Previous Page | Next Page | Mint History 1781-1791

ALEXANDER HAMILTON'S 1791 REPORT ON THE SUBJECT OF A MINT - Page 2

Previous Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The difference established by custom in the United States between coined gold and coined silver, has been stated upon another occasion, to be nearly 1 to 15.6. This, if truly the case, would imply that gold was extremely overvalued in the United States; for the highest actual proportion in any part of Europe, very little, if at all, exceeds 1 to 15 : and the average proportion throughout Europe is probably not more than about 1 to 14 4-5. But that statement has proceeded upon the idea of the ancient dollar. One penny-weight of gold of 22 carats fine at 6s. 8d. and the old Seville piece of 386 grains and 15 mites of pure silver at 7s. 6d., furnish the exact ratio of 1 to 15.6262. But this does not coincide with the real difference between the metals, in our market, or, which is with us the same thing, in our currency. To determine this, the quantity of fine silver in the general mass of the dollar now in circulation, must afford the rule. Taking the rate of the late dollar of 374 grains, the proportion would be as 1 to 15.11 -- Taking the rate of the newest dollar, the proportion would then be as 1 to 14.87. The mean of the two would give the proportion of 1 to 15 very nearly : less than the legal proportion in the coins of Great Britain, which is as 1 to 15.2 ; but somewhat more than the actual or market proportion, which is not quite 1 to 15.

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

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

The suggestions and proceedings hitherto have had for their object the annexing of it emphatically to the silver dollar. A resolution of Congress of the 6th of July, 1785, declares that the money unit of the United States shall be a dollar; and another resolution of the 8th of August, 1786, fixes that dollar at 375 grains and 54 hundredths of a grain of fine silver. The same resolution, however, determines, that there shall also be two gold coins, one of 246 grains and 268 parts of a grain of pure gold, equal to ten dollars, and the other of half that quantity of pure gold, equal to five dollars: And it is not explained whether either of the two species of coins, of gold or silver, shall have any greater legality in payments, than the other. Yet it would seem, that a preference in this particular is necessary to execute the idea of attaching the unit exclusively to one kind. If each of them be as valid as the other, in payments to any amount, it is not obvious, in what effectual sense either of them can be deemed the money unit, rather than the other.

Next Page

Copyright 2000 Coinfacts.com, Inc. - all rights reserved worldwide.
Use of any images or content on this website without prior written permission is strictly prohibited!