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CHAPTER VIII.: of a different solution which has been recommended, and which would consist in the adoption of a gold standard. - Michel Chevalier, On the Probable Fall in the Value of Gold: The Commercial and Social Consequences which may ensue, and the Measures which it invites 
On the Probable Fall in the Value of Gold: The Commercial and Social Consequences which may ensue, and the Measures which it invites. Translated from the French, with preface, by Richard Cobden, Esq. (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1859).
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of a different solution which has been recommended, and which would consist in the adoption of a gold standard.
In the midst of the difficulties with which our monetary system is now surrounded, some persons have proposed a solution which would consist in withdrawing from silver the quality of the standard, and attaching it to gold. It would be understood that the franc, deprived thenceforth of all connection with our metrical system, would be composed of about 29 centigrammes of fine gold, or of 32 centigrammes and a fraction of gold of the fineness of nine-tenths. As regards silver, the only choice is between the two following courses: either to reduce it to the condition of a token as in England, or to lessen the proportion of metal contained in the piece hitherto called a franc; it might contain 4 grammes of fine silver instead of 4½ grammes, with the power of afterwards rnaMng another diminution if the divergence between gold and silver increased. These two combinations resemble each other very much, they spring from the same source, and are tainted with the same vice. In both cases the franc would cease to be what the law has established: 4½ grammes of fine silver. But the attempt may as well be given up, for do what we will, it can be called nothing but coining false money. When Philippe le Bel diminished the quantity of silver contained in the crowns of his time, he never did anything more serious or more characteristic. In vain will it be said that the law, in giving the name of a piece of 20 francs to a certain weight of gold, has assimilated 29 centigrammes of gold to the franc; to this argument there is a peremptory answer: the law has not said that the franc was 29 centigrammes of gold; it has said, very expressly, that the franc was 4 J grammes of silver, and when it assimilated 29 centigrammes of gold to 4½ grammes of silver, it was in a temporary manner, and this provisional arrangement should cease from the moment that 29 centigrammes of gold ceased to be effectively the equivalent of 4½ grammes of silver. However well disposed we may be, it is impossible that the franc can continue to be 29 centigrammes of gold, after there has been a serious divergence between this weight of gold and 4½grammes of silver; unless we altogether obliterate the general disposition which is at the head of the law of the year 11, and also give a direct denial both to the affirmations relative to what is called a fixed point in the preamble, and to these words of G-audin, that the kilogramme of silver shall always be worth 200 francs, and shall never be worth more or less, and to those of the same minister indicating the obligation we should be under to remelt the gold coins when the relative value of the two metals should be changed; not to mention those of Cretet upon the fixedness of the nominal value of silver, those of Prieur, upon the same subject; and twenty passages from the documents which served as a preparation for the law of the year 11, and which are all explicitly in the same sense.
But, it is said, did not the legislator of the year 11 exceed his powers? What right could he have to chain us to a silver standard, and to decide that the franc should for ever be the weight of 5 grammes of silver, of nine-tenths fineness, or, which comes to the same thing, of 4½ grammes of fine silver? Here there is a distinction to be drawn: if it be meant that at the time when the two metals presented the same fixedness of value, and when there was no reason to believe in the approaching depreciation of the one more than the other, it would have been perfectly legitimate and correct, in the point of view of strict probity, to change the standard, and to invest with that dignity gold instead of silver, then nothing could be advanced more consistent with truth. Only that it would have been very like changing for the sake of change, for it is by no means proved, in the judgment of those who have reflected on these matters, that in a general sense, and taking all the circumstances and qualifications into account, gold may not have better claims than silver to be invested with the functions of the monetary standard. I know more than one good judge who is of an opposite opinion. It would have been possible, in thus changing the monetary unit from silver to gold, to preserve the relation established between this unity and the metrical system: to this end it would have sufficed to have adopted for the monetary unit the gramme of gold, of nine-tenths fineness, or 5 grammes, or even 10 grammes. On these terms, and under these conditions, the change in the standard might have been justified; it would have been effected in the spirit which animated the legislator of the year 11, continuing the most honourable and judicious traditions of the French Eevolution. It would not have contravened the engagements in the preamble of the law of the year 11, which invokes the execution of transactions and the preservation of property. But it would be another thing to alter the standard, and transfer that attribute to gold, at the very moment when it is impaired in value and launched in a movement of depreciation. It were vain to dissimulate, under such circumstances, that the real motive for the change consists precisely in that depreciation in near perspective, by which the State would benefit illegitimately at the expense of its creditors, and which deserves to be severely characterised.
Doubtless, the legislator of the year 11 has bound us, but wherefore? What is the servitude which he has imposed on us; what more than that which all honest people accept, of paying exactly their debts, and of fulfilling faithfully their promises? Yes, thus far, the legislator of the year 11 controlled our liberty; but in so doing he did not exceed his powers. If he did dispose of us, it was by the same right as that by virtue of which he defined all the conservative laws of property. He also disposed of us, and restricted our liberty when he enacted that the State should pay at certain intervals, and without deduction, the interest of the public debt, when he laid down the principle that the State should not deprive the humblest citizen of his field, otherwise than paying him its full value, and until after the expropriation should have been proved by solemn forms to be necessary for the public interest; he disposed of us and fettered our liberties when he inscribed in the code the means of coercing the debtor who, being indebted 100 francs, should pretend to acquit himself by the payment of 50 or 75. Who has ever discovered that when these bonds were forged by the legislator he exceeded his powers? Such a servitude as this, instead of being repudiated by a free people, is the very yoke which they are proud of bearing. Let us mistrust the liberty which would consist in releasing us from the engagement by virtue of which the franc, under present circumstances, ought not to be anything but 5 grammes of nine-tenths fineness, or else the quantity of gold which is freely exchanged in the market for that quantity of silver. In this pretended liberty there is nothing to be seen but false money, and State bankruptcy.
England may be regarded as having effected in 1816 the delicate operation of the alteration of the standard. She then substituted the standard of gold, frankly avowed, for the standard of silver which had been expressly chosen in ancient times, but of which the titles had become somewhat obscured in people's minds, without, however, being quite forgotten. At that time, the men who exercised the greatest influence on the government and on public opinion, allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the advantage which gold possesses of being more portable than silver. They thought also that gold fulfilled better, or at least less imperfectly than silver, the important condition of fixedness of value. In that, they probably deceived themselves, and if at the present time the most competent judges in such matters in England were consulted, a great number would pronounce themselves in an opposite sense. But it is essential to add that in 1816 there was nothing which warranted the expectation that the relation of gold and silver would be modified. It was still less probable that, if a change did occur, it would consist in a fall in the value of gold. The fact is, that the relation between the two metals underwent in the succeeding years a very slight modification, which was maintained until 1848 or 1849, but it was in the direction of a rise of gold relatively to silver, and not of its depreciation.
It may be here remarked that, at the time in question, England was in a position to make a free choiee on the subject of a monetary system, inasmuch as, for about twenty years previously, she had been under the regime of paper money, owing to the suspension of payments in specie by the Bank, which dated from the month of February, 1797.
It is still more important to observe, if history is, as I believe it to be, warranted in saying that in 1816, England altered the monetary standard and substituted gold for silver, which previous to the period of paper money performed this part, it should also add that the British legislator of 1816 by no means thought that he was performing an act of so wide a bearing, but on the contrary he believed himself to be remaining faithful to ancient traditions. In fact, throughout this affair, parliament followed almost blindly the ideas and opinions which Lord Liverpool had developed in his Treatise on the Coins of the Realm, written in 1805, a work which is a sort of public document, for it appeared in the form of a letter to the king. This statesman, in opposition to other authorities, older and, if I may be allowed to say so, more versed than he in such matters, maintained in his treatise the opinion that silver had for a long time ceased to be the monetary standard in England, and that, consequently, the British legislature was perfectly free to choose between gold and silver.
Whatever may be the case in England, the idea of altering the standard in France, in these later times, finds determined partisans. I regret to have to cite among the writers who have espoused this view, M. E. Levasseur, one of the young men whose career has been marked with great distinction. The sagacity of which he has already given such repeated proofs, in the collection and verification of facts, would not allow M. Levasseur to deceive himself on the real character of the legislation of the year 11. He does not deny that the intention of the legislature at that time was to have one sole standard, and to confer that attribute upon silver. He regrets that in 1848 and 1849, at the origin of the working of the mines of California, a more decided stand was not taken against gold. But in the state to which matters have now arrived, he considers that the simplest and best course is to bow to the authority of what he believes to be accomplished facts, and to consider gold as having taken by main force the place of silver, a place which it must of necessity be left to occupy, without troubling ourselves to inquire whether it has been usurped or not.** In a word, he would here apply the doctrines of the fatalist school, which is so easily resigned to accept that which morality would urge us to reject, under the pretext that destiny has pronounced its judgment. Nevertheless, it does not seem to me that we are yet reduced to quite so much philosophy; it seems to be still possible to keep each in its proper place, to the great honour of principles, and to the great satisfaction of a multitude of respectable interests. There is much silver money still remaining in France, sufficient to compose, with bank notes, and with gold itself, which it is not intended to proscribe, an instrument of exchange quite efficacious, and very firmly established, in conformity with the idea which animated the legislation of the year 11.
There are plenty of selfish interests, plenty of minds which from levity, presumption, or unscrupulousness, are in constant coalition against the right, which is a sufficient motive why those who are guided by reason and tbe public interest, should defend sound principles when they are in danger. One of the titles by which science recommends itself most, is that it keeps constantly unfurled the banner of principle, which it never deserts; and it must not be found sanctioning those infractions and violations of principle to which politicians, for their convenience or repose, or the success of their combinations, are always inclined.
The argument which appears to have seduced M. Levasseur, is that the entire effect to be apprehended from the new mines is already produced, the dreaded perturbation already consummated; to use his own words, if we were to take the necessary steps for maintaining the silver standard, “we should not avert a revolution already effected, but only make a counter-revolution,” M. Levasseur has here fallen into a grave error: we are very far from the time when the full effects of the new gold mines will have been accomplished. It is even remarkable that up to this time the fall in gold, as compared with silver, has been hardly perceptible. In this, the predictions which would have been thought the most justifiable have for the moment failed, and this theory seems to have suffered a defeat; but the circumstances of the case have admitted of explanation.
M. Levasseur's mode of arguing has, if I mistake not, a great defect; it tends, in fact, assuredly against his own intentions, to sanction a practice deserving of condemnation. It would furnish a specious pretext for the successive degradation of the coinage in the following manner: whenever, by the inattention or negligence of the government, the coins in circulation should not have been gradually renewed by recoinage, so as to furnish a circulating medium which had always the full legal weight, it would be possible, by applying the reasoning of M. Levasseur, to pretend that it is warrantable to proceed to a new coinage of lighter pieces, that is to say, by the reproduction not of the primitive type, but only of the mean weight of the pieces in actual circulation. It is not thus that, in the country where the monetary system has preserved the strictest relations with the principles of honesty, statesmen and philosophers have reasoned, men to whose influence is due the testimony of respect for the rights of property and the security of transactions: it is not thus that reasoned, under William III., the illustrious Chancellor of the Exchequer, Montague, and the eminent thinker Locke, in whose footsteps the parliament felt bound in honour to march.
It must be plainly said that the proposal to adopt the gold standard at the present time in France, is opposed to the best established views upon the essence of money. An English writer, whom I have already had occasion to cite, Mr. J. Maclaren, has in a very recent publication maintained, with reason, that gold has to some extent forfeited its claim to the quality of a standard. “The institution of a measure of value, by which the distribution of the property of the society can be regulated, is, confessedly, a necessity in a civilised community; men must have such a measure by which to arrange their transactions. Again, every one would allow that the chief point to be attended to, in the choice of this measure, should be invariabinty; and it would seem to follow, as a matter of course, that when the commodity chosen for this purpose had lost a portion of the quality v, hich originally fitted it for its office, another commodity, if any one could be found, possessing the requisite qualities in a superior degree, should be at once substituted for it before any change in the distribution of the property of the society had taken place; and this seems so plain that it is almost a waste of time to state it,” ** From hence Mr. Maclaren concludes that it is now the duty of parliament to return from a gold to a silver standard. I do not undertake to say that parliament will yield to the suggestions of Mr. Maclaren, though he has furnished very good arguments in their favour; but, assuredly, his reasoning condemns, in toto, the proposition which would at this juncture tend to induce France to adopt a gold in lieu of a silver standard.
In the commission appointed in France in 1857, this proposition had nevertheless an advocate, and it was in the person of one not the least considerable of its members. But the system of this eminent functionary is unsound from its very foundation. In fact, according to him, the law of the year 11, instead of resolving in favour of silver the question of a single standard, would admit the system of a double standard. The sole response to be made to such an assertion is by appealing from the author to himself better informed. It is only necessary to beg him to read attentively the law of the year 11, and if the wording and arrangement of the law leave him in any doubt, to cast an eye upon the expos6 des motifs.
To the preceding considerations, and which appear to me of more than sufficient weight to incline the balance in favour of an immediate intervention of the legislature, with a view of guaranteeing our monetary system from the dangers which menance it (the system as defined and understood by the law of the year 11), other reasons might be added, especially those which appear of a minor order to certain minds who believe themselves more practical and shrewd than their neighbours, because they exclude from their politics all honourable regard for great thoughts and great principles. At the present time there may be observed among the civilised nations a certain movement in favour of the adoption of a uniform system of weights and measures, which would inevitably be the metrical system of France. Several States in both hemispheres have officially given in their adhesion to it; and the idea is gaining ground, noiselessly and slowly it is true, among the great nations of the world, in England, Germany, and the United States. It will, perhaps, be remembered that at the conclusion of the Universal Exposition of 1855, all the commissioners, and all the juries then present in Paris signed a declaration which called the attention of government to the utility and great convenience of a general convention for this object, and an international association was formed for the purpose.** Such innovations as these, if they do not resolve themselves into a profit measurable in shillings and pence, are yet not without their price. It seems also that France, which took the initiative in the metrical system, and which called on all the nations to concur in its adoption, as it was afterwards in the free exercise of her reason and for the common interest adopted by herself, should be the last country from whom should be expected any acts calculated to weaken or thwart the tendency to imitate her example. If so, it is not superfluous to add that in abandoning the silver standard, and substituting one of gold, according to the process recommended,—which would consist in enacting that henceforth the monetary unit should be the twentieth part of the actual pieces of gold of 20 francs,—we should make a breach in the metrical system, we should destroy the prestige which it enjoys among the civilised nations, so as to render impossible its universal adoption, which might otherwise be very probable. In fact, the franc, such as it is at this time, forms an integral part of the metrical system. Until the year 11, inclusive, the legislature of France, of 1789, attached the greatest importance to its remaining so, and its intention has, down to our day, been religiously respected. Now, would not the franc be banished from the metrical system, if it were henceforth understood that the monetary unit is the twentieth part of the quantity of the precious metal contained in the pieces of gold of 20 francs?*
[*]The views of M. Levasseur are given in a very interesting volume, entitled, Question de l'Or; Book IT., Chap. IX.
[*]" A Sketch of the History of the Currency,” comprising a brief reTiow of the opinions of the most eminent writers on this subject, page 358.
[*]The most remarkable manifestation which resulted from this fact has emanated from the English committee, which formed part of the International Association. In a series of publications, this committee, after having maturely considered the subject, has declared that a decimal system of weights and measures, Of which the units shall be allied to each other by decimal relations, is for the interest of the public, and that the best basis to give to the whole-system is the metre, such as was determined by the International Commission under the French Republic. I wish to draw the attention of enlightened men to the last of these publications, entitled, What is the best Unit of Length? It is from the pen of Mr. James Tates, one of the vice-presidents of the International Association, and one of the men who in the two hemispheres have devoted most labour to the task of spreading the fruitful idea of a uniform system of weights and measures for the whole civilised world.
[*]Instead of weighing exactly 5 grammes, the franc would have a weight represented by an indefinite fractional number (0 gramme 32258, &c.) 14