Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to John Henry, [9 December 1791]

To John Henry1

[Philadelphia, December 9, 1791]

The Secretary of the Treasury not relying entirely on the accuracy of the data upon which the calculations in his Report on the subject of the Mint were founded,2 as they respect the quantity of fine silver contained in the silver dollar, thought it advisable to embrace the opportunity of the interval between the last and the present sessions of Congress to endeavour to obtain from Europe more certain information on the point.3

The result has been—He first received from Amsterdam an account of the Standard of the new M. dollar which is almost the only one in circulation according to the regulations of the Spanish Mint.

This account States

1st as to weight, That there are 913 to 914 dollars in 100 marcs, or 791 ounces aveirdupois.

Consequently on the computation of 913 to
100 marcs each dollar would weigh
dwt.   grs
17 – 7 ⁷⁸⁵⁄₉₁₃
On computation of 914 to 100 Marcs 17 – 7 ³⁷⁰⁄₉₁₄

2nd As to the standard—That it is 258 parts fine to 30 alloy

dwt.   gr.
Consequently a dollar of 17 – 7 ⁷⁸⁵⁄₉₁₃ would contain of fine silver 372 ⁴⁹⁴⁄₉₁₃
   “     a dollar of 17 – 7 ³⁷⁰⁄₉₁₄ would contain of ditto 372 ³⁷⁰⁄₉₁₄

It is ascertained that it was formerly usual at the Spanish Mint to allow a remedy of weight and alloy of ²⁄₂₂₈ parts.

If the remedy continues, the quantity of fine silver in a dollar of the first description above would be 369 ⁵⁹⁷⁄₉₁₃
In a dollar of the second description    “   “ 369 ²²⁸⁄₉₁₄

But he afterwards received a return of an actual assay at the Mint of Amsterdam which states the dollar at 258 parts fine to 30 parts alloy in exact conformity to the Standard of the Spanish Mint as before given and exclusive of all allowance for Remedy.

According to which a dollar would actually contain of
  fine silver
372 ⁴⁹⁴⁄₉₁₃
or, 372 ³⁷⁰⁄₉₁₄

Three conjectures arise—either that the Account given as conformable to the legal standard of the Spanish Mint was not just, but was predicted upon the result of assays at the Mint of Amsterdam, or that being so conformable the remedy formerly allowed at the Spanish Mint has ceased, Or that the Assay at the Mint of Amsterdam was not perfectly accurate.

There has been also received the result from assay at the Mint of London which makes the Standard of the Spanish Dollar 5172 parts fine to 588 parts alloy.

According to which a silver dollar weighing 17 7 ⁷⁸⁵⁄₉₁₃
  would contain of fine Silver 373 ³⁷⁶⁄₉₁₃
a dollar weighing 17 7 ³⁷⁰⁄₉₁₄ 372 ⁹¹³⁄₉₁₄

Here is a small difference which indicates a difference of accuracy in the assays, or a difference in the pieces assayed arising from errors in the Spanish Mint.

The two statements from Amsterdam seem entitled to most confidence not only because there is a correspondency between them, but because there are some marks of inaccuracy in the proceedings at the Mint of London. It is stated in the body of the certificate that the gross weight of the Dollar is presumed to be 17 dwt., 10 Grains and in the Margin it is mentioned as certain that the average is 17 dwt. 8 Grains.

The latter however is the truth or very near it, according to the trials in large masses made at the Banks of N. America & New York, but the cashier of the former bank4 seems to be of opinion that for a time the dollar rather gains in weight from the dirt which adheres to it, though in the course of a long circulation it loses.5

Alexander Hamilton
Secy. of the Treasy.

Maryland Historical Magazine, IV (September, 1909), 282–84.

1In the Maryland Historical Magazine this document is described as follows:

“An Official Paper, dated December 9th, 1791, of Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, given to Senator John Henry of Maryland, in reference to the quantity of fine silver contained in the silver dollar.

“The Original paper is in the handwriting of the Hon. Alexander Hamilton and is now in the possession of J. Winfield Henry of Baltimore, a great grandson of Governor John Henry.”

Henry was a member of the Senate committee to draft a bill on the mint. The committee was appointed on October 31, 1791, and reported a bill on December 21, 1791 (Annals of Congress, I description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends II, 20, 52).

3H requested this information from William Short. See H to Short, April 13, 1791; Short to H, June 5, August 23, 1791.

4Tench Francis.

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