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NATURE AND NECESSITY
FIRST PRINTED AT PHILADELPHIA IN THE YEAR 1729.
This is one of the author's earliest compositions, it having been written at the beginning of his twenty-third year. It is indeed the first tract of a political nature, which is known to have come from his pen, and although it was published anonymously, yet he afterwards avowed the authorship in his autobiography, where he thus speaks.
“ There was a cry among the people for more paper money ; only fifteen thousand pounds being extant in the province, and that soon to be sunk. The wealthy inhabitants opposed any addition ; being against all paper currency, from the apprehension that it would depreciate as it had done in New England, to the injury of all creditors. We had discussed this point in our junto, where I was on the side of an addition; being persuaded that the first small sum struck in 1723 had done much good by increasing the trade, employment, and number of inhabitants in the province; since I now saw all the old houses inhabited, and many new ones building; whereas I remembered well when I first walked about the streets of Philadelphia, (eating my roll,) I saw many of the houses in Walnut Street, between Second and Front Streets, with bills on their doors To be let'; and many likewise in Chestnut Street and other streets; which made me think the inhabitants of the city were one after another deserting it. Our debates possessed me so fully on the subject, that I wrote and printed an anonymous pamphlet on it, entitled, The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency. It was well received by the common people in general; but the rich men disliked it, for it increased and strengthened the clamor for more money; and, they happening to have no writers among them that were able to answer it, their opposition slackened, and the point was carried by a majority in the House. My friends there, who considered I had been of some service, thought fit to reward me, by employing me in printing the money ; a very profitable job, and a great help to me. This was another advantage gained by my being able to write.
“ The utility of this currency became, by time and experience, so evident, that the principles upon which it was founded were nerer afterwards much disputed; so that it grew soon to fifty-five thousand pounds ; and in 1739 to eighty thousand pounds, trade, building, and inhabitants all the while increasing. Though I now think there are limits beyond which the quantity may be hurtful.”
This Inquiry bears the marks of the author's characteristic acuteness and sagacity, but contains some of the fallacies, which were then common in the colonies on the subject of paper money. Occasionally the arguments are addressed more to the popular prejudices, than to the good sense and intelligence of readers, though there is no doubt that Franklin was sincere in supporting the doctrines of the advocates of the papermoney system. He subsequently expressed the same opinions in his examination before the committee of the House of Commons in 1766. This essay is curious, as showing his early impressions, and the rudiments of his thinking upon subjects, which occupied his mind and employed his pen, to a very considerable extent, in the mature period of his life. — EDITOR
THERE is no science, the study of which is more useful and commendable than the knowledge of the true interest of one's country; and perhaps there is no kind of learning more abstruse and intricate, more difficult to acquire in any degree of perfection than this, and therefore none more generally neglected. Hence it is, that we every day find men in conversation contending warmly on some point in politics, which, although it may nearly concern them both, neither of them understands any more than they do each other.
Thus much by way of apology for this present - Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency. And if any thing I shall say may be a means of fixing a subject, that is now the chief concern of my countrymen, in a clearer light; I shall have the satisfaction of thinking my time and pains well employed.
To proceed, then,
There is a certain proportionate quantity of money requisite to carry on the trade of a country freely and currently ; more than which would be of no advantage in trade, and less, if much less, exceedingly detrimental to it.
This leads us to the following general considerations.
First. A great want of money, in any trading country, occasions interest to be at a very high rate. And here it may be observed, that it is impossible by any laws to restrain men from giving and receiving exorbitant interest, where money is suitably scarce. For he that wants money will find out ways to give ten per cent, when he cannot have it for less, although the law forbids to take more than six per cent. Now the interest of money being high is prejudicial to a country several ways. It makes land bear a low price, because few men will lay out their money in land, when they can make a much greater profit by lending it out upon interest. And much less will men be inclined to venture their money at sea, when they can, without risk or hazard, have a great and certain profit by keeping it at home; thus trade is discouraged. And if in two neighbouring countries the traders of one, by reason of a greater plenty of money, can borrow it to trade with at a lower rate than the traders of the other, they will infallibly have the advantage, and get the greatest part of that trade into their own hands; for he that trades with money he hath borrowed at eight or ten per cent,
cannot hold market with him that borrows his money at
six or four. On the contrary, a plentiful currency will r occasion interest to be low; and this will be an induce
ment to many to lay out their money in lands, rather than put it out to use, by which means land will begin to rise in value and bear a better price. And at the same time it will tend to enliven trade exceedingly, because people will find more profit in employing their money that way than in
that understand business very well, but have not a stock sufficient of their own, will be encouraged to borrow money to trade with, when they can have it at a moderate interest, 1 Secondly. Want of money in a country reduces the price of that part of its produce which is used in trade ; because, trade being discouraged by it as above, there is a much less demand for that produce. And this is another reason why land in such a case will be low, especially where the staple commodity of the country is the immediate produce of the land; because, that produce being low, fewer people find an advantage in husbandry, or the improvement of land. On the contrary, a plentiful currency will occasion the trading produce to bear a good price ; because, trade being encouraged and advanced by it, there will be a much greater demand for that produce; * which will be a great encouragement of husbandry and tillage, and consequently make land more valuable, for that many people would apply themselves to husbandry, who probably might otherwise have sought some more profitable employment.
* Some obscurity is thrown over this paragraph by confounding low price with want of demand, and high price with briskness of demand, things which often go together, and which are now, as formerly, often confounded with each other, though they are by no. means identical, one being the cause, the other the effect, respectively; for the increase of demand, out of proportion to that of the supply, increases price, and the reduction of demand, out of proportion to that of supply, reduces price. This inaccuracy, combined with another, which we shall soon meet with in this essay, namely, the confounding of circulating medium, or money, with capital generally; and also another nearly allied to it, namely, the confounding of the amount of capital ready to be loaned,
As we have already experienced how much the increase of our currency, by what paper money has been made, has encouraged our trade, particularly to instance only in one article, ship-building, it may not be amiss to observe under this head, what a great advantage it must be to us as a trading country, that has workmen and all the materials proper for that business within itself, to have ship-building as much as possible advanced; for every ship, that is built here for the English merchants, gains the province her clear value in gold and silver, which must otherwise have been sent home for returns in her stead; and likewise every ship, built in and belonging to the province, not only saves the province her first cost, but all the freight, wages, and provisions she ever makes or requires as long as she lasts; provided care is taken to make this her pay-port, and that she always takes provisions with her for the whole voyage, which may easily be done. And how considerable an article this is yearly in our favor, every one, the least acquainted with mercantile affairs, must needs be sensible ; for, if we could not build ourselves, we must either purchase so many vessels as we want from other countries, or else hire them to carry our
with that of the circulating medium, led to many of the fallacies, which were prevalent in Franklin's time in subjects of political economy, and which have, to this day, not wholly disappeared from similar speculations. The propositions really in question in this part of the essay are, that briskness of trade promotes production and consequently wealth, and that plenty, or rather a sufficiency, of circulating medium promotes trade, and a want of it, on the other hand, obstructs trade. These propositions are sufficiently plain, and are indisputable, and they constitute the author's premises or postulates, but they will not be found to lead to all his conclusions. W. PHILLIPS. VOL. II.