(Week 24 - Friday, Jan. 23 / 2009)
History has a rhythm. In the past one can find the prologue of what is coming to pass now.
The early American colonists found themselves economically in a desperate condition. They were essentially stranded on the eastern edge of a vast new land, with bounteous resources, but little money to carry on the commerce required to develop them and provide a new life. Trade with the mother country proved to be a one-sided affair. The raw materials the colonies had to offer were sold cheaply, but imported finished goods were expensive. Without a domestic source of coinage, what few coins the colonies earned in trade quickly disappeared back to England, and they were obliged to sink ever further into debt to keep their economy going.
The colonial assembly of Massachusetts was inspired to come up with a simple, but effective solution to the chronic shortage of circulating medium. In 1690, it began to issue the first government-authorized paper currency in the Western world. It was not based on precious metals, debt paper, land banks, promises to pay interest, or other "backing" schemes, but issued instead to facilitate the commerce of the People. These "bills of credit", as they were called, were simply printed and spent into circulation.
The experiment proved to be successful and was copied by all the other colonies. Eventually, their respective monies began to be recognized and accepted by each other. As trade up and down the Atlantic seaboard increased, these isolated and indentured resource enclaves began to be transformed into a fledgling new nation. When asked about how he could explain the prosperous condition of the colonies, Ben Franklin replied:
"That is simple. It is only because in the Colonies we issue our own money. It is called colonial scrip, and we issue it in proper proportion to the demand of trade and industry."
The Crown set itself in continuous opposition to these unapproved issues and Parliament passed laws in an attempt to curb them. The Currency Act of 1764 banned the extension of legal tender status beyond certain dates, and England assumed the authority to approve or disapprove any laws the Colonies might pass related to new issues. Its foot dragging on such measures effectively deprived the Colonies of their money, and led to the first two now-uncomprehended justifications for going to war as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, specifically:
(1) - He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
(2) - He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their Operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended he has utterly neglected to attend them.
Senator Robert Owen, prominent banker and the first chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, explained that when the Rothschild-controlled Bank of England heard of the situation in the Colonies:
"They saw that here was a nation that was ready to be exploited; here was a nation that had been setting up an example that they could issue their own money in place of the money coming through the banks. So the Rothschild Bank caused a bill to be introduced in the English Parliament which provided that no colony of England could issue their own money. They had to use English money. Consequently the Colonies were compelled to discard their script and mortgage themselves to the Bank of England in order to get money. For the first time in the history of the United States our money began to be based on debt."
"Benjamin Franklin stated that in 1 year from that date the streets of the Colonies were filled with unemployed."
Faced with a deteriorating economic situation, and what they felt was British neglect, the colonists called a Continental Congress, and issued the Continental Currency. This differed from earlier colonial monies in that it was an emission of the Colonies as a whole. This act was, essentially, the assumption by the people of American nationhood. According to monetary historian Steve Zarlenga:
"The skirmishes at Lexington and Concord are considered the start of the Revolt, but the point of no return was probably May 10, 1775 when the Continental Congress assumed the power of sovereignty by issuing its own money."
Americans are commonly aware that the establishment of the United States brought to the world a new type of democratic order; i.e. personal freedom under the rule of democratically determined law. What is not nearly as widely realized is that it also represented the establishment of a new economic order. It sought to secure not only freedom and law, but also the means to same; i.e. the control of its own money. This is the all-but-forgotten "rest of the American Revolution".
This was elaborated eloquently in "Harmony of Interests", by Henry C. Cary, who was Abraham Lincoln's economic advisor and the son of Matthew Cary, a close collaborator of Franklin and LaFayette. He stated that there are "Two systems before the world", and proceeds into a lengthy delineation which concludes:
"One looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation and barbarism; the other to increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization. One looks towards universal war; the other towards peace. One is the English system; the other we may be proud to call the American system, for it is the only one ever devised the tendency of which was that of elevating while equalizing the condition of man throughout the world."
And what is this "American system" compared to the "English system"? I describe the former as an economic order based on the sovereign power of a nation to issue its own money, and the latter as the subjugation of society to unpayable "debt" to private interests. It is one of the great ironies of history that, through its privately-issued "debt"-based dollar, we as a nation have become effectively the champion worldwide of the "English system", the very economic order we purport to have triumphed over more that two centuries ago. It seems now that with the advent of the current financial crisis, the final reckoning of which principle we will serve has come upon us in a way that cannot be evaded.
Our forbearers were mindful of what is at stake. Thomas Jefferson had this to say:
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the Government at defiance. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs."
"If the American people ever allow the banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers occupied."
John Adams wrote in a letter to Jefferson:
"All the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arise, not from defects in the Constitution or confederation, not from want of honor and virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation."
Might this be something for our new President contemplate? How else "Hope"?
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The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.