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The silver dollar for some years had been worth about $1.03 in gold; since the passage of the Gold Coin Bill of 1834 the fine silver in a silver dollar (3714 grains) had been worth somewhat more than 23.22 grains of fine gold, and as a consequence the silver dollar had not circulated in the country. It was used chiefly "as a convenient portion of silver in the laboratory of the metallurgist, or was hoarded as an object of curiosity."* The average amount annually issued from 1839 to 1869 was only a little over 100,000, and of the total 8,031,238 issued between 1792 and 1873, nearly one-half were made in the years following 1865, and were manufactured almost exclusively for export. In 1804, when it became apparent that these coins were not used to form part of the currency of the country, but were exported to the West Indies, the administration saw fit, without the sanction of the law, to discontinue their issue. In 1873 the officers of the government recommended simply that authority to manufacture be withdrawn, and it was so enacted.
Quite other reasons have since been assigned by some, both for the recommendation and for its acceptance by Congress. The anticipated decline in the value of silver, it has been claimed, led to the demonetization of silver in 1873. Some feared and many fully expected a change in the relation of the two metals, and hence secured a revision of the law in order to insure themselves against loss or to prepare the way for reaping immense harvests through the fluctuation in prices and the fall in values. On the other hand, it is maintained that the great decline in the value of silver was as little foreseen, and could have been as little foreseen, in 1873, as was the earlier decline in the value of gold. Certainly, accusation of the legislators of either period is, to say the least, uncalled for.
The debates of 1873, as of 1853, have record of no bimetallic controversy. In each instance, more particularly
* Report of the Comptroller of the Currency, 1876, p. 168.
the latter, its occasion had been lacking. Between 1862 and 1876 we had a paper currency. Both gold and silver coins of every kind and description, and in a measure even copper coins, were driven from circulation by the notes of the treasury, of the national banks, and of individuals. They had ceased to be part of the circulating medium of the country. They would be returned only upon the withdrawal of the depreciated paper. It was even questioned in debate why the government should consider the relative merits of two kinds of coin neither of which the country possessed. As between the two, there was apparently no thought of so changing the mint rate as to insure their joint circulation, except on the part of those who opposed any debased currency whatsoever-even the fractional. No one proposed to attempt the re-establishment of bimetallism. For that purpose, the depreciation of the silver dollar three per cent or more would have been necessary, and some plan for forcing the depreciated paper to par and maintaining it in a state of convertibility must have been adopted.
How far coming events cast their shadows before is ever a difficult matter to determine, but that the changes of the years from 1871 to 1876 could have been anticipated by Mr. Knox in preparing his report in 1869 hardly seems probable. It is certain that the average Congressman in 1873 would not have found it possible to make the most vague approximation to the rate which was necessary to secure bimetallism throughout the decade that followed. That the victor in the Franco-Prussian war would be able to compel the payment of a gigantic war indemnity of $1,000,000,000, and would make use of the opportunity to change the currency of Germany from silver to gold, as a means of aiding industrial development; that between 1871 and 1874 nearly every country in Europe would close its mint to the coinage of silver and keep it closed; and that the demand for silver in the countries of the East, India and China, would greatly decline; that the production of silver would double, treble
and quadruple even between 1868 and 1878; that an almost unprecedented industrial depression would follow the panic of 1873; that these, or any such fortuitous concatenation of events could have been foreseen, and the fall in the value of silver, as measured in gold, been predicted with any accuracy, is highly improbable. In any case the very best policy, the one which most completely protected the interests of the whole community was, perhaps, the one adopted in the Act of 1873.
The fall in silver, coming as it did so shortly after the failure of the Greenback party in 1874, gave rise to bitter feelings against those who secured the enactment of the Mint Law of 1873. Extremists even went so far as to say that silver had been demonetized by clandestine legislation. Nor has this belief disappeared with the progress of time; it is still current, though quite unwarranted, as shown by the history of the bill in its passage from drafting to final enactment. It was practically before Congress and before the country for about four years. In his report in 1869 the Director of the Mint urged the restoration of a silver currency "for change," in lieu of the postal and small-note currency, as the first step toward and "an important adjuvant to a general resumption of specie payments." A year later he stated that a number of our leading commercial newspapers had emphatically endorsed the plan and he expressed the belief (1870) that the product of silver in Nevada and Colorado would be sufficient to meet the demand. His proposition was for a very much more debased kind of coin than those formerly in use, and in defence of the system he quoted the following significant language: "This is not a scheme for debasing the standard of value. Its only object is to restore silver on such a basis, under legal sanctions, as will enable it to keep its subsidiary place, whether the chief currency be paper, as it now is, or gold, as we hope it will soon be."'*
* Finance Report, 1870, p. 422.
The draft of a bill in which the plan was systematically worked out had been sent, during the year 1869, to prominent financiers and the important government officials, for suggestion and comment. In its perfected form it was introduced into the Senate by Mr. Sherman, April 28, 1870, and referred to the Finance Committee. The letter from the Secretary of the Treasury and the report by Mr. Knox explaining the provisions of the bill were printed with the bill.
After a careful investigation the bill was reported in December following. It was discussed during the morning hours of January 9 and January 10, 1871, and passed on the second day by a vote of 36 to 14, 22 being absent. Just a year later, January 9 and 10, 1872, the bill was discussed in the House, and recommitted. On February 9 it was again introduced. Mr. Hooper, of Massachusetts, who then had the bill in charge, explained in his speech opening the discussion that Section 16 provided for a dollar coin of 384 grains of silver fine, "making it a subsidiary coin in harmony with the silver coins of less denomination, to secure its concurrent circulation with them.'' He was followed by Mr. Stoughton, of Michigan, who continued the explanation of the bill. In the course of his speech he made the following perfectly plain statement: "The office of the silver or 'subsidiary' coins is to supply the public want for small change. They are made the tokens of value, not the value itself, and are designed only for exchange and circulation at home, up to but never in excess of the requirements of trade."
It would thus appear that the Committee of Coinage, Weights and Measures was not endeavoring to conceal its intentions. They proposed to carry out the recommendation of the Director of the Mint and provide for the restoration of silver to its place as a subsidiary coin in our currency,
* Mr. Kelly had introduced the bill (H. R. No. 5) in the new Congress. + Congressional Globe, Second Session Forty-second Congress, p. 2306. Congressional Globe, Second Session Forty-second Congress, p. 2309.
making this the first step toward a resumption of specie payments and a complete restoration of the currency of antebellum days. The final vote in the House was taken under a suspension of the rules, when a substitute bill was passed May 27, 1872, by a vote of 110 to 13.
Nearly another year elapsed before the bill was passed in the Senate, on January 17, 1873. It had received twenty amendments on its journey through the latter body. The House did not concur. The Senate insisted. Conference became necessary to pass the bill. The report of the Conference Committee was agreed to, the House receding from its opposition to the amendments of the Senate numbered 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 20, and the wording of the other amendments being so changed as to be acceptable to both Houses. The exact character of the bill was thus finally determined in conference committee, but its main features, so far as a change of the coinage is concerned, had been under contemplation for nearly four years. If the charge of clandestine legislation is preferred against the legislators of 1873 it must be urged with equal force at the bar of public opinion against many another Congress whose most important acts have been shaped by a Conference Committee chosen to remove the points of disagreement between Senate and House.
As late as the beginning of the year 1872 it appears to have been a matter of doubt whether the silver coins were sufficiently debased under the Act of 1853, to keep them in circulation. On January 8 Mr. Kelly introduced a resolution "which was read, considered, and adopted by the House," instructing the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures "to inquire and report whether the intrinsic value of the silver coinage is not above that of other nations and greater than is necessary in coins designed for subsidiary purposes only, and to be retained permanently in the country."
The difference in European systems of coinage was five per cent, whereas in ours the smaller silver coins were then