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To make matters worse, counterfeiting was much practised, so commonly, in fact, that the wary trader might well have taken almost as much time for testing his money as for selling his goods. “Enclosed are one hundred Dollars of new. Emission Money,” wrote Gerry to King in 1785,“which Colonel Steward desired me to have exchanged for Specie. Pray inform him they are all counterfeit."1 Good coin, moreover, was too valuable and rare to be allowed to circulate unmutilated. Clipping and shearing were so commonly practised that, as Washington complained, if an end were not put to the business a pistareen would be converted "into five quarters and a man be forced to "travel with a pair of money scales in his pocket, or run the risk of receiving gold at one fourth less by weight than it counts.'
Some efforts were made to improve the coinage, but without immediate result. Gouverneur Morris, while acting as assistant to Robert Morris, drew up a scheme for decimal currency,' and Jefferson, at the head of a committee of Congress, considered similar plans." In the summer of 1785 Congress announced that the smallest coin should be of copper, of which two hundred should pass for a dollar, and the “several pieces increase in a decimal ratio,"5.and on August 8, 1786, a full plan
1 King, Life and Corresp. of King, I., 87.
of coinage was adopted. Congress endeavored in some measure to remedy the evil by providing for a mint and by fixing the value of the coin to be struck. But it is needless to say that practically nothing was done.
Amid all the genuine distress caused by the war, by heavy taxes, and by the need of a sound and reliable circulating medium, came still greater trouble caused by the restlessness of the people, by the honest-minded but uneasy poor, and by the debtors who sought an avenue of escape. The times were indeed hard for a man that was once down; imprisonment for debt was common; the jails were dreadful and filthy; the processes of the courts were expensive and summary. Some quick method of paying old debts, some way of getting rid of the truly formidable consequences of either idleness or misfortune, was naturally sought after, and, following the precedents of earlier days, there was a demand for paper money, tender - laws, and other measures of relief. The years 1785 and 1786 are therefore marked by the rise of a paper-money party in the states, intent on remedying the supposed evil of the day, “a scarcity of money.” To be sure, a good deal of specie had been drawn from the country by the recent heavy importations of merchandise; but the natural result of strenuous efforts to introduce a cheap currency was to drive specie out of circulation. The greater
'Journals of Congress, October 16, 1786.
the agitation, therefore, the more serious the difficulty.
The truth is that in this paper-money agitation we see the most serious danger of those dreary days, when nearly everybody was grumbling, and when the wise and prudent feared even for the foundation of society itself; for with the paper-money faction everywhere were enrolled, not alone the unhappy and the deluded, but also all those uneasy elements that opposed the extension of federal authority and believed in law only as a means of securing some selfish and niggardly end. The paper-money agitation had much more than a mere financial or business significance; here were gathered together the malcontents and the dangerously restless. As conservative men watched the growing discontent they grew closer together and saw more clearly the need of a strong hand and a firm government to insure domestic tranquillity.
While a good many men saw as clearly as the ablest economists of to-day the impossibility of making something out of nothing, and while many able and honest men argued strongly and vehemently against the criminal folly of trying to supply currency or to restore prosperity by a recourse to the printing - press, thousands of lusty throats clamored unceasingly for relief. Some miscreants had doubtless made money with considerable ease during the war, and there was reason for dissatisfaction with the money-sharps who had taken
advantage of the necessities of their neighbors. But the argument of the needy or shiftless was easy: the property of the United States had been protected from destruction by the joint exertion of all, it ought therefore to be the common property of all. The man that opposed this creed was declared to be “an enemy to equality and justice," who should “be swept from the face of the earth.” “They are determined,” wrote Knox to Washington, October 23, 1786,“ to annihilate all debts public and private, and have agrarian laws, which are easily effected by the means of unfunded paper money, which shall be a tender in all cases whatever."'i
All this mad reasoning was in some degree the natural product of a war against authority, a war which had brought a social upheaval and was based on ideas of personal right and liberty antagonistic to authority. As soon as those who had profited by the disturbed conditions, or who had fallen into extravagant or negligent habits, saw that conditions were resuming their old form, that the industrious were to reap the fruits of their industry, and that the indolent and improvident were likely to suffer the natural consequences of idleness and sloth, they began to cry out against the existing order. First, the grant of full pay for five years to the Revolutionary officers was the object of attack; then the weight of public taxes, the scarcity of money, and the cruelty of creditors who were calling for their dues.' Thus paper money was the panacea for all their ills. “Don't be influenced by anybody's talking and nonsense,” said one patriotic debtor, addressing his fellow-citizens in Connecticut. “Choose for yourself. Choose then without favor or affection men of simplicity, not men of shrewdness and learning; choose men that are somewhat in debt themselves that they may not be too strenuous in having laws made or executed for collection of debts, nothing puts a poor, honest man so much out of ready money as being sued, and sheriffs after him. Choose such men as will make a bank of paper money, big enough to pay all our debts, which will sink itself (that will be so much clear gain to the state).”? When a great body of men are preaching the righteousness of the confiscation of property, the stability of society is threatened, even though the method of confiscation be simply the depreciation of the currency for the benefit of the discontented poor.
1 Drake, Henry Knox, 91, 92; see also Mass. Centinel, December 9, 1786.
Some of the states, in spite of the popular excitement over supposed financial ills, refused to go back to paper. Connecticut had issued paper at the outbreak of the war, but was now well out of the trouble and steadfastly refused to burn her fingers anew. Massachusetts was feeling sorely the derangement of her trade, and within her borders
Hart, Contemporaries, III., 192. * New Haven Gazette, March 22, 1987, quoted in Libby, Geographical Distribution of the Vote on the Federal Const., 58.