however doubtful in point of policy or principle, may eventually
be productive of more good than evil.
T h e general system of credit which has been introduced t h r o u g h
the agency of banks, brought home to every man's door, has p r o duced a factitious
state ofthings\ extremely adverse to the sober,
frugal, and industrious habits -which o u g h t to be cherished in a
republic. In the place of these virtues, extravagance, idleness,
and the spirit of gambling adventure, have been engendered and
fostered by our institutions. So far as these evils have been p r o duced, by the establishment of banks where they are not required j
by the omission to impose upon them wholesome restraints ; and
by the ignorance or misconduct of those w h o have been entrusted
w i t h their direction, they are believed to be beyond the control
of the Federal government* Since the resumption of specie paym e n t s , measures have been adopted in some of the states to e n force their continuance ; in others, t h e evil has been left to the
correction of public opinion. T h e r e is, however, some reason
to apprehend that the authority of law may be interposed in s u p port of the circulation of notes not convertible into specie.


Report on the National Cut-reney


But the Federal government has, by its measures, in some degree contributed to the spirit of speculation and of adventurous
enterprise, which, at this moment, so strongly characterise the
citizens of this republic. T h e system of credit which, in the infancy of our commerce, was indispensable to its prosperity, if
not to its existence, has been extended at a period when the dictates of sound discretion seemed to require that it should be
shortened. T h e credit given upon the sale of the national domain has diffused this spirit of speculation and of inordinate
enterprise among the great mass of our citizens. T h e public
lands are purchased, and splendid towns erected upon them, with
bank credits. Every thing is artificial. T h e rich inhabitant of
the commercial cities, and the tenant of the forests, differ only
in the object of their pursuit. Whether commerce, splendid
mansions, or public lands, be the object of desire, the means by
which the gratification is to be secured, are bank credits.
This state of things is no less unfriendly to the duration of our
republican institutions than it is adverse to the developement of
our national energies, when great emergencies shall arise ; for,
upon such occasions, the attention of the citizen will be directed
to the preservation of his property from the grasp of his creditors,
instead of being devoted to the defence of his country. Instead
of being able to pay with promptitude the contributions necessary to the preservation of the state, he will be induced to claim
the interference of the government to protect hirn against the
effects of his folly and extravagance.
This ought not to be the condition of a republic when menaced
by foreign force or domestic commotion. Such, it is apprehended,
will be the condition of the United States, if the course which has
been pursued since the commencement of the late war, is not
abandoned. Since that period, it is believed the number of banks
ii* the United States has been more than doubled. They have been
established in the little inland towns and villages, and have brought
distress and ruin upon the inhabitants. W h e n the cause and the
extent of the evil is known, no doubt is entertained that the ap^
propriate remedies will be applied by those who, in our complex
form of government, are invested with the necessary authority.
But the resolution requires the Secretary of the Treasury « to
reoort such measures as, in his opinion, may be expedient to procure and retain a sufficient quantity of gold and silver coin in the
United States "
It has already been suggested that, if the currency was purely
metallic, or connected with paper convertible into specie, to the extent only of the demand for the transmission of money, the United
States w o ^ d retain that proportion of the precious metals which


of the United States.


the value of their exchangeable c o m m o d i t i e s bore to those of other
states. But if paper can be made to circulate, independent of
its employment in the transmission of funds, gold and silver, to the
same extent, will be exported. If paper will be received and e m p l o y ed generally, as the m e d i u m of e x c h a n g e , and especially if it is
issued in bills of small denominations, the amount of specie w h i c h
will be exported will be great in proportion to the paper in c i r c u lation^ If this position be correct, the p o w e r of Congress will be
insufficient to retain any considerable portion of gold and silver in
the U n i t e d States. Bank notes, from one dollar to those of large
denominations, have circulated, and, it is presumed, will continue
to circulate, independent of its authority. A s long as bank notes
will be received as a substitute for specie, the quantity of specie
necessary for currency will be small, and may be easily retained
without the aid of government* But the demand for specie w h e r e
the circulation is principally paper, is extremely fluctuating. W h e n
there is but little or n o demand for it, the temptation to increase
their discounts, by the issue of more paper, is too strong to b e
resisted by banks. W h e n a demand for specie arises, the currency
has to be suddenly diminished by the contraction of their discounts.
Fluctuation in the amount of the currency, produced by this means,
is the principal mischief t o be remedied.
T h e s e fluctuations will
frequently occur in every state where the currency is principally
paper, convertible into coin- In the U n i t e d States, v\ here the specie
exported, as a primary article of c o m m e r c e , to the East Indies and t o
C h i n a , bears so large a proportion to the metallic currency of the
country, they must not only be more frequent than in states w h e r e
n o such commerce exists, but more extensive in their effects. T h e
demand created for Spanish milled dollars, by the exportation of
specie, in the prosecution of this trade, has, without doubt, caused
their importation to an extent w h i c h otherwise w o u l d not have o c curred. A s this demand is in some degree contingent, the supply
will also be contingent. "When Lt exceeds the demand, the banks
will be tempted to n e w issues of paper. W h e n it is deficient, the
deficiency will be drawn from the banks, and will cause a sudden
diminution of the currency. If this diminution could be limited
to the amount of the deficiency thus drawn from the banks, the
evil w o u l d be no greater than if the currency w e r e metallic.
this is not the fact. W h e n the paper circulation is returned upon
the banks for specie, prudence requires that an effort should be
made to preserve the same proportion b e t w e e n the specie in their
vauks and their notes in circulation, as existed at the m o m e n t the
pressure c o m m e n c e d .
If the paper in circulation should be three times the amount of s p e cie in the possession of the banks, a demand upon them for 1 jOQOjOOOds.


Report on the National Currency


of specie, would produce a diminution of 3,000,000 ds. in the currency, if the specie should be exported, and of 2,000,000 ds. if
it remained in the country. It is even probable that the comparative diminution would exceed this ratio. As the demand increased, apprehensions would be excited for the credit of the bank; the
exertions produced by that apprehension would correspond with the
magnitude of the evil to be avoided, rather than with the positive
pressure. This, it is presumed, would be the effect of such an
emergency, where banks had not become familiarized with bank-*
ruptcy, and were not countenanced by society in a course of conduct which, in private life, would be considered dishonest.
If, by any constitutional exercise of the power of Congress,
banks can be restrained, 1st, from issuing notes of small denominations \ and, 2d, from excessive issues when their notes are not returned upon them for specie, fluctuations in the currency, to an
extent to derange the interests of society, may be prevented. But,
if the imposition of these restraints is not within the constitutional
powers of Congress, the evils which have been suffered for the
want of those restraints, must continue, until the present system
of banking shall be abandoned. In an inquiry into the state of the
currency, the consideration of the coinage is necessarily involved.
The principles upon which the coinage of the United States has
been established, are substantially correct. The standard fineness
of the gold coinage corresponds with the coinage of England and
Portugal. The standard of the silver coinage differs but little from
that of Spain. The American dollar is intrinsically worth about one
per cent, less than the Spanish milled dollar. This difference, if the
Spanish dollar had not been made a legal tender, might have secured to the nation a more permanent use of its silver coinage. American dollars would not be exported, as long as Spanish dollars
could be obtained for that purpose, at a reasonable premium. If
this latter coin was not a legal tender, the banks might afford to
import it, and might sell, at a fair premium, the amount which
might be required of them for the China and East India trade.
The relative value of gold and silver has been differently established in different nations. It has been different in the same nation at different periods. In England, an ounce of gold is equal in
value to about 15.2 ounces of silver. In France, it is equal to 15.5 ;
and in Spain and Portugal, to 16 ounces. In the United States, an
ounce of gold is equal to 15 ounces of silver. But the relative
value of these metals, in the markets, frequently differs from that
assigned to them by the laws of the different civilized states. It is
believed that gold, when compared with silver, has been, for many
years appreciating in value ; and now, every where commands, in
the money markets, a higher value than tnat which has been as

of the United States.


signed to it in states where its relative value is greatest. If this be
correct, no injustice will result from a change in the relative legal
value of gold and silver, so as to make it correspond with their relative marketable value. If gold, in relation to silver, should be
raised five per cent, one ounce of it would be equal to 15.75 or 15£O-unces o£ pure silver. This augmentation in its value would
cause it to be imported in quantities sufficient to perform all
the functions of currency.
As it is not used to any considerable extent, as a primary article of commerce, the fluctuations to
which silver currency is subject from that cause, would not affect
* It would be exported only when the rate of exchange against
the country should exceed the expense of exportation.
In ordinary circumstances, such a state of exchange would not be of long
continuance. If the currency of the United States must of necessity continue to be paper, convertible into specie, an increase of
the gold coinage, upon principles which shall afford the least inducement to exportation, is probably the most wholesome corrective that can be applied \ after the rigid enforcement of that convertibility
The copper coinage is believed to be susceptible of improvement*
Copper itself is too massive to serve the purposes of change. One
hundred cents are too cumbrous to be carried, and used in the
numberless transactions which daily occur between individuals.
Coin* compounded of silver and copper, of from one to ten cents,
would be much more suitable for that object,
This kind of coinage has been adopted in other countries, with great advantage*
It has, however, been objected to this coinage —
1. Tliat, as compounded metals are much harder than the component ingredients, it would be difficult, and consequently expensive, to work.
2. That the coin itself would be of little or no intrinsic value :
copper or brass being of superior value in the manufactures, to
which it might be applied. And that the public would scarcely
submit to the circulation of a coin so worthless.
3+ That it might be counterfeited by a composition of zinc
and copper.
After giving to these objections their due weight, it is believed
that a change of this nature, in the copper coinage, would be beneficial.
Although the expense of such a coinage should be twice
as much as that of an equal number of silver coin, still it might be
advantageous. Small change, both of silver and copper, may be
abundant in Philadelphia, the seat of the mint ; but it is not generally so elsewhere. If it were, tickets of 6 i , 10, 12§, 25, and

p cents, issued by mayors and corporation officers, and dollar
bills torn in two pieces, for the purposes of change, would not be
employed for that purpose* This single fact is an answer to the



on the National Currency


second objection. T h e fractional parts of a dollar are so indispensable in the transactions of individuals, that any thing which assumes that character will be employed. If the tickets, which, at
this moment, form so great a portion of the change of this city t
and of various other places, are employed for that purpose, it is
inconceivable that the community should refuse to permit a c o m pound coin, of silver and copper, to circulate, containing the intrinsic value which it represents, merely because, for manufactures,
it will not be worth more than brass or copper, and that the expense of refining will be equal to the value of the silver. Change,
that is* the fractional part of a dollar, is so indispensable to the
community, that its inapplicability to manufactures and i<$ exemption from iiabiiity to exportation, instead of forming objections,
are recommendations iu its favor*
T h e objection that this coin may be easily counterfeited, is, if it
cannot be obviated, entitled to great consideration. As has been
before stated, this compound coinage has been successfully practised in other states* If compound metals are m u c h harder than
their component ingredients, may not a sufficient security against
counterfeiting be derived from that circumstance ? T h e dimensions and power of the machinery, which constitute one of the o b jections to the coinage, will render it extremely difficult to secure
that secrecy and concealment, which are indispensable to the success of the counterfeiter. If this compound coinage should not
be carried higher than ten cent, or disme, pieces, the inducement,
compared with the danger of detection, resulting from the magnitude of the machinery, would not, it is believed, be sufficient to
encourage counterfeiting. If, however, it should be deemed impracticable to guard against this evil, in a coinage composed of silver and copper, an attempt might be made to obtain a supply of
small change by a mixture of silver and zinc. T h e danger of counterfeiting would then be removed*
As various plans have been suggested, during the last twelve
months, for alleviating the general distress which has prevailed,
by the emission of a large amount of treasury notes, a few observations on that subject will close this part of the report*
If treasury notes are to be issued for this purpose, they will be
either receivable in all payments to the government, or they will be
made redeemable at a fixed period.
1. If they are made receivable in all payments to the government, the revenue will, from the time that 5,000,000 ds. are
issued, be substantially received in them. T h e government will
be immediately unable to pay the interest and reimbursement of
the public debt in specie, as it becomes due. These notes, when
compared with the notes of the Bank of the United States, will
be at a discount. T h e latter notes, independently of their being


of the United



every where receivable, in all payments to the government, are
convertible* at the place of their issue, into specie. They are
equal to the treasury notes in payment of the revenue, and superior to them, as they can command specie when the holder shall
desire it.
If the 14th section of the bank charter was modified, so that
the notes of the bank and of its offices should be receivable by
the government, only when tendered where they are made payable, a small amount of treasury notes might be issued, and circulated, without depreciation. In that case, they would be used
for the transmission of money, and would be in constant demand
for that purpose. It is the reception of the notes of the Bank of
the United States, and its offices, by the government, wherever
they are tendered, that causes them to be considered as a good
remittance throughout the United States. If they should cease
to be so received, a demand for treasury notes to a small amount,
for the transmission of money, would be created, and would preserve them from depreciation. If the notes thus issued should be
made redeemable at the Treasury, in specie, upon demand, the
amount which might be put and retained in circulation would probably exceed, to a considerable extent, the sum demanded for the
facile transmission of money, Such treasury notes would, however, have no advantage over the notes of the Bank of the United
States, as long as they are receivable in all payments to the United
States, without reference to the place where they are payable. It
is even probable that they would not be of equal value and currency with those notes, as the latter would generally be made payable in the principal commercial cities, where remittances are continually made, whilst the treasury notes would be payable only at
this place. If treasury notes, payable in specie, on demand, when
presented at this place, should be preferred to the notes of the
Bank of the United States, it would be in consequence of the
abuses which have been practised by banking institutions, which
have, in some degree, shaken the public confidence in the integrity
of their direction.
2. If treasury notes were to be issued, not receivable in payments to the government, but redeemable at a fixed period, they
would immediately depreciate, unless they bore nearly six per
cent interest, l a the latter case, they would be of little more use,
as currency, than the funded debt. They would not perform the
functions of money.
3. In any case whatever, whether they are receivable in payments to the government, or bear an interest, and are redeemable
at a fixed period, they will afford no substantial relief where the
distress is greatest, unless they should be advanced as a loan in



on the JS^aiional Currency


order to alleviate that distress. If they are to be issued from the
treasury in discharge of the demands upon the government, they
would never reach those sections of country where relief is most
required. There^ the government already collects more than can
be expended. One of the causes of this distress is the necessity
of transferring the public funds from those sections, for the p u r pose of being expended, to those where there is no deficiency of
A s a financial resource* the issue of treasury notes is justifiable
only where the deficiency, which they are intended to supply > is
small in amount, and temporary in its nature. As a measure of alleviation, it will be more likely to do harm than good. If a sufficient amount of those notes, of any description whatever, should
be issued, and put into circulation where they are most wanted,
unless they were given away, a debt in that part of the U n i o n
would be contracted to the extent of the issue. It might enable
the borrowers to pay debts previously contracted, but their relative
situation would be the same. Unless the currency became vitiated by the relief which was afforded, the ultimate payment of the
debt would consummate the ruin which the measure was in*
tended to prevent. But it is probable that the sums which might
be advanced, by way of loan, would, in a great degree, be lost.
The governmenc is not, from its nature, qualified for operations of
this kind* T h e general system of credit, which has been introduced by the agency of banks, and by the inevitable effect of the
measures of the general government, has produced an artificial state
of things, which requires repression rather than extension. T h e
issue of treasury notes, for the purpose of alleviating the general
distress, would tend to increase this natural and forced state of
things, and give to it a duration which it would otherwise never
attain. If much of the evil resulting from a decreasing currency
had not already been suffered, there might be some plausible reason for urging the issue of treasury notes, as a measure of alleviation. T h i s ground cannot be urged in its favor ; it is, therefore,
indefensible, upon the ground of expediency, as well as of principle.
T h e last member of the resolution assumes, by implication, the
practicability of substituting, by the constitutional exercise of
the powers of Congress, a paper currency for that which now
In considering this proposition^ the power of Congress over the
currency of the United States cannot, consistently with the
respect which is due to that body, be either affirmed or denied*
I t cannot be supposed that the House of Representatives, in
adopting the re&olution in question, intended, through the agency


of the United States.


of an executive department of the government, to institute an
inquiry as to the extent of the constitutional authority of a body,
of which it is only a constituent member. Yet it will necessarily
occur to the House, that, if the power of Congress over the currency is not absolutely sovereign, the inquiry, whatever may be its
immediate result, must be without any ultimate utility. T h e
general prosperity will not be advanced, by demonstrating that
there is no intrinsic obstacle to the substitution of a paper for a
metallic currency, if the power to adopt the substitute has been
withheld from the Federal government. Without offering an opinio
on upon the weight to which these views would have been entitled,
had they been urged whilst the resolution was under consideration,
it is admitted that they furnish no ground for declining the performance of the duty imposed by its adoption. In the discussion
of a question of so much delicacy and importance, the utmost confidence is reposed in the justice and liberality of those who have
rendered it indispensable.
At the threshold of this inquiry, it is proper to observe, that it
is deemed unnecessary to present an analysis of the motives which
led, even in the most remote antiquity, to the general adoption, by
civilized states, of gold and silver, as the standard of value j or, of
the advantages which have resulted from that adoption*
circumstance, to which, in the course of this investigation, it will
be necessary to advert, is the tendency which a metallic currency
iias to preserve a greater uniformity of value than any other commodity ; and the facility with which it returns to that value,
whenever, by any temporary causes, that uniformity has been
interrupted* N o argument wilJ, in this place, be offered in support of this proposition. It is founded in the experience of all
nations. Its truth, for the present, will therefore be assumed.
But, the proposition itself admits, that gold and silver, when
employed, by the consent of all civilized states, ,as the standard of
value, are subject to temporary variations of value. It is equally
true, that they are subject to permanent variations* T h e cause
and effect of these changes will be considered previously to the
discussion of the practicability of substituting a paper for a
metallic currency.
1st, W h e n by any circumstance whatsoever, a greater portion
of these metals is found in a particular state, than is possessed by
other states, having articles of equal value to be exchanged, they
will, in such state, be of less value than in the adjacent states.
This will be manifested by an increase in the price of the com*.
modities of such state. This increase of price will continue until
the metallic redundancy is exported, or converted into manufactures. Whenever this redundancy is disposed of, the currency


Report on the National Currency


will return to its forme: value* v and the price of other commodities
will be regulated by th t value.
2d. But the exportation of specie may take place where is
n o such redundancy. T h i s occurs whenever the general balance
of trade continues, for some time, unfavorable to a particular state.
X h e currency then appreciates in value ; and the price of all other
commodities in such state is diminished. A s commerce is nothing
more than the exchange of equivalents ; the reduction in the price
of the articles of such state, and the increased value of the currency, will promptly produce a re-action ; and gold and silver will
soon return in the quantities required to reduce their value to that
w h i c h they maintain in the adjacent states. AVith the return of
specie, all other articles will return to the prices w h i c h they com*
manded before its exportation. Like fluids, the precious metals,
so long as they are employed as the general measure of value, will
constantly tend to preserve a c o m m o n level. Every variation from
it will be promptly corrected, without the intervention of human
These fluctuations, being temporary in their nature, are
wholly independent of the permanent causes which may affect the
value of gold and silver, w h e n employed as the general standard of
value. T h e y will equally occur, whether the quantity of these
metals, compared with the exchanges w h i c h they are destined to
effect, be redundant or deficient. X h e limits, h o w e v e r , within
w h i c h these fluctuations are confined, are so contracted, that the
great interests of society cannot be seriously affected by t h e m . B u t
this observation must be understood to apply to a currency purely
metallic, or, at least, w h e n the paper w h i c h is connected w i t h it
does not exceed the demand for the convenient transmission of
3d. G o l d and silver, w h e n employed by the common consent of
nations as the standard of value, are subject to variations in value
from permanent causes* W h e n their quantity is increased more
rapidly than the articles -which are to be exchanged through their
agency, their price will fall; or, what amounts to the same thing,
the price of all exchangeable articles will rise. It has been admitted by all intelligent writers upon this subject, that, immediately
after the discovery of America, towards the close of the fifteenth
century, a sudden and extensive depreciation in the value of these
metals occurred ; and that, from that time, to the close of the
eighteenth century, they continued gradually to depreciateThis
depreciation, it is believed, has been accelerated during the last
century, as m u c h by the substitution of paper for specie, as by the
increase in the quantity of those metals during that period, beyond
the demand which would have existed for t h e m , as currency,
had that substitution not taken place. T h e precise effect upon


of the United States.


the depreciation of these metals, produced by the partial substitution of paper, in various countries, for a metallic currency, will not
now be inquired into ; but it is generally conceded, that the depreciation has been more rapid since that substitution, than at any
former period ; except when the accumulated stock of ages in the
new world, was brought into Christendom, and thence distributed
into every other region where gold and silver were in demand*
Since the close of the last century, doubts have existed, whether
those metals, even when employed as currency, have not appreciated in value : and it is contended, by the advocates of a paper
currency, that this appreciation will probably continue through a
long succession of years, and seriously affect all the operations of the
civilized world. It is maintained by these writers, that the
demand for currency, at present, throughout the world, is greater
than the supply which the existing quantity of the precious metals
will afford, without materially depressing the price of all the objects
of human industry and human desires* W h e n it is recollected that
production is regulated by demand, and that both are directly
affected by the quantity of currency compared with the quantity '
of articles to be exchanged ; it is readily perceived, that an increase in the currency of the world by the substitution of paper,
even when convertible into coin, will increase the quantity of
exchangeable commodities in the world, beyond what would have
existed had such increase of currency not taken place. U n d e r
such circumstances, a sudden reduction of the currency, by the
rejection of the paper which had been employed, could not fail to
derange all the relations of society, by diminishing the quantity of
currency, whilst the articles to be exchanged through its agency
would suffer no such diminution.
A n immediate depression in the price of all commodities would
be the inevitable consequence of an unqualified return to a metallic currency, upon the supposition that the quantity of gold and
silver, annually produced, should remain undiminished* But, if
this return to a metallic currency should be attempted at a period
when the annual product of these metals, either from temporary
or permanent causes, should have considerably decreased, all the
great interests of society would be most seriously disordered, property of every description would rapidly fall in value ; the relations
between creditor and debtor would be violently and suddenly
This change would be greatly to the injury of the debtor \ the
property, which would be necessary to discharge his debts, would
exceed that which he had received from his creditor: the one
would be ruined without the imputation of crime, whilst the other
would be enriched without the semblance of merit, Until the


JEteport on the 2s aliened Currency


engagements existing at the m o m e n t of such a change are d i s charged, and the price of labor and of commodities is reduced to
t h e proportion which it must bear to the quantity of currency
employed as the m e d i u m of their e x c h a n g e , enterprise of every
kind will be repressed, and misery and distress universally prevail.
^When this shall be effected, the relations of society, founded u p o n
a n e w basis, will be equitable and just, and tend to promote and
secure the general prosperity.
S u c h , it is contended by the advocates of a paper currency, are
the circumstances under w h i c h the principal states of Europe are
endeavouring to return to a metallic currency. For a century past,
the currency of those states has been greatly increased by the e m ployment of paper, founded, it is true, originally upon a metallic
basis. D u r i n g the last t w e n t y years, this paper has ceased to b e
convertible into specie \ and, as no systematic effort has been madfe
to prevent excessive issues, it has b e c o m e redundant, and, c o n s e q u e n t l y , depreciated. N o t w i t h s t a n d i n g this depreciation, the pro*,
ductions of those countries, it is believed, have more rapidly
increased than those of countries w h e r e a metallic currency h a s
b e e n preserved. T h e first efforts that are seriously made by t h o s e
states to retain a metallic currency, will be the repression of e n t e r prise of every description among themselves. It will be foreseen
that the currency must appreciate, and that all other articles m u s t
depreciate in value. X h e effects of this appreciation of m o n e y
w i l l be first manifested in those states, b y the fall of the price o f
all articles w h i c h cannot be exported. I n the progress of these
measures, the price of the exportable articles will also be affected,
by the reduction in the currency employed in effecting their ex*
change. It is even probable that the quantity of exchangeable
articles will be diminished. W h i l s t the appreciation of the currency is perceptibly advancing, the manufacturer will not hazard
his capital in producing articles the price of w h i c h is rapidly declini n g . T h e merchant will abstain from purchasing, under the a p prehension of a further reduction of price, and of the difficulty o f
re-vending at a profit. It is w e n probable that the interest o f
m o n e y will fall, whilst the cry of a scarcity of m o n e y will be in*
cessant. U n d e r such circumstances, loans will not be required,
except to m e e t debts of immediate urgency, none will be demanded
for the prosecution of enterprises by w h i c h the productive energies
of the c o m m u n i t y will be increased.
A s the measures w h i c h have been adopted by England and
several of the continental states of Europe, for returning t o a m e tallic currency, advance, the interest of those states w h i c h have
adhered to it will be affected. W h i l s t gold and silver wer«, m th£
former states, dispensed with as coin, they were sought for merely


of the United States.


as commodities. T h e quantity necessary for their manufactures
was readily obtained, without deranging, in any serious degree, the
currency of other states*
It has been estimated, that, from eighty to one h u n d r e d and
twenty millions of dollars were necessary to England, T a k i n g the
mean sum, and admitting that the other European states engaged
in the same effort require an equal amount, a supply of t w o hun-*
dred millions of dollars is necessary. T h e commencement of the
measures necessary to obtain that portion of this sum which cannot, in a short time, be drawn from the annual product of the
mines, may not be immediately felt by other states. B u t , w h e n
these measures approach their completion; w h e n a large quantity
of gold and silver is necessarily withdrawn from the currency of
other states, the price of specie will, in the latter, appreciate, and
the price of all commodities will decline. All the evils incident t o
an appreciating currency will be felt in those states, though in a less
degree than where a paper currency had been exclusively adopted.
T h e example presented by the return to a metallic currency in
France, even in the midst of a revolution, which probably had
some influence upon the decision of this question by other states*
is believed to be, in no degree analogous in its principal circumstances. A t the precise period that this change was operating*
England, and the principal continental states, abandoned the p r e cious metals as currency. T h e supply demanded by France was
not only at hand, but was seeking the very employment w h i c h
that change had made indispensable. A t the same time, immense
sums were brought into France by her conquering armies, w h i c h ,
being raised by military contributions, had, in some degree, r e n dered a resort to paper currency, in the invaded states, necessary.
A t present the civilised world is at peace, and each state is endeavoring, by systematic measures, to secure to itself a just participation of the benefits of equal and reciprocal commerce. T h e states
which are now attempting to return to a metallic currency, will
find much greater difficulty in effecting this change than was e x perienced by France.
T h e demand for gold and silver, as the medium oF exchange,
cannot be supplied until the price of all exchangeable articles h a s
fallen in proportion to the reduction of the currency, which the
abandonment of paper must produce. It is even probable, as has
been before suggested, that, after the price of commodities and of
labor shall have fallen, so as to bear a just proportion to the c u r rency which is to be employed in effecting the necessary exchanges^
that the currency will continue gradually to appreciate. T h i s , h o w *
ever, is matter of conjecture. It depends entirely upon the fact,
Whether the annual produce of the mines, after furnishing the



o?i tlie National



quantity necessary for the consumption of the precious metals in
manufactures, will be equal to the increased demand for currency
arising from the increase of exchangeable commodities throughout
the world. T h e great advancement in the arts and sciences—the
rapid improvement in machinery, w h i c h characterise the present
age, acting through a long succession of ages, cannot fail to a u g ment, in an astonishing degree, all the products of human industry.
It may, however, be urged, that the same improvements will
a u g m e n t , in an equal degree, the product of the m i n e s ; and that,
therefore, the quantity of the precious metals in the world will
continue to bear, to other commodities, the same relation w h i c h
they may assume w h e n the return to a metallic currency is effected.
T h i s may be true; but, so far as it depends upon the general principle, that the supply of all articles is regulated by the demand,
there is reasonable ground of doubt* T h e maxim, although g o o d
as a general rule, admits of exceptions.
A demand beyond the
supply increases the price of the thing demanded, and invites to
the investment of additional capital in its production. But, w h e n
the article demanded is to be produced from a material, w h i c h n o
investment of capital, no application of skill, can augment, the
only effect of such investment and application is to produce the
most w h i c h the material has the capacity to furnish. Such* in
fact, is the case of gold and silver. T h e material from w h i c h they
are made, is limited in quantity, w h i c h neither capital nor skill
can augment. It is probable that the improvements in machinery,
and the art of refining, will be counterbalanced by the exhaustion
of the mines, or the difficulty of working them, arising from the
depth and extent of their excavations. It is therefore possible,
that the demand for the precious metals, for currency, and for
manufactures, may exceed the production of the mines.
Previously to entering upon the immediate discussion of the
practicability of substituting a paper for a metallic currency, it is
proper to observe, that gold and silver derive part of the uniformity
of value w h i c h has been ascribed to them, from the general consent
o f civilised states, to employ them as the standard of value. Should
they cease to be used for that purpose* they w o u l d become more
variable in their value, and w o u l d be regulated, like all other articles, by the demand for t h e m , compared with the supply in any
g i v e n market. It is presumed, that, if they should cease to be
employed as the standard of value by several states, their uniformity of value would be in some degree affected, not only in those
states where they were considered as mere commodities, but in
those where they w e r e still employed as currency.
W h e n e v e r , as commodities, they should rise in value, a drain
would take place from the currency of other states; and w h e n they


of the United States.


should Fall in value, as commodities, t h e y w o u l d seek employment
as currency, and render in some degree r e d u n d a n t the currency of
the states where they are employed. After making due allowance
for the depreciation of bank notes in England, from the time of
the bank restriction, in 1797, to the present period, the price of
gold and silver in thiit country is believed to have varied more
than at any former period
T h e i r price, when compared with bank
notes, from the year 1797 to 1 8 0 8 , showed b u t a slight degree of
depreciation; considerably less, in all h u m a n probability, than a c tually existed. D u r i n g that interval, the demand for those metals
w a s limited in England to the sum required for manufactures.
is highly probable, that, if the quantity of the paper circulation
had been reduced to the amount of the currency in circulation at
t h e t i m e , or for one year before the restriction, the price of bullion
would have been below the mint price. O n the contrary, in the
year 1 8 0 8 , when the employment of a British force in Spain
created a sudden demand for specie, the depreciation of bank notes,
indicated by the price of bullion, was probably greater than that
w h i c h really existed. In the year 18 14, after the treaty of Paris,
the price of bullion, estimated in bank paper, was not above the
mint p r i c e ; whilst, in the succeeding year, it rose to more t h a n
t w e n t y per cent, above that p r i c e ; the a m o u n t of bank notes in
circulation at the former exceeding, in a small degree, that of the
latter period. It is impossible that these variations in the price of
gold and silver, in the short space of one year, can be entirely
chargeable to the depreciation of bank notes* T h e effect w h i c h
these variations, in a great commercial state, w h e r e the precious
metals were considered only as commodities, were calculated to
produce upon the currency of the neighbouring states, has not bee»
ascertained. T h e convulsions to which most of these states were
subject, during that period* may account for the want of sufficient
data to elucidate the subject. It ia, however, highly improbable
that these fluctuations were not sensibly felt by t h e m .
H a v i n g considered the nature and extent of the variations in
value, to which a metallic currency is necessarily subject, it r e nTains to examine, whether it is practicable to devise a system by
•which a paper currency may be employed as the standard of value,
w i t h sufficient security against variations in its value* and with
the same certainty of its recovering that value, w h e n , from any
cause, such variations shall have been produced. It is distinctly
admirttd th-it no such paper currency has eve?' existed.
the experiment
has been made directly by government^
issues have quickly ensued* and depreciation has been the
Where the experiment has been attempted through the
I n both cases, instead
*%ency of banks% it has invariably Jailed.
of being used as a m e a n of supplying a cheap and stable c u r r e n c y


Repot*t o?i the National



invariably regulated by t h e demand, for effecting the exchanges
required by the wants and convenience of society, it has been employed
as a financial
resource•, or made the instrument of unrestrained cupidity* I n no case has any attempt been made to determine the principles upon w h i c h such a currency, to be stable roust
be founded. Instead o f salutary restraints being imposed u p o n
the monied institutions w h i c h have been employed, the vital principle of w h o s e b e i n g is gain, they have not simply been left to the
to excesguidance of their own cupidity y but have been stimulated
sive issues, to supply deficiencies in the public revenue.
This is
known to have been the case in an eminent degree, in the
which has been attended
with most success*
The issues of the
JBank of England*
on account of the government* were
so great as to destroy the demand for discounts by individuals.
of these excessive issues, the interest of money Jell be~
Icrvojive per cent* the rate at which the bank discounted* t h e d e m a n d
for discounts at the bank therefore ceased* I t is, indeed, not surprising that no systematic effort has been made to restrain excessive
issues. In the case of banks, the experiments w h i c h have b e e n
made were intended to be temporary; they were the result of great
and sudden pressure, w h i c h left but little leisure for the examination o f a subject so abstruse. T h e e m p l o y m e n t o f a paper circulation, convertible into specie, t h e favorite system of modern
states, having, as has been attempted to be s h o w n in a previous
part of this report, the inevitable tendency to produce the necessity
of resorting, in every national emergency, to paper not so c o n v e r t ^
ble, imposes upon those w h o are called to administer the affairs o f
nations, the duty of thoroughly examining the subject, with a v i e w ,
if practicable, to avoid that necessity* If the examination does
not result in the establishment of a paper currency, unconnected
w i t h specie, it m a y lead to the imposition of salutary checks against
excessive issues, w h e n the necessity o f suspending payment may
It has already been said, that every attempt w h i c h has been
made to introduce a paper currency has failed. It may also b e
said, that of all the systems w h i c h , during the discussion of this
interesting subject, both in Europe and the U n i t e d States, have^
been proposed, none are free from objections* It is possible that
n o system can be devised, w h i c h will be entirely free from objection* T o ensure the possibility of employing such a currency w i t h
advantage, it is necessary :
1. T h a t the p o w e r of the government over the currency be a b solutely sovereign*
2* T h a t its stability b e above suspicion,
5 . T h a t its justice, morality, and intelligence, bte un«|u«nion-




of the United States.


4 . That the issue of the currency be made not only to depend
upon the demand for it, but that an equivalent be actually received.
5. That an equivalent can only be found in the delivery of an
equal amount of gold or silver, or of public stock,
6. That, whenever, from any cause, it may become redundant,
it may be funded at an interest a fraction below that which was
surrendered at its issue,
!• T h i s proposition needs no elucidation. Coinage, and the re*
gulation of money, h&ve, in all nations, been considered one of the
highest acts of sovereignty. It may well be doubted, however,
whether a sovereign power over the coinage necessarily gives the
right to establish a paper currency- T h e power to establish such v
a currency ought not only to be unquestionable, but unquestioned*
A n y doubt of the legality of the exercise of such an authority'
could not fail to mar any system which human ingenuity could
2 . A metallic cuftrency, having an intrinsic value, independent
of that which is given to it by the sovereign authority, does not
depend upon the stability of the government for its value. Revo*
lutions may arise 5 insurrections may menace the existence of the
government : a metallic currency rises in value under such circumstances; it becomes more valuable, compared with every
species of property, whether moveable or immoveable, in proportion to the instability of the government* N o t so with a paper
currency : its credit depends, in a great degree, upon the confidence reposed in the stability of the authority by which it was
issued. Should that authority be overthrown by foreign force or
intestine commotion, an immediate depreciation, if not an absolute
annihilation, of its value, would ensue*
3* It might, however, be saved from such destruction by a
well grounded confidence in the justice and intelligence of the
government which should succeed that which had been overthrown. T h e history of modern times furnishes examples that
are calculated to inspire this confidence. In France, during the
revolution which has just terminated, the public debt was reduced
to one third of its amount. T h e same rule was applied to the
public debt of the D u t c h republic, w h e n it fell under French d o mination. In the successive political changes to which France has,
since that period, been subjected, the public debt and the public
engagements have been maintained with the strictest good faith.
In Holland, that portion of the public debt, which had been abolished by the French government, has been restored. In the
opinion of well informed men, however, the conditions connected
with that restoration were so onerous as to render it almost n o minal. Indeed, the public debt in that country had become so



on the National



disproportionate to the means of the nation, w h e n deprived of the
resources it enjoyed when the debt was contracted, that the reduce
tion which it underwent while the country was annexed to the
French empire was not generally considered an evil
T h e reduction of the national debt of France during the revolution, WMS perhaps equally indispensable. If the intelligence of the age, and the
influence of public opinion, even in states where the reign of law
was but imperfectly established, have been sufficient to induce the
governments which have altern it^ly succeeded each otFu r for the
last twenty-five years, in Fninc.% and Holland, to respect the p u b lic engagements which had been previously contracted, well
grounded expectations may be cherished, that the period is rapidly
passing away when the public faith of nations can be violated w i t h
If public engagements, under such circumstances, have been considered obligatory upon those who have successively administered
the affairs of those nations, a reasonable confidence may be reposed in the fulfilment of the obligations which may be contracted
by existing governments, where the reign of law iafirmly established. It is not denied that a paper currency furnishes strong t e m p tations to abuse. ATdlions may be issued in a few days ; and the
deficiencies in the revenue promptly supplied, if the condition of re*
ceivi?zg an equivalent
is abandoned\
The moment the
shall be issued as ajinancial resource, depreciation voilljollovo^ and
all the relations of society will be disturbed*
If rho government
of the nation in which a paper currency has been established,
shall be deeply impressed with this truth, will it not be restrained
from the apprehended abuse ? Currency of every kind is liable to
great abuses. T h e history of the coinage of every nation w h o s e
annals are known it little more than a detail of the frauds w h i c h
have been practised by governments upon the people ; until the
twentieth year of the reign of Edward the I I I . of England, a pound
troy of silver of standard fineness, and a pound sterling, were synonimous terms ; twenty shillings sterling being, in fact, a pound
troy of standard silver. Change followed change, in rapid succession, until, in the reign of Elizabeth, a pound troy of standard
silver w ts directed to be coined into sixty-two shillings. T h i s
immense change in the value of the currency was effected in the
space of <rbout two centuries. In other modern states, during the
same period, changes not less important occurred in the coinageFrequently* these changes were effected by deteriorating the standard fineness of the coin. For more than x century past, the coinage of the civilised world h*s undergone no material change, with
a view to the practice of fraud upon the people. W h e t h e r this
forbearance is to be attributed t o an improvement in the morality
of modern governments, or to a more correct understanding of the



of the United States.


principles of currency, and of the consequences that must result
from every change by which the relations of society are affected, it
furnishes just ground of expectation that they will not hereafter be
attempted. Nothing more is necessary, to secure an unalterable
adherence to the maxims upon which it is manifestly necessary
that a paper currency must be founded, in order to preserve an
uniformity of value, than the same morality and the same intelligence* Without assuming the principle of the perfectibility of
human nature, the hope may be indulged, that the nature of
currency will continue to command the attention of statesmen,
and that the abuses which have resulted from improper changes in
the currency will not again occur in the same degree.
4. ^Vhen the currency is metallic, no addition can be made to it
without giving an equivalent. It is indispensable that this condition should be annexed to the acquisition of the paper currency,
preliminary to its entering into circulation. If it can be put in
circulation, only on paying its nominal amount in that which has
a general and fixed^Value, determined by the consent of other nations, it will continue to preserve that value during the time it circulates, unless the relation which it bore, at the time of its issue, to
tjie quantity of articles, the exchanges of which it is destined to
perform, shall be varied.
5. As a paper currency is issued upon the national credit, the
whole property of the nation is pledged for its redemption, whenever, by any circumstance, it may become the interest of the community, that it should be redeemed. It is, therefore, manifest that
it should not issue upon the credit of any individual, or association
of individuals. A part can never be equal to the whole. T h e
credit of any individual, or association of individuals, cannot be
equivalent to that of the nation, of which they form a part. But
it may be said, that, although the credit of individuals is not equivalent to the credit of the nation, yet, an equivalent for a particular portion of that credit, may be found in the pledge or mortgage
of property of equal or greater value than the currency issued upon
it. This may be true j but the value of property has been continually fluctuating : it will continue to fluctuate, after giving to
the advocates of a paper currency full credit for the superior stability
which, they suppose, will attend its substitution for gold and silver,
as the standard of value. But this is not the only objection to the
acceptance of property as a pledge for the payment, by individuals,
of an equavalent for the paper currency, which may be advanced
upon such pledge* Frauds will be practised by pledging property
which is encumbered, which it would be extremely difficult to detect. T h e government will be involved in endless litigation with
individuals who are interested in the incumbrances by which
its rights to the property pledged is embarrassed. I n such contests,



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the interest of the government L> r-Iways endangered, even w h e r e
right is on its side* It is .ict qualified to enter into such litigations*
with an equal chance of success* T h e feelings of the community
are always, except in flagrant cases of fraud, upon the side of an individual supposed to be struggling with the overwhelming influence
of authority. Besides, in ail contests of this nature, something
of the respect for the government, which ought to be cherished by
the citizens, especially of a free state, will be lost. T h e situation
is invidious, and ought not voluntarily to be assumed by a government jealous of its dignity and purity of character. It is* therefore, believed that a national currency cannot be issued with safety*
with a reasonable prospect of success, and with sufficient security
against redundancy, but in exchange for gold and silver of a definite
standard, or for the public stock at certain fixed rates.When issued
in exchange for them, and for them alone, there is, though not the
same, yet perhaps an equal security against redundancy, as in the
case of a xnetallic currency* W h e n it is issued in exchange for
coin, there is no addition made to the currency. 'When It is issued
in exchange for public stock, commanding, previously to the exchange, its par value in coin, the party who acquires the currency
parts with that which was equal to specie, and is deprived of the
annual interest which it produced. Unless the interest of the
currency, resulting fi*om the scarcity, should exceed that paid upon
the stock, it would not be demanded in exchange for the stock* l a
either case, the danger of redundancy is extremely remote- By the
exchange of specie for currency, the active capital of the country
will be increased to the amount of the currency i and the capacity of the nation to redeem it, whenever it shall, by any circumstance whatever, become expedient, will be unquestionable.
B u t it may be doubted whether, under such conditions, a paper
currency ever can be put in circulation. U n d e r a government
firmly established, conducted by upright and enlightened councils,
and possessing absolute power over the currency, it is believed
there is no just reason to apprehend a difficulty of that nature. If,
in such a government, banks existed, deriving their powers from it,
the specie in their possession would be gradually exchanged for
the paper currency, which would become the basis of their operations. N o t only the specie which they possessed would be thus
exchanged, but exertions would, from time to time, be made to acquire the sums necessary to support their banking operations* Specie
would be imported, even at an expense, for the purpose of being ex-1
changed. Whilst specie formed the basis of the operations of
banks, its importation could not fail to be productive of loss. Each
importation not only produced the necessity of additional importations, b u t at an increased expense, iiut, when importations sh^U
he made, for the purpose of being exchanged for the currency, the



of the United States-


exportation of the specie thus imported will not affect the opera*
tions of the banks. It is only when the funding of the currency
shall commence, that they will be admonished to desist from further
importations. Individuals and banks would likewise exchange
public stock at the rates prescribed by the system for the paper
currency. "Whenever the demand for cui^rency should be such as
to raise the interest of money considerably above that produced by
the public stock, it would, by banks and individuals, be given in exchange for the currency. But the facility which the existence of
a public debt furnishes in procuring the paper currency, is counterbalanced by the difficulty of complying with the public engagement
to discharge such debt in a metallic currency. After a paper circulation shall be substituted for gold and silver, they will be found
in the country only in the quantity demanded for manufactures,
and for such branches of commerce as are entirely dependent upon
them, A considerable demand for gold and silver by the govern^
ment, to meet its engagements, previously contracted, would raise
their price in the market, and render the obligation to discharge
those engagements in the precious metals not only extremely oner o u s , but, perhaps, sometimes impracticable. I n such a state,
a compromise with the public creditors would seem to be a p r e liminary measure. T h i s , under any circumstances, would be a
measure of great delicacy and difficulty, and, in some cases, would
probably be utterly impracticable.
6. W h e n e v e r , from any cause, the currency should become r e dundant, the redundancy may be funded at a rate of interest a fraction below the rate of legal interest.
I n determining the rate at which it may be funded, due regard
should be paid to the rate of interest, previously existing in the
T h e rate of interest, it is conceived, ought not to
depend, and where a metallic currency prevails does not depend,
solely upon the amount of currency necessary to perform, with facility, the exchanges required by the wants and convenience of society. I n a n e w country, where there is b u t a slight accumulation
of capital, the interest of money will be high, notwithstanding there
may be even a redundancy of currency beyond w h a t is necessary
to effect its exchanges. In such a country, all the objects upon
which capital may be employed, except those of the most simple
kind, are unoccupied. T h e currency necessary to effect the exchanges of its property, movable and immovable, will be entirely
insuificient to satisfy the demand for capital for those objects.
If it should be multiplied, so as to equal that demand, it
would exceed the demand for the necessary exchanges of
society, and, consequently, depreciate. S u c h , in fact, it is
believed, would be the consequence of issuing t h e currency
upon individual credit, or upon the pledge of property at


Report on the National Currency


a rate of interest below that which previously existed in the state.
A n y change of the interest of money by law, previous to its having
taken place in individual transactions, inconsequence of the accumulation of capital, would be unjust, and could not fail to produce
serious inconvenience to the community. Admitting the rate of
interest in astate about to make the experiment, to be six per cent*
then the currency should be issued only in exchange for specie or
six per cent, stock, or other stock, according to that ratio. If the currency should, when, by any means, a redundancy existed, be fundable
at five and a half per cent, interest, the utmost depreciation to which
it could ba subject would be eight and one third per cent. But it is
probable that the real depression in its value would not, at any
time, be more than half that amount. Before funding would c o m mence, the public stock, receivable in exchange for the national
currency, would be above the rates at which it was receivable.
Its issue upon the exchange of stock would, therefore, have
ceased. T h e r e are, in every community, capitalists, w h o would
prefer lending to the government, at five and a half per cent.,
than to individuals at six. T h e funding of the currency would,
therefore, begin before the redundancy would offer any general
inducement to that mode of reducing it. T h e variation to which
its value would be subject, would therefore be less than eight and
one-third per cent* It would be the interest of the government to
reserve the right of redeeming the stock created by funding, at its
par value ; under the condition, however, of redeeming it according
to the order of time in which it was created- Connected with
this system should be a permission to the banks to purchase public
stock, but not to dispose of it, except to the government, at its par
or current value, when under par, unless the government should
decline the purchase. T h e currency, upon being funded, should
be invariably cancelled* U n d e r a system of this kind, if no other
paper was permitted to circulate than the national currency, a r e dundancy which would affect its value could only occur by a temporary diminution of the articles which were to be exchanged
through its instrumentality- In that event the price of the articles
would be enhanced, so as to require a greater amount of currency
to effect their exchange. Should the price not be enhanced
in proportion to the diminution in the quantity of the articles, that
portion of the currency which would, under such circumstances* be
left without employment, would be funded. A just relation betwcrn the amount of currency, and the demand for it, would be
promptly restored, without affecting, injuriously, the relations b e tween individuals. O n the other hand,' should a greater quantity
of exchangeable articles be produced, the demand for currency
would exceed the supply, and lead immediately to additional issues,
until the necessary supply should be obtained*


of the United States.


But in a state where banks already existed, which derived their
charters fr« m the sovereignty that regulated the currency ; where
the pt-r^le wei* accustomed to bank notes i and in the habit of
receiving them, the agency of these institutions might be admitted
in supplying a portion of the currency. They might be permitted
to issue their notes, payable on demand, in the national currency.
Their notes would, of course, be issued on personal security. In
this case, the currency might become redundant by the issues of
the banks. Vfhenever this should happen, the national currency
would be demanded of them for the purpose of being funded ;
the banks would be compelled to curtail their discounts, to relieve
themselves from the pressure, and the amount of the currency
would be promptly reduced to the legitimate demand* Wherever
the ageiicy of banks should be employed in furnishing part of the
circulation, a refusal, or omission, to discharge their notes on demands u) the national currency, should be treated as an act of
bankruptcy. T h e national currency being a legal tender in the
payment of debts to individuals and to the government, would,
in relation to the banks, perform the functions of specie, where bank
notes are convertible into coin. But, in order to impose a salutary
check against excessive issues of bank notes, the national currency
should alone be receivable in all payments to the government.
I n an attempt to trace the probable results of a paper currency,
founded upon the principles which have been developed in the
preceding pages, the influence which it will have upon foreign
exchange requires investigation
T h e want of stability, morality,
and intelligence, in the government which may undertake to substitute a paper for a metallic currency, are the objections which
have already been considered. T o these, according to common
opinion, is to be added, the injurious effect which it is supposed
it will have upon foreign exchange. In a country where the currency is metallic, an unfavorable state of foreign exchange will
probably have the following effects :
1st* T o raise the price of exportable articles ,is much above
that which they ought to bear, as the premium paid upon foreign
bills, until it exceeds the expense of exporting specie to the foreign market.
2d. "When this rise exceeds the expense of such exportation,
the price of exportable articles will fall gradually below what they
ought to command, to the extent of that excess.
3d. Until this fall in their price shall be effected, specie will
be exported : after which, it will cease.
4th. This fall in their price, by increasing their consumption
in the foreign markets, ultimately provides for the return of the
specie which had been exported.



on the National Currency


5th. D u r i n g the second and third stages of this process, t h e
price of ail articles not exportable, is affected in a greater degree ;
enterprise is damped, and distress prevails*
S u c h are the necessary effects of an unfavorable state of foreign
exchange, where the currency is metallic. A s the vital principle
of commerce is gain, it is probable that, generally, the price o £
exportable articles w o u l d , in fact, be rather higher than is stated
in the preceding deductions ; the timid might export specie,
hefore the premium upon exchange exceeded the expense of its
exportation 5 but timidity is not the predominant characteristic
o f commercial enterprise* O n the other hand, the sanguine audi
enterprising, relying upon the chance of better markets, w o u l d
give higher prices rather than submit to certain loss upon t h e
exportation of specie or the purchase of bills above par.
In a country where a paper currency has been adopted, and
the principles by w h i c h a redundancy may be prevented, h a v e
been enforced, an unfavorable state of foreign exchange w i l l
probably have the following effects ;
1st T h e effect of raising the price of exportable articles, a s
m u c h above what they ought to bear, as equals the p r e m i u m
upon foreign bills. B u t , in this case, gold and silver being e x *
portable articles will rise in the same proportion as all other articles,
2 d . W h e n the price of all articles is raised so high that a loss
will be incurred by their sale in foreign markets, those w h o
have no remittances to make will withdraw from the competd*
tion* I f profitable investments in other enterprizes cannot J>e
m a d e , a portion o f the currency at their disposition will be with*.
drawn from circulation, by being converted into funded stock j
competition will in this manner be diminished j the price o f articles for exportation will be reduced by the reduction of the c u r rency, and by diminished competition among the purchasers* I t
is not probable, however, that the price will fall so l o w as to admit
o f a profit in foreign markets, as long as the premium upon e x change continues above the ordinary commercial profit u p o n
exported articles.
B u t exportation will not be continued at a
certain loss, longer than the discharge of debts previously contracte d renders indispensable ; foreign articles w i l l not be imported
w h e n the loss upon remittances, whether made by bills of exchange
or by the exportation of commodities, is equal to the profit u p o n
importation; the high price given for exported articles will increase
their production, and restore foreign exchange to a favorable state.
T h e balance of trade and the rate of foreign exchange, w h i c h have
given so m u c h trouble to statesmen for t w o centuries past, w h e n
left to the laws by w h i c h they will be governed, in despite of
h u m a n devices, as invariably regulate themselves* as fluids, w h e n


of the United States.


unrestrained, find their common level. T h e y will, probably, more
promptly conform to these laws in a state where a well regulated
paper currency prevails than where it is metallic. In the latter*
the currency is exported to make up any temporary deficiency,
and by that means provides against the recurrence of the evil, by
indirectly causing an increase of the exportable articles of the state*
and diminishing the importation of foreign articles. U n t i l the
capacity to purchase these, by the exchange of articles, shall be
restored in the* former, as the currency cannot be exported, the
importations will be more promptly reduced to the capacity of the
country to purchase, whilst the increase of its exportable articles
will be the direct instead of the indirect consequence of a temporary incapacity to pay for previous importations.
3d. During the whole process of restoring a favorable state of
exchange in a country where a well regulated paper currency
prevails, the price of all articles not exportable, will suffer no
material variation. T h e funding of the currency, which will
probably take place, will not be immediately carried so far as to
reduce the price of exportable articles so as to command a profit
in foreign markets. T h e y will, so long as the rate of exchange
is unfavorable, continue to command higher prices than when t h e
exchange is favorable. T h i s increased price will encourage industry and enterprise, and constantly tend to augment the productive energies of the community. T h i s effect cannot fairly be
attributed to any depreciation in the currency. That will continue
to bear nearly the same proportion to the exchangeable articles of
the state, as when foreign exchange w a s favorable. It is probable
even that its relation to those articles will be changed, so as to
produce an appreciation of the currency; and that this appreciation will be perceived in a slight degree in the depression of
the value of all articles not exportable. T h e effects of this appreciation will, however, be diminished by the impulse given to industry and enterprise, by the increased price of all articles which
can be exported.
T h e s e are conceived to be the effects which a well regulated
paper currency will have upon the foreign exchanges, and upon
the domestic industry of the country which may adopt it. If the
value of currency depends, like that of all other articles, upon the
quantity, compared with the demand, the idea of its depreciation
in raising the price of articles in the case which has been c o n sidered, must be rejected. T h a t this position is incontrovertible,
seems to have been admitted by all writers upon the subject.
admission is found in the reports which have been made to the
British Parliament; in the evidence upon which those reports
have been founded ; and in the essays of those w h o have opposed



on the National



the paper system in that country, since the year 1797.
objection to the paper system^ as it existed in England\ was the
absence of all restraint upon the issue of papei^^wd
the supposed
impossibility of imposing any efficient restraint. In fact, n *
attempt has been made to impose such restraint in that country*
unconnected with the convertibility of bank notes into the precious *
metals. So far as this restraint is limited to the convertibility o£
bank notes into bullion, at any given rate j it is rather an attempt
to regulate foreign exchange through the instrumentality of t h e bank, than to confine the issue of bank notes to the sound demand
for currency. T h e restraint imposed seems to rest upon the idea
that an unfavorable state of foreign exchange must be the result of
a redundant currency. Nothing can be more incorrect than this
hypothesis. Considering the vitiated state of the currency of
England for more than twenty years past, it is not surprising that
this idea should there be entertained. During that period, the
unfavorable rate of foreign exchange which generally prevailed,
was, if not directly, at least indirectly attributable to the depreciation of their currency. But in this interval a favorable rate of foreign exchange more than once occurred. T o what could thi*
favorable exchange be attributed ? Certainly not to the depreciation
of their currency. But it would be us unjust to attribute every
unfavorable state of foreign exchange to the depreciation of t h e
currency, as to ascribe to that currency the credit of any favorable
state of such exchange. T h e truth is thai fluctuations m t h e
exchange between two countries having a metallic currency, coii^
tinually occur, and depend upon principles wholly unconnected
with the idea of a depreciated currency.
If these views be correct, the only obstacles to the establishment
of a paper currency, by a government having a sovereign right t o ,
establish it, is the danger of the instability and want of integrity
and intelligence of the government. T h e r e is, certainly, j u s t .
reason to apprehend that emergencies may arise in the affairs of
every nation, in which their stability may be menaced by foreign
force or domestic insurrection. In such an event, a panic might
ensue, and the credit of the currency be utterly annihilated. How*
far the recent examples which have been adverted to in other states
— h o w far the influence of public opinion over the conduct of
governments, may be relied upon, as an efficient preventive against
evils of such magnitude, must be determined by those to whom*
under Divine Providence, the prosperity and happiness of nations
*re committed. T h e subject involves all the complicated interest^
of society, except the enjoyment of civil, political, and religious
liberty. I t ought to be approached with more than ordinary ci*~
eumspection. ' I n states the best qualified to attempt the change*



of the United States.


it is environed with doubt which can only be dispelled by the
light of experiment. I n the U n i t e d States these doubts are
greatly increased by the complex form of the government. In the
division of power, between the federal and state governments, the
line of separation is not sufficiently distinct to prevent collisions,
which may disturb the harmony of the system* Collisions have
already arisen, and, in the course of h u m a n events, may be reasonably expected to arise, until the line of separation by which their
relative powers and duties are determined, shall be distinctly
defined by practice, or by explanatory a m e n d m e n t s of the constitution, effected according to the forms prescribed in that .instrum e n t . U p o n no question will collision more likely arise than that
contemplated by the resolution under which this report is s u b mitted- N o attempt to make the change has succeeded.
measure w h e n stripped of extraneous difficulties, must be admitted
to be of doubtful tendency. U n d e r the most auspicious circumstances it may prove abortive. U n d e r circumstances in any degree
adverse, it must inevitably fail. A n y obstacle opposed to its execution, by one or more of the state governments, w o u l d be decisive
of its fatt;- T h e i r simple acquiescence in the measure w o u l d not
b e sufficient to secure to it that issue, to w h i c h the principles upon
w h i c h it might be established, would necessarily lead. T h e i r
active co-operation would be indispensable. T h e banks which
derive their authority from the state governments, are generally
b o u n d by their charters to discharge their notes in specie on
d e m a n d . F r o m this obligation it would be necessary to the syst e m to relieve them. T h e obligation to discharge their notes upon
d e m a n d , in the national currency, should be substituted for that of
paying them in specie*
If these obstacles should be removed, t h a t connected w i t h the
public debt, which has been suggested in a previous part of the
report, would still remain. After the substitution of the national
c u r r e n c y , gold and silver would be imported only in the quantity
required for manufactures, and for the prosecution of those
branches of trade in which they are primary articles of c o m m e r c e .
F o r these purposes, the importations would be sufficient.
m i g h t even be sufficient, and at a reasonable price, for the payment
of the annual interest of the public debt. B u t , after the year 1 8 2 * ,
w h e n the sum of 1 0 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0 dollars, w o u l d annually be expended
by the Commissioners of the Sinking F u n d , it is probable that t h e
p r e m i u m which would be paid upon it w o u l d be considerable,
until the debt was extinguished, A compromise, as has already
been suggested, w i t h the public creditors, w o u l d seem to be a
measure preliminary to any attempt to establish % paper c u r r e n c y .



on the National



It IB more than probable that the attempt w o u l d not only b e
unsuccessful, but that it w o u l d injuriously affect the public credit.
It may, also be proper to observe, that those sections of the
U n i o n where a measure of this kind w o u l d be most likely to b e
acceptable, w o u l d probably derive from it the least benefit.
the W e s t and in the S o u t h , the complaints of a deficient currency
have been most distinctly heard. In the latter, these complaints
are of recent date. In both they proceed in a greater degree from
the disbursement of the public revenue than from any other cause.
T h e great mass of public expenditure is made to the East of this
city. T h e revenue accruing from imports, though principally c o l lected in the middle and eastern states, is paid by the great mass of
consumers throughout the XJuited States. T h a t w h i c h is paid
for the public lands, although in some degree drawn from every
part of the U n i o n , is principally paid by the citizens of the "West,
and of the S o u t h . T h e greatest part of the revenue accruing from
the public lands, as well as that collected in the southern states,,
upon imports, has been transferred to the middle and eastern states
to be expended. T h e necessity of making this transfer, arises from
the circumstance that the great mass of the public debt is held in
those states, or by foreigners, -whose agents reside in t h e m : and
from the establishment of dock yards and naval stations in their
principal ports. T h i s transfer will continue to be necessary until
the public debt shall be extinguished, and until the other e x p e n ditures of the government can, consistently w i t h the public interest,
be more equally distributed.
If a national currency should be established, the demand for it
in the southern and western states, for^the purpose of transmission,
would be incessant; whilst its return, by the ordinary course o f
trade, especially in the latter, would be slow and in some degree
uncertain. T h e currency, being every where receivable by the
government, w o u l d , for the purpose of remittance, be more frequently demanded in that section than specie, for the same reason,
that the notes of the Bank of the U n i t e d States and its offices
command there, at this time a premium in specie. A s the transfers
of the public money are made by th<* Bank of the U n i t e d States,
the excitement produced by the demand for specie, or funds that can:
be remitted, consequent upon such transfers, has been directed
against that institution. All the evils w h i c h the c o m m u n i t y , in particular parts of the country, has suffered from the sudden decrease o f
the currency, as well as from its depreciation, have been ascribed to
the Bank o f the U n i t e d States, w h i c h , in transferring the public
funds, has bee» a passive agent in the hands of the government.
It is then believed that the evils w h i c h are felt in those sections
o f the U n i o n where the distress is most general will not be eXten-


of the United States.


stvely relieved by the establishment of a national currency. T h e sufferings which have been produced by the efforts that have been
made to resume, and to continue specie payments, have been
great. They are not terminated, and must continue until the value
of property, and the price of labor, shall assume that delation to
the precious metals which our wealth and industry, compared with
those of other states, shall enable us to retain. Until this shall be
effected* an abortive attempty bij the substitution of a j?aper currency, to arrest the evils we are suffering, will produce the most
distressing consequences.
The si/ffirings that are j>ast will, in
such an events recur with additional violence, and the nation will
again find itself in the situation which it held at the moment when
specie payments were resumed.
I have the honor to be your most obedient servanf,
The Honorable the Speaker
of the Mouse of Representatives*