On April 15, 1790, the United State House of Representatives directed
the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to explore the
possibilities of establishing a Mint in America. His extensive
report, published nearly a year later, reveals much of the insights and
observations that later became an integral part of our nation's monetary
The report that follows is reprinted from the March and April 1791
editions of "The Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine",
printed in Philadelphia by William Young. Hamilton's report
appears on pages 189-201 of the March issue and pages 263-269 of the
CONGRESS of the UNITED STATES.
REPORT of the SECRETARY of the TREASURY on the SUBJECT
of a MINT.
The SECRETARY of the TREASURY
having attentively considered the subject referred to him, by the order of
the HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES of the fifteenth day of April
last, relatively to the Establishment of the MINT, most
respectfully submits the result of his enquiries and reflections.
A plan for an establishment of this nature involves a
great variety of considerations, intricate, nice, and important. The
general state of debtor and creditor; all the relations and consequences
of PRICE; the essential interests of trade and industry; the value of all
property; the whole income of the state and of individuals, are liable to
be sensibly influenced, beneficially, or otherwise, by the judicious, or
injudicious regulation of this interesting object.
It is one likewise, not more necessary than difficult to
be rightly adjusted; one which has frequently occupied the reflections and
researches of politicians, without having harmonified their opinions on
one of the most important of the principles which enter into its
discussion. Accordingly, different systems continue to be advocated, and
the systems of different nations, after much investigation, continue to
differ from each other.
But if a right adjustment of the matter be truly of such
nicety and difficulty, a question naturally arises, whether it may not be
most adviseable to leave things, in this respect, in the state in which
they are? Why, might it be asked, since they have so long proceeded in a
train, which has caused no general sensation of inconvenience, should
alterations be attempted, the precise effect of which cannot with
certainty be calculated?
The answer to this question is not perplexing - The
immense disorder which actually reigns in so delicate and important a
concern, and the still greater disorder which is every moment possible,
call loudly for reform. The dollar, originally contemplated in the money
transactions of this country, by successive diminutions of its weight and
fineness, has sustained a depreciation of 5 per cent. And yet the new
dollar has a currency in all payments in place of the old, with scarcely
any attention to the difference between them. The operation of this in
depreciating the value of property, depending upon past contracts, and (as
far as inattention to the alteration in the coin may be supposed to leave
prices stationary) of all other property, is apparent. Nor can it require
argument to prove, that a nation ought not to suffer the value of the
property of its citizens to fluctuate with the fluctuations of a foreign
mint, and to change with the changes in the regulations of a foreign
sovereign. This, nevertheless, is the condition of one, which having no
coins of its own, adopts with implicit confidence those of other
The unequal values allowed in different parts of the Union
to coins of the same intrinsic worth; the defective species of them, which
embarrasses the circulation of some of the states; and the dissimilarity
in the several monies of account, are inconveniences, which if not to be
ascribed to the want of a national coinage, will at least be most
effectually remedied by the establishment of one; a measure that will at
the same time give additional security against impositions, by counterfeit
as well as by base currencies.
It was with great reason, therefore that the attention of
Congress, under the late confederation, was repeatedly drawn to the
establishment of a mint; and it is with equal reason that the subject has
been resumed; now that the favorable change which has taken place in the
situation of public affairs, admits of its being carried into execution.
But though the difficulty of devising a proper
establishment ought not to deter from undertaking so necessary a work; yet
it cannot but inspire diffidence in one, whose duty it is made, to propose
a plan for the purpose, and may perhaps be permitted to be relied upon as
some excuse for any errors which may be chargeable upon it, or for any
deviations from sounder principles, which may have been suggested by
others, or even in part acted upon by the former government of the United
In order to a right judgement of what ought to be done,
the following particulars require to be discussed.
I. What ought to be the nature of the money unit of the
United States ?
II. What the proportion between gold and silver, if coins
of both metals are to be established ?
III. What the proportion and composition of alloy in each
IV. Whether the expence of coinage shall be defrayed by
the government, or out of the material itself ?
V. What shall be the number, denominations, sizes and
devices of the coins?
VI. Whether foreign coins shall be permitted to be current
or not; in the former, at what rate, and for what period?
A pre-requisite to determining with propriety, what ought
to be the money unit of the United States, is to endeavor to form as
accurate an idea as the nature of the case will admit of what it actually
is. The pound, though of various value, is the unit in the money of
account of all the states. But it is not equally easy to pronounce what is
to be considered as the unit in the coins. There being no formal
regulation on the point (the resolutions of Congress of the 6th. of July,
1785, and 8th. of August, 1786, having never yet been carried into
operation) it can only be inferred from usage or practice. The manner of
adjusting foreign exchanges, would seem to indicate the dollar as best
entitled to that character. In these, the old piaster of Spain; or old
Seville piece of eight rials, of the value of four shillings and
six pence sterling, is evidently contemplated. The computed par between
Great-Britain and Pennsylvania, will serve as an example. According to
that, one hundred pounds sterling is equal to one hundred and fifty-six
pounds and two thirds of a pound Pennsylvania currency; which corresponds
with the proportion between four shillings and six pence sterling, and
seven shillings and six pence the current value of the dollar in that
state, by invariable usage. And, as far as the information of the
Secretary goes, the same comparison holds in the other states.
But this circumstance in favour of the dollar, loses much
of its weight from two considerations. That species of coin has never had
any settled or standard value, according to weight or fineness, but has
been permitted to circulate by tale, without regard to either; very much
as a mere money of convenience; while gold has had a fixed price by
weight; and with an eye to its fineness. This greater stability of value
of the gold coins, is an argument of force for regarding the money unit as
having been hitherto virtually attached to gold, rather than to silver.