Mr. Ruggles to Mr. Seward
Sir: In the communication of the 30th May last which the undersigned had the honor to make to the Department of State, the proceedings of the “international committee organized by the French imperial commission of the Universal Exposition,” to consider the subject of an uniform system of weights, measures, and coins, were brought down to that date. The association with the undersigned on that committee of United States Commissioners Smith, Barnard, and Kennedy was also stated, with the assignment of the undersigned and Commissioner Kennedy to the sub-commission on coins, and of Commissioners Smith and Barnard to the sub-committee on weights and measures.
A copy of the letter to the undersigned from the honorable John Sherman, (senator of the United States from Ohio,) favoring the reduction in weight, and value of the live-franc coin of France, was also furnished. Full particulars were also given of the audiences on the subject had by the undersigned, successively, with the vice-president and president of the “conseil d’état,” and with the Emperor of France, and especially in relation to the proposed coinage by France of a gold piece of twenty-five francs, to take its place throughout the world by the side of the “half-eagle” of the United States and the sovereign and pound sterling of Great Britain, when reduced in weight and value to twenty-five francs.
A copy of the written proposition to that effect submitted by the undersigned, with the concurrence of his colleague, Commissioner Kennedy, for the adoption of the international committee, that the government of France be requested to issue a gold coin of twenty-five francs, and that the government of the United States be requested to reduce its gold dollar in weight and value to five francs, and its other gold coins in like proportion, was also communicated to the Department of State.
The undersigned is gratified to learn, by the communication from the Department of State of the 21st of June last, that the steps thus taken for securing the uniformity of money are approved by his government; that he “is warranted in encouraging the expectation that the United States may give its adhesion to a conventional arrangement which may be susceptible of termination within a period to be specified in such arrangement,” and that “the views so ably set forth” in the letter of Mr. Sherman “will be so far approved by the public sentiment, the Congress, and the Executive of the United States, as to secure a concurrence of the government in any reasonable plan for producing the desired reform.”
Previously to the 23d of March last, the day when the undersigned arrived at Paris, the international committee had taken no steps to discuss the subject of uniform weights, measures and coins, their attention up to that time having been mainly given to the erection and arrangement of the pavilion in the interior garden of the Exposition for the actual exhibition and comparison of the weights, measures and coins of the respective, nations represented in this universal concourse.
The subject of a uniform coin did not actually come into discussion, either in the international committee or the sub-commission on coins, until early in the month of May.
On the 17th of May the undersigned presented to the international committee the letter of Senator Sherman in a French translation, which was received with lively interest, and forthwith ordered, with the approbation of the imperial commission, to be published both in French and English. It is but due to the history of the unification of money to state that the earnest and active agitation of the subject in a practical form, on the part of the United States, [Page 346]exerted its full share of influence in leading the government of France to adopt the decisive measure of inviting in diplomatic form an authoritative “conference” of delegates, duly accredited, from all the nations of the European and American world practically accessible, to meet at Paris on the 17th of June, not merely for an exchange of views or a discussion of general principles, but “practically to seek for the basis of ulterior negotiation” between the nations.
The importance of this step had become evident at an early day to the French authorities, and especially to Monsieur Esquirou de Parieu, first vice-president of the “conseil d’état,” pre-eminently distinguished by his long and well-directed labors in the cause of monetary unification, adorned by his learned and eloquent writings, replete alike with accurate knowledge and classic taste. He was one of the delegates on the part of France who successfully negotiated the quadripartite monetary treaty of the 23d of December, 1865, between France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy, the beneficent effects of which enlightened measure are now illuminating continental western Europe from the German ocean to the Mediterranean, carrying, in his own graphic language, “a common coin of equal value from Antwerp, across the mountains of the Oberland, to the classic coast of Brundusium.”
As early as the 21st of April last the undersigned had urged upon M. de Parieu the importance which would be attached by the United States of America to the coinage by France of the gold piece of twenty-five francs, and the consequent necessity of modifying that portion of the quadripartite treaty which would prevent the issue of a coin of that denomination. The far higher importance of modifying and amplifying that treaty so as to rescue not only this emancipated portion of Europe, but all the American and European nations in both hemisphere’s, from the evils of their present discordant coinages, and embrace them all in one common monetary civilization, were earnestly dwelt upon. These views were repeated and re-enforced in several succeeding interviews.
On the 7th of May M. de Parieu, by note of that date, requested the undersigned to “formulate” in writing a proposition on the part of the United States to reduce its gold dollar in weight and value to the French gold piece of five francs, on condition that France should coin a gold piece of twenty-five francs, the gold coins of the two nations to be reciprocally receivable at their public treasuries; adding the expression of his personal opinion that such a combination would be a most fortunate enlargement “un tres heureux developpement” of the treaty of December 23, 1865.
The undersigned, having no diplomatic authority on the 9th of May, was obliged to answer that such a step, in advance of the discussions in the international committee, would seem to fall, if not wholy beyond his powers, at least within the range of the permanent duties of General Dix, the regular diplomatic representative of the United States; but that on due consultation with him the note of M. de Parieu would be answered more at large. Copies of the note and of its answer are herewith furnished, (Nos. 1 and 2.)
On the 31st of May the undersigned was informed by M. de Parieu that diplomatic invitations had been issued by direction of the Marquis de Moustier, the French minister of foreign affairs, to most if not all of the nations represented in the international committee, requesting them respectively to appoint special delegates to an international monetary conference, to assemble at Paris on the 17th of June, at the “hotel” of the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, and probably under the presidency of M. de Parieu.
On the 17th of June the invited nations (nineteen in number) responded to the call by delegates duly accredited. The credentials of the undersigned from the Department of State reached him at Paris on the 14th of June.
It was evident that such a conference, for all practical purposes, would take the place of the international committee so far as a uniform coin was concerned. [Page 347]It was thought, however, by that committee, embracing many members of experience and eminently scientific attainments, that their examinations and discussions of the subject had so far advanced that it was advisable to complete them, and to report the result as a preliminary study, to aid in the performance of the more practical duties of the conference, and more especially as several of the delegates in the conference were also members of the international committee.
The examination of the subject, mainly confined to general principles in the international committee, and dealing but little with the various existing systems of coinage, was completed by the 17th of June. The result of their deliberations appears in a series of propositions mainly of a general nature, but embracing a specific recommendation of the five-franc piece as a common point of contact for the coinages of the different nations. They were reduced to form, after the subject had been partially discussed, by Commissioner Kennedy, whose well-considered action on the committee has been eminently serviceable and creditable to the United States. With several amendments and modifications they were finally adopted by the sub-commission, and subsequently by the whole international committee. A copy of the propositions, as perfected, is herewith furnished, (No. 3.) They will also be found divided in heads, or portions, in the extended and able report prepared and submitted after their adoption. by the Baron de Hock, an eminent financial writer, one of the delegates from Austria in the international committee, and the sole representative of that power in the international monetary conference. A copy of his report is herewith transmitted, (No. 4.)
These documents possess a permanent historical interest in showing that the intelligent labors of the international committee, especially in establishing general principles, had anticipated several of the important results which were subsequently reached by the international monetary conference.
It will be seen that the general propositions adopted by the international committee do not include the special and specific proposition submitted by the undersigned on the 30th of May for the coinage by France of the 25-franc gold piece, it having been regarded as more proper for a separate negotiation with France, or a special clause in a general monetary treaty. It is, however, generally and fully understood that the French government will be ready at once to add that piece to its gold coinage whenever the United States shall reduce the weight and value of their gold dollar to that of the gold five francs, and their other coins in like proportion. The matter can be readily and fully secured and settled in ulterior negotiations, or, if necessary, by concurrent legislation.
For the purpose of showing the magnitude of the monetary interests and consequences, present and future, involved in the proposed unification, it became necessary to accurately exhibit in statistical form the comparative coinage, past and present, of the three principal coining nations, France, Great Britain, and the United States, with a general reference to the world-wide saving by the proposed reform, in needless recoinage, brokerage, and exchange.
It will be seen that the written argument, (here called a “Note” ) a copy of which is now transmitted to the Department of State, in which the undersigned sought in behalf of the United States to present these cardinal facts, commences with a brief explanation which became necessary to meet an arithmetical and metrical objection which had been interposed by one of the international committee, (somewhat extreme in his devotion to the metric system,) that the proposed coin of 25 francs would not contain an even or round number of metric grams, and would therefore conflict with the metric system. Strange to say, some of the most distinguished economists in France are found to concur in this merely theoretical objection. The answer was, however, readily found, not only in the fact that none of the existing coins of gold in France, some of them as old as the century, contain an even or round number of grams, but more [Page 348]conclusively in its absolute necessity in the arithmetical relation between the legal value of gold and of silver fixed by the French law of 7 Germinal, An xí, (1803,) at 15 ½ to 1. That ratio not being even or decimal, but uneven and fractional, is wholly at variance, and must forever remain in conflict with the decimal features of the metric system.
A silver franc contains five even metric grams; but a gram of gold being as one to fifteen and a half of silver, can only be arithmetically represented in francs by the uneven and imperfect decimal, 0.32258. That decimal multiplied by fifteen and a half will practically produce the five even grams of the silver franc The multiplier itself being fractional, must be doubled to gain the even number 31, which sum multiplying the fractional gold decimal 0.32258, will produce the even number of ten grams of gold. No even multiplier smaller than 31 will produce an even number of gold grams. Any number of francs less than 31 will represent a fractional number of grams, and any number of grams less than 10 will represent a fractional number of francs.
It therefore follows, that if the extravagant requirement of exact metric coincidence of francs and grams should prevail, no monetary gold unit could be found smaller than 31 francs, equivalent in the gold currency of the United States, when unified, to six dollars and twenty cents, ($6 20.)
Such a unit, so inconvenient and incongruous, the legitimate offspring of the fractional rates of 15 ½ to 1, is, moreover, wholly incapable of division into even parte exceeding a single franc, and consequently has no even multiples short of 62, 93, 124, and so on in succession.
Being widely at variance with all existing denominations of coin, its adoption would necessitate the calling in and recoinage of all the gold in France, shown by official tables in the note above mentioned to be 6,561,104,070 francs, or in round numbers 81,312,000,000, (less the portions recoined, exported, used in the arts, or lost,) not to mention the wide-spread revolution it would cause in the coinage of all the other nations. It is safe to predict, that whatever may be urged by enthusiastic theorists, no such unit will ever be adopted by any. well-governed nation in Europe or America; but, on the contrary, that France, now numbering with her adjacent confederated states more than seventy millions of people, will rest fully content with the gold unit of five francs as now existing, with its necessarily fractional but well-known weight of 1,612.2 milligrammes, destined at no distant day to become the common centre around which will revolve the united monetary systems of the civilized world.
The proceedings and discussions of the international committee in respect to a uniform coin were much increased in interest by their issuing numerous invitations to the leading friends, both in France and England, of a uniform system of weights, measures, and coins, to assist at a “reunion,” commencing on the 17th of June and continuing for several days, for open public examination and criticism of the reports and conclusions of the committee, including their report on uniform weights and measures.
At an adjourned meeting, held at the Palais de V Industrie in the Champs Ely sees, and over which the Prince Napoleon (Jerome) presided by desire of the Emperor, and with eminent ability, delegations from commercial bodies and international monetary associations in London and Liverpool were in attendance. On this occasion the very important question of abolishing the double standard of money, retaining only gold, was elaborately discussed, and with singular ability and ingenuity, by distinguished French economists holding opposite opinions. On putting the question to the vote of the numerous and intelligent audience, the single standard of gold was adopted by a large majority.
The question of the gold unit then coming up, the English delegates earnestly opposed the proposition of the international committee, adopting as the unit the gold five francs, and urged the substitution of ten francs in its stead, [Page 349]expressing their belief that the government of Great Britain would consent to issue for the purpose a gold coin of that amount, to be denominated a “ducat.” This substitution was opposed by the undersigned in behalf of the United States, on the ground that their half-eagle, when reduced to twenty-five francs, would be an even multiple of the five-franc unit, but not of the ten; that the dollar, whenever made precisely equivalent and equiponderant to the five francs, would become practically if not nominally the monetary unit, and the actual denomination in which money contracts embracing different countries or distant quarters of the globe would or might be payable; that the more important and higher issue soon would be, not between the five francs and the ten francs as the unit, but between the dollar, decimally and easily divided, and the sovereign, ¡or pound sterling.) not decimally but most inconveniently divided in shillings, pence and farthings, but which, by that very peculiarity, had hitherto maintained an undue predominance in the money payments of the world. The debate was closed by the Prince president submitting the question to the vote of the meeting, which resulted nearly unanimously in favor of the unit of five francs.
It is proper to add that the government of Great Britain was not represented, as such, at this reunion, nor in any discussion at any previous meeting of the international committee, but duly appeared by accredited delegates at the international monetary conference.
The advocates of a uniform coin cherish the belief that the government of the United States is not to be discouraged or discomposed by the temporary delay or hesitation of any government in Europe to participate in the widespread work of monetary unification, destined, sooner or later, to become the crowning civic achievement of modern times.
In the earlier agitation of this subject at the international statistical congress, at Berlin, in 1863, the delegate from the United States found a large and influential delegation from Great Britain zealously engaged in the great endeavor to unify the money of the world. In the present effort of the assembled nations, “not for a day but all time,” the clear good sense and sterling liberality of the English people will not allow their government to lag or linger much behind. The fire but recently kindled is rapidly diffusing its light throughout the world. The far-sighted negotiators of the quadripartite monetary treaty of 1865, though seriously embarrassed by the fallacy of a double standard, now generally discarded, succeeded in establishing a uniform system, not only of gold but of silver, over a large and populous portion of Europe, since increased by the adhesion of the Pontifical States and of Greece; thus including, by a singular felicity, in this newly enlightened region of the globe, the two great seats of ancient civilization. With this wide-spread area, extending off from the British channel across Europe to the Mediterranean, and along its classic coast far into the east, the great reform may be greatly advanced by the transatlantic co-operation of the American Union—by God’s great providence, undivided and indivisible. Wisely limited by its own organic law to one common coinage between the two great oceans, the world needs only the assent of our own continental republic to give to the gold dollar and its multiples a free, unchallenged circulation, meeting no money changer or other impediment through the whole breadth of Christendom. The United States may alone complete the golden chain binding in one common monetary civilization the outspread lands and waters of America and of Europe, stretching from the “Golden Gate” of the Pacific over the auriferous “Oberlands” of our wide interior, and across Christian Europe to the western bounds of the Ottoman empire. To widen and extend still further this majestic belt, to embrace in the same great measure of civilization the residue of Europe with the wide extent of Asiatic Russia, has been among the leading aims of the international monetary conference.
A detailed statement of the proceedings and conclusions of that assemblage, [Page 350]and also of the action of the international committee in respect to uniform weights and measures, will be furnished in further and separate communications from the undersigned to the Department of State.
With high regard, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.,