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son which the currency of coins in this country has always depended, and that coinage is by law a part of the King's prerogarive. After this the historical inquiry is resumed.. Certain preliminary explanations, however, are deemed requisite. The standard of the gold and wilver, used in the English coin; that is, the proportion of alloy and fine metal, which is held the true standard, commonly known by the term sterling, is described. It is also accounted necessary to give an account of the weights made use of at the mint, for the purpose of weighing and regulating the coins. The history of the debasements of the English coins is then introduced. It is prefaced with an account of the different modes in which coins may be debased. The author says,
• Before I proceed to give an account of the successive debasements made in our Coins, it is proper to observe, that Coins may be debased in three different ways.
• First, By diminishing the quantity or weight of the metal of a certain standard, of which any Coin of a given denomination is made.
Secondly, By raising the nominal value of Coins of a given weight, and made of a metal of a certain standard ; that is, by making them current, or legal tender, at a higher rate, than that at which they passed before.
• Thirdly, By lowering the standard or fineness of the metal, of which Coins of a given weight and denomination are made : that is, by diminishing the quantity of pure metal, and proportionally increasing the quantity of alloy.'
His history of the successive debasements made in the coins of this realm his lordship divides, in conformity with this division of the modes of debasement, in the following manner;
• First, The alterations and debasements made in the Silver Coins, of this realm, by diminishing the quantity or weight of standard Silver put into them. The Silver Coins have always been debased in this manner, except in the short period of nine years, from the 34th Henry VIII. to the 6th Edward VI.
• Secondly, The alterations and debasements made in the Gold Coins of this realm, either by diminishing the quantity or weight of the Gold put them, or by raising the nominal value of the existing Coins, in order io preserve the relative proportion or value of the Gold Coins with that of the Silver Coins current at successive periods. The Gold Coins of the realm have been debased in both these manners, but more frequently in the latter.
• Thirdly, I shall reserve for a distinct head an account of the extraordinary and violent alterations and debasements, that were made in the Coins of this realm, particularly by lowering the standard of the metal put into the Silver Coins, during the short period before mentioned. At the end of that period, a reformation of the Coins of the realm, from the late unexampled debasements, commenced, though it was not completed, and though the old standard of the Silver put into our Coins was not perfectly re
may be con
stored till the 2d Elizabeth. The various and violent proceedings, which took place from the 34th Henry VIII. to the 6th Edward VI. sidered as a sort of convulsion in the monetary system, and proper therefore for a separate head.”
This historical inquiry runs to a considerable length, occupying more than one third of the book. It is, too, by far the most interesting and curious part of the work. The noble author made liis inquiries under circumstances peculiarly favourable. He had the means of information much more completely at command than almost any other person. It was a subject, at the same time, the elucidation of which required all the advantages under which Lord Liverpool made his researches. It is a circumstance, then, uncommonly fortunate, that his Lordship undertook the enterprise; and he has laid his countrymen under obligations. His task is executed well. A point of considerable' importance,, not only in the antiquities but in the history of our country, which hitherto lay in obscurity, has received ample elucidation. In truth, it is here discussed so fully and satisfactorily, that the inquiry is completed; and the deductions of Lord Liverpool on the history of coinage in this country may safely be appealed to as authority. We do not attempt to sketch this history, because minuteness and detail are essential to its value, and would be quite inconsistent with our limits.
After all, however, we cannot regard the inquiry as important. to that degree which the author himself imagines. It appears to us a question of historical curiosity highly worthy of illustration, but not of great practical utility. In this, however, we differ widely from his Lordship. He considers the transactions of our ancestors as a rich school of instruction for ourselves; and, with the true common-place of drudges of detail, vilifies speculation in comparison with what he calls experience; not considering that all just speculation respecting human affairs is built upon comprehensive experience, while that which the men of detail oppose to it, is partial experience merely. His lordship thus expresses himself:
• Many writers of acknowledged abilities have treated of the principles of Coinage, and have certainly thrown great light on the subject; but they have founded their systems too much on principles merely speculative, and have not sufficiently adverted to many facts, with which the history of this and many other countries would have furnished them. By these they would have learnt to correct the errors they have sometimes committed, and they would have applied their principles with more certainty, and better success. It cannot be denied, that in all the affairs of life, particularly such as relate to the private concerns of a whole people, experience is the surest guide. In such transactions there are little circumstances, with which the merely speculative man is wholly unacquainted. These can be learnt only from
experience; and, if proper attention be not paid to them, they will occasionally desert the advantages expected to be derived from the wisest system founded on speculatio alone. Mr. Locke became sensible, that, by trusting solely to speculation, he had, at least in one instance, been led into
To avoid, therefore, errors of this nature, I not only intend to treat of the subject of Coinage in a speculative view, but I shall endeavour to establish the opinions which I may advance, by a discreet reference to facts, and by adverting to many circumstances, which have occurred in the history of the Coins of this kingdon.'
The conduct of our ancestors, however, eren Lord Liverpool, with all his desire that mankind should continue to tread only in the old paths, cannot in this point recommend for our example. After he has concluded his historical inquiry, and has found that the proceedings of former times in the concern of money have been almost uniformly wrong, he contents. himself with telling us, that we can best baru wision from the errors of our ancestors. " The errors,” says he, p. 112, “ committed by our ancestors, and the ill consequences resulting from them, will serve as instructions by which we may be enabled to avoid the evils and embarrassaients to which they were exposed.” This is an account to which we might turn the proceedings of our ancestors on more occasions than our author is at all aware ; but it happens oddly, that the instance here adduced, is one in which the errors of our an. cestors are just as little instructive as their example. We derive warning from the errors of others, when we are in danger of falling into the same crrors. But when errors are of such a nature that it is altogether impossible we should not avoid them, in what sense can the contemplation of these errors be instructive? The crusades, for example, of our ancestors, for the recovery of the holy land, are errors which, if they are instructive at all, are instructive only by analogy to cases of some remote resemblance, as wars, for instance, to recover a foreign country from one government, or one set of rulers, to another; but as we are in no danger of crusading any more for the holy land, they can afford us no instruction by direct inference. The errors, too, of our ancestors in the business of coinage, are such as we are in no danger of imitating. The speculative knowledge we now possess of the subject, exempts us completely from such gross mistakes; and those errors cannot so much as instruct us by analogy. His Lordship's common places, therefore, in abuse of speculation, and in eulogy of experience, are here peculiarly illplaced.
Having brought the historical inquiry into the successive alterations and debasements of the English coin to a period, this author reverts to the principles of coinage, which he had already stated in an early part of the letter. He divides the subject in the following manner :
First, he endeavours to prove, that the coins which are to be the principal measure of property, ought to be made of one metal only;
Secondly, he illustrates his opinion respecting the choice of the metal which ought to be selected for that important purpose;
Thirdly, he endeavours to ascertain the principles upon which the subordinate coins, which may consist of other metals, ought to be made.
1. Into the proof of the first point his Lordship has not gone very deep. His conclusion, however, is unquestionably just. As no two metals retain a constant ratio in value to one another, to make any two of them standards must create perpetual confusion and difficulty. Let us suppose,
for example, that gold and silver are made, as in this country, separate standards. When the coinage is first made, the two metals are taken at the relative value which they possess at the moment. To simplify the illustration, let us state the ratio in round numbers, and suppose the value of the one to be to that of the other as one to twenty ; that is, we shall suppose one ounce of gold to be worth 20 ounces of silver. In that case, if coins of the same weight and stamp are made of each metal, the coin in gold will be worth just 20 of the similar coin in silver. Were the two metals always to retain exactly this value, nothing, it is evident, would be more simple and convenient. But as the two metals are perpetually varying in their relative value, the case is widely altered. Let us suppose that, within a certain time after the institution of our coinage, the price of silver falls one twentieth, compared with that of gold. One of our gold coins now is worth, in reality, not twenty only, but twenty-one, of the corresponding coins in silver. The gold coin must, however, according to law, be still exchanged for twenty of those silver coins. There is here, therefore, a powerful temptation to melt the gold coin, which, as bullion, will purchase a twentieth more of the silver coin, and hence of all other commodities, than it would as coin. The case would merely be reversed, were it the gold of which the price had declined, compared with that of silver. In this case, the temptation would be to melt the silver coins, and all the same inconveniences would be experienced.
The creation of this double standard in the coins of Europe has been one of the great causes, perhaps it has been the principal cause, not only of the difficulties of public policy in respect to coin, but of the confusion in the ideas and language both of men of the world, and of speculative inquirers on the subject. Many and important are the instances by which this observation might be illustrated. Our limits will not permit us to go at any length into the subject; but we shall adduce one instance, which, the more common and familiar it is, affords, when duly considered, the more convincing evidence in favour of the remark. No phrase is more general, and none appears to be better understood, than the phrase, price of bullion. No phrase is used more currently in all our discussions concerning money, and there is none of which the meaning, we are apt to think, is more steady, and better ascertained. Yet, in reality, there is no phrase of which the meaning is more obscure and ambiguous, and by the obscurity and ambiguity of which, more confusion is introduced into our reasonings.
The term price of bullion means, first, the price either of gold or of silver. But what is meant by the price of gold ? Not, surely, any specific quantity of gold; because one piece of gold will always be exactly worth another piece of gold of the same bulk and fineness. It matters not whether it be in the shape of a guinea, or any other shape. A guinea must always be equal to any other piece of gold, of the same bulk and fineness, and, where there is no account of workmanship, will never vary much from it in value. An ounce of gold is coined at the Mint into a certain number of guineas : for the sake of the round sum, we shall say four. Now, whether the price of gold be high or low, whether this ounce be worth little or much of any other commodity, so long as the standard of the coin remains the same, it will always be worth four guineas. When we talk, therefore, of the Vint price of gold, it does not mean its price in guineas, or any other of our gold coins, because in these its price is always the same. The price of gold means its price in silver, and can mean nothing else. The Mint price of gold means neither more nor less than the ratio between the value of gold and the value of silver, at the time when the standard of our coin was fixed. When we say, therefore, that the price of gold has risen above the Mint price, we only say that an ounce of gold is now worth a greater number of ounces of silver than it was when the standard of our coin was fixed. The same is the case with silver. The price of silver does not mean its price in silver of any shape or size. An ounce of silver is always coined into the same number of shillings, whether silver is dear, or whether it is cheap. An ounce of it is always coined into five shillings; whether, therefore, it is dear or cheap, five shillings are always worth an ounce of it. The price of silver, accordingly, means its price in gold; and when we say that the price of silver has risen, or has fallen, abore or below the Mint