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The New Currency Act; The Nomination of the President;
The Precedents for the Porto Rico Bill.
OMMENTATORS upon the new Currency Act of last
March proclaim that measure to be the culmination of a movement covering nearly forty years. In fact, in its leading provision, the adoption of the gold standard, the act stands for a definitive victory of forces which from small beginnings have grown to overwhelming strength sufficient to sway the political party to whose initiative and later faltering policy the country largely owes the many difficulties and uncertainties this act is aimed to remove. The act itself contains a reminder of these uncertainties and political catch words in providing that all money issued or coined by the United States shall be maintained at a "parity of value" with the newly established gold standard, a well sounding expression that has played such a prominent part in the political platforms and the monetary legislation of recent years, and which the country might feel justified in boldly interpreting to mean that all "dollars” are exchangeable for gold at the Treasury. The Public Credit Act of 1869 and the Sherman Act of 1890 had similarly provided for a "parity" of the various dollars, but, as our financial history shows, these expressions of good intentions did not permanently strengthen the government's credit, as the Resumption Act of 1875 did, which added to the good intentions of its framers certain provisions for reducing the government's floating debt.
Until we have on our statute books some provision for redeeming and cancelling these demand obligations, partly the inheritance of the Civil War, partly the reminder of our experiments with silver, no currency law can be called definitive.
The recent law, however, does take one welcome step in this direction by providing for the withdrawal of the Treasury Notes of 1890, which, by general agreement, have proved themselves a more objectionable form of currency than either silver certificates or greenbacks. Some $85,000,000 of these are still outstanding, and will slowly be exchanged for silver certificates. The act is commendable in presenting a definite plan for the constituent parts of our currency. The policy of the first Cleveland administration, expressed in legislation in 1886, is followed, and silver certificates are relegated to the smallest denominations. One and two dollar bills will shortly be exclusively silver certificates; the movement to supersede small denomination greenbacks with them, which has been going on for fifteen years, will be hastened, and eventually greenbacks will be circulating in denominations of ten dollars and above. These two forms of government notes divide the field between themselves, and in a way most satisfactory, provided they are to remain parts of our currency system. But the national bank notes, as heretofore, are given no field to exploit, and are even handicapped in finding a place of usefulness by a provision limiting their amount in five dollar denominations to one-third the total issue.
From the very outset of our national banking system, our paper money and silver policies have seriously interfered with the issue of the banknotes which it was one of the leading aims of the system to encourage. And now, on the one hand, we propose to continue indefinitely the circulation of government notes, and, on the other hand, we are making every effort to infuse life into banknote currency with amendments to our national banking system, the effects of which must inevitably fall short of our expectations, and which are objectionable in other directions. The reduction of the minimum capital required to $25,000 may furnish some relief especially to the agricultural sections. Of the proposed new banks a majority, as regards proposed capitalization, will have capitals of $25,000
each. And these will be found most numerously in the farming States. However, it is noticeable how few applications for new banks come from the Southern States other than Texas. Moreover, it is still a question whether a $25,000 bank is a desirable financial institution in view of the difficulty of doing a sufficiently large business to command the services of a competent banker. As to the provision regarding the issue of banknotes up to the par value of the bonds deposited, and as to the reduced tax upon banknotes, these can be but temporary expedients, the value of which, doubtful at present, must inevitably decline in time. As regards that part of the banking problem which is concerned with the note issue function, the present law offers no solution. It offers some inducement to the expansion of banknote issues, but it does not in the least add to the flexibility of our present national banknotes, the want of which has been so generally understood, and means of securing which have been so frequently suggested in the bank discussions of the past
The problem is not yet solved. The former difficulties in the banking system will necessarily re-appear. They have only been set aside for the time being, and at the cost of the government's control of its bonded indebtedness. By refunding the national bonds we may some day find that we have dearly paid for a mere palliative to the ills of the national banks.
In one particular the new Currency Act will prove a great boon to the student of our national finances. To it and to the efficient officers of the Treasury Department we owe a change in the monthly statement of the government cash balance, which is now a model of its kind. The cash assets of the government are now stated under five heads: the new $150,000,000 fund, the trust fund, the general fund, deposits with national banks, and sums in the hands of disbursing officers. Besides providing $150,000,000 specifically for the redemption of greenbacks and treasury notes of 1890—until the latter are retired—this arrangement sets aside the gold and silver held for the redemption of gold and silver certificates in a trust fund, which also contains the silver dollars and bullion—the latter at cost price—held for the redemption of the Treasury Notes of 1890, and also the greenbacks held for the currency certificates till these are finally retired.