M. Berthemy to Mr. Seward

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith to your excellency a copy of the text of the monetary convention, concluded December 23d, 1865, between France, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland,

As you will see, Mr. Secretary of State, this act, which went into force the 1st of August last, has reconstituted, under the guarantee of an international contract, a monetary union which had existed in fact between these four states, but which diverse measures, adopted without preliminary understanding, had broken up during late years. These measures, adopted successively in Switzerland, in Italy, and in ‘France, had a sole object, that of putting an end to the abnormal disappearance of fractional silver money, or standard change money, indispensable for payments of trifling amounts. To the same evil they opposed the same remedy, the lowering of the standard, but according to different rules and proportions. The Swiss pieces, for instance, coined at the standard of eight hundred thousandths fine, while those of France and of Italy were at the standard of eight hundred and thirty-five, had to be refused in the public treasuries of the empire, as well as in those of the kingdom of Italy. The inconvenience of this state of things was not long in becoming apparent, and causing, perhaps more keenly than in past time, the appreciation, by the populations of the four bordering States, of the advantages of the monetary communion by which they had been formerly benefited. For the purpose of satisfying the just claims and pressing interests of trade, the government of the Emperor last year proposed to Belgium, to Italy, and to Switzerland, to intrust to a mixed international commission the care of re-establishing the ancient uniformity by taking account of facts accomplished, and of the new conditions of the monetary circulation of Europe. Commissioners appointed by these different states assembled at Paris under the presidency of M. de Parieu, vice-president of the council of state, and, in stating the causes for the convention of the 23d December last, they have fully met the immediate end which was assigned for their labors, according to the expression used by the minister of finance of Belgium, on submitting to the Belgian chamber the project of law intended to sanction the convention: “This act contains in effect, within itself, saving the unity of stamp, a monetary system, complete for moneys, (coin,) properly so called, to the exclusion of billon, (base coin.)”

At this time the gold and silver coinage of these four states is conducted under conditions that are identical. In what relates especially to fractional silver of the piece of five francs real change of standard money, which alone can meet the demand for small transactions, the standard of eight hundred and thirty-five thousandths has been definitely adopted; this is the figure which, already adopted in France and in Italy, has seemed best to satisfy the conditions of the problem which was in discussion for a solution—that is to say, to give to frac-tional metallic currency of the union the highest intrinsic value and the qualities of a good alloy, at the same time doing away the premium they had. reached from the relative depreciation of gold, which allowed speculation to melt them up and export them at a profit.

Express provisions limit, moreover, the emission of this legal small change, and serve also as the corrective of the lowering of the standard value. Precise [Page 296]rules reduce to the smallest possible figures the allowances for cost of fabrication, so as to maintain the money of the union in a constant normal condition. In fine, you will remark, Mr. Secretary of State, a clause which is detached from the rest of the stipulations, exclusively destined to determine the monetary regulations of the four countries. I desire to say something of that accession which article twelve guarantees to any other State. This clause may be considered as the manifestation of a wish that sprung up in the proceedings of the international conference, and has not been without influence on the happy issue of the negotiations. After having brought about the disappearance of divergencies of which they recognized the inconveniences, the delegates of France, of Belgium, of Italy, and of Switzerland, seeing a population of seventy millions of souls henceforth endowed. with the same monetary system, must quite naturally have been led to fix attention on an interest more general. Without entering on the examination of a question which it was not their mission to solve, they expressed in the name of their governments the désire to see the union, as yet restricted to four countries, become the germ of a union more extended, and of the establishment of a general monetary circulation among all civilized States.

The government of the Emperor would be very happy to see this proposition well received, but, at the same time, cannot dissemble the difficulties and objections it might encounter. But it doubts not, at least, that the views which are thus inspired answer the necessities which henceforth must press upon the solicitude of the governments. In proportion as the solidarity which now exists between economic interests becomes more and more close, each nation, in view of advantages already realized, better understands the importance of removing the obstructions still met with in international relations, one of the most onerous and annoying results assuredly from the diversity of coinage which multiply the fluctuations of exchange. The idea of the unification of the monetary systems makes, then, every day fresh progress. It is under its influence that, since the 24th January, 1857, there has been concluded the treaty which has markedly simplified the monetary régime of the States comprised in the ancient Germanic confederation; and more recently, in 1865, the same tendency has manifested itself in the discussions and in the rotes of the German commercial diet; in fine, the convention, even of the 23d December, has been spontaneously the object on the part of several foreign governments of an investigation which bears sufficient evidence of their solicitude about the interests which attach to it. A new monetary law has already introduced in the Roman States the régime stipulated by the convention of Paris; and, in the United States, public opinion has been called to this question even in the deliberations of Congress.

If, for the moment, objections too weighty prevent the federal government from adhesion to the convention of 23d December, the government of the Emperor would not the less attach special value to being informed of these obstacles, and to learn what observations may have been drawn forth by the examination of this international act. In the absence of more immettiate results, there would be incontestable advantage in being enabled to appreciate exactly the nature and extent of the difficulties that must be thought of removing, in order to arrive at monetary uniformity; and from the moment it is allowable to look toward the practical solution of such a problem, it becomes the duty of governments to follow it up, without exclusive ideas, mutually enlightening each other in their researches. Thus, also, in case the federal government, without wishing to accede to the union actually constituted, should be disposed either to enter into arrangements destined to establish equations between some of its monetary types of gold or silver and those which the convention may determine, or to take part in an international conference at which might be discussed the means of arriving at a more extended monetary understanding, the [Page 297]government of the Emperor will entertain with readiness the overtures which might be addressed to it in this view

Accept, Mr. Secretary of State, the assurances of my very high consideration.


Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.

The translation of the text of the convention of December 23d, 1865, will be found annexed to Mr. Ruggles’s report of 7th November.