Page images
PDF
EPUB

their dealings with their subjects; these were kept in a constant conflict with their rulers to retain in rightful possession the product of their toil and labor; the one power that should have protected them in that right, was the power they dreaded most. The long conflict developed into a struggle for political supremacy, and while it went on, the wealth-producing capacity of the people was maintained or diminished in proportion as the contest went in their favor or against them. When resistance to the demand of the ruler ceased altogether, the people sank into poverty and serfdom; when this resistance was successful, the people rose to affluence and political independence. The people of England, after a long monetary struggle with their kings, succeeded in appropriating to themselves exclusive control of the revenues and expenditures of the kingdom; the coining of money continued to be a prerogative of the king, but gradually it came under the direction, and finally under the absolute control, of Parliament.

A common and favorite method adopted by rulers to raise money was to abstract from the coinage a portion of its precious metal, and to substitute therefor a cheaper metal; when resistance was made to receiving such money, its circulation was enforced by mandate. This doubtless seemed to the rulers a ready road to wealth, but nothing could have been more destructive of the prosperity of their people, or of their own prosperity. A debased coinage seems to have entered into the experience of every civilized nation at some period of its history. Among the Romans, the pondo decreased to a half ounce of copper, in England the pound sterling to less than one-third of a pound of silver, and some coins in Scotland were reduced to less than one-sixtieth of their normal value. That the rulers have been chiefly responsible for this debasement will be seen when we come to consider the Gresham law.

There is an interesting chapter in Macaulay's History of England which describes how the clipping and sweating of coin gradually so lowered the standard of

money as to bring great distress upon the nation. This was in the time of William III.; the vigorous and intelligent action of Parliament corrected the evil; no less a personage than Sir Isaac Newton was appointed Warden of the Mint, while the famous philosopher John Locke expounded his theory of money.

We have long ceased to regard the king's person as more sacred than that of a subject ; nevertheless, a remnant of that old superstitious belief in the potency of sovereignty found its way to the New World, and is here with us still, to tangle our thoughts and blur our perceptions.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

N calling our silver and gold coins by the same

name," dollar," and in trying to hold them at an equal value under a fixed ratio, is there not evi. dence of a lingering belief that the power of sovereignty can regulate the value of coin? And is not the effort to enforce the circulation of the two coins at equivalent value a survival of the king's mandate in modified form ? Have we not overlooked the fact that silver and gold are commodities, the values of which are regulated only in one way, and by the same rule that regulates the value of other commodities—by letting them find in open market what that value is? They are not alike, not even in their money functions. They are both metals, to be sure, as wheat and barley are both cereals : what more cogent reason is there for making silver and gold an equivalent tender than for making wheat and barley an equivalent tender? Is it not evident that we have inherited from the past a vague notion that we can, in some mystic manner, regulate the value of our metallic money? If a legislative enactment could confer that power, similar legislation would enable us to regulate the value of all our commodities. The well-meant efforts to hold silver and gold coin

K at a parity in value have had no other effect than to drive one of these metals out of active current service. This has been our experience from the K beginning of our government down to this day. We have not had both coins in circulation simultaneously, except during the short intervals when one was going out and the other coming in, and all other nations have shared this experience. Whenever the metals composing the two coins are put up for sale in open market, the price of each is governed by the supply of and demand for each ; in no other way can their true value be ascertained; each must stand on its own merits. The efforts of governments to give them equality in value seem to have had the opposite effect.

It is estimated that three-fifths of the volume of silver and gold in the world are used in the arts, and two-fifths in money; but this is only an estimateaccurate figures cannot be had. That the amount

[ocr errors]

of these metals used as money is sufficiently large to considerably affect their market value is, however, a matter of course; but that the efforts to hold them at a relatively fixed value have utterly failed, is proved by the whole history of bi-metallism.

All the leading commercial nations at one time or another have tried to harness these two moneymetals together, and make of them one monetary standard. We may suppose the first step towards this end to be the determining of the amount of silver and of gold respectively that shall constitute coins of equal value, the ratio being adjusted to the relative market value of these metals at the time. The act authorizing this coinage would also make the silver and gold coin an equivalent tender at the ratio fixed. This is what is termed bi-metallism. In course of time, the market values of the two metals part company; one may go up or the other down, or they may move simultaneously in opposite directions. As soon as this separation takes place, the coin of the metal which has risen in value begins to disappear from the circulation. This movement, unlike the intelligent order of free selection (in which the superior money supersedes the inferior), has nothing to do with the inherent fitness of the metals for service as money; indeed, the coin going out of circu

« PreviousContinue »