Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. Gouverneur Morris to William Helmsley, 30 April 1783

II. Gouverneur Morris to William Helmsley

Philadelphia 30 Apr. 1783.


In compliance with your request I will now throw together a few ideas on the subject of a new coinage. For the greater clearness they shall be classed under five heads. 1. Reasons why a coin should be struck. 2. The denomination of such coin. 3. The quantity of fine silver in such denomination. 4. The expence of a coinage. 5. The different peices of coin proposed.

First then I take the liberty to suggest (in addition to those reasons which are assigned in the official letters) that until some coin be adopted none of the states can be said to have an established currency. This will appear from the following facts.

First old dollars of full weight contain about 376. grs. fine silver
but the new dollars contain only 365

The difference then between these two is about 3 pr. cent. The K. of Spain therefore has depreciated every debt of one hundred pounds so as to make it worth only 97.£. 2dly. 9 French crowns pass for 10. Doll. and French crowns contain each 407 grs.

10 )3663( 366 3/10

fine silver, so that multiplying by 9 and dividing by 10 we find that the amount of a dollar is 366.3 grs.

If from 376 we deduct 366.3 the remainder 9.7 is nearly as great as in the first position. 3dly. 5. Louis pass for 23 Doll. 5. Louis contain 20 crowns, each 407 grs. fine silver, but 376 the quantity in an old Dollar multiplied by 23. gives 8648 difference 508. near 6. pr. cent, so that an old debt contracted in dollars and paid in Louis is paid by £94. instead of £100. 4thly. The par of exchange between Lond. and Philada. is said to be £100. sterl. for £166–13–4 Pennsva. currency. This was taken upon the current rates of half Joes and guineas of full weight, being current for 60/ and 35/ respectively. But when the merchants agreed to receive half Joes at 9 dwt. and guineas at 5. dwt. 6 grs. (for the above sums) the par of exchange between Lond. and Phila. was altered, for 9 dwt. sterling gold is worth 35/ and as 35/ is to 60/ so is 100£ to 171£–8–7 the present par.

Secondly the denomination of our coin must be found by an arithmetical operation which may be performed as follows. A Dollar has 4. different nominal values in America, exclusive of the sterling rate adopted by S. Carolina.

1st. in Georgia where a Dollar is current for 60 pence
2dly. Virga. and the Eastern states 72.
3dly. Jersey, Pennsva. Delaware and Maryland 90
4thly. New York and N. Carolina 96

A penny therefore of these several currencies is as follows.

1st. a penny Georgia money 1/60 of a dollar
2.   a penny lawful 1/72
3.   a penny proclamation 1/90
4.   a penny New York 1/96

These several fractions1 when reduced to the common denomination will be found to be

  • 622.080/37.324.800=24/1440
  • 518.400/37.324.800=20/1440
  • 518.400/37.324.800=20/1440
  • 388.800/37.324.800=15/1440.

Hence it appears necessary that a new coin may coincide with the old currencies that the lowest denomination be 1/1440 part of a dollar. For greater clearness we must give this a name, which shall be taken from Stewart’s political oeconomy, the Money unit; or more shortly the Unit, then

1. penny Georgia money is 24 Units
    lawful money 20.
    proclamation money 16.
    York money 15.

Third. To find the quantity of fine silver in an Unit we must examine the different coins now current to discover the quantity of fine silver paid in coin for 1440 Units or one dollar. The coins are either silver or gold. Of the former we must confine ourselves to new dollars and French crowns because they form the principal mass of our silver currency. It has already been observed that new dollars contain about 365 grs. and Fr. crowns about 407 grs. of fine silver, also that 9 crowns pass for 10. Dollars.

Therefore multiply 365 by 10. which gives  3650
 multiply 407 by 9. which gives  3663
20 ) 7313 ( 365.13/20

These divided by 20 give the medium value of a dollar in silver currency.

We must next compare this with gold and recurring to what is said above we find that 5. Louis equal 23 dollars, and 5. Louis contain 20. crowns each 407. grs. The total 8140 grs. therefore divide this 23 ) 8140 ( 354 21/23 the quotient is the value of a dollar paid in French gold. Secondly half Joes and guineas pass at the rate of 9 dwt. for 8. Doll. Therefore as each pennyweight contains 22 grs. of fine gold 8 doll. equal 198 grs.

and one dollar equals    24¾ grs. fine gold which multiplied by the
in fine silver viz.    14½ will give the value of a dollar paid in English
or Portugal gold   358 7/8. To this add the value
in French gold   354 21/23 and divide by two and we have the
value in gold. 2)713 138/184( 356 161/184.
Therefore to   365 13/20 the medium value in silver coin
add   356 161/184 the medium value in gold coin and divide the
sum by 2. 2)722 1932/3680
makes   361 966/3680 the medium value of a dollar.

Therefore 361 966/3680 grs. of fine silver are equal to 1440 units which is at the rate of a quarter of a grain to one unit nearly or 1/58 of a grain of fine gold.

Fourth. On the expence of coinage will arise two questions. 1st. whether it should deter us from the attempt. To answer this a comparison must be drawn between the evils which arise from the want of it and the probable expence. Among these evils, one is that a tax may be raised on us by those sovereigns whose coins we receive: whereas the expence of a mint (whatever it be) will be made in and continue in the country, and to this may be added that a quantity of public copper now in the bank would produce a considerable sum beyond the expence of coinage. The second question is how the expence of coinage should be defrayed. The answer is simple. Let the mint give 392 units for every 100 grs. of fine silver which is brought in. This (when coined) will produce 400 units. The difference of 2. per cent will defray the expence. If the price of silver bullion rises, so that none is brought into the mint, none will then be coined. If it falls then it will be brought in and he who sells the Bullion will in fact pay the expence of coining it. But if the mint pay him more than he can get elsewhere it is his advantage, or even if it be considered as a tax, it is a voluntary and therefore a just tax.

Lastly. As to the different species of coins, these will be silver, copper and if necessary gold, and in such case the mint must give 6664 units for 100 grains of fine gold. To begin then with the lowest coins, there will be two of copper, one of which will be worth 5 Units and the other 8 units. Of the former 4 will make a penny lawful and 3 a penny York money. Of the latter 3 will make a penny Georgia and 2 a penny Pennsva. money. The following table shews how any small sum of Units is made with these two coins.

To make 1 from 2 of 8 take 3 of 5.
2 2 5 1 8 
3 1 8 1 5 
4 4 5 2 8 
To make 6 from 2 of 8. take 2 of 5
 7  3  5  1  8
 9  3  8  3  5
10  2  5

The next lowest coin will be of silver and contain 25 grs. pure or fine, worth 100 units. The next will contain 500 Units and the next 1000 units. To this if necessary may be added one of gold containing 147 1/17 grs. of pure gold and worth 10,000 units. This with the alloy will weigh (if it be alloyed at the sterling rate) 6 dwt. 17 15/34 grs. The names of these coins will be just what you please.

You will observe Sir it is in contemplation that this new coin and currency should rise in a decimal proportion of 1–10–100–1000 and 10,000. This will render all accounts and calculations extremely simple as may be demonstrated.

I shall trouble you no longer than to observe that those who would understand the present subject must be at the trouble of examining the calculations.

I have the honor to be &c.

Gouv. Morris

Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 9: 1464–5); entirely in TJ’s hand. Another Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 9: 1466–9); in an unidentified clerk’s hand.

The table of coins proposed by Morris in this letter varies from that in the MS printed by Congress in 1785. In that scheme, Morris proposed copper coins of 5 and 4 units rather than 8 and 5, thus making the former coincide with the currency of only nine of the states whereas the coins of the present plan agreed with twelve of the thirteen. The silver coins of the former also numbered four of 100, 200, 400, and 1000 units instead of three of 100, 500, and 1000; the former also included two gold coins of 5,000 and 10,000 units. In it Morris also suggested names, and for the larger of the gold coins, called a crown, he proposed a device and a motto (see that part of Propositions written by Morris; Document vii, note 4). There is no date on Morris’ MS as printed by the Grand Committee in 1785, but it must have been subsequent to the present letter and therefore represented his later thinking on the subject. The differences between the two may represent the alterations that Robert Morris made in the plan (see note to Document i).

1TJ erred by copying this phrase as “the several transactions”; the correct reading is taken from the clerk’s copy.

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