Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VI.: Of Base Money. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAP. VI.: Of Base Money. - John Ramsay McCulloch, A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money 
A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money from the Originals of Vaughan, Cotton, Petty, Lowndes, Newton, Prior, Harris, and Others, with a Preface, Notes, and Index (London: Printed for the Political Economy Club, 1856).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of Base Money.
I Do not mean by base Money, Money of pure Copper, which in all States and in all Ages hath almost always been used, at the first for want of Gold and Silver, and now since, for the necessity of the poorer sort onely, and not for Commerce and Trade, as our farthings have lately bin introduced: But I mean that mixture of Metals, wherein Silver is incorporated with other baser Metals, not for Allay but to the extinction of the denomination of Silver; as Wine, when it is watered beyond a certain proportion looseth the name of Wine. And in all the Countries of Europe, as far as I can learn, except England and Muscovia, is used for Commerce and Trade amongst the people: which mixtion of mettals however it hath been practised at times in former Ages, out of the extream Necessities of the Common wealth, yet I do not find that it hath been constantly embraced (as now it is in all parts) until about Eightscore years since, about which time it was introduced into France by Charles the Seventh. The pretences whereof were these.
First, That there was no Intention thereby to raise the price or to diminish the weight of Silver, but that this Money should be as good in intrinsical value, as in the Money of purer Silver, save only a small charge laid upon it for the Coinage: then that by coining small pieces of a penny, two pence, or three pence, or thereabouts, the pieces, by the mixtion should have a greater bulk, and so be preserved from loss, which must needs frequently happen by reason of the smallness of the pieces, if they were made of pure Silver, so likewise they should be preserved from wearing: and again, that the Gold-Smith should by this means be kept from melting them, and the Stranger from exporting them, because the charge of refining them and drawing the pure Silver out of them would far exceed the profit: These are the Pretences by which base Money was first introduced, but if they be weighed against the Inconveniences, which have followed upon it, it will be found one of the most mischievous Inventions that ever was found in matters of Money. I could hardly resolve with myself to insert this Chapter in this Discourse, because having mine aim only at the good of this State, it seemed unnecessary to treat of this Subject, since we have no base Money in England; but when I consider, that in some unhappy seasons heretofore we have had base Money; and that it is not impossible, but that the like Projects may again be revived, I determin’d not only to treat, but to go through with it all at once, and not to interrupt this Discourse any more with that Subject: And therefore to set down the Inconveniences that have followed it, which in the former Chapter I did forbear, reserving both the Inconveniences and the Remedies to be treated of apart. The first Inconvenience then of the great mixture of Mettals, is the falsifying of them; for both in reason it is too true, that by this mixture both the Colour, Sound, Weight, and the other more hidden Qualities of the different mettals are so confounded as the falsity cannot be discovered, but with extream difficulty: and by experience it is verified, that in all those Countries where base Money hath course, the greatest part of it is not coyned by the State, but either counterfeited by the Natives, or brought in by several Strangers.
Secondly, It is true that the base Money was first coined in France, of an intrinsical value, almost equal to that of purer mettalls, and so it continues to this day, for so much of it as is coined by ordinance of the State, (the greatest part being falsifyed:) But in most other Countries (as namely in Spain) the State it self, to raise a Tribute upon the people, hath extreamly falsified the intrinsical value, by which means both the State hath for gain, Coins much more than there is occasion to use, and there is incomparably more counterfeited by others, so as the mischief doth hourly multiply.
Thirdly, The values of Money are continually raised from time to time, which is no new Device (as is already more particularly declared) the base Money must then in Proportion be likewise raised, which cannot be done by increasing the value of the particular pieces for being of so small price, the fractions would be irreconcilable, so as there is no other way left to raise the base Money, but by coining new, of a weaker Intrinsical value. I would then gladly know what becomes of all the old base Money, either it is melted down by the Bullioners, which is the name in French of those who by culling and trying of Coins make their profit to melt them; or it is transported by strangers, so as in effect the use of base Money doth bring that inconvenience, the avoiding whereof was made one of the chiefest Pretences for Coinage of it.
Fourthly, It is truly observed, that in all those Countries where base Money is current, there the price of Gold and Silver is daily raised by the people, not only without the Ordinance of the State, but contrary to, and in despight of all Prohibitions to the contrary, which draws with it extream disorders and mischiefs, so it is in the Low Countries, so it is in France, so in Germany, and in Spain; although the Ordinance for the value of the Gold and Silver may securely be maintained by this help, that no Forrein Coin is there current; yet when you come to change base Money for Silver or Gold, you shall find how the people there raise the price unto you of the purer Money; But in England and Muscovia, where no base Money is in use, there the people never raise the price of Gold and Silver (except by Ordinance of the State it be directed,) neither doth Experience only try this Conclusion, but Reason also; for the people when they see the Money of base and uncertain mixture, do disesteem it, and in comparison thereof do esteem the Money of purer Gold and Silver above the proportion, and so do raise the price of it; and this esteem is not meerly out of opinion, for that really, that piece of base Money which hath as much fine Silver as a penny, is notwithstanding not worth a penny, because the mixture makes that you cannot extract this penny in pure mettal, without loss and charge: and if the people do hold this base esteem of this mixture which hath in it the intrinsical value for which it is current, how much more base esteem must they hold of that mixture, which they know hath not neer in it that intrinsical value for which it is current, and how much more must they needs raise the Silver. And certainly base Money, when either it is at first coined much in the intrinsical value under the extrinsical, or is by degrees brought unto it and long so continued, doth in the end breed either Insurrections among the People, or rejections of it; whereof the examples of Insurrections are very frequent, and therefore I will forbear to instance in them. But I cannot omit one example of Rejection, because it is so fresh in Memory, which was in Ireland in the end of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; which Country although it was newly vindicated from Rebellion, and did patiently endure all the imperious Directions which a late fresh Victory did bring with it, yet as soon as the Exchanges of base Moneys sent thither did cease in England, it was instantly rejected there, and would not pass current for so much as in the true intrinsical value it was worth, but was bought up at under rates by such as made profit by melting it.
Fifthly, The Dishonour that accompanies base Moneys, is of a more important Inconvenience than all the rest, for what can be more dishonourable than to have the Image of the Prince, or the Mark of the Publick Attestation impressed upon false and counterfeited stuff: according to the saying of an Emperour, Quid enim erit tutum si in nostra peccetur Effigie? And if there be gain made of it, it is a manifest breach of the publick Faith, for that it hath no other course than as it hath publick warrant to be good. Nay, this point of Honour hath so far prevailed in the World, that it hath been made an Observation by many, that in all great Divisions in States and Monarchies, that party hath infallibly the juster cause which doth most loyally use this publick trust of Money, and doth most warily proceed, either to the raising of the price, or the abasing of the matter thereof: which Observations are not without warrant of Experience nor of Reason also; for that all raising of the price and abasing of the matter of Money for gain, drawing with it an unjust, ruinous and unequal burthen upon the people, they that maintain the better cause, like the true Mother, will choose to loose the cause than that the Child should be destroyed. In which loyal maintenance of the public Faith in matters of Money our Kings do incomparably outshine all other Princes and States of Europe: for if Spain, and some other States do equal them in the pureness of the mettals, and the low values of their Monies of Gold and Silver, yet they have made themselves farr inferiour unto them by filling their Countries with base Money. And if in Muscovy they have coined no base Money, yet they have raised the Standard of their Silver so high, by diminishing both the fineness and weight, that the Silver itself scarcely deserves that name. And this I hold for a glorious mark of the equitable Government of this Kingdom; and let them that list admire forreign matters, for my part, I am perswaded both out of what I have seen and can learn by other means, that there is no State in the World more excellently tempered than this of England, or wherein the Prince is more absolute in all things, wherein it is good for himself and the publick, that he should be absolute; or where the great men are more honoured without license of oppressing the People; or where the People do live more freely or so happily as in England. As for the Remedies of this Inconvenience of base Money, I do leave those Countries to struggle with them that are afflicted with it, for us in England the remedy is plain and easy, which is mainly and constantly to keep it out. Thus far I have proceeded in the History of Money to set down, as briefly as I could, by what degrees Money hath grown into that form and state as now it is governed; but have forborn to speake of the Inconveniences grown therein, and of the Remedies thereof, save only in this last Chapter, which I mean to propound and debate in the rest of this Discourse, for the opening of the Readers understanding without making any positive conclusion, but leave that to every ones private Judgment.