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Fiat Money Inflation in France

by Andrew Dickson White


The White Collection at the Cornell University library mentioned in many of the following notes is described here:

[1] A paper read before a meeting of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives of both political parties, at Washington, April 12th, and before the Union League Club, at New York, April 13th, 1876, and now (1914) revised and extended.

[2] For proof that the financial situation of France at that time was by no means hopeless, see Storch, "Economie Politique," vol. iv, p. 159.

[3] See Moniteur, sitting of April 10, 1790.

[4] Ibid., sitting of April 15, 1790.

[5] For details of this struggle, see Buchez and Roux, "Histoire Parlementaire de la Revolution FranÌ?aise," vol. iii, pp. 364, 365, 404. For the wild utterances of Marat throughout this whole history, see the full set of his "L'ami du peuple" in the President White Collection of the Cornell University. For Bergasse's pamphlet and a mass of similar publications, see the same collection. For the effect produced by them, see Challamel, "Les FranÌ?ais sous la Revolution"; also De Goncourt, "La Societe FranÌ?aise pendant la Revolution," &c.

For the Report referred to, see Levasseur, "Histoire des classes ouvriès et de l'industrie en France de 1789 ÌÊ 1870," Paris, 1903, vol. i., chap. 6. Levasseur (vol. 1, p. 120), a very strong conservative in such estimates, sets the total value of church property at two thousand millions; other authorities put it as high as twice that sum. See especially Taine, liv. ii, ch. I., who gives the valuation as "about four milliards." Sybel, "Gesch. der Revolutionszeit," gives it as two milliards and Briand, "La separation" &c., agrees with him. See also De Nerve, "Finances FranÌ?aises," vol. ii, pp. 236-240; also Alison, "History of Europe," vol. i.

[6] For striking pictures of this feeling among the younger generation of Frenchmen, see Challamel, "Sur la Revolution," p. 305. For general history of John Law's paper money, see Henri Martin, "Histoire de France"; also Blanqui, "Histoire de l'economie politique," vol. ii, pp. 65-87; also Senior on "Paper Money," sec. iii, Pt. I, also Thiers, "Histoire de Law"; also Levasseur, op. cit. Liv. i., chap. VI. Several specimens of John Law's paper currency are to be found in the White Collection in the Library of Cornell University,--some, numbered with enormous figures.

[7] See Buchez and Roux, "Histoire Parlementaire," vol. v, p. 321, et seq. For an argument to prove that the assignats were, after all, not so well secured as John Law's money, see Storch, "Economie Politique," vol. iv, p. 160.

[8] For specimens of this first issue and of nearly every other issue during the French Revolution, see the extensive collection of originals in the Cornell University Library. For a virtually complete collection of photographic copies, see Dewamin, "Cent ans de numismatique franÌ?aise," vol. i, passim.

[9] See "Addresse de l'Assemblee nationals sur lea emissions _d'assignats_ monnaies," p. 5.

[10] Ibid., p. 10.

[11] For Sarot, see "Lettre de M. Sarot," Paris, April 19, 1790. As to the sermon referred to see Levasseur as above, vol. i, p. 136.

[12] Von Sybel, "History of the French Revolution," vol. i, p. 252; also Levasseur, as above, pp. 137 and following.

[13] For Mirabeau's real opinion on irredeemable paper, see his letter to Cerutti, in a leading article of the "Moniteur"; also "Mèmoires do Mirabeau," vol. vii, pp. 23, 24 and elsewhere. For his pungent remarks above quoted, see Levasseur, ibid., vol. i, p. 118.

[14] See "Moniteur," August 27, 1790.

[15] "Moniteur," August 28, 1790; also Levasseur, as above, pp. 139 _et seq_.

[16] "Par une seule operation, grande, simple, magnifique." See "Moniteur." The whole sounds curiously like the proposals of the "Greenbackers," regarding the American debt, some years since.

[17] "Moniteur," August 29, 1790.

[18] See Lacretelle, "18me Siecle," vol. viii, pp. 84-87; also Thiers and Mignet.

[19] See Hatin, Histoire de la Presse en France, vols. v and vi.

[20] See "Moniteur," Sept. 5, 6 and 20, 1790.

[21] See Levasseur, vol. i, p. 142.

[22] See speech in "Moniteur"; also in Appendix to Thiers' "History of the French Revolution."

[23] See Levassear, "Classes ouvrières," etc., vol. i, p. 149.

[24] See Levasseur, pp. 151 et seq. Various examples of these "confidence bills" are to be seen in the Library of Cornell University.

[25] See Levasseur, vol. i, pp. 155-156.

[26] See Von Sybel, "History of the Revolution," vol. i, p. 265; also Levasseur, as above, vol. i, pp. 152-160.

[27] For Turgot's argument against "fiat money" theory, see A. D. White, "Seven Great Statesmen in the Warfare of Humanity with Unreason," article on Turgot, pp. 169, et seq.

[28] See De Goncourt, Societie francaise," for other explanations; "Les Revolutions de Paris," vol. ii, p. 216; Challamel, "Les Francais sous la Revolution"; Senior, "On Some Effects of Paper Money," p. 82; Buchez and Roux, "Histoire Parlementaire," etc., vol. x, p. 216; Aulard, "Paris pendant la Revolution thermidorienne," _passim_, and especially "Rapport du bureau de surveillance," vol. ii, pp. 562, et seq. (Dec. 4-24, 1795.)

[29] For statements and illustration of the general action of this law, see Sumner, "History of American Currency," pp. 157, 158; also Jevons, on "Money," p. 80.

[30] See De Goncourt, "SocietÌe Francaise," p. 214.

[31] See Von Sybel, History of the French Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 281, 283.

[32] For proofs that issues of irredeemable paper at first stimulated manufactures and commerce in Austria and afterward ruined them, see Storch's "Economie politique," vol. iv, p. 223, note; and for the same effect produced by the same causes in Russia, see ibid., end of vol. iv. For the same effects in America, see Sumner's "History of American Currency." For general statement of effect of inconvertible issues on foreign exchanges see McLeod on "Banking," p. 186.

[33] See Louis Blanc, "Histoire de la Revolution," tome xii, p. 113.

[34] See "Extrait du registre des deliberations de la section de la bibliothique," May 3, 1791, pp. 4, 5.

[35] Von Sybel, vol. i, p. 273.

[36] For general account, see Thiers' "Revolution," chap. xiv; also Lacretelle, vol. viii, p. 109; also "Memoirs of Mallet du Pan." For a good account of the intrigues between the court and Mirabeau and of the prices paid him, see Reeve, "Democracy and Monarchy in France," vol. i, pp. 213-220. For a very striking caricature published after the iron chest in the Tuileries was opened and the evidences of bribery of Mirabeau fully revealed, see Challamel, "Musie," etc. Vol. i, p. 341, is represented as a skeleton sitting on a pile of letters, holding the French crown in one hand and a purse of gold in the other.

[37] Thiers, chap. ix.

[38] For this and other evidences of steady decline in the purchasing power of the assignats, see Caron, "Tableaux de Depreiation du papier-monnaie," Paris, 1909, p. 386.

[39] See especially "Discours de Fabre d'Eglantine," in "Moniteur" for August 11, 1793; also debate in "Moniteur" of September 15, 1793; also Prudhomme's "Revolutions de Paris." For arguments of much the same tenor, see vast numbers of pamphlets, newspaper articles and speeches during the "Greenback Craze,"--and the craze for unlimited coinage of silver,--in the United States.

[40] See Caron, "Tableaux de Depreciation," as above, p. 386.

[41] Von Sybel, vol. i, pp. 509, 510, 515; also Villeneuve Bargemont, "Histoire de l'Economie Politique," vol. ii, p. 213.

[42] As to the purchasing power of money at that time, see Arthur Young, "Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789." For notices of the small currency with examples of satirical verses written regarding it, see Challamel, "Les francais sous la Revolution," pp. 307, 308. See also Mercier, "Le Nouveau Paris," edition of 1800, chapter ccv., entitled "Parchemin Monnaie." A series of these petty notes will be found in the White collection of the Cornell University Library. They are very dirty and much worn, but being printed on parchment, remain perfectly legible. For issue of quarter-"sou" pieces see Levasseur, p. 180.

[43] See Levasseur, vol. i, p. 176.

[44] For Chaumette's brilliant display of fictitious reasons for the decline see Thiers, Shoberl's translation, published by Bentley, vol. iii, p. 248.

[45] For these fluctuations, see Caron, as above, p. 387.

[46] One of the Forced Loan certificates will be found in the White Collection in the Library of Cornell University.

[47] For details of these transactions, see Levasseur, as above, vol. i, chap. 6, pp. 181, et seq. Original specimens of these notes, bearing the portrait of Louis XVI will be found in the Cornell University Library (White Collection) and for the whole series perfectly photographed in the same collection, Dewarmin, "Cent ans de numismatique franÌ?aise," vol. i, pp. 143-165.

[48] For statements showing the distress and disorder that forced the Convention to establish the "Maximum" see Levasseur, vol. i, pp. 188-193.

[49] See Levasseur, as above, vol. i, pp. 195-225.

[50] See specimens of these tickets in the White Collection in the Cornell Library.

[51] For these condemnations to the guillotine see the officially published trials and also the lists of the condemned, in the White Collection, also the lists given daily in the "Moniteur." For the spy system, see Levasseur, vol. i, p. 194.

[52] See Levasseur, as above, vol. i, p. 186. For an argument to show that the Convention was led into this Draconian legislation, not by necessity, but by its despotic tendencies, see Von Sybel's "History of the French Revolution," vol. iii, pp. 11, 12. For general statements of theories underlying the "Maximum," see Thiers; for a very interesting picture, by an eye-witness, of the absurdities and miseries it caused, see Mercier, "Nouveau Paris," edition of 1800, chapter XLIV.

[53] For a summary of the report of the Committee, with list of articles embraced under it, and for various interesting details, see Villeneuve Bargemont, "Histoire de l'Economie Politique," vol. ii, pp. 213-239; also Levasseur, as above. For curious examples of severe penalties for very slight infringements on the law on the subject, see Louis Blanc, "Histoire de la Revolution franÌ?aise," tome x, p. 144. For Louis XIVth's claim see "Memoirs of Louis XIV for the Instruction of the Dauphin."

For a simple exposition of the way in which the exercise of this power became simply confiscation of all private property in France, see Mallet Du Pan's "Memoirs," London, 1852, vol. ii, p. 14.

[54] See Du Pont's arguments, as given by Levasseur.

[55] Louis Blanc calls attention to this very fact in showing the superiority of the French assignats to the old American Continental currency, See his "Histoire de la Revolution franÌ?aise," tome xii, p. 98.

[56] See Sumner, as above, p. 220.

[57] See Levasseur, as above, vol. i, p. 178.

[58] See Cambon's "Report," Aug. 15, 1793, pp. 49-60; also, "Decree of Aug. 24, 1793," sec. 31, chapters XCVI-CIII. Also, "Tableaux de la depreciation de papier monnaie dans le department de la Seine."

[59] For the example of Metz and other authorities, see Levasseur, as above, vol. i, p. 180.

[60] See Von Sybel, vol. iii, p. 173.

[61] See Thiers; also, for curious details of measures taken to compel farmers and merchants, see Senior, Lectures on "Results of Paper Money," pp. 86, 87.

[62] See Von Sybel, vol. iv, p. 231.

[63] See Von Sybel, vol. iv, p. 330; also tables of depreciation in "Moniteur"; also official reports in the White Collection; also Caron's "Tables," etc.

[64] For a lifelike sketch of the way in which these exchanges of assignats for valuable property went on at periods of the rapid depreciation of paper, see Challamel, "Les francais sous la Revolution," p. 309; also Say, "Economic Politique."

[65] For a very complete table of the depreciation from day to day, see "Supplement to the Moniteur" of October 2, 1797; also Caron, as above. For the market prices of the louis d'or at the first of every month, as the collapse approached, see Montgaillard. See also "Official Lists" in the White Collection. For a table showing the steady rise of the franc in gold during a single week, from 251 to 280 francs, see Dewarmin, as above, vol. i, p. 136.

[66] See "Mèmoires de Thibaudeau," vol. ii, p. 26, also Mercier, "Lo Nouveau Paris," vol. ii, p. 90; for curious example of the scales of depreciation see the White Collection. See also extended table of comparative values in 1790 and 1795. See Levasseur, as above, vol. i, pp. 223-4.

[67] For a striking similar case in our own country, see Sumner, "History of American Currency, " p. 47.

[68] See Villeneuve Bargemont, "Histoire de l'economie politique," vol. ii, p. 229.

[69] See Von Sybel, vol. iv, pp. 337, 338. See also for confirmation Challamel, "Histoire Musee," vol. ii, p. 179. For a thoughtful statement of the reasons why such paper was not invested in lands by men of moderate means, and workingmen, see Mill, "Political Economy," vol. ii, pp. 81, 82.

[70] See Von Sybel, vol. iv, p. 222.

[71] See especially Levasseur, "Histoire des classes ouvrières," etc. vol. i, pp. 219, 230 and elsewhere; also De Nervo, "Finance francaise," p. 280; also Stourm, as already cited. The exact amount of assignats in circulation at the final suppression is given by Dowarmin, (vol. i, p. 189), as 39,999,945,428 livres or francs.

[72] For details of the mandat system very thoroughly given, see Thiers' "History of the French Revolution," Bentley's edition, vol. iv, pp. 410-412. For the issue of assignats and mandats at the same time, see Dewarmin, vol. i, p. 136; also Levasseur, vol. i, pp. 230-257. For an account of "new tenor bills" in America and their failure in 1737, see Summer, pp. 27-31; for their failure in 1781, see Morse, "Life of Alexander Hamilton," vol. i, pp. 86, 87. For similar failure in Austria, see Summer, p. 314.

[73] See Marchant, "Lettre aux gens de bonne foi."

[74] See Summer, p. 44; also De Nervo, "Finances francaises," p. 282.

[75] See De Nervo, "Finances francaises," p. 282; also Levasseur, vol. i, p. 236 et seq.

[76] See Table from "Gazette de France" and extracts from other sources in Levasseur, vol. i, pp. 223-4.

[77] Among the many striking accounts of the debasing effects of "inflation" upon France under the Directory perhaps the best is that of Lacretelle, vol. xiii, pp. 32-36. For similar effect, produced by the same cause in our own country in 1819, see statement from Niles' "Register," in Sumner, p. 80. For the jumble of families reduced to beggary with families lifted into sudden wealth and for the mass of folly and misery thus mingled, see Levassour, vol. i, p. 237.

[78] For Madame Tallien and luxury of the stock-gambler classes, see Challamel, "Les franÌ?ais sous la Revolution," pp. 30, 33; also De Goncourt, "Les franÌ?ais sous le Directoire." Regarding the outburst of vice in Paris and the demoralization of the police, see Levasseur, as above.

[79] See Levasseur, Vol. i, p. 237, et seq.

[80] For specimens of counterfeit assignats, see the White Collection in the Cornell University Library, but for the great series of various issues of them in fac-simile, also for detective warnings and attempted descriptions of many varieties of them, and for the history of their Issue, see especially Dewarmin, vol. i, pp. 152-161. For photographic copies of Royalist assignats, etc., see also Dewarmin, ibid., pp. 192-197, etc. For a photograph of probably the last of the Royalist notes ever issued, bearing the words "Pro Deo, pro Rege, pro Patria" and "Armee Catholique et Royale" with the date 1799, and for the sum of 100 livres, see Dewarmin, vol. i, p. 204.

[81] For similar expectation of a "shock," which did not occur, at the resumption of specie payments in Massachusetts, see Sumner, "History of American Currency," p. 34.

[82] See Thiers.

[83] See Levasseur, vol. i, p. 246.

[84] For examples of similar effects in Russia, Austria and Denmark, see Storch, "Economie Politique," vol. iv; for similar effects in the United States, see Gouge, "Paper Money and Banking in the United States," also Summer, "History of American Currency." For working out of the same principles in England, depicted in a masterly way, see Macaulay, "History of England," chap. xxi; and for curious exhibition of the same causes producing same results in ancient Greece, see a curious quotation by Macaulay in same chapter.

[85] For parallel cases in the early history of our own country, see Sumner, p. 21, and elsewhere.

[86] For a review of some of these attempts, with eloquent statement of their evil results, see "Memoires de Durand de Maillane," pp. 166-169.

[87] For similar effect of inflated currency in enervating and undermining trade, husbandry, manufactures and morals in our own country, see Daniel Webster, cited in Sumner, pp. 45-50. For similar effects in other countries, see Senior, Storch, Macaulay and others already cited.

[88] For facts regarding French finance under Napoleon I am indebted to Hon. David A. Wells. For more recent triumphs of financial commonsense in France, see Bonnet's articles, translated by the late George Walker, Esq. For general subject, see Levasseur.


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