Late President and Professor of History at Cornell University; SometimeUnited States Minister to Russia and Ambassador to Germany; Author of “AHistory of the Warfare of Science with Theology,” etc.
As far back as just before our Civil War I made, in France andelsewhere, a large collection of documents which had appeared during theFrench Revolution, including newspapers, reports, speeches, pamphlets,illustrative material of every sort, and, especially, specimens ofnearly all the Revolutionary issues of paper money, — from notes of tenthousand livres to those of one sou.
Upon this material, mainly, was based a course of lectures then givento my students, first at the University of Michigan and later at CornellUniversity, and among these lectures, one on “Paper Money Inflation inFrance.”
This was given simply because it showed one important line of facts inthat great struggle; and I recall, as if it were yesterday, my feelingof regret at being obliged to bestow so much care and labor upon asubject to all appearance so utterly devoid of practical value. Iam sure that it never occurred, either to my Michigan students or tomyself, that it could ever have any bearing on our own country. Itcertainly never entered into our minds that any such folly as thatexhibited in those French documents of the eighteenth century could everfind supporters in the United States of the nineteenth.
Some years later, when there began to be demands for large issues ofpaper money in the United States, I wrought some of the facts thuscollected into a speech in the Senate of the State of New York, showingthe need of especial care in such dealings with financial necessities.
In 1876, during the “greenback craze,” General Garfield and Mr. S. B.Crittenden, both members of the House of Representatives at that time,asked me to read a paper on the same general subject before an audienceof Senators and Representatives of both parties in Washington. This Idid, and also gave it later before an assemblage of men of business atthe Union League Club in New York.
Various editions of the paper were afterward published, among them, twoor three for campaign purposes, in the hope that they might be of usein showing to what folly, cruelty, wrong and rain the passion for “fiatmoney” may lead.
Other editions were issued at a later period, in view of the principleinvolved in the proposed unlimited coinage of silver in the UnitedStates, which was, at bottom, the idea which led to that fearful wreckof public and private prosperity in France.
For these editions there was an added reason in the fact that theutterances of sundry politicians at that time pointed clearly to issuesof paper money practically unlimited. These men were logical enoughto see that it would be inconsistent to stop at the unlimited issueof silver dollars which cost really something when they could issueunlimited paper dollars which virtually cost nothing.
In thus exhibiting facts which Bishop Butler would have recognized asconfirming his theory of “The Possible Insanity of States,” it is butjust to acknowledge that the French proposal was vastly more sane thanthat made in our own country. Those French issues of paper rested notmerely “on the will of a free people,” but on one-third of the entirelanded property of France; on the very choicest of real property in cityand country — the confiscated estates of the Church and of the fugitivearistocracy — and on the power to use the paper thus issued in purchasingthis real property at very low prices.
I have taken all pains to be exact, revising the whole paper in thelight of the most recent publications and giving my authority for everyimportant statement, and now leave the whole matter with my readers.
At the request of a Canadian friend, who has expressed a strong wishthat this work be brought down to date, I have again restudied thesubject in the light of various works which have appeared sincemy earlier research, — especially Levasseur’s “Histoire des classesouvrières et de l’industrie en France,” — one of the really great booksof the twentieth century; — Dewarmin’s superb “Cent Ans de numismatiqueFrançaise” and sundry special treatises. The result has been thatlarge additions have been made regarding some important topics, andthat various other parts of my earlier work have been made more clear bybetter arrangement and supplementary information.
ANDREW D. WHITE. Cornell University, September, 1912.