Dyer D. Lum in “The Evolution” (1877–1878)

[one_third padding=”0 10px 0 0px”][/one_third][two_third_last padding=”0 0px 0 10px”]


Now that the majesty of the law has been vindicated, proprietary rights protected, and “order reigns in Warsaw,” it is quite in the line of duty to indulge in reflections on the anomalous state of affairs through which we have recently passed.

I would at the outset insist most strenuously upon the proposition that society involves reciprocal relations. The modern or scientific conception of society is no longer that of a mere aggregation of individuals, who, by their legislation, determine the nature and character of the community, but rather that society is an organism, a living body exercising definite functions, and the source of life to the individual units which enter into its organic structure. The aim of society, therefore, is to harmonize the working forces of the organism, so that general health shall be the result.

Order and social health are identical; it is that condition of prosperity where happiness crowns every individual life. Social order, therefore, is but the expression of the healthful condition of a community. Order is not an end in itself, but is that balance of social forces obtaining at any given moment whereby general health is promoted, or, in other words, happiness diffused. “Order,” said Comte, “is the condition of all Progress; Progress is always the object of Order.”

Order and progress, therefore, are in essence identical: order is not stationary, but must become manifest in progress, and progress has no meaning save as understood to apply to human relationship. Where progress is not the development of order; where the interaction of social laws do not tend to diffuse happiness; where, on the contrary, they tend to promote discord, to institute relations destructive to happiness, there is no progress, and, consequently, there is no social order, but rather disorder and anarchy. The “order” with which the magistrate is charged and on which the policeman depends, is but the existing condition of functions in the social organism, however retrograde that social condition may be; in such a case “law and order” are not a blessing; they have become oppressive, have grown tyrannical, and the interest of progress demands a revolt, though all tradesmen, unable to see beyond the range of their counters, render the air discordant with their shrieks.

The general application is plain. The social condition of our times does not accord with progress; personal greed has disrupted the social bonds; order has been displaced by anarchy; government instead of being the highest of all functions, a responsible public duty, has become the guardian of irresponsible private rights, its sole object to promote class interest, acquired rights taking precedence over duties. Our social laws no longer work together in organic unity; they have assumed abnormal phases, and are no longer in general harmony. The social body is diseased, fever flows through its veins, and its pulse beats spasmodically, and the only remedy proposed is that of the quack—a “Morrison’s Pill”—as if political legislation were a creative force in social life! We have started from wrong principles. The fruit of individualism is now ripening, and we discover with dismay that the taste is bitter in the mouth. Instead of social ends we have sought personal benefits, we have sacrificed mutual benefit to private greed wealth is sought not as a trust, but as the means to personal power, as a stepping stone to selfish aggrandizement.

Great corporations, as railroad, iron, mining, and gas companies, forget that as developers of wealth they are performing social functions, but have sought with Midas-like greed to turn everything they touch to individual profit, though in so doing, they spread misery and ruin among their fellows. This is disorganization; here are the “dangerous elements” in society. Not so much to those who endanger the permanency of a chaotic state of affairs does the term so well apply as to those who, by their selfishness, tend to render a better adjustment of relations well nigh impossible. This is social anarchy, not the spasmodic protest against it, however blind that protest may be. The normal functions of the organism have been prevented, and the automatic wrenching of the system that follows is no cause for alarm. The “order” threatened is the order found in death rather than in life, and renovation has become a necessity, or progress is stayed and order becomes retrograde.

The Church, as our spiritual guide, has grossly neglected her duties, and, instead of exerting a spiritual power to overcome greed with nobler motives, she has struck hands with the disorganizing influence of selfishness, rewarding her shrewdest and most over-reaching members with the church offices until deacon has become a synonym for far other characteristics than once hallowed the word—conforming in their management to “business principles,” so that it may be said of every new church building in process of erection that the love of gain on one hand and human despair on the other, becomes incorporated between every layer of brick, or stone, or mortar, until religion bids fair to become a hollow mockery, and its forms of worship but the ritual of a system where competition has been deified as the savior of men, and the spirit of greed installed on the throne of the universe to give an absolute sanction to the fundamental principle of our Christian civilization. “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!” Success in life has been set forth as consisting in the acquisition of wealth, in the mere accumulation of capital, even though only attainable through the failure of others less shrewd, and national prosperity is said to prevail where the more grasping and avaracious ones are easily enabled to climb over their fellows and escape from the slough where the great mass must remain, in no wise benefited but often cursed by the individual escapes.

The Spiritual Power being powerless and legislation but a quack remedy for social evils, wherein lies the remedy? Alas! Evolution knows only the old, old way. To make a particular application to the times is easy. Great corporations have held their immense wealth for private ends regardless of the social responsibilities resting upon them. They have practically ignored the necessity of reciprocal relations, foolishly fancying that having entered into a contract with their employee and paid the sum stipulated (and, in some cases, requiring them to sign an agreement releasing the company from responsibility in case of accident or death in the discharge of their duties), they may imperiously ask, “Is not our duty ended at the paymaster’s table? Have we not a right to do as we like with our own?” The question is not legitimate, for the more searching query arises, “What is our own? Has the obligation ceased when the stipulated wage is counted out?”

The growing intelligence of the age is fast answering these questions. That noble old man, Peter Cooper, has clearly perceived that the laws governing society are not acts and resolves, but have a deeper basis, and has lovingly sought to place himself in harmony with them, and no better service can be done at this time than to call attention to the clear and concise views of Mr. Cooper on the duties of wealth. “I cannot shut my eyes to the fact,” he has said, “that the production of wealth is not the work of any one man, and the acquisition of great fortunes is not possible without the cooperation of multitudes of men; and that, therefore, the individuals to whose lot these fortunes fall, whether by inheritance or the laws of production and trade, should never lose sight of the fact that, as they only hold them by the will of society, expressed in statute law, so they should administer them as trustees for the benefit of society, as inculcated by the moral law.”

This truth has made itself felt in the conscience of a Peabody, an Astor, a Hopkins, a Stewart, and compelled recognition. Again has the lesson been enforced, proclaimed in thunder-tones, that wealth involves responsibilities, that its use is a social function. The only hope of social progress lives in the recognition of this fact; for unless heeded, these spasmodic gripings of the social body must occur. Wealth must heed it, or learn the lesson by finding its possessions rendered insecure. Corporations paying their presidents salaries ranging from ten to forty thousand dollars per annum, issuing thousands of free passes, habitually placing extra trains at the disposal of those in authority without pecuniary recompense, and managing to declare from eight to ten per cent dividends—and all this through that most selfish and tyrannical management which regards labor but as a means for obtaining dividends—have certainly forfeited all claims for social sympathy; and whatever may be our abhorrence of violence, we feel compelled to regard its manifestation under these circumstances as evidence of life, an indication of an effort on the part of the social organism to right itself.

Shall we take heed to our fears and join with the petty tradesman—as true to the instincts of his class today in France or America, as was his more ancient Pharasaic brother in Jerusalem—in the short-sighted cry for “law and order” and expressive measures? Will these symptoms of fever disappear through a coercive treatment? Is it best to rely on the soldier’s bayonet and policeman’s locust to inspire Capital with a conscience? Are social bonds cemented by force? Or, rejecting this whole outcome of our political and religious individualism, does not progress require these ebullitions until wealth shall have learned its duties, even though these sad scenes are again and again repeated?

Dyer D. LUM.

Dyer D. Lum, “Order and Progress,” The Evolution 1 no. 14 (October, 1877): 267-268.


Humanity! all sovereign power divine,
Whose hand still shapes events for good or ill,
Despite the puny efforts of our will,—
Within this selfish, struggling heart of mine
Let thy invincible glory burn and shine,
And with sweet light each darkened chamber fill;
Till I shall feel my innermost spirit thrill
And spring from death to life made one with thine.
Then thought in loving unison with heart
Shall turn to thee as needle turns to pole,
To find religion and her sister art,
From every low, debasing passion free,
Centering all life’s activity in thee,
To meet the deathless instincts of the soul.

Dyer D. Lum.

Dyer D. Lum, “Humanity,” The Evolution 1 no. 14 (October, 1877): 280.

NOWHERE is the mental anarchy of the time more conspicuous than in the treatment of the Eastern question by the average journalist. Leading dailies speculate on the issue as if it were a game of chance, or one of skill, in which the Czar bids fair to “outwit” the less alert powers. The student of Positive Science, with well-defined ideas of what really constitutes Europe, and from what States the future of civilization will be evolved, beholds but the working of well-understood social laws, more powerful than kings and cabinets, and moulding them to its purposes. Whatever may be the fate of Turkey, Russia has not yet accomplished her fondly cherished schemes. A higher power than Czar or Sultan resides in the Western States, and in their ultimate union to check Russian aggrandisement we will behold but the exercise of their normal function, which no intrigues can prevent, no cabals destroy.

D. D. L.

D. D. L., [letter], The Evolution 2 no. 2 (February, 1878): 23.



NO question of greater importance than the relationship that should exist in society between capital and labor, or in other words, the normal relationship existing between these two arms of productive activity in a well constituted community, has ever before occupied the attention of the thoughtful minds of this country. Many and various are the efforts made to reach the public ear, in ponderous quarterlies and reviews, the daily press, and through political organization with carefully prepared panacea’s for all social ills.

The threefold law of Comte that every conception invariably passes through three stages in its evolution is nowhere more clearly manifest than in the history of the discussion of politico-economical questions. The theological stage is by no means as yet outgrown, but is everywhere still fiercely maintained; the all-sufficiency of Christ and a crust being as strenuously defended as in the preceding century. Nor is it a matter of surprise to us that the theologian should take the ground he does, for when we understand the laws of social growth we will see that he instinctively and inevitably is forced from the very nature of his position as a theologian to take reactionary grounds on this question.

The distinguishing conception of modern times, that, in fact, which characterizes modern times, and separates them forever from ancient times, is the relevance of scientific methods in every department of thought; the adoption with all its far-reaching consequences of the relativity of knowledge, by which the Why of events is no longer a subject of study or of curiosity even, human knowledge being content with the investigations into the How of phenomena, thereby gradually supplanting the old deductive processes of thought with the strictly inductive method, where facts are first ascertained before any generalization is attempted.

Our theological friends, on the contrary, in spite of individual exceptions, who but confirm the rule, are committed to a deductive system. The fundamental basis of their entire structure is revelation, truth revealed, not discovered; handed down from a superior to an inferior; rules for the guidance of conduct, and life condescending set forth before finite man by infinite wisdom, an constituting a source of knowledge, a fund of undoubted information, on the most important of all questions, to which we can appeal in any emergency of life, and from which deduce practical lessons in application to every requirement of social life.

Such is the theological theory, and, however the counter scientific tendencies of the age may have effected lodgment in the curriculum of the theological studies, and modified the individual theologian, still from the very nature of the case, so far as he is a theologian, he is instinctively forced to occupy the ancient standpoint, and take issue, however indirectly, with the tendencies of modern growth, or social progress. There is a “logic of events” more relentless than the logician may imagine, and which shapes the course and determines the end of the very theories given forth as the consummate effort of freedom of thought and independent reflection. Turning from the idiosyncrasies of illogical theologians to the course of events underlying the theological régime for the right understanding of the instinctive tendencies of the theological stage, we find all history bearing witness that upon the anthropomorphic conception of God, the superior mind, Governor of the world and Controller of events, there inevitably arose the absolute, or monarchical type of government, an extension of the same fundamental idea, transferred from the government of infinite things to finite things, a modification of the theological conception of government adapted to finite society.

This conception carried with it not only the recognition of a superior, in social life, claiming title as agent or vicegerent of the infinite superior one, but permeated the whole social structure with this idea, from which logically, though unconsciously, resulted orders and castes in society; to sum up in one phrase its logical outcome, the subordination of the many to the few is the characteristic of the theological stage of thought, and wherever a man by training and experience has been accustomed to refer to a “Thus Saith the Lord” he is by instinct allied with they reactionary school. We see this singularly; illustrated at the present day in men of wide sympathies and generous natures, like Henry Ward Beecher, who, by the logical necessities of his position and education, is forced to the heartless recommendation of a “bread and water” diet as a cure for social distress, for which the future will hold his theological training strictly responsible. Although Mr. Beecher by a striking phrase drew upon himself the odium that justly belongs to his class, it is notorious that all his fellows, of al shades of orthodoxy, logically occupy the same standpoint.

It is for this reason, therefore, that the workingman has turned away from the church, and notwithstanding its gilded baubles so freely given to Sunday-school children, and its sugar-coated pills of a “liberal” ministry, their instincts as a body rightly teach them that here no cure can be found for the evils of which they are the sufferers, and of those who do seek quietude within its precincts, and receive the sacraments at the hands of those who trample upon their humanity six days of the week and fatten on the diverted profits of their earnings, the humiliation of the spectacle tends to check it repetition, for, like the theologian, the workingman is himself in the hands of the “logic of events” far transcending his will and generally his intelligence.

Consequently, from the theologians we meet only exhortation to submission addressed to the laborer and appeals to charity addressed to the capitalist, without recognition of the fact that the tendency of events is such as to give an abnormal development to the selfish interest of each class. Practically, though unconsciously, the clergy of the day are giving expression to the famous saying of Prince Metternich, “Apres moi, le déluge!” and undoubtedly will maintain an existence until engulphed in its waters already heard thundering in the distance.

The second, or transitional stage, through which the relationship of capital and labor is now passing, is a stage of discussion, but not of discussion based on certain definite and well considered principles, but an angry conflict of recrimination, wherein the old authority of a revelation has been supplanted by certain metaphysical entitles to which appeal is made. Instead of enforcing conviction with a “Thus saith the Lord,” as in the previous condition of social growth, certain entities, termed Laws, are supposed to have an absolute existence and govern phenomena, and these abstractions are deemed to rule events so imperiously, that to run counter thereto, or impugn their validity is deemed a species of idiocy only equaled by him who would endeavor to ignore the laws of the natural world. These laws of political economy, concerning which, and I speak for my brother workingmen and wage-laborers, we are so frequently assailed as exhibiting such crude ignorance, must be met at the outset, and will prove to be no such devouring monstrosities as we have been taught to believe.

To show the metaphysical basis of the whole structure, and strike it at its weakest point, though that be its cornerstone, let us first endeavor to clear away the useless debris of old discussions lumbering the ground by inquiring at the outset, What is law? or What is a law? So far from being an objective real ruling or determining events, laws are simply conceptions of the mind, the ideal representation of the coexistence of phenomena. A law, instead of determining events, merely expresses events; it is the phenomena themselves classified with other, phenomena of a similar nature, the functions of which are expressed in the formula law. The law of any phenomenon, or series of phenomena, is but the observed process itself mentally detached and generalized by extension to other phenomena. The current conception of laws as “a kind of wise police keeping nature in order,” is a figment of the understanding, an illusion by which the logical processes of thought are stamped upon phenomena as laws.

The laws of political economy, therefore, our ignorance of which is so loudly bewailed by our would-be leaders of public opinion, are seen to be but the formula whereby the phenomena are themselves expressed, in other words the law and the course of events are identical, the one being but the formula whereby we express the other. The scientific conception, or “law,” of relativity is seen, therefore, to hold good in this instance, so that if the course of events were different, the law would also be different. It is impossible within this article to run through the entire gamut of our metaphysical economists and show in like manner the unsubstantial character of their boasted authorities.

In pursuance, however, of this conception we have the current illusion that the course of events cannot be otherwise than as they are. Because under the present metaphysical régime, wherein man’s selfish and egotistic nature has been abnormally developed as a consequence, phenomenal events have been formulated as the expression of an absolute fact determining them, all human activity has been confined to the existing modes, and resulted in the anarchical scramble for place and pelf characterizing social life to-day. The God of our fathers has given place to Mammon; a Plutocracy is being built up of gigantic proportions under which man becomes of secondary importance to the necessities of Property, which strides the social world, the embodiment (under the present conception of its uses and nature,) of all that is heartless and selfish in man’s nature, well worthy of the stigma affixed by Wesley upon chattel slavery, “the sum of all villainy.” For by the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor that the fruit of labor, wealth, may become diverted from social application to augment the selfish gains of a few whose aggrandizement already endangers the stability of the social structure, an unsocial state of things is introduced, for it is directly opposed to social bonds which imply reciprocal relations and harmonious action.

Hence, the current phenomena of social life, formulated in abstraction as laws, and thundered into our ears as the governing power by which events are determined, is at once seen to be a metaphysical illusion, a sort of mental jugglery whereby names are made to do the duty of things.

The third, or scientific stage, is the ultimate, or normal condition to which we are tending, and until this is reached there can be no peace, but a period of wrangling and strife. The conception of society as an organism, though frequently shadowed forth in the past, is now distinctly formulated as a scientific truth, and its growth studied in the light of our knowledge of the laws of organic evolution. This conception is seen to be directly antipodal to the theological one, for herein the unifying conception of a living organism exerting definite functions, renders the functions, of each part subservient to the interest of the whole. Instead of the many subjected to the interest of the few, social life in a state of normal health is seen to require the subordination of self to the many, the obliteration of the current egoism by the development of a noble altruism, wherein social ends supplant the private interests with which the world has heretofore been cursed.

When this renovating conception of man as a unit shall have permeated modern thought, and the many rather than the few are clearly seen to constitute the social body for whose sole use the special classes, or limbs, exist, the relation between capital and labor will no longer involve a conflict of rights, but will be seen to inculcate a mutual lesson of duties. Property, the result of social action, will henceforth be held for social ends, regarded as a sacred public trust, but controlled entire by moral, not legal, agencies. The moralization of capital and its use or the welfare of the producing classes, instead of the producing classes existing for the aggrandizement of the capitalist, is the extent of the change that must obtain as man, already come of age, passes on to middle life.

Just as sure as the scientific stage must succeed the transitional metaphysical period, so certain is it that in the broad future man’s activity will yet be turned solely to the benefit of humanity. While our theologians and mammon-worshiping economists may laugh at the Utopian dream, the thoughtful mind can even now see indications of the coming dawn, breaking athwart the dark night of the past ages. In the Roman empire, during the long peace which followed the victories of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, were piled up those enormous fortunes, which, according to Pliny, eventually brought disaster and ruin to Italy and the entire Roman empire. The evils of centralization are sharply depicted by Sismondi, as follows:

“A single proprietor by degrees came to buy up whole provinces, the conquest of which had in former times furnished the occasion of many triumphs to the generals of the republic was amassing riches, wholly disproportioned to the capacity of man, the once numerous and respectable but now beggared middle classes disappeared from the face of the earth. In districts where so many brave and industrious citizens were to be seen in former times, alike ready to defend or cultivate their fields, were found to be nothing but slaves, who rapidly declined in numbers as fields came to be exclusively devoted to pasturage.”

The Roman Plutocracy, like their successors in France in the last century, laughed at the irresistible “logic of events,” and deemed their hold on the means of life absolute, but they were deceived. The organism of which they were but a part, is immortal and although often sick “nigh unto death,” yet ever bursts forth from the fatal environments created by selfishness and greed. Undoubtedly the Roman capitalist prated in his way of the dispensations of an all-wise Jove, and the immutable laws of supply and demand—even while he, through his gigantic schemes of monopoly, was overriding all operation of the law—and the politico-economical fallacy that labor is a commodity the price of which is determined by this alleged metaphysical law, yet the deluge came and swept his law and order and the system of political economy based thereon into irretrievable ruin; and though the devastation of Alaric and his horde might seem for the moment to be reactionary, it was but the necessary prelude to social progress.

The increased intelligence of the age will not permit a repetition of the degradation witnessed under the Roman capitalists, and again under the French nobility, but though the retribution will be more prompt, its severity will be measured only by the exigencies of the case. Humanity is one, a common life pervades the whole organism, and the common health will be asserted and maintained, even though the parasites who now feast on its body, are crushed in the convulsive wrenchings it may undergo to overcome the poison self-interest has introduced into its veins, and in the subsequent years approach more nearly the normal condition of social health.


Dyer D. Lum, “Capital and Labor: Three Aspects of the Problem,” The Evolution 2 no. 2 (February, 1878): 24-25.


  • Speeches, Addresses and Letters. W. D. Kelley, M. C. 514 pp., Phila. H. C. Baird & Co.
  • National Finances and the Currency. H. C. Carey. 480 pp. Same.
  • A New Monetary System. Edward Kellogg. 374 pp. Same.
  • The Appreciation of Money. A. J. Warner. 93 pp. Same.
  • Assignats and Mandats. S. D. Dillaye. 68 pp. Same.
  • The Finances: Panics and Specie Payments. J. W. Schuckers. 90 pp. Same.
  • Pamphlets, Tracts and Leaflets. H. C. Baird. Same.
  • The Cause and Cure of Panics, or the Remedy or Hard Times. Benj. Skinner. 24 pp. Published by the author. Acton, Mass.
  • Absolute Money. Britton A. Hill. 117 pp. St. Louis, Mo. Soule, Thomas & Wentworth.
  • The Irish World. A Weekly Paper. New York.

THE consideration of the financial policy of the nation is no longer confined to legislative assemblies, or to the study-chamber of the philosopher. Where a few years ago some recognized authority in what passes for social science was regarded as final, from whose decision there was no appeal for the average mind, now, on the contrary, the farmer, the tradesman, and the mechanic, lend willing ears and enthusiastically take sides in the controversy. No surer indication could be found than in this fact, that financial questions will exercise a determining influence in the political campaigns of the future.

The whole controversy, however, is one of such recent growth, and its discussion occupies so much of the public attention, that instead of adding another article to the number of financial essays, with which we are becoming deluged, it has seemed to the writer that it might be of more general interest to state,’as clearly as may be, the different divisions under which nearly all shades of opinion on the subject may be classified.

1. The Silver Dollar.—At the termination of our civil war, silver, either alone or conjointly with gold, was almost universally recognized as legal tender money for unlimited amounts. True, England had demonetized it sixty years ago, but it is only in very recent years, and through her influence, that other great nations have been led to follow her example. The United States, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Portugal, Egypt, Japan, Brazil, and a large number of smaller states, mainly within this period have been induced to demonetize silver and inaugurate the gold standard. In 1874, immediately following the action of Germany and the United States, Holland, and the states comprising the Latin Union—France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, though maintaining the double standard, yet restricted the coinage of silver.

The inevitable effect of these concurrent proceedings has been to induce an almost general system of contraction throughout both America and Europe, whereby their productive industries and commercial relations were obliged to readjust themselves to the new standard. The increased demand thereby created, by devolving upon gold alone the functions before performed by both the metals, has caused gold to rapidly appreciate in value as measured by its purchasing power of other commodities.

At an early period in our late civil war it was seen to be impossible to carry on the government by dependence upon coin. To meet the exigencies of the case a national legal tender money—the greenback—was issued interconvertible with an interest bearing bond. The 5–20 bonds when first issued were expressly understood to be redeemable in this legal tender. In 1869, “a bill to strengthen the public credit” was enacted, making the bond indebtedness of the United States payable in coin. At this time, and in fact from the organization of the government until February 12, 1873, silver was a circulating medium and a legal tender for all debts, public and private. The demonetization of silver was carried through Congress, strange as it may seem, without the apparent knowledge of its members, or even of the entire committee having the bill in charge; even seven months after the bill, in which this provision was incorporated, had received the President’s official approval we find Gen. Grant (in a letter written to Mr. Cowdry, Oct. 3, i873) evidently ignorant of the fact.

That the disuse of silver has directly appreciated the value of gold in the markets of the world by increasing its purchasing power is not a mere matter of opinion, but sustained by incontrovertible facts. The proportion of silver to gold in use as money in Europe, was very nearly three of silver to five of gold; at least two-thirds of this silver being an unlimited legal tender. By the demonetization of this two-thirds, (one-third being still in use as subsidiary coins), we have withdrawn one quarter of the entire quantity of metallic money. Consequently on the remaining three-fourths must fall the power of expressing values, that is, its value would be increased twenty-five per centum. It must also be borne in mind that this new standard applies to all preexisting debts and contracts; obligations contracted under the double standard being, on maturity, expressed in the enhanced value of the single standard.

Lord Beaconsfield, with that all comprehensive vision that characterizes the statesman, clearly saw this result in 1873, and thus expressed himself in his speech at Glasgow:

“When the various States of Europe suddenly determined to have a gold standard, and took steps to carry it into effect, it was quite evident we must prepare ourselves for great convulsions in the money market, not occasioned by speculation or any old cause which has been alleged, but to a new cause with which we are not sufficiently acquainted, and the consequences of which are very embarrassing.”

Our entire debt, national, state and municipal, with corporate and private indebtedness, is estimated to aggregate fully one-third of all the property of the country. To meet this load of obligations made upon the basis of gold, silver and greenbacks, we have first demonetized silver, and secondly, pledged ourselves to cancel the greenbacks. In effect, we enter the money markets of the world with this vast indebtedness to compete with Russia, Austria, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and other debtor nations for the purchase of gold, thus vastly increasing the demand. While our abilities to meet obligations have thus suffered such a violent contraction, there has been no contraction in the obligations themselves. Preeminently the debtor nation of the world, we enter into a league with the creditor nations to increase the demand for gold, so that by all ways possible the coin left to measure debts shall be raised to the utmost limit.

Gold being the standard of valuation, the effect is only seen in the corresponding depreciation of products, labor, and property of every description. Nor is this the full extent of the damage, for this tampering with the value of the monetary unit operates in so insidious a manner that soon all species of productive industry are deranged and paralyzed, but this is precisely where falls the burden of the enhanced value of all indebtedness.

This course of reasoning while irresistible in itself is borne out fully by an appeal to facts. It is now a matter of demonstration that with the ten per centum depreciation, as measured by gold valuation, silver has really appreciated in value as measured by its purchasing power of all other commodities. That is, the demonetized silver dollar of to-day exceeds in purchasing power more than ten per centum the silver dollar of five years ago, with the exception of the commodity gold. While silver has fallen ten per centum measured by gold, the average fall in the price of commodities in England since 1872 shows conclusively that the purchasing power of gold is there greater by nearly twenty-five per centum. In other words, while all other commodities measured by the gold standard have fallen from twenty to twenty-five per centum, silver has fallen only ten per centum. Further, if instead of commodities, we take land, we will find that measured by the same standard there has been a fall of fifty per centum; and in labor, which in the words of Adam Smith, “is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities,” there has been a still further depreciation of from fifty to one hundred per centum. Instead, therefore, of the charge being true that the debtor seeks to meet his obligations with a ninety cent dollar, he is only protesting against the extortion of a. 125, 150, or even a 200 cent dollar made by his creditor.

In India, however, where silver alone is the standard, we have the testimony of the Governor and his council, that there has been no fall in the value of silver measured in commodities other than gold. We invite attention to the following brief extract from their report to the Home government, under date of Sept. 22, 1876. The Governor-General says:

“The prices of commodities and precious metals in London and India witness to a considerable rise in the value of gold since March, 1873, and especially since December, 1875, and do not show any fall in the value of silver measured in commodities other than gold.”

In 1877 we have further testimony to the same effect. Silver is the measure of value throughout Asia (Japan excepted), and the same fact proved by trade in India is also verified in China and throughout the entire Asiatic continent.

As the demonetization of silver by so many governments has led to its depreciation, it is confidently alleged that its remonetization with full legal tender qualities will enhance its value. France, with a double standard, stands almost the solitary exception to the worldwide depression of business; maintains a silver circulation of $300,000,000 at par with gold, yet its silver possesses a valuation equal to but 400, instead of412% grains to the dollar. By being restored to its full legal tender qualities, we not only tend to undo the mischievous legislation of 1873, restore silver to its time-honored place as an American coin, but thereby set into operation natural causes that must eventuate in its appreciation to par value with gold.

After this summary of the facts and figures bearing on the silver question, it will need no further remarks to show that there is due from the government “honor and good faith” no less to its citizens than to professed money lenders.

2. The Greenback Dollar.—For many years there have not been wanting writers at home and abroad who have sought to obtain a deeper glance into the problem, and have uttered their protest against a further adherence to the metals as a medium of exchange. They have insisted that the time had arrived for a new departure from the outgrown methods of ruder times, and the results of our financial experience during the war has increased this class of writers.

The Greenback was a promise to pay, but as we could get no coin to carry on the war, and much less to pay for the proposed issue, a bond was therefore prepared into which we could fund any excess of currency, said bonds being payable in currency in not less than five, nor more than twenty years at the option of the holder, and bearing interest at six per centum. The amendments of the Senate making the interest payable in coin, and refusing to accept the national money at the national custom houses, thereby depreciating it in advance, the subsequent exemption of the bonds (dead capital) from taxation, and the creation of the National Bank system are well known.

The National Bank bill is based on the bond, and altogether presents an instance of unscrupulous rapacity and class-legislation seldom equalled. Full interest is not only paid to the banks upon the bonds bought—their capital in trade—but there is also returned in notes nine-tenths of the face value of the bonds, together with the exclusive privilege and monopoly of banking. A course of legislation has also been followed by which it has been sought to throw the whole currency of the country into the hands of these private corporations through the enforced retirement of the greenback. To effect this and inaugurate specie payment, the large volume of paper outstanding in 1865 serving the functions of money have been contracted two-thirds, although the business of the country was becoming adapted to the changed condition. The wide-spread misery into which we have since fallen, the almost extinction of our manufacturing prosperity, and the conversion of millions of able-bodied men into homeless Wanderers is well known. That fortunes have been lost, business ruined, industries suspended, and labor starving, is but a repetition in our land of the results of similar methods in England’s financial history.

Has it been necessary? Is a specie basis essential to the commercial exchanges of a nation? Can not a currency be based on the entire wealth of a nation as well as on one or two of its productions? These are the great questions now under popular discussion, and striking at the very roots of the old system. What is money? Judge Kelley says:

“It is that which a government declares shall be legal tender in payment of debts throughout its jurisdiction. It is purely a national and local institution, the crucial test of which is, Is it a legal tender?”

Henry Carey Baird says:

“Anything which freely circulates from hand to hand, as a common acceptable medium of exchange in any country, is in such country money, even though it cease to be so, or to possess any value, in passing into another country. In a word, an article is determined to be money by reason of the performance by it of certain functions, without regard to its form or substance.”

We may with confidence assert that the business of the country has long since outgrown the limited quantity of coin, and the specie, even in specie paying countries, scarcely enters into the settlement of debts. In fact the claim of a specie basis even in England, as we will see, is only a myth, having long since been supplanted by credit to meet the increased requirements of trade. The bank check is the monetary instrument of the age, millions of dollars being settled daily through the Clearing House without the use of either specie or bills. The business of London through “an inflated paper currency” of checks is so great that gold constitutes but one half of one per centum of the entire amount. It is a matter of history that whenever gold has been generally sought on the bills supposed to represent it, it has invariably failed to meet the demand and general bankruptcy and wide-spread ruin has periodically been the result.

£6,000,000 of the Bank of England bills are based, not on specie, but the government credit, representing debt, not coin. Whenever there has been a general demand for coin suspension has invariably resulted and an increased issue of bills been necessary to restore confidence. Yet these bills retain their par value, not because of their assumed redeemability, but of the government credit behind them. Bank deposits in England, that is, bank credits, as well as bills, perform the functions of money as assuredly as the gold on which they are professedly based. These credits are not deposits of coin, but, to use the words of Bonamy Price, “merely represent debts,” yet they aggregate over $5,000,000,000; while against this vast sum of veritable purchasing power we have perhaps $150,000,000 gold as bank reserves.

Specie as a basis being thus confessedly outgrown and its place supplanted by credit, the question arises shall the credit which supplant it be private or that of the nation ? Paper has ceased to be a mere representative of coin, but has become an actual substitute for it—and deriving its value from the confidence we have on its endorsement. But the unlimited inflation of bank credit currency worked by means of checks and kept at par with gold on which it is based, as an inverted pyramid may be said to be based on its apex, is a system whereby the mass is readily enslaved by the few who manipulate it, for it directly increases the power of the few at the expense of the many. A specie basis is thus seen on its face to be a delusion, without warrant in fact, unsafe in practice, and a relic of pre-industrial ages; in fact it might be cited as a glaring instance of what ethnologists would term a case of survival.

In lieu thereof there is demanded a National paper money issued on the authority and credit of the government, representing its entire wealth and made a legal tender in the payment of all debts, public and private. Not an exchange of commodities, but a medium of exchange whereby the products of industry are conveyed from hand to hand and representing the articles exchanged. The heavy tax imposed by the National Bank system would be done away and instead of delegating the credit of the government to private corporations at the expense of the people, the national credit would be behind every dollar issued.

But these bills are to be based on the Government bond, and made convertible into them, offering a depository paying a low rate of interest, based on the whole wealth of the nation. This system would recall our bonds from abroad and have them held at home. Every bill issued by the government represents a portion of its debt; whatever amount is thus held in the form of a circulating medium would entail no interest charge, and by its convertibility into a bond there could result no inflation beyond actual need, for every dollar not required in the channels of trade, not taken up at higher rates, would be presented for redemption in the bond. Our debt would be held at home, we would save the present drain to foreign countries to meet the interest; insolvent savings banks and trust companies would be unknown, and the present stagnation in trade removed. The volume of currency would depend upon the amount which would be required by the wants of trade. When business would be more profitable than the investment in bonds at a low rate of interest, bonds would be converted into money, and vice versa. In the words of Mr. Groom, in such an interchangeability “there is a subtle principle that will regulate the movements of Finance and Commerce as accurately as the motion of the steam engine is regulated by its ‘governor.’”

3. The Absolute Dollar.—Paper money, in every form with which we have been familiar with it, has ever been professedly based on coin. Even the greenback was a “promise to pay,” and thus gives color to the claim of the resumptionist that the honor of the nation is at stake till that promise be fulfilled. But the discussion has long since passed out of the limited arena of constitutional requirements, or even the intentions of a preceding generation. The question is not one of interpretation, but one of justice, and the general recognition of this point would relieve the discussion of much that is irrelevant.

Paper money is a necessity; this is not denied. But heretofore paper has but served the purpose of supplementing the inadequate supply of the metals and been made subservient to them. Based upon coin, its value as a medium of exchange depended upon the fluctuating value of an ever-shifting commodity, liable to be withdrawn when its presence was most needed. From 1809 to 1849, gold advanced in value fully 145 per centum; then under the stimulus of Californian and Australian mining, and its demonetization by Germany, fell till within recent years.

Absolute money differs from the greenback in not being convertible into any bond whatever; instead of being a promise to pay, it is a promise to receive for custom dues and taxes. Congress has definitely fixed the length of the yard and the size of the bushel, but the value of money has been left an uncertain quantity; it has delegated its right to emit the current money of the people to private monopolies, and refused to “regulate the power thereof.”

At the period of our greatest prosperity the annual increase of the wealth of the nation has been but about three per centum, while at the present time we have the authority of the Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, at Washington, for placing it, “ perhaps as low as two per cent.” The editor of the Irish World to whom this statement was communicated, (and one of the very ablest advocates of currency reform), believes that for years even this estimate has been too high, and that it will not much exceed one per centum. There can be no permanent prosperity as long as the people are forced to pay an oppressive tax not warranted by the circumstances, and every cent extorted from the people above the rate of annual increase of wealth is an usurious tax, that silently, but surely absorbs the profits of productive enterprise, lowers wages, and lessens production.

Interest diverts the fruits of labor from the unrequited producers to the monopolizers of the means of labor, reduces the workingman to economic subjection to a speculative class, and perpetuates the monarchical principle of the centralization of wealth in the hands of a few. Carrying with it, on the one hand, the inevitable degradation of the mass by the permanent institution of a pauper class, the consequent perpetuation of misery and crime, with the enforced sacrifice of social progress to private greed; and, on the other hand, cursing the holders of capital, by hardening the heart, deadening the conscience, blunting the sensibilities and deforming the moral nature. Individually robbing man of his ability to exercise his normal functions as a social unit, and socially disintegrating the bonds without which the social organism falls into decay by the introduction of the anarchical and destructive offshoots of individualism, greed, rapacity and avarice. Until the power of usury to absorb profits is destroyed the economic freedom of the proletariat will remain but the substance of things hoped for, and only under a just monetary system can association and cooperation secure such a desired result.

Let the government issue these paper money-tokens to the people through their state, county and municipal authorities at the same rate as bills are now furnished the banks, one per centum, sufficient to cover expenses. Secured by the national credit, they would present an unchangeable measure of values, unlike gold, “fixed as the sun.” While under our financial system there is no legal guard against checks and drafts being limited only by the demand and the demand subject to the wildest speculation under governmental control, this would no longer be left to hazard. “It is far more dangerous to grant Congress the power to issue an unlimited amount of bonds than to authorize it to issue more money upon the report of a Board of Commissioners, based upon carefully gathered statistics and well prepared tables, showing the progressive ratio for the increase of the absolute money required by the extent of trade, bills of exchange, money of account, commerce, and the annual products.” (Hill.)

Our foreign exchange is not regulated by coin exportations but by product exportation. Exports balance imports, but the balance, if against us, is not paid in money, but the commodity, gold. It is taken at its weight, as bullion, not as money, and, whatever our currency, we would continue to settle foreign balances as in the past, with products. If we do not export enough of the products of our fields or workshops to pay for what we get, we must either reduce our luxurious imports correspondently to balance the account or give the products of our mines. Hence our money tokens, while serving as a fixed measure of value at home, would release our subjection to the financial condition of things abroad; instead, however, of being worthless abroad, their unquestionable security would render them as exchangeable there as our bonds are now, or Bank of England notes.

Such in brief are the three great divisions of Currency Reform. The first class, really conservative, alarmed by the rapid growth of an American plutocracy, by which they are crowded from the ranks of the monied aristocracy, and excluded from a share in the spoils, loudly demand the restoration of silver, not so much in the interest of justice as “to restore the ancient order of things.” It is essentially a reform in the relations of the aristocracy to each other.

The second class, more thorough and constructive in their methods, fully emancipated from the worship of the golden calf, still stumble over the rock of usury. Proposing no measure that will relieve industry from the constant drain made upon it, they seek only a readjustment of the distribution of the spoils of labor. If the first class may be compared to an absolute monarchy with a limited peerage, this class may be likened to a constitutional monarchy with its great and powerful middle class to direct affairs and be represented in parliament. Consequently the success of the 3.65 bond scheme with traders, it being essentially a movement for the relief of middle men from the “depression of trade,” and so indirectly only benefitting the working classes.

In the third division we strike the hard pan of absolute justice and take the first step toward the inauguration of a cooperative government, placing the social ban upon the false and anarchical theory of political economy that regards labor as a commodity to be sold, and capital, the child of labor, its master and tyrant.

Capital can never accrue save through social cooperation; being, therefore, a social product, it must have a social destination. This is one of the fundamental laws of the social organism; to ignore it is social disintegration and anarchy. The system of absolute money is the only system of finance wherein distribution is not subordinated to production, wherein social rather than class interests are paramount, and it can alone restore these social laws to their normal functions.


Dyer D. Lum, “Currency Reform,” The Evolution 2 no. 3 (March, 1878): 54-56.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2701 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.