William A. Berkey (1823-1902) William Berkey
The Money Question

Paper Monetary System


In appearing before the public in the character of a writer, upon what is commonly supposed to be a very abstruse subject, a word of explanation seems to be necessary.  For over a quarter of a century I have been actively engaged in business, as a manufacturer, and have naturally been led to enquire into the laws which govern the production and distribution of wealth.  It was a matter of perplexity to me why it was that a nation possessed of the wonderful natural resources and the enormous productive powers that are possessed by the American people, should not enjoy general and uninterrupted prosperity ;  and, knowing that wealth is chiefly the product of labor, that the industrial classes of society are unable to retain anything like a fair proportion of the wealth produced by their labor.  The farmer, usually considered the most independent of mortals, is engaged in a never-ending struggle to secure a mere competency ;  the same is true of the mechanic, the laborer, etc.;  and the merchant, the manufacturer and others engaged in the production and distribution of wealth, aided by capital, are oppressed with a consciousness that their capital may at any time take to itself wings and fly away, no matter how wisely or prudently they may conduct their affairs.  On the other hand, wealth is seen flowing in a constant stream into the laps of those who do not employ their capital in any wealth producing pursuit, but use it, in the shape of money, as an instrument to control property and labor.  This certainly is sufficient to justify the suspicion that the unequal distribution of the products of labor which is constantly going on in the land, greatly to the disadvantage of society, is due to the manner in which money is instituted ;  and the questions arise, in what respect is money improperly instituted, and what is the remedy ?

If it had not been for the experience furnished during the Rebellion, the great body of the American people would doubtless have continued to struggle on, in entire ignorance of the fact that it is possible to establish a monetary system on any other principles than those inculcated by the advocates of the specie basis or bank currency system.  Fortunately, however, it was then fully demonstrated that a system of money, such as was suggested by Jefferson and other eminent founders of the republic, could be instituted upon entirely different principles ;  a system that would distribute the products of labor in entire harmony with the laws of trade, and far more equitably than could possibly be done through the instrumentality of bank currency.  The masses undoubtedly realize the truth of this, but are at loss to give a reason for the faith that is in them.  This is not at all strange.  The wealth, intelligence and ability of the nation, as well as the power of the press, are arrayed on the side of the side of the United States Bank in the memorable contest between that institution and the people, under the patriotic leadership of General Jackson.  Even professors of political economy are dragooned into the same ignoble service, and compelled to distort the principles of the science, to which they profess to be devoted, for the purpose of deceiving the public.  In pursuing my own investigations, I found, to my surprise, that, except Kellog’s admirable work, written some years before the war, there was no book extant of a popular character, from which anything like a clear understanding of the questions involved in the present crisis could be obtained ;  and that the public was entirely dependent upon the fugitive writings of the few earnest and able men, who have espoused the cause of the people, for information upon the subject.  It was in view of these circumstances that this work was undertaken.  I would have been glad, indeed, if some one, who was better prepared for the duty, had undertaken it ;  but as that did not seem probable, and, knowing the great want of such a work from my own experience, I determined that it should be written at all events, in order that the American people might have a fair opportunity to decide intelligently upon this all important question.  No claim is made to originality, nor has there been any effort made in regard to style.  My sole aim has been to present the facts and principles relating to the subject correctly, and in plain, simple language ;  and, as will be observed, I have not hesitated to quote extensively whenever it could be done to advantage.  In preparing the work for the press I have also availed myself of competent assistance, in order that the subject matter might be presented to the public as forcibly as possible.  Special care has been taken to give credit to those whose ideas or language have been adopted, but I am much indebted to the fugitive writings above referred to, and I desire in a general way to express my acknowledgments for the same, and especially to Hon. W.D. Kelley, General Wm. Brindle, Henry Carey Baird and E.M. Davis, of Philadelphia ;  Peter Cooper and Pliny Freeman, of New York City ;  John G. Drew, of New Jersey ;  and to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Chicago Industrial Age and the Indianapolis Sun.

William A. Berkey

Grand Rapids, Mich.
May 20th, 1876