Mr. Ruggles to Mr. Seward
Sir: * * * * * *
Before the meeting of the international committee for examining the question of a uniform coin had commenced, the undersigned was enabled, through the introduction of Monsieur Michel Chevalier, senator of France, who takes much interest in the subject, to confer fully with M. de Parieu, vice-president of the conseil d’etat, and one of the two representatives of France in negotiating the quadripartite treaty or monetary convention of the 23d of December, 1865, between France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. ‘ To that treaty the United States are now invited to become a party, in the communication of M. Berthemy, minister of France at Washington, to the Secretary of State of the United States, a copy of which, forwarded from Washington by the Department of State, reached the undersigned on the 29th of May, instant.
The undersigned does not assume in any way to discuss the diplomatic question whether the United States, for the purpose of securing the adoption of a common unit of money, should attain that result by means of a permanent and obligatory treaty, or should rest satisfied with concurrent legislation capable of easy change, and thus reserving a wider freedom and greater elasticity of action. He felt, however, at liberty, in case the concurrence of the United States by needful legislation in any form was required, to suggest to M. de Parieu the [Page 301]expediency, and, indeed, to urge the necessity, of modifying that portion of the treaty in question which prohibits either of; the four nations who had made it from issuing gold coin of any denominations but those of five, ten, twenty, fifty, and a hundred francs. This necessity is obvious at once from the fact that the gold coin most in ordinary use in the United States is the half-eagle of five dollars, which, with a slight diminution, could be readily reduced to twenty-five francs in value. This coin, when exported to France, in order to be readily and generally current, must there find itself side by side with some well-known French coin of like weight, diameter, and value. The propriety of this suggestion M. de Parieu not only admitted at once, but expressed his belief that the treaty might be modified by the four nations, in thirty days, to meet the necessities in this respect of the United States.
Shortly after this conversation with M. de Parieu, the undersigned, through the introduction of General Dix, the minister of the United States to France, had a personal conference with M. Rouher, chief minister of state, to whom the same suggestions as to the twenty-five franc gold coin were made, with some more extended remarks on the lasting importance of unifying the coin of the world, thereby inaugurating a new historical era in the monetary affairs of mankind. The peculiar significance of the fact that the Congress of the United States, in recently authorizing the issue of one of our smaller coins, had given to it precisely even metric weight and metric diameter, (being five grams in weight and two centimetres in diameter,) thereby scattering widely through the pockets of the American people the means of studying the metric system by specimens of the metre and its derivative the gram, constantly visible, was also brought to the notice of M. Rouher. He became so much interested in the subject and its further examination, that he shortly afterwards caused the under-signed to be invited to a personal interview with the Emperor at the Tuileries.
Upon that occasion the Emperor, after expressing very cordially his gratification that the United States of America had shown their willingness to aid in unifying the coin of the world, proceeded in a straightforward, business way to ask, “What do you wish France to do in aid of the work?” To that interrogatory it was answered, first, that much could be done by distinctly recognizing in the official documents and discourses of the government the international unification of coin, as a result of cardinal importance to be attained at the Universal Exposition; that most of its memories, however brilliant, were necessarily evanescent, while a common coin, once secured with universal uniformity, would endure for a series of ages. Allusion was made to the historical fact that the world under the Roman empire, governed by Augustus and his successors, had practically enjoyed the boon of a common coin, but had lost it in the wreck of that imperial power; that now, after the lapse of fourteen centuries, the modern nations of the earth, convened under a higher civilization in a universal congress, wisely organized, had the opportunity to establish a new and better Augustan age of money, having a world-wide equality
It was further urged that the United States of America, politically, commercially and geographically, had a peculiar interest in the subject; that they not only produced a large proportion of the precious metals needed by the world, but, from their continental and interoceanic position on the globe, enjoyed the pre-eminent and distinguishing advantage of having two outlets for their coin—one leading westward across the Pacific to Asia, the other eastward across the Atlantic to Europe; that it was alike their interest and their ambition to secure for that coin the greatest facility for unchecked, economical and rapid circulation, freely passing through both the hemispheres without recoinage or other impediment; that, in a word, the money of the world, as the common measure of its values, should be as uniform and as circumambient as the atmosphere of the world; and, finally, that the United States of America, [Page 302]as a component part of modern civilization, with a population of forty millions, rapidly increasing, naturally desired to participate in securing for the whole family of man a blessing so universal and enduring.
In answer, the Emperor asked, in a kindly tone, “Can France do anything more in aid of the work?” To which it was replied, France can coin a piece of gold of twenty-five francs, to circulate side by side on terms of absolute equality with the half-eagle of the United States and the sovereign, or pound sterling, of Great Britain, when reduced, as they readily might be, precisely to the value of twenty-five francs. The Emperor then asked, “Will not a French coin of twenty-five francs impair the symmetry of the French decimal system?” To which it was answered, “No more than it is affected, if at all, by the existing gold coin of five francs;” that it was only the silver coins of France which were of even metric weight, while everyone of its gold coins, without exception, represented unequal fractions of the metre.
It was then stated to the Emperor that an eminent American statesman, Mr. Sherman, senator from Ohio, chairman of the Finance Committee of the Senate of the United States, and recently in Paris, had written an important and interesting letter, expressing his opinion that the gold dollar of the United States ought to be and readily might be reduced by Congress, in weight and value, to correspond with the gold five franc piece of France; that the letter was now before the international committee, having the question of uniform coin under special examination; to which letter, as being one of the best interpretations of the views of the American people, the attention of the public authorities of France was respectfully invited. The Emperor then closed the audience, by repeating the assurances of his gratification that the important international measure in question was likely to receive active support from the United States.
The letter of Mr. Sherman, above referred to, dated the 18th of May, 1867, originally written in English, was presented in a French translation a few days afterwards to the international committee in full session, where it was received with unusual interest and ordered by the committee to be printed in both languages. A copy is herewith transmitted for the information of the Department of State.
It will probably be regarded as a noticeable fact that while the British government has appointed an officer of its royal artillery, Colonel Younghusbaud, to exhibit in the “Pavilion” the weights, measures, and coins of Great Britain, it has hitherto omitted in any other way to participate in any discussions or action of the international committee on the subject of a uniform coin. There is good reason, however, to believe that its necessity is felt and acknowledged by a large and very respectable portion of the intelligent people of the British empire.
The Russian ambassador, Baron de Budbergh, has examined attentively the United States coinage of five-cent pieces of metric weight and diameter, in which he has manifested a lively interest, as affording a facility for the easy instruction of the people in the metric system worthy of imitation by the Russian government. That government is ably represented in the international committee by Mr. de Jacobi, councillor of state, and particularly eminent in physical science. He is the president of the sub-commission on weights and measures, and earnestly advocates their international unification as a necessary step in human progress.
The government of Prussia refrains from actively entering at present upon the discussion. A letter written by order of Count Bismarck to the diplomatic representative of France at Berlin, and dated February 2, 1867, states that the confederation of northern Germany is entering upon a political programme “which may include its local monetary questions;” the completion of which programme he may choose to await, before entering upon the subject of international unification, the eventual importance and interest of which the letter plainly recognizes. A copy of the text is herewith furnished.[Page 303]
At a meeting of the sub-commission on coins, held to-day, after hearing much discussion, the following note, seeking a practical result, was submitted for consideration by the undersigned, with the approbation of his colleague, Mr. John P. Kennedy, one of the commissioners to the Paris Exposition, who had teen associated with him on the committee.
“The commission recommend that a proposition shall be submitted to the respective governments of France and the United States of America, that the government of France shall issue, in addition to its present coinage, a gold piece of twenty-five francs, and that the government of the United States, in its future issues, shall reduce the weight of the gold dollar to the value of five francs, and shall bring its other gold coinage to the same standard.”
Whether this proposition will be amended by inserting a similar provision as to the British gold sovereign, remains to be seen. The result of the deliberations of the commission, or of the international committee, when finlly reached, will be communicated without delay to the Department of State.
With high respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.