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Congress,” says he, “had now become a very small body, and the members very remiss in their attendance on its duties, insomuch that a majority of the states, necessary by the Confederation to constitute a house, even for minor business, did not assemble until the 13th of December.
In this body, Mr. Jefferson, as was to be expected, took a prominent station, and became, at once, engaged in all the principal measures that occupied the publick attention. Among other services rendered by him, was that of establishing a standard of value for the country, and the adoption of a money unit. “They,” (Congress,) says Mr. Jefferson, “as early as January 7, 1782, had turned their attention to the moneys current in the several states, and had directed the Financier, Robert Morris, to report to them a table of rates, at which the foreign coins should be received at the treasury. That officer, or rather his assistant, Gouverneur Morris, answered them on the 15th, in an able and elaborate statement of the denominations of money current in the several states, and of the comparative value of the foreign coins chiefly in circulation with us. He went into the consideration of the necessity of establishing a standard of value with us, and of the adoption of a money unit. He proposed for that unit, such a fraction pure
silver as would be a common measure of the penny of every state, without leaving a fraction. This common divisor he found to be tato of a dollar, or Töbo of the crown sterling. The value of a dollar was, therefore, to be expressed by 1440 units, and of a crown by 1600; each unit containing a quarter of a grain of fine silver. Congress turning again their attention to
this subject the following year, the Financier, by & letter of April 30, 1783, further explained and urged the unit he had proposed, but nothing more was done on it until the ensuing year, when it was again taken up, and referred to a committee, of which I was a member. The general views of the Financier were sound, and the principle was ingenious on which he proposed to found his unit; but it was too minute for ordinary use, too laborious for computation, either by the head or in figures. The price of a loaf of bread, to of a dollar, would be 72 units. A pound of butter, i of a dollar, 288 units. A horse, or bullock, of eighty dollars' value, would require a notation of six figures, to wit, 115,200 ; and the publick debt, suppose of eighty millions, would require twelve figures, to wit, 115,200,000,000 units. Such a system of moneyarithmetick would be entirely unmanageable for the common purposes of society. I proposed, therefore, instead of this, to adopt the dollar as our unit of account and payment, and that its divisions and subdivisions should be in the decimal ratio. I wrote some notes on the subject, which I subinitted to the consideration of the Financier. I received his answer, and adherence to his general system, only agreeing to take for his unit one hundred of those he first proposed, so that a dollar should be 144000, and a crown 16 units. I replied to this, and printed my Notes and Reply on a flying sheet, which I put into the hands of the members of Congress for consideration, and the committee agreed to report on my principle. This was adopted the ensuing year, and is the system which now prevails. The division into dimes, cents, and mills, is now so well understood, that it would be easy
of introduction into the kindred branches of weights and measures. I use, when I travel, an Odometer of Clarke's invention, which divides the mile into cents, and I find every one comprehends a distance readily, when stated to him in miles and cents; so he would in feet and cents, pounds and cents, &c."
I will again extract, from the memoirs of Mr. Jefferson, what follows below, for the sake of introducing a practical anecdote from Dr. Franklin :
• The remissness of Congress, and their permanent session, began to be a subject of uneasiness; and even some of the legislatures had recommended to them intermissions, and periodical sessions. As the Confederation had made no provision for a visible head of the government during vacations of Congress, and such a one was necessary to superintend the executive business, to receive and communicate with foreign ministers and nations, and to assemble Congress on sudden and extraordinary emergencies, I proposed, early in April, the appointment of a committee to be called the "Committee of the States," to consist of a member from each state, who should remain in session during the recess of Congress; that the functions of Congress should be divided into executive and legislative, the latter to be reserved, and the former, by a general resolution, to be delegated to that committee. This proposition was afterwards agreed to; a committee appointed, who afterwards entered on duty on the subsequent adjournment of Congress, quarrelled very soon, split into two parties, abandoned their post, and left the gavernment without any visible head, until the next meeting of Congress. We have since seen the same thing take place in the Directory of France; and I believe it will for ever take place in any Executive consisting of a plurality. Our plan best, I believe, combines wisdom and practicability, by providing a plurality of counsellors, but a sińgle arbiter for ultimate decision. I was in France when we heard of this schism and separation of our committee, and speaking with Dr. Franklin of this singular disposition of men to quarrel, and divide into parties, he gave his sentiments, as usual, by way of apologue. He mentioned the Eddystone lighthouse, in the British channel, as being built on a rock, in the mid-channel, totally inaccessible in winter, from the boisterous character of that sea, in that season; that, therefore, for the two keepers, and there are only two, employed to keep up the lights, all provisions for the winter were necessarily carried to them in autumn, as they could never be visited again till the return of the milder season ; that on the first practicable day in the spring, a boat puts off to them with fresh supplies. The boatmen met at the door one of the keepers, and accosted him with a · How goes it, friend ? • Very well.' 'How is your companion ? «I do not know.' · Don't know ?-is he not here? I can't tell.' Have you not seen him to-day ?! No.' · When did
you · Not since last fall.' You have killed him. • Not I, indeed.' They were about to lay hold of him, as having certainly murdered his companion ; but he desired them to go up stairs and examine for themselves. They went up, and there found the other keeper. They had quarrelled, it seems, soon after being left there, had divided into two parties, assigned the
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cares below to one, and those above to the other, and had never spoken to, or seen, one another since.”
The following advice is good, and even at the present day is not totally inapplicable: “Our body was little numerous, but very contentious. Day after day was wasted on the most unimportant questions. A member, one of those afflicted with the morbid rage of debate, of an ardent mind, prompt imagination, and copious flow of words, who heard with impatience any logick which was not his own, sitting near me on some occasion of a trifling but wordy debate, asked me how I could sit in silence, hearing so much false reasoning which a word should refute? I observed to him, that to refute indeed was easy, but to silence impossible; that in measures brought forward by myself, I took the labouring oar, as was incuinbent on me; but that in general, I was willing to listen; that if every sound argument or objection was used by some one or other of the numerous debaters, it was enough; if not, I thought it sufficient to suggest the omission, without going into a repetition of what had been already said by others: that this was a waste and abuse of the time and patience of the house, which could not be justified. And I believe, that if the members of deliberative bodies were to observe this course generally, they would do in a day, what takes them a week; and it is really more questionable, than may at first be thought, whether Bonaparte's dumb legislature, which said nothing, and did much, may not be preferable to one which talks much, and does nothing. I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia, before the revolution, and during it, with Dr. Franklin in Can..