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In the same sitting a committee of five was appointed to get proper plates engraved, to provide paper, and to agree with printers to print the above bills.” Both Franklin and John Adams were on this committee.
Had they lived in 1862 instead of 1775, how would their doors have been beset by engravers and paper-dealers and printers! What baskets of letters would have been poured upon their tables ! How would they have dreaded the sound of the knocker or the cry of the postman! But, alas ! paper was so far from abundant that generals were often reduced to hard straits for enough of it to write their reports and despatches on; and that Congressmen were not much better off will be believed when we find John Adams sending his wife a sheet or two at a time under the same envelope with his own letters. Printers there were, as many, perhaps, as the business required, but not enough for the eager contention which the announcement of government work to be done excites among us in these days. And of engravers there were but four between Maine and Georgia. Of these four, one was Paul Revere of the midnight ride,* the Boston boy of Huguenot blood, whose self-taught graver had celebrated the repeal
* A name sure, henceforth, of its true place in our history; for, thanks to Longfellow, it has taken a firm place in our poetry Would that others' names equally deserving might be equall: fortunate.
of the Stamp Act, condemned to perpetual derision the rescinders of 1768, and told the story of the Boston Massacre, — who, when the first grand iury under the new organization was drawn, had inet the judge with, “I refuse to sarve,” — a scientific mechanic, — a leader at the Tea-party, — a soldier of the old war, — prepared to serve in this war, too, with sword, or graver, or science, fitting carriages, at Washington's command, to the cannon from which the retreating English had knocked off the trunnions, learning how to make powder at the command of the Provincial Congress, and setting up the first powder-mill ever built in Massachusetts.
No mere engraver's task for him, this engraving the first bill-plates of Continental Currency! How must he have warmed over the design ! how carefully must he have chosen his copper! how buoyantly must he have plied his graver, harassed by no doubts, disturbed by no misgivings of the double mission which those little plates were to perform, — the good one first, thank God! but ah! how fatal a one afterward! but resolved and hopeful as on that April night when he spurred his horse from cottage to hamlet, rousing the sleepers with the cry, long unheard in the sweet valleys of New England, “ Up! up! the enemy is coming !"
The paper of these bills was thick, so thick that the enemy called it the pasteboard money of the rebels. Plate, paper, and printing, all had little
in common with the elaborate finish and delicate texture of a modern bank-note. To sign them was too hard a tax upon Congressmen already taxed to the full measure of their working-time by committees and protracted daily sessions; and therefore a committee of twenty-eight gentlemen not in Congress was employed to sign and number them, receiving in compensation one dollar and a third for every thousand bills.
Meanwhile loud calls for money were daily reaching the doors of Congress. Everywhere money was wanted, — money to buy guns, money to buy powder, money to buy provisions, money to send officers to their posts, money to march troops to their stations, money to speed messengers to and fro, money for the wants of to-day, money to pay for what had already been done, and still more money to insure the right doing of what was yet to do: Washington wanted it; Lee wanted it; Schuyler wanted it; from north to south, from sea-board to inland, came one deep, monotonous, menacing cry, — “Money, or our hands are powerless !”
How long would these two millions stand sach a drain ? Spent before they were received, hardly touching the Treasury-chest as a starting-place before they flew on “ the wings of all the winds” to gladden thousands of expectant hearts with a brief respite from one of their many cares. Relief there certainly was; neither long, indeed, nor lasting, but still relief. Good Whigs received the bills, as they did everything that came from Congress, with unquestioning confidence. Tories turned from them in derision, and refused to give their goods for them. Whereupon Congress took the matter in hand, and told them that they must. It was soon seen that another million would be wanted, and in July a second issue was resolved on. All-devouring war had soon swallowed this also. Three more millions were ordered in No vember. But the war, men said, was to end soon,
- by June, '76, at the latest. All expenditures were calculated upon this supposition ; and wealth flowing in under the auspices of a just and equable accommodation with their reconciled mother, these millions which had served them so well in the hour of need would soon be repaid by a happy and grateful people from an abundant treasury.
But early in 1776 reports care of English negotiations for foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion, — reports which soon took the shape of positive information. It was evident that no immediate end of the war was to be looked for now ; already, too, independence was looming up on the turbid horizon ; already the current was bearing them onward, deep, swift, irresistible; and thus seizing still more eagerly upon the future, they poured out other four millions in February, five millions in May, five millions in July. The Confederacy was not yet formed; the Declaration
of Independence had nothing yet to authenticate it but the signatures of John Hancock and Charles Thompson; and the republic that was to be was already solemnly pledged to the payment of twenty millions of dollars.
Thus far men's faith had not faltered. They saw the necessity and accepted it, giving their goods and their labor unhesitatingly for a slip of paper which derived all its value from the resolves of a body of men who might, upon a reverse, be thrown down as rapidly as they had been set up. And then whom were they to look to for indemnification? But now began a sensible depreciation, — slight, indeed, at first, but ominous. Congress took the alarm and resolved upon a loan, — resolved to borrow directly what it had hitherto borrowed indirectly, the goods and the labor of its constituents. Accordingly, on the 3d of October, a resolve was passed for raising five millions of dollars at four per cent; and in order to make it convenient to lenders, loan-offices were established in every Colony, with a commissioner for each.
Money came in slowly, but ran out so fast that, in November, Congress ordered weekly returns from the Treasury, not of sums on hand, but of what parts of the last emission remained unexpended. The campaign of 1777 was at hand; how the campaign of 1776 would end was uncertain. The same impenetrable veil that as yet hid