HOW DECIMAL CURRENCY WAS INTRODUCED IN THE UNITED STATES.

washington-rising

 

Monday, August 10, is George Washington Day. Be ready for the whole truth about the Father of His Country. Here is a very short specimen of what you may expect.

Meanwhile the business of creating a government occupied most of the meetings of Congress; and as Congress created the positions, the President was required to nominate men to fill them. Of course Washington could think of only one man to be the Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Hamilton was hardly able to contain his joy at being able to found his own currency.

“We shall base it on tens,” he explained, “which will at a stroke eliminate the difficulties of converting between pounds, shillings, dollars, and all the other coins that jangle in our purses; and we shall have a national currency, so that there will be no complicated formula, as there is now, to convert the coin of New Hampshire to that of North Carolina. As the people are familiar with the name, and as it carries no memories of our oppression by the British, we shall call our coin the dollar, and if—”

“And these dollars,” Washington interrupted—“of what size and weight will they be?”

“The weight, of course, will depend on the value we assign to the United States dollar; as for the size, we shall consult with the men we choose to run our mint, who will be able to tell us how such and so much a weight of silver is best distributed in a coin.”

“These are very important considerations from the point of view of a coin’s projectile properties,” said Washington. “The Spanish milled dollar travels well through the air, and possesses enough heft to carry it to its target without being too much buffeted by the wind. I should hate to see an American dollar without those properties; for men who throw dollars for sport are very particular about the dollars they throw, and might reject our United States dollar if its range and accuracy do not meet their expectations.”

“I am certain you could persuade our mint to take those considerations into account,” said Hamilton. “Now, as I said, multiples of ten will—”

“A milled edge also improves the grip, which for sporting purposes is one of the most important considerations.”

“Yes. The grip. Now, as I was saying, we shall make our dollar divisible into tens, which we might call ‘dimes,’ as being, of course, the tenth part of a dollar. A tenth part of a dime would then be a ‘cent,’ because it is the hundredth part of—”

“I thought you said it was the tenth part.”

“It is the tenth part of a dime, and therefore the hundredth part of a dollar.”

“Why can’t it make up its mind?”

“It is both at the same time!”

“My word! That’s clever.”

“And then the tenth part of a cent would be a mill, bec—”

“Because it is the millionth part of a dollar!”

“No,” Hamilton explained with strained patience, “only the thousandth part.”

“Then why is it called a mill?”

“Because it is—”

“Why not a thou?”

“Because the names come from Latin, or rather—”

“Oh, Latin,” said Washington knowingly. “Well, Latin is another matter altogether.”

Hamilton was about to say something more, but then appeared to realize that he had won as much of a victory as he was likely to win in this discussion, and resumed his earlier topic. “As I was saying, the division into tens will make calculations much easier for ordinary shopkeepers and merchants, who will find their duties lightened considerably.”

“For example,” said Washington, “if I buy a turkey quill at Stimson’s in Alexandria for one bit, which is an eighth of a dollar, then that comes to…now let me see…”

“Twelve and a half cents,” said Susanna.

“Twelve and a half? Well, that doesn’t sound very easy at all. How is that easier than saying ‘one bit,’ Hamilton?”

“It just is!” Hamilton sputtered. “Tens are easier!”

I looked at Susanna, but she had nothing more to say. With Hamilton’s explosion, she had accomplished her goal.