Beginnings of U.S. Coinage

 Beginnings of U.S. Coinage
Throughout the Colonial years, Americans had become accustomed use of the Spanish dollar and its fractional parts, the real, the medio (half-real), etc. It was only natural, therefore, that when a national coinage was under consideration the dollar was mentioned most frequently. In years currency statutes in many of the colonies had given first consideration to the Spanish dollar. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia, particularly passed laws making Spanish coins a legal tender. The first issue of Continental paper money May 10, 1775, offers further evidence that the dollar was our basic money unit, for it provided that the notes should be pays "Spanish Milled dollars or the value thereof in gold or silver."

The Assistant Financier of the Confederation, Gouverneur Morris, proposed a decimal coinage ratio, and his plan was incorporated in a report pre by Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance, to the Congress, January 15th, 1782. Plans for a mint were advanced, and a uniform national currency to relieve the confused money conditions was outlined.

Morris's unit, 1/1440 of a dollar, was calculated to agree without a fraction with all the valuations of the Spanish milled dollar in the various States. Although a government mint was approved on February 21, 1782, no immediate action was taken. During 1784 Thomas Jefferson, then a member of the House of Representatives, brought in a report concerning the plan, and expressed disagreement with Morris' complicated money unit.

He advocated the simple unit because he believed the dollar was already as familiar and convenient as the British pound. He favored the decimal system and remarked that, "The most easy ratio of multiplication and division is that of ten. President George Washington referred to it as 'a measure, which in his opinion, had become indispensably necessary.' "

The Grand Committee in May 1785 recommended a gold five-dollar piece; a dollar of silver with fractional coins, of the same metal, in denominations of half, quarter, tenth, and twentieth parts of a dollar; and copper pieces valued at one-hundredth and one two-hundredth of a dollar.

Congress gave formal approval to the basic dollar unit and decimal coinage ratio in its resolution of July 6, 1785, but other more pressing matters delayed further action. Not until the Constitutional Convention had placed the country on firm ground and the new nation had elected George Washington President, did the Congress again turn attention to the subject of currency, a mint and a coinage system.

The Massachusetts cents and half-cents struck in 1787 and 1788 were the first official coins to bear a stated value in terms of decimal parts of the dollar unit in this country. The cent represented a hundredth part of a Spanish dollar.

In 1783 Robert Morris submitted a series of pattern pieces in which were designed by Dudley to carry out the decimal idea for United States money. These are known as the Nova Constellatio Patterns and consist of the "Mark" or 1,000 units, the "Quint" or 500 units, and the "Bit” or 100 units.

The unit was to be a quarter grain of silver. This was not the first attempt at a dollar coin, for the Continental currency piece of dollar size, dated 1776, and had been struck in such metals as brass, pewter, and silver. The variety in silver probably saw limited service as a dollar.

Alexander Hamilton's 1791 Report On US Coinage

On January 28, 1791 Treasury Secretary Alexandersubmitted an extensive report that examined the issues relative to the establishment of a Mint: "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, both 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."

Hamilton examined all aspects of such an establishment in an extremely detailed report, which was the basis for the Mint Act of April 2, 1792.

In his report, Hamilton considered numerous particulars:

What ought to be the nature of the money unit of the United States?

What the proportion between gold and silver, if coins of both metals are to be established?

What the proportion and composition of alloy in each kind.

Whether the expense of coinage shall be defrayed by the Government, or out of the material itself?

What shall be the number, denominations, sizes, and devices of the coins?

Whether foreign coins shall be permitted to be current or not; if the former, at what rate, and for what period?"




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