Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 30 December 1793

To George Washington

Philadelphia Dec. 30.1 1793.


I am informed, by the Director of the Mint, that an impediment2 has arisen to the coinage of the precious Metals, which it is my Duty to lay before you.

It will be recollected, that, in pursuance of the Authority, vested in the President, by Congress, to procure Artists from abroad, if necessary, Mr. Drotz, at Paris, so well known by the superior style of his coinage, was engaged for our Mint; but that, after occasioning to us a considerable delay, he declined coming: That thereupon, our Minister at London, according to the instructions he had received, endeavored to procure, there, a chief Coiner and Assayer; That, as to the latter, he succeeded, sending over a Mr. Albion Coxe, for that Office, but that he could procure no person, there, more qualified to discharge the duties of chief Coiner,3 than might be had here; and therefore did not engage one. The Duties of this last Office, have consequently been hitherto performed,4 and well performed by Henry Voight, an Artist of the United States; but the law requiring these Officers to give a security in the sum of 10,000 dollars each, neither is able to do it. The coinage of the precious metals, has, therefore, been prevented, for some time past, though, in order that the Mint might not be entirely idle, the coinage of copper has been going on; the trust in that, at any one point of time, being of but small amount.

It now remains to determine5 how this difficulty is to be got over. If, by discharging these Officers, and seeking others, it may well be doubted if any can be found in the United States, equally capable of fulfilling their duties; and to seek them from abroad, would still add to the delay; and if found either at home or abroad, they must still be of the description of Artists, whose circumstances and connections rarely enable them to give security in so large a sum: The other alternative would be to lessen the Securityship in money,6 and to confide that it will be supplied by the vigilance of the Director, who, leaving as small masses of metal in the hands of the Officers, at any one time, as the course of their process will admit,7 may reduce the risk to what would not be considerable.

To give an idea of the extent of the trust to the several Officers, both as to sum, and time, it may be proper to state the course of the Business, according to what the Director is of Opinion it should be.8 The Treasurer, he observes, should9 receive the Bullion; the Assayer, by an operation on a few Grains of it, is to ascertain it’s fineness. The Treasurer is then to deliver it to the Refiner to be melted and mixed to the standard fineness—the Assayer, here again, examining a few grains of the melted mass,10 and certifying when it is of due fineness: the Refiner then delivers it to the Chief Coiner to be rolled and coined, and he returns it when coined,11 to the Treasurer. By this it appears, that a few grains only, at a time, are in the hands of the Assayer, the mass being confided, for operation, to12 the Refiner and Chief Coiner. It is to be observed that the law has not taken notice of the Office of Refiner, though so13 important an officer ought, it should seem, to be of the President’s nomination, and ought to give a Security nearly equal to that required from the Chief Coiner.14

I have thought it my duty to give this information,15 under an impression that it is proper to be communicated to the Legislature, who will decide in their Wisdom, whether it will be expedient16 to make it the Duty of the Treasurer to receive and keep the Bullion before coinage.

To lessen the pecuniary Security required from the Chief Coiner and Assayer; And

To place17 the office of the Refiner under the same nomination with that of the18 other Chief Officers, to fix his Salary, and require due Security.19 I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect & attachment Sir, Your most obedient & most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., except for part of dateline, a clerical correction, and signature by TJ; at foot of text: “The President of the US.” PrC (DLC); unsigned, with date completed in ink by TJ; lacks clerical correction. Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 96: 16423–4); in TJ’s hand, unsigned, except for a clerical notation by Taylor; in pencil at head of text: “Dec. 30. 1793”; in pencil at foot of first page: “to the President”; heavily revised, only the most important emendations being noted below. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess., TR). Enclosed in Washington to the Senate and the House of Representatives, 30 Dec. 1793.

Director of the Mint David Rittenhouse probably informed TJ of the impediment to the coinage of precious metals in one of his missing letters of 5 and 14 Dec. 1793, both recorded in SJL as received on their respective dates.

An act of 3 Mch. 1794 drafted by a Senate committee appointed to consider TJ’s letter followed his suggestions in part by requiring the Treasurer to receive and keep the bullion before coinage and by lowering the pecuniary security demanded of the Chief Coiner and Assayer to $5,000 and $1,000, respectively. This statute was silent on the call for placing the Refiner under the same nomination as other Mint officers, but one provision of an act of 3 Mch. 1795 passed as the result of an investigation of Mint procedures by a House committee during the winter of 1794–95 established the office of Melter and Refiner as a presidential appointment with a salary of $1,500 and with $6,000 required as surety (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , iv, 1418, 1528; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales, 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 27, 31, 32, 41; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1826, 9 vols. description ends , ii, 24–5, 65, 72, 76; Taxay, Mint description begins Don Taxay, The U.S. Mint and Coinage: An Illustrated History from 1776 to the Present, New York, 1966 description ends , 120–1, 127–31).

As indicated by notes 14 and 19 below, TJ considered but decided against recommending to Congress creation of a fund for redeeming silver brought to the Mint for coining by individuals, a deficiency he had helped remedy informally earlier this year (TJ to Washington, 15 Aug. 1793; Tobias Lear to TJ, 21 Aug. 1793).

1Month and day inserted by TJ. He completed the date in ink on PrC.

2Preceding two words, reworked from “some impediments,” interlined in Dft in place of “an obstacle.”

3In Dft TJ wrote “person likely to discharge the duties of chief coiner better” before altering the phrase to read as above.

4In Dft TJ at this point canceled “by Mr. Voight an.”

5In Dft TJ here canceled “whether.”

6Preceding two words added in margin of Dft.

7In Dft TJ wrote “who of course would feel himself bound to leave as small masses of metal as the course of their process will admit in their hands at any one time” before altering the phrase to read as above.

8In Dft TJ substituted this sentence for “Indeed as to the Assayer the course he has of the business places but few grains of metal in his hands at a time, his duty being to ascertain the quantity of pure metal in any mass whatever, which he does by an operation on a few grains taken from it. It is the refiner who is necessarily entrusted with the mass while under the operation of […], as the Treasurer ought to be for this is what the director <thinks should be the> describes as the proper course of the business.”

9Preceding three words interlined in Dft in place of “to.”

10Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

11Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

12Preceding five words interlined in Dft in place of “passing thro the hands of.”

13Word interlined in Dft in place of “an indis.”

14Preceding paragraph interlined and written in the margin of Dft in place of the following heavily revised paragraphs, only the most important emendations being recorded here: “Another obstacle to the coinage arises from the following source. The laws have not enabled or authorized the mint to take in any bullion on public account. The only coinage of gold or silver therefore which can be carried on is that for individuals bringing bullion to be coined. But it is rarely convenient for them to await the operation of coining. They therefore carry away their bullion to those who will give them ready money. A deposit of a few thousand dollars of public property in the mint, ready coined, to serve merely as a basis of prompt exchange, would very greatly increase the quantities to be coined on private account: and seems to have been contemplated tho not provided by the law where it allows an half percent to be retained for prompt paiment.

“<Another reason renders indeed the coinage> Without such a deposit too a separate coinage for each individual as <contemplated> directed by the law is from the nature of the operation impracticable. The bullion is to be rolled into plates, the round peices to be cut from these plates, and consequently there remains a considerable portion of corners and scraps, supposed one fifth of the whole. These may be melted over again rolled, and cut; but a like proportion will always remain and a great multiplication of work take place. This would be avoided <by the bank having a deposit of it’s own to give at once in exchange, and having a sum to exchange at once with the individual> were the mint enabled to give to the individual his whole sum at once, and to carry on the process of coinage in such masses as should be found most advantageous.

“The law too authorizes the individual to receive a quantity of pure metal in coin, equal to that he gave in. As no degree of skill and care can prevent a small waste in the operation, the giving back the exact quantity is impossible unless there be some deposit <in the mint to make up this waste. As the public has thought proper to take this loss on themselves, it will of course be wearing down the amount of the deposit.> from which this waste can be made up. Such a deposit once made it’s loss by waste would probably be more than supplied by the half percent retained from those who prefer prompt paiment at that price. It should <of course> therefore be provided that whenever a replenishment of the deposit shall be applied for, satisfactory statements shall be furnished of the quantity of coined metal whereon that waste has arisen to shew that it has not been greater than it ought to be from the nature of the operation.

“As the legislature alone is competent to decide whether these difficulties are such as ought to be obviated by any change in the existing laws, I think it my duty to propose that they be submitted to their consideration.”

15In Dft TJ here canceled “of the impediments which have arisen to the execution of the laws for establishing the mint.”

16Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft in place of “thereupon to make any change in the existing laws.”

17Word interlined in Dft in place of “establish.”

18In Dft TJ here canceled “higher.”

19In Dft TJ here canceled “and to authorize some determinate sum to be deposited in the Mint on public account, to be the basis of prompt exchange, always subject to the disposal of the legislature.”

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