Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: SPECIE PAYMENTS. - The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner, Vol. 2 (1862-1884)
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CHAPTER II.: SPECIE PAYMENTS. - Lysander Spooner, The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner, Vol. 2 (1862-1884) 
The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner, vol. 2 (1862-1884) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
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Although the banks, under this system, make no absolute promise to pay specie on demand, the system nevertheless affords a much better practical guaranty for specie payments, than the old specie paying system (so called); and for these reasons, viz:
1. The banks would be so universally solvent, and so universally known to be solvent, that no runs would ever be made upon them for specie, through fear of their insolvency. They could, therefore, maintain specie payments with much less amounts of specie, than the old specie paying banks (so called) could do.
2. As there would be no fears of the insolvency of the banks, and as the paper would be more convenient than specie for purposes of trade, bills would rarely be presented for redemption—otherwise than in payment of debts due the banks—except in those cases where the holders desired to invest their money; and would therefore prefer a transfer of Productive Stock, to a payment in specie. If they wanted specie for exportation, they would buy it in the market (with the bills), as they would any other commodities for export.* It would, therefore, usually be only when they wanted an investment, and could find none so good as the Productive Stock, that they would return their bills for redemption. And then they would return them, not really for the purpose of having them redeemed with specie, but in the hope of getting a transfer of Productive Stock, and holding it awhile, and drawing interest on it.
3. The banks would probably find it for their interest, as promoting the circulation of their bills, to pay, at all times, such small amounts of specie, as the public convenience might require.
4. If there should be any suspensions of specie payments, they would be only temporary ones, by here and there a bank separately, and not by all the banks simultaneously, as under the so called specie paying system. No general public inconvenience would therefore ever be felt from that cause.
5. If the banks should rarely, or never, pay specie on demand, that fact would bring no discredit upon their bills, and be no obstacle to their circulation at par with specie. It would be known that—unless bad notes had been discounted—all the bills issued by the banks, would be wanted to pay the debts due the banks. This would ordinarily be sufficient, of itself, to keep the bills at par with specie. It would also be known that, if specie were not paid on demand, it would either be paid afterwards, with interest from the time of demand; or Productive Stock, equal in value to specie in the market, would be transferred in redemption of the bills. The bills, therefore, would never depreciate in consequence of specie not being paid on demand; nor would any contraction of the currency ever be occasioned on that account.
For the reasons now given, the system is practically the best specie paying system that was ever invented. That is to say, it would require less specie to work it; and also less to keep its bills always at par with specie. In proportion to the amount of currency it would furnish, it would not require so much as one dollar in specie, where the so called specie paying system would require a hundred. It would also, by immensely increasing our production and exports, do far more than any other system, towards bringing specie into the country, and preventing its exportation.
If it should be charged that the system supplies no specie for exportation; the answer is, that it is really no part of the legitimate business of a bank to furnish specie for exportation. Its legitimate business is simply to furnish credit and currency for home industry and trade. And it can never furnish these constantly, and in adequate amounts, unless it can be freed from the obligation to supply specie on demand for exportation. Specie should, therefore, always be merely an article of merchandise in the market, like any other; and should have no special—or, at least, no important—connection with the business of banking, except as furnishing the measure of value. If a paper currency is made payable in specie, on demand, very little of it can ever be issued, or kept in circulation; and that little will be so irregular and inconstant in amount as to cause continual and irremediable derangements. But if a paper currency, instead of promising to pay specie on demand, promises only an alternative redemption, viz: specie on demand, or specie with interest from the time of demand, or other merchantable property of equal market value with specie—it can then be issued to an amount equal to such property; and yet keep its promises to the letter. It can, therefore, furnish all the credit and currency that can be needed; or at least many times more than the so called specie paying system ever did, or ever can, furnish. And then the interest, industry and trade of a nation will never be disturbed by the exportation of specie. And yet the standard of value will always be maintained.
The difference between the system here proposed, and the so called specie paying system—in respect to their respective capacities for furnishing credit and currency, and at the same time fulfilling their contracts to the letter—is as fifty to one, at the least, in favor of the former; probably much more than that.
Thus under the system now proposed, the real estate and railroads of the United States, at their present values, are capable of furnishing twenty thousand millions ($20,000,000,000) of paper currency; and furnishing it constantly, and without fluctuation, and every dollar of it will have an equal market value with gold. The contracts or certificates comprising it, can always be fulfilled to the letter; that is, the capital itself, (the Productive Stock,) represented by these certificates, can always be delivered, on demand, in redemption of the certificates, if the banks should be unable to redeem in specie.
On the other hand, it would be impossible to have so much as four hundred millions, ($400,000,000)—one fiftieth of the amount before mentioned—of so called specie paying paper currency; that is, a paper promising to pay specie on demand; and constantly able to fulfil its obligations.
It is of no appreciable importance that a paper currency should be payable on demand with specie. It is sufficient, if it be payable according to its terms, if only those terms are convenient and acceptable. For then the value of the currency will be known, and its contracts will be fulfilled to the letter. And when these contracts are fulfilled to the letter, then, to all practical purposes, specie payments are maintained. When, for example, a man promises to pay wheat, either on demand, or at a time specified, and he fulfils that contract to the letter, that, to all practical purposes, is specie payments; as much so as if the promise and payment had been made in coin. It is, therefore, the specific and literal fulfilment of contracts, that constitutes specie payments; and not the particular kind of property that is promised and paid.
The great secret, then, of having an abundant paper currency, and yet maintaining all the while specie payments, consists in having the paper represent property—like real estate, for example—that exists in large amounts, and can always be delivered, on demand, in redemption of the paper; and also in having this paper issued by the persons who actually own the property represented by it, and who can be compelled by law to deliver it in redemption of the paper. And the great secret—if it be a secret—of having only a scanty currency, and of not having specie payments, consists in having the paper issued by a government that cannot fulfil its contracts, and has no intention of fulfilling them; and by banks that are not even required to fulfil them.
It is somewhat remarkable that after ten years experiment, we have not yet learned these apparently self-evident truths.
The palpable fact is that the advocates of the present “National” currency system,—that is, the stockholders in the present “National” banks,—do not wish for specie payments. They wish only to maintain, in their own hands, a monopoly of banking, and, as far as possible also, a monopoly of all business depending upon bank loans. They wish, therefore, to keep the volume of the currency down to its present amount. As an excuse for this, they profess a great desire for specie payments; and at the same time practice the imposture of declaring that specie payments will be impossible, if the amount of the currency be increased.
But all this is sheer falsehood and fraud. It is, of course, impossible to have specie payments, so long as the only currency issued is issued by a government that has nothing to redeem with, and has no intention of redeeming; and by banks that are not even required to redeem. But there is no obstacle to our having twenty times as much currency as we now have, and yet having specie payments—or the literal fulfilment of contracts—if we will but suffer the business of banking to go into the hands of those who have property with which to redeem, and can be compelled by law to redeem.
It is with government paper, and bank paper, as it is with the paper of private persons; that is, it is worth just what can be delivered in redemption of it, and no more. We all understand that the notes of the Astors, and Stewarts, and Vanderbilts, though issued by millions, and tens of millions, are really worth their nominal values. And why? Solely because the makers of them have the property with which to redeem them in full, and can be made to redeem them in full. We also all understand that the notes of Sam Jones, and Jim Smith, and Bill Nokes, though issued for only five dollars, are not worth two cents on the dollar. And why? Solely because they have nothing to pay with; and cannot be made to pay.
Suppose, now, that these notes of Sam Jones, and Jim Smith, and Bill Nokes, for five dollars, were the only currency allowed by law; and that they were worth in the market but two cents on the dollar. And suppose that the few holders of these notes, wishing to make the most of them, at the expense of the rights of everybody else, should keep up a constant howl for specie payments; and should protest against any issue of the notes of the Astors, the Stewarts, and the Vanderbilts, upon the ground that such issue would inflate the currency, and postpone specie payments! What would we think of men capable of uttering such absurdities? Would we in charity to their weakness, call them idiots? or would we in justice to their villainy, denounce them as impostors and cheats of the most transcendent and amazing impudence? And what would we think of the wits of forty millions of people, who could be duped by such preposterous falsehoods?
And yet this is scarcely an exaggerated picture of the fraud that has been practiced upon the people for the last ten years. A few men have secured to themselves the monopoly of a few irredeemable notes; and not wishing to have any competition, either in the business of banking, or in any business depending upon bank loans, they cry out for specie payments; and declare that no solvent or redeemable notes must be put into circulation, in competition with their insolvent and irredeemable ones, lest the currency be inflated, and specie payments be postponed!
And this imposture is likely to be palmed off upon the people in the future, as it has been in the past, if they are such dunces as to permit it to be done.
It is perfectly evident, then, that specie payments—or the literal fulfilment of contracts—does not depend at all upon the amount of paper in circulation as currency; but solely upon the fact whether, on the one hand, it be issued by those who have property with which to redeem it, and can be made to redeem it; or whether, on the other hand, it be issued by those who cannot redeem it, and cannot be made to redeem it.
When the people shall understand these simple, manifest truths, they will soon put an end to the monopoly, extortion, fraud, and tyranny of the existing “National” system.
The “National” system, so called, is, in reality, no national system at all; except in the mere facts that it is called the national system, and was established by the national government. It is, in truth, only a private system; a mere privilege conferred upon a few, to enable them to control prices, property, and labor; and thus to swindle, plunder, and oppress all the rest of the people.
[* ] There would always be a plenty of specie for sale, in the seaports, as merchandise.