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   Chapter 53 1788).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4669

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Financial status.]

[Sidenote: Requisitions.]

The financial condition of the Confederation was throughout deplorable (§ 43). The Revolution imposed upon the country a heavy debt. The accounts of the government were so badly kept that to this day it is impossible to state the amount; but it was probably about thirty millions, with an annual interest charge of about two millions. The necessary expenditure for the support of Congress, of the army on a peace-footing, and of the executive and judicial boards and departments, called for about half a million more. The continental currency had practically been repudiated, and no more could be floated; Congress had no power to lay either direct or indirect taxes; the post-office had an income of about $25,000 a year, all of which was expended upon the service. Hence Congress fell back on requisitions apportioned on the States: one of its principal functions was each year to calculate the amount necessary for the public service, and to call upon the State legislatures for their quota. The total sum required from 1781 to 1788 was about $16,000,000. Of this there had actually been paid during the seven years $3,500,000 in specie, and $2,500,000 in certificates of national indebtedness. The annual cash income of the government was therefore about half a million, which was entirely absorbed by the necessary running expenses of the government, leaving nothing for the payment of interest.

[Sidenote: Morris's administration.]

This condition of virtual bankruptcy might have been avoided had Robert Morris been able to carry out the reforms which he proposed when he became superintendent of finance in 1781. He found the financial administration complicated and corrupt. He attempted to substitute business methods and punctuality of payment. While the war lasted, however, the only financial system possible was to squeeze every source of revenue, and to pay only what could not be avoided. When peace returned, the States would provide no better system. To keep up the credit of the government the first necessity was the prompt payment of interest: the payment of interest required money; money must come from taxes, and the State declined to levy the taxes. In 1784 Morris resigned in despair, and thenceforward a Treasury Board mismanaged the financ

es of the nation.

[Sidenote: Bank of North America.]

May 26, 1781, Congress had taken the important step of chartering the Bank of North America. The United States was to furnish part of the capital, and to make the bank its financial agent. Its notes were to be receivable in the duties and taxes of every State in the Union. Morris asked Jay to get specie from Spain to start the bank. "I am determined," said he, "that the bank shall be well supported until it can support itself, and then it will support us." Its connection with the government practically ceased after the retirement of Morris in 1784, although it remained under a State charter a prosperous and useful institution, and is still in existence, a sound and healthy bank.

[Sidenote: The currency.]

Another financial measure was the attempt to correct the currency. After the end of the war there was found in circulation an extraordinary mixture of gold and silver coins of all nations, especially the Spanish milled dollar, which had been accepted by the Continental Congress as the unit of its issues. All the currency was badly counterfeited, defaced, and clipped. In 1782 the quartermaster-general, Timothy Pickering, who was about to pay out a part of the French subsidy in coin, wrote as follows: "I must trouble you for the necessary apparatus for clipping. 'Tis a shameful business and an unreasonable hardship on a public officer…. A pair of good shears, a couple of punches, and a leaden anvil of two or three pounds weight. Will you inquire how the goldsmiths put in their plugs?" The Confederation, upon Jefferson's report, July 6, 1785, adopted the dollar as its unit, and provided for a decimal ratio; but a few tons of copper cents made up the only national currency put into circulation.

[Sidenote: Foreign loans.]

Towards the end of its existence the Confederation found itself on the brink of a default of interest on debts due to foreign governments and bankers. France in 1783 made a final loan of six hundred thousand francs; and from 1783 to 1788 Dutch bankers were found who had sufficient confidence in the government to advance it $1,600,000 on favorable terms. With the proceeds of these loans the government was able to pay the accumulated interest on the foreign loans, and thus to keep its credit above water in Europe.

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