George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 30 December 1793

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Dec. 30. 1793.

Sir,

I am informed, by the Director of the Mint, that an impediment 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, than might be had here; and therefore did not engage one.1 The Duties of this last Office, have consequently been hitherto performed, 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.2 The coinage of the precious metals, has, therefore, been prevented, for sometime 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 determine 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 & connections rarely enable them to give security in so large a sum. The other alternative would be to lessen the Securityship in money, 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, may reduce the risk to what would not be considerable.3

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.4 The Treasurer, he observes, should 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 fineness5—the Assayer, here again, examining a few grains of the melted mass, 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, 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, to the Refiner and Chief Coiner. It is to be observed that the law has not taken notice of the Office of Refiner, though so 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.

I have thought it my duty to give this information, under an impression that it is proper to be communicated to the Legislature,6 who will decide in their Wisdom, whether it will be expedient 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 & Assayer; And

To place the office of the Refiner under the same nomination with that of the other Chief Officers, to fix his Salary, & require due Security.7

I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect & attachment Sir, your most obedient & most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

LS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; L (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; ADf, DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; LB, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LB, DNA: RG 46, Transcribed Reports and Communications Transmitted by the Executive Branch to the U.S. Senate, 1789–1819; LB, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, 1793–95, House Records of the Office of the Clerk, Records for Reports from Executive Departments. Jefferson’s draft contains numerous emendations, the most important of which are indicated in the notes below.

1The authority for GW to employ artists was conferred by a resolution of 3 March 1791 (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 3:95). Jefferson instructed Thomas Pinckney to engage an assayer and coiner and engraver in his letter to Pinckney of 14 June 1792. For Pinckney’s engagement of Albion Cox (d. 1795), a native of England who had been involved in minting coins for New Jersey in 1786, to be assayer of the U.S. Mint, see Pinckney’s first letter to Jefferson of 12 March 1793 (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 24:74–76, 25:370–71).

2Jefferson was referring to the fifth section of “An Act establishing a Mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States,” 2 April 1792 (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:246–51).

3At this point in his draft, Jefferson wrote several paragraphs of text, which he then struck and replaced with an insertion in the margin that corresponds to the paragraph following. The deleted text reads: “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 per cent to be retained for prompt paiment.

“Without such a deposit too a separate coinage for each individual as 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, & consequently there remains a considerable portion of corners & scraps, supposed one fifth of the whole. these may be melted over again rolled, & cut; but a like proportion will always remain & a great multiplication of work take place. this would be avoided 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 & care can prevent a small waste in the operation, the giving back the exact quantity is impossible unless there be some 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 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.”

4On the draft, Jefferson began his insertion with the following text, which he revised and then struck out, substituting the preceding sentence: “indeed as to the Assayer the course 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 ⟨illegible⟩, as the Treasurer ought to be for this is what the director thinks should be the course of the business.”

5The previous text of this sentence is missing from the letter-book copy in House Records.

6GW enclosed this letter in his second letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives of this date. Congress received the letter on 31 Dec., and in the House it was referred to a committee of three members for report (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 6:51–52). On 3 March 1794 Congress passed “An Act in alteration of the act establishing a Mint and regulating the Coins of the United States,” which incorporated the first two of the three proposals following (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:341).

7In his draft, Jefferson completed this sentence with additional text that he then struck: “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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