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mocracies of ancient Greece—the disjointed, venak Romans—the aristocracies of Venice and Genoa, and others of modern times—the ephemeral republick of France—the southern part of our own continent in its present awful convulsions—do we not perceive that we have a natural character distinct from all of them 2 Here it would be impossible for a Julius Cæsar to array a military force against the liberties of his country; it would be unnecessary to expel an Aristides by ostracism. We adhere to the letter of the constitution; it is the safest rule. No publick instrument ever was so cautiously, so accurately framed. There is in it nothing superfluous, nothing defective. The letter is itself the spirit of it. “Mr. Jefferson had scarcely entered on the duties of his office, when Congress referred to him a subject whose nature and importance called for the exercise of a mature judgement, while its intricacy was such, as to require in the investigation more than ordinary scientifick knowledge. They directed him to prepare and report a plan for establishing a uniform system of currency, weights and measures. This was a subject, admitted on all hands, which demanded very se. rious attention. It had already attracted the notice of the most enlightened European nations; and a partial experiment in one branch, that of the publick currency, had been received throughout the United States with general approbation and unexpected success— The established system of weights and measures was alike inconvenient and absurd. In the ages of feudal ignorance, when the sallies of passion, the dictates of unrestrained ambition, or the gratification of each
| changing caprice, were all that a monarch asked as the foundation of his laws, it was at least not inconsistent, that the length of his arm or foot should regulate the measures of the nation. But the necessities of modern commercial intercourse, seem to demand a scale more certain and convenient; while the improvements of modern science offered standards of unerring correctness and uniformity. The first object that presents itself in such an inquiry, is the discovery of some measure of invariable length. For this purpose, Mr. Jefferson proposed to select a pendulum vibrating seconds; and, after answering the various objections which may be made to such a standard, he submits to Congress two alternative plans for its adoption. By the first he proposes, that if, in the opinion of Congress, the difficulty of changing the established habits of the nation, renders it expedient to retain the present weights and measures, yet that they should be rendered uniform and invariable, by bringing them to the same invariable standard. With this view, he enters minutely into the details of the present system, its history, the remarkable coincidence to be discovered in some of its varieties, its useless inconsistencies, and the extreme ease, and trifling variation, with which it may be rendered uniform and stable.” In the second alternative he proceeds to say, “If it be thought that either now or at any future time, the citizens of the United States may be induced to undertake a thorough reformation of the whole system of measures, weights, and coins, reducing every branch to the same decimal ratio already established in their coins, and thus bringing the calculation of the principal affairs of life within the arithmetick of every man who can multiply and divide plain numbers, greater changes will be necessary.” These changes he points out briefly and distinctly, as being such as are easy of introduction, and useful both to the citizens of our own and foreign countries. “A gradual introduction,” he concludes, “would lessen the inconveniences which might attend too sudden a substitution, even of an easier for a more difficult system. After a given term, for instance, it might begin in the custom-houses, where the merchants would become familiarized with it. After a further term, it might be introduced into all legal proceedings; and merchants and traders in foreign commodities might be required to use it in their dealings with one another. After a still further term, all other descriptions of people might receive it into common use. Too long a postponement, on the other hand, would increase the difficulties of its reception with the increase of our population.” * Notwithstanding this able report of Mr. Jefferson, the system recommended by him was not adopted; and there has as yet been no change in the existing laws. But it is to be hoped, that the views of Mr. Jefferson will not be lost sight of among his countrymen, and that an important improvement will not be relinquished from a fear that their habits are so firmly fixed as to preclude its introduction. “On the 18th of January, 1791, Mr. Jefferson made a report, as Secretary of State, on the subject of tunnage duties payable by France. Very soon after the meeting of the first Congress, the same subject had
been discussed in that body with considerable animation, and an act had passed the House of Representatives, embracing a discrimination in these duties highly favourable to France. The principle thus adopted, coincided with the general sentiments of the nation, and appeared to be called for, not by this circumstance only, but by the strongest dictates of national gratitude, as well as those of sound policy. This discrimination was rejected, however, by the Senate, and the House of Representatives were obliged, reluctantly, to yield. What it was thus deemed inexpedient to grant, even as a matter of favour or policy, the French government demanded as a right under the treaty of amity and commerce of 1778. The demand was referred to Mr. Jef. ferson, by the President, and elicited from him the able report to which we have alluded. In this he clearly proved, that the article of the treaty on which the French government founded their claim, was evidently meant to extend no further than to the exemption of the United States from a duty from which other favoured nations were also exempted, and that, in return, France could claim of our government no greater advantages than favoured nations also received of us. That if the article in question had a more extended relation, it applied reciprocally to each government, and would lead to the mutual abolition of duties highly useful to both, and to consequences in which it was hardly conceivable that either party could see its interest. But he appears to incline to the opinion, that if France persisted in claiming this exemption, there were extrinsick causes which might justify, and even render advisable, some relaxation
in her favour; not on the grounds on which it was demanded, but from the effect it would have on the finances, revenue, and commerce of our own country. This report the President immediately submitted to the Senate of the United States. To aid in the management of the national finances, the Secretary of the Treasury had previously recommended the establishment of a bank; and in February, 1791, an act passed for that purpose. The preamble disclosed the principal reasons for its adoption, declaring “that it would be conducive to the successful conducting of the national finances, give facility to the obtaining of loans for the use of the government in sudden emergencies,” and would also be “productive of considerable advantage to trade and industry in general.” The capital stock of the bank was ten millions of dollars; two millions to be subscribed for the benefit of the United States, and the residue by individuals. One fourth of the sums subscribed by individuals was to be paid in gold and silver, and three fourths in the publick debt. By the act of incorporation, it was to be a bank of discount as well as deposite, and its bills, which were payable in gold and silver on demand, were made receivable in all payments to the United States. The bank was located at Philadelphia, with power in the directors to establish offices of discount and deposite only, whereever they should think fit within the United States. The duration of the charter was limited to the fourth of March, 1811; and the faith of the United States was pledged, that during that period no other bank should be established under their authority.