Imágenes de páginas

present vast expenditure possible, and that supply loans and revenues unprecedented in the history of nations.

The premium on gold, and the unexpectedly high point to which it has attained, are striking and impressive facts, which have been construed by the public at home and abroad as indicative of the financial weakness of the United States. The history of the price of gold, it is generally assumed, has been uniform; a high price has almost invariably signified commercial exhaustion and dependence. It has been taken as the measure of real weakness, though in some cases military power or stringent legislation has prevented the transfers of wealth which its price would create if commerce had been free, and the enfeebled nation has ultimately gained strength again sufficient to restore its commercial and financial equality with others. It is necessary to inquire, therefore, whether the high price of gold in the United States, continued now more than two years, is an instance corresponding to previous cases of high price of gold in Europe, and whether it signifies a depreciation or destruction of values in the United States equivalent to the premium it bears. It is asserted with great positiveness, that the price of gold does signify the depreciation of values as expressed in the usual terms; that the dollar of account is no longer a dollar in real value, but is reduced to forty cents only, when gold is at 250 in currency. All fixed property in lands, houses, and estates is proportionately depreciated, it is said; and movable property, whether for use and consumption at home, or for export and exchange abroad, is to be reduced in the same proportion from the nominal value it bears.

Before undertaking an analysis of the relation the price of gold now bears to commercial exchanges, a word should be said on its relation to fixed or real property. The real estate of the United States is of such vast magnitude, and has such permanence of productive value in the occupancy and uses of a great people, that the point is almost settled by the mere statement; it is not, and cannot be, subject to the absurd changes which have marked the price of gold. Very slight changes have occurred in the usual business valuations of lands, buildings, and all fixed property, in city or country; changes less in amount, indeed, than have frequently taken place in ordinary

periods of the same extent. Farms or city properties, for example, worth $20,000 each in 1860, have not risen to $56,800 in paper currency, nor fallen to $7,150 in gold, when the speculative premium was carried up to 280. The dollar of account is still a dollar in actual value for all the greater purposes of business in the country. People buy, sell, and affix values by it now as before. Indeed, as to fixed property, little or no argument is necessary to assure its holder that his ten thousand dollars' worth of four years ago has not fallen to four thousand dollars' worth, because the nominal price has remained the same; but it is necessary to urge that the same plain principles be fairly applied to our business in general merchandise, and to exchanges with foreign countries.

The claim made here is, that the full premium on gold is not now due in fact, and has not at any time been due, to natural and unavoidable business causes. It is not a result of the commercial and financial condition of the nation,-a condition bringing with it a general depreciation of all values and all property, or an inflation of the currency price affixed to them, signifying the same thing. It is an anomaly, a circumstance altogether different from the apparently similar circumstances in the history of other nations; and is neither a measure of our inherent strength, nor of our relation to the world at large. The mode in which our external commerce is conducted, and the imperfect statements of facts in regard to it, do seem to imply commercial dependence and subordination as the existing condition; yet this appearance is to a great extent deceptive and unreal. There is no drain to pay commercial indebtedness that is not easily met by the proceeds of commercial shipments; and, in fact, the shipment outward precedes the shipment inward, and the credits are produced before they are required in use. There is no drain to reimburse loans taken abroad and now falling due, and no dependence for loans yet to be taken there. There is no general adjustment of accounts going on, which calls for heavy remittances to pay balances accrued against us. Yet with all this there are very large exchages constantly conducted, and great quantities of gold have, within two years past, been driven to deposit in England by the piracies which have endangered our shipping between VOL. C. NO. 206.


the Isthmus and our commercial cities of the East. If, therefore, this increased price of gold does not represent debt held and in process of payment abroad, nor any other form of public or private monetary dependence or exhaustion, to be adjusted only by payment of coin to such extent as to double the value of gold as compared with the dollar of account maintained by law, this price is an anomaly, for which some other explanation or solution must be sought.

Such are the terms in which the general positions here taken are stated, in order to be definite and concise, and without intending to assume undue positiveness. It is not supposed that the concurrence of the majority of those best able by their knowledge of facts, or most competent otherwise to judge, can be secured in these assumed positions without admitting important qualifications; yet the extreme pressure of adverse opinion abroad appears to require the strongest counteracting statements that are justified by the facts. The experience of the past three years has shown that, in some important departments, the public judgment has greatly undervalued the resources, the capacity, and the endurance of the people of the loyal States. It is already apparent that the rules heretofore held to control the finances of nations are inadequate to measure the recorded events of our recent history.

With sufficient space to record, both in summary and in detail, the quantities and values of articles of internal and of foreign exchange produced and sold to consumers, the best mode of treatment of the whole question of resources would be through such full statistics; but it is necessary to limit this form of illustration to the use of annual aggregations only. Even in this condensed form, the simple facts of our commercial condition and foreign exchanges for the past ten years will perhaps do more, through mere statement and comparison, than can otherwise be done to illustrate the real character of the gold movement, and to throw light on all its relations, at the same time that they serve the principal purpose of this paper in showing what the resources of the country are.

Previous to July, 1862, there was no premium of consequence on gold, and no possibility therefore that the prices then prevailing were unduly enhanced. The aggregate values annually

exchanged with foreign countries are, therefore, up to that time, true representatives of the financial relation of the United States to Europe; and this is decisively proved by the large importation of specie drawn from England in 1861 and 1862. To show that no recent occasion of exhausting drain had occurred when the present disturbed period began, the comparison is carried back to the fiscal year 1854-55, in the following statement of total exports, imports, and balances in foreign trade.

[blocks in formation]

There are several important points to be considered which affect these aggregates, that first in order being the deficiency of the export account. It has long been known that, from the absence of penalty for deficient or untrue outward invoices, or of especial necessity, from any cause, requiring the record of the export manifests to be complete and full, there has been more or less of failure either to clear outward shipments of domestic produce, or to secure the record of such clearances when the ship obtains its general clearance and leaves the port. The deficiency at the port of New York on this account is estimated by officers most competent to judge at one fourth the total of outward shipments of domestic produce annually. Taking the deficiency at one sixth only, it amounts, at the port of New York alone, for the fiscal year 1863-64, to $35,200,000.

On the other hand, the reported imports, though more rigidly and closely valued, undoubtedly are always short, not only of the true valuation when entered, but still more deficient in the valuation they should have as one side of the com

mercial exchanges. The increase over the invoice price at which they are entered, resulting from transportation across the Atlantic, and the advance properly charged on them on arrival by the importer, add twenty per cent to the recorded aggregate values at the point and time of actual exchange. A portion of this is profit falling wholly to citizens and capital of the United States, while a portion remains attached to the original foreign ownership. Taken together, the corrections due to undervaluation nearly balance each other, probably giving a few millions of preponderance to the export side.

Again, there is an account of gold and silver coin and bullion exchanged, which largely increases the volume for the ten years of the table, both in imports and exports. Previous to 1857, no report of specie and bullion entering and leaving the ports of England was required by law, and in so far official recognition was given to the claim that they are not merchandise. But with the large surplus of precious metals produced in many countries now, it becomes impossible to deny the commercial character of specie and bullion shipments. The production of gold in California has been far in excess of the requirement for coin, and for all other purposes or uses in the United States, and a steady current outward has been the consequence. In two years, from July 1, 1860, to June 30, 1862, however, the heavy outward shipments of cotton and other produce induced a reversal of the current, under which a sum of $62,750,000 in gold was imported, in the face of undiminished production of the gold mines.

[blocks in formation]

The sums here given for the last two fiscal years embrace

« AnteriorContinuar »