« PreviousContinue »
WHOEVER has examined with at when a currency is provided adequate tention the past annals of mankind, to the wants of men, and capable of must have become aware that the extension in proportion to their necesgreatest and most important revolu- sities; because, in such a case, prices tions that have occurred in human are rising or remunerative, and indi. affairs have originated in the varia- vidual effort, stimulated by the prostions which from time to time have pect of an adequate return, becomes taken place in the supply of the universal, and acts powerfully and precions metals which could be ob- decisively upon the general welfare of tained for the use of man. As they society and the issue of the national constitute, by the universal consent of fortunes. the world, the common medium of The two greatest revolutions which exchange and measure of value among have taken place in the annals of the nations, their plenty or scarcity has species, and which have for ever left an immediate and powerful influence their traces on the fortunes of manupon the remuneration of industry kind, have arisen from the successive and the activity of the working diminution and increase in the supply classes in all countries. Accord of the precious metals for the use of ing as they are increasing or dimi. the world. There can be no doubt nishing, abundant or awanting, is that the decline and fall of the Roman the condition of the people pros- empire - so long and falsely ascribed perous or calamitous - the national to its latter extension, plebeian slaprospects bright or gloomy. No very, and patrician corruption—was amount of human exertion, no efforts in reality mainly owing to the failure of human patriotism, can sustain the in the mines of Spain and Greece, national fortunes for any length of from which the precious metals in time, or diffuse general and enduring ancient times were chiefly obtained, prosperity among the people, if the joined to the unrestricted importaexisting medium of exchange is below tion of grain from Egypt and Libya, what their numbers and transactions which ruined the profit of the require; because, in such a case, harvests and destroyed the agriculprices are constantly declining, cre- ture of Italy and Greece, at oncc dit is liable to periodical and ruinous paralysing industry, and rendering contractions, and industry, on an ave- taxes overwhelming.* We know rage of years, ceases to meet with its now to what the failure of these due reward. No calamities are insu- mines, attended with such portentous perable, no dangers insurmountable, results, was owing. It was to the
exhaustion of the auriferous veins in the second Punic war; and that Spain and Greece near the surface, dreadful contest was less brought to from long-continued working, and the a successful issue by the firmness of extreme hardness of the rock in which the senate or the arms of Scipio, than they were imbedded farther down, by the wisdom of a decree which which seems to be a general law of virtually, at the crisis of its fate, nature all over the world, * and which doubled the carrency of the Roman rendered working them, to any con- republic.f The Transatlantic revolusiderable depth, no longer a source of tion was brought to a successful issue profit. On the other hand, the pro- in the same way; and the independdigious start which Europe took ence of the United States is less during the sixteenth and seventeenth to be ascribed to the imbecility of centuries, and which has implanted British counsels, or the wisdom of the European race for ever in the American generalship, than to the new hemisphere, is well known to establishment of a paper currency, have been mainly owing to the disco- which sustained the efforts of the very of the mines of Mexico and insurgent states when they had no Peru, and the continual rise of prices other resources wherewith to mainduring nearly two centuries, which tain the contest. It was the assignats, took place all over the world, from as all the world knows, that set on the constant and increasing influx of foot those prodigious armies which, the precious metals drawn out of their amidst the destruction of all private rich strata.
fortunes, enabled France, during the The greatest and most momentous Reign of Terror, to repel the assault contests which have taken place of all the European powers; and the among nations, have been in a great coalition which at last overturned degree determined by the discovery or the empire of Napoleon was sustained use, by one of the belligerents, of an by a vast system of paper currency, expansive currency, to which the issued in 1813 in Germany, which, other was for a time a stranger. The guaranteed by the four Allied powers, most memorable strife in antiquity, passed as gold from the Atlantic that between Rome and Carthage, on Ocean to the wall of China, and which depended whether Europe or arrayed all the armies of Europe in Africa was to become the mistress of dense and disciplined battalions on the civilised world, was in reality the banks of the Rhine. Of what determined by a great extension of incalculable importance it was may the Italian circulating medium during be judged of by the dreadful straits to
* See a very able article on California, Quarterly Review, Oct. 1850.
+ “Quum Censores ob inopiam ærarii, se jam locationibus abstinerent ædium sacrarum tuendarum, curuliumque equorum præbendorum, ac similium his rerum : convenere ad eos frequentes, qui hastæ hujus generis assueverant ; hortatique censores, ut omnia perinde agerent, locarent, ac si pecunia in crario esset. NEMINEM, NISI BELLO CONFECTO, PECUNIAM AB ÆRARIO PETITURUM ESSE.”—Livy, lib. xxiv. c. 19. "The censors," says Arnold," found the treasury unable to supply the public services. Upon this, trust monies belonging to widows and minors, or to widows and unmarried women, were deposited in the treasury; and whatever sums the trustees had to draw for, were paid by the quarter in bills on the banking commissioners, or triumvirs mensarii. It is probable that these bills were actually a paper currency, and that they circulated as inoney on the security of the public faith. In the same way the government contracts were also paid in paper; for the contractors came forward in a body to the censors, and begged them to make their contracts as usual, promising not to demand payment till the end of the war. This must mean, I conceive, that they were to be paid in orders upon the treasury, which orders were to be converted into cash when the present difficulties of the government should be at an end."-ARNOLD's History of Rome, ii. 207, 208. This was just an inconvertible paper currency; and its issue immediately after the battle of Cannæ saved the Roman empire. We have heard, from a gentleman who was present, that, in a political Whig party many years ago, when the conversation turned on the service of a paper currency in bringing a state through a pecuniary crisis, and some one said it was that which enabled the Romans to surmount the Second Punic war, Lord Melbourne, who was present, immediately repeated, from memory, the words above quoted from Livy in capitals.