BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

A history of currency in the United States

by Alonzo Barton Hepburn


1 Felt, p. 135. »Phillips, n, p. 24.

* Peletiah Webster's Essays, 1790. Gouge, II, p. 24.


Cont1nental Currency

On May 10, 1775, the Continental Congress reassembled in Philadelphia, representing thirteen colonies with a population slightly exceeding 3,000,000 people, and with a circulating medium, both coin and paper, carefully estimated to be $12,000,000. It had been the policy of Britain to keep the colonies dependent, and to keep them defenceless was the best way of accomplishing that result. The colonies had no money in their treasuries, no factories which could manufacture arms or munitions or clothing, not even the implements of industry. The British navy not only endangered their commerce, but practically closed to them the ports of the world. The colonies had no borrowing credit abroad and the nation was a hope as yet without tangible existence. Never was war against a great nation undertaken under more discouraging circumstances. Notwithstanding the distressing experience of the colonies with their government issues of currency and its sad depreciation, there seemed no other resource left to the Continental Congress, and therefore the issue of Continental currency was authorized at the very inception of this national movement, May 10, 1775.1 These notes were made full legal tender by Congress and eventually by all the States, following the lead of Rhode Island; in August, 1775, Rhode Island made Continental notes full legal

'Subsequent issues were made Nov. 29,177S; Feb. 17,May 9and July 22,1776; Feb. 26 and May 20, 1777; Apr. 11, Sept. 26, 1778; Jan. 14,1779; Mar. 18, 1780. An issue of notes in fractions of a dollar was authorized, but never emitted.

tender and imposed the same penalties for counterfeiting and raising and refusing to take the same at par, that applied to her own notes; she resolved "that any person who refused such money ought to be considered an enemy to the credit, reputation and happiness of the colonies, and wholly destitute of the regard and obligation he was under to his country . . . and should be debarred from all communication with good citizens."' On January n, 1776, Congress, following a preamble,

"resolved, Therefore, that any person who shall hereafter be so lost to all virtue and regard for his country, as to refuse to receive said bills in payment, or obstruct or discourage the currency or circulation thereof, and shall be duly convicted by the committee of the city, county or district, or in case of appeal from their decision, by the assembly, convention, council or committee of safety of the colony where he shall reside, such person shall be deemed, published and treated as an enemy of his country and precluded from all trade or intercourse with the inhabitants of these Colonies."

In other words, persons who refused to take these notes as the equivalent of coin, were made outlaws. Nevertheless depreciation began, and even on June 4 the Virginia convention appointed a committee to inquire into the cause of the depreciation of Continental money.2

The above facts are significant as showing how utterly powerless the fiat of government is when it seeks to reverse economic law. Determined effort was made to enforce the law and compel people to take this currency at par. Thomas Fisher, being convicted, pleaded "that from conscientious motives their House could not accept this kind of money, as it is issued for the purposes of war." This was the plea generally made and as the whole community was guilty, it sufficed to evade or mitigate punishment. Sometimes apologies were accepted, as in the case of William Gilliland, as follows:

1 Am. Archives, Series 4, Vol. LT, p. 232, etc.
•/Wtf.,Vol. VI.

"I, the subscriber, have been so very wicked and abandoned as to speak at sundry times disrespectfully of the Honorable the Continental Congress, and have also endeavored to depreciate their currency, for which detestable conduct I have deservedly been confined in the jail of this county by the committee of said county, but being now fully convinced of the heinousness and horrible tendency of such conduct, do hereby and in the fullest manner, most sincerely beg pardon of my justly incensed countrymen, and do promise hereafter never to be guilty of the like, but in all instances to conform to such rules and regulations as may be instituted by that very respectable body, for the preservation of our invaluable but invaded rights and liberties; and do further request that this my acknowledgement be made public, that others may be deterred from following my shameful and wicked practices." 1

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