Address of the Assembly of Virginia to Governor Fauquier
An address to Lieutenant Governor Fauquier, commander-in-chief of the colony of Virginia, from the House of Burgesses, presided over by George Wythe. The address concerned the use of paper money in Virginia.
Document text, 27th May 1763
To the Honble Francis Fauquier Esqr Lieu Governour & Commander in chief of the colony of Virginia
The address of the house of Burgesses 27th May 1763
Your Honour having with your accustomed candor and goodness communicated to us the complaint of some land on Merchants trading to this colony to the right honourable the lords of trade and plantations and their Lordships resolutions thereupon we took the same under our serious consideration and found ourselves under the necessity of vindicating the integrity and uprightness of our proceedings every way in our opinion consistent with our duty to our King & the true interest of our Country
Our dependence on Great Britain we acknowledge & glory in as our greatest happiness and only security but this is not the dependence of a people subjugated by the arms of a conqueror but of sons sent out to explore and settle a new world for the mutual benefit of themselves and their common parent it is the dependence of a part upon one great whole which by its admirable constitution diffuses a spirit of patriotism that makes every citizen however distant from the mother kingdom zealous to promote its majesty and the publick good
By such a spirit and by such principles, Sir, hath our conduct ever been influenced and we hope we may without arrogance take this character to ourselves since our late and present sovereigns have been pleased frequently to bestow it upon us for the part we took in
the late war when we did as far as we were able contribute to the success of the British Arms.
This conduct th'o it hath received the Royal approbation a reward adequate to our warmest wishes hath nevertheless involved us in a great debt which as it was created for the noblest purpose we should cheerfully sustain if the Merchants had not raised a most unreasonable clamour against our paper Bills of credit in the emissions of which when a true and particular state of the facts shall be laid before you and the matter rightly understood in doubt not a zeal so well intended will rather be imputed to us as meritorious than liable to any exception.
The memorial we are concerned to find supported by a protest of some of his Majestys council here we would leave this protest to its repose until posterity for whom it is said to have been designed should think it worth a perusal had it not been communicated by the authors of it with a view to alarm the trading interest and applied to purposes and produced effects which we hope the protestants themselves did not intend but since that hath raised the apprehensions of the memorialists and instigated them to solicit the interposition of the right Honourable the board of trade we must do justice to ourslves by examining the grounds of it. It is alledged that the want of a sufficient quantity of circulating money was at first the pretence of issuing paper Bills of credit. This is supposed to have meant as it was understood to
insinuate that these emissions were to answer private purposes. But if it be remembered that all our neighbouring colonies had long before adopted and most of them repeated the expedient of paper to supply the want of specie in time of peace but that we did not follow this example before the law war after all our treasure was anticipated and that even then we chose at first to borrow 10000 pounds for his Majestys service and the high interest of 6 per centum and never til after that recourse failed went into a measure so little relished and always except in other instance of trifling consequence confined the amount of the notes to the money granted for these notorious truths are admitted we leave it to the judgment to the disinterested whether at such a crisis when an actual invasion threatened if not timely & vigorously opposed over total extermination the powerful principle of self preservation cooperating with the requisitions of a most gracious sovereign are not sufficient to acquit us of any sordid or unjust motives.
It is said in the protest that the apprehensions of the mischiefs that must be the consequence of issuing more paper money were sufficiently warranted by the acknowledged defficiency of the taxes for sinking what had issued a defficiency so alarming to a preceding assembly that it astonished the warmest advocates for paper money By whom this acknowledgment was made or what part of the assembly was alarmed at it
we know not but this we know and do assert that there are no warm advocates for paper money among us further than to preserve the credit of what hath been issued and prevent the evil consequences of stopping circulation at this time and that no such defficiency ever appeared or was alarming or acknowledged by us.
Indeed upon examination of the Treasurers accounts it appeared that many sheriffs had not paid in the taxes received by them and therefore so much money was not annually burnt as was intended by the laws. This raised the resentment of the house against those officers and constantly with their uniform intentions to use every method for enforcing regular collections of the taxes and sinking annualy the due proportion of this paper they ordered the sheriffs in arrear to be prosecuted on their bonds which as our laws have provided a speedy remedy against them and they gave sufficient security hath already brought in a considerable part of those arrears and will we hope remove all cause of complaint on that account But this neglect of the officers is very distinguishable from an insufficiency in the taxes which we never doubted more sufficient if properly collected to effect the purpose of redemption and we are now confirmed in this opinion by a full state of the notes in circulation and of the taxes which we have caused to be truly drawn and annexed hurts for the satisfaction of your honour and every person concerned From this it will appear that the dissenting members of the council were betrayed into a too hasty assertion of these facts
by a warmth arising from a difference of opinion about the utility of the law whereto their protest related of which we will now take leave and proceed to the consideration of the memorial itself and the resolutions of the right hon'ble the board of trade thereupon
Our reasons for not providing at this time for the supposed defficiency in our taxes will appear from what is before set forth but to express what we always conceived that our public faith is engaged to supply any accidental failure in those taxes we have upon this point come to the following resolution
Resolved, that it appears that the funds established for redemption of the Treasury notes at the several slated periods will be sufficient to effect that purpose but that if by any accident they shall happen to fail any defficiency ought to be supplied by a new and adequate tax.
The next thing pointed out to us is the declaring these notes not a legal tender in payment of sterling debts but that they may be received by such creditors only as are willing to accept them and then not at their nominal value but according to the real difference of exchange between such paper Bills and sterling money at the time of payment.
In entering upon this consideration we encounter a charge which very deeply affects us that we have been wanting in a proper respect to the crown as well as in justice to the British Merchants in refusing to employ with what was recomended by his late Majestys instructions of the 31st Jany 1759 when that instruction was communicated to us by your Honour we considered it with the at tension and regard due
to whatever comes from the throne but as we must be allowed to judge for ourselves so far as our sanction is necessary to any law and could not be convinced that the measure proposed was proper we did indeed decline to pass such a law but at the same time in an humble address and representation to his majesty modestly set forth the reasons of our conduct which we presume to hope would preserve us from the imputation of disrespect to the Crown and from the Royal displeasure and as we heard of no further complaints from the British Merchants on this subject from that time til the meeting of this session we concluded they were satisfied of our intensions to do them justice and we can venture to say that had we known our reasons were not satisfactory it would have prevented several subsequent emissions and particularly the last which gave rise to the present complaint
The memoralists allege that exchequer Bills and notes of the bank of England were not made legal tender in payments of debts although they are upon a better establishment than our notes and deduce an argument from thence against ours being declared such tender not considering as we conceive the true distinction in the cases the notes of the bank of England circulated upon stocks of specie deposited to answer payments when demanded were not forced upon any person nor was it necessary there was no doubt of their answering every local purpose of money and when in case of remittances to foreign countries specie became necessary as they could obtain that for their notes no possible fear could prevent the willing receipt of them and make a law to compell an
acceptance proper. we cannot deny but this makes that kind of paper preferable to ours and we should gladly have pursued so eligible a plan of our circumstances would have admitted it But when it is considered that the want of specie which had been drawn away by the armies to the northward was the sole cause of issuing our notes there will require no other reason to be assigned for our not circulating them upon the footing of bank and Exchequer notes we had therefore no other method than to emitt these notes to circulate as money for a short limited time and to impose such taxes as should effectively return to the Treasury or gold and silver sufficient to redeem them by the time appointed and sense we were to force them as money upon our army and those who furnished them with necessarys we conceived it would have been unjust to have left their creditors at liberty to take it of them or not and the same injustice must have happened wherever it had been stopped we therefore though ourselves obliged not only to give it that essential quality of money to make it a legal tender in all payments but to add several other restrictions to preserve its credit and prevent the designs of the avaricious to depreciate it for their private gain.
But at the same time we considered how the interest of the British Merchants might be affected by this money and at least as far as was in our power if not effectually secured that from injury
We ever considered ourselves as under an obligation to discharge our debts contracted in Great Britain either in sterling money or foreign coin received by consent of the creditor or his
attorney here at such a rate for the difference of exchange as would place the money in Great Britain without loss of the creditor and debtor could not agree about this difference a refference to arbitration or to the courts of justice was the only regular method of settling it between them. But as the demand and in consequence the judgment was for sterling money and until the year 1748 there was no law directing at what rate of exchange sterling debts should be discharged the consequence was that the sheriffs when they levied money by executions on judgments for sterling demanded what exchange they though proper to the great oppression of the debtor and without any advantage to the creditor. The Assembly then thought proper to put a stop to such unjust proceedings and by the Act entitled an Act declaring the law concerning executions and for relief of insolvent debtors directed such executions for sterling money to be levied at 25 per centum the real difference of money and the then difference of exchange the British Merchants complained of this Act and represented that they might be considerable losers when exchange should rise above 25 per centum which the Assembly took into their consideration and endeavored to provide a remedy for. They knew that as exchange was fluctuating they could not do justice by fixing it to any certain standard and therefore by the subsequent law taken notice of in the memorial they empowered the courts where sterling judgments should be obtained to settle at what rate of exchange the same should be discharged
which they conceived would enable the creditor to place his money there without loss as it was not doubted but the court would be governed by the highest exchange given at the time for bills drawn payable in Britain.
But the memoralists say this is not an ample security of their property against the evil consequences of paper money being declared a tender for their debts we will beg leave to consider their reasons in support of this assertion in the order they have mentioned them.The first is they are advised that the law of 1748 is still in force having received the Royal assent which the amending law could not obtain as the former remained unrepealed. This amending law is not suspended for his Majestys approbation but from the terms of it agreeable to the Royal instructions was in force from the time of its passing here until his majesty shall declare his dissent and repeal thereof which not having happened and the Courts here allowing the force of that amending law and acting according to the spirit thereof we concern it would have been more for the interest of the memoralists to have collected his majestys approbation of that law if they thought it necessary than to have founded objections on its not being in force and of the Royal dissent or any determination here that the law was not in force had turned to their prejudice they then might have complained with reason on this head.
Their next objection to this remedy is that it is left to the Colony judges to settle the exchange on sterling
judgments in such a manner as they shall think reasonable and just which they say is introducing a mode and form of justice unheard of in the British realm we have before observed that when we have not sterling money to pay a debt due in Great Britain the debtor is left to compound with his creditor for payment in foreign coin or Treasury notes at such rate of exchange as they can agree on if a dispute shall arise on that head which they cannot adjust between themselves to whom can it be referred but as all other disputes are to the courts of justice the true constitutional resort? And we cannot discover what the memoralists mean by calling this anew mode of justice unless it be that the point should be tried by a jury and not by the courts in which if we err edit was from a mistaken opinion that the latter would prove in this instance the most competent & impartial judges. And as the courts have constantly in the exercise of this power allowed the highest rate of exchange as settled by the general consent of all the traders at which Bills of exchange upon Great Britain were sold at the time we humbly insist that sterling debts are virtually paid in Treasury notes not as according to the real difference of exchange between them and sterling money.
But it is said experience hath shown in many instances this mode to be insufficient in as much as the exchange hath risen between the time of the orders of Court and a possibility of the creditors obtaining a remittance to his disadvantage we allow there have been such instances
But we must be permitted to say the disadvantages hath hitherto been small and inconsiderable of a casual nature against which no human laws can provide and for which therefore we cannot suggest a remedy and the injuries sustained will be fully compensated by the advantages the creditors must inevitably receive in the same proportion from the present declining state of exchange. By the method proposed instead of this objected to the creditor is at liberty to refuse this paper unless paid him at such rate of exchange as he is pleased to demand and we submit to all mankind to determine which is most liable to objection to refer the deception to disinterested judges under the obligations of an Oath to do equal and impartial justice or to the creditor under the temptation of interest to take advantage of his debtors necessity and extort such difference as might be very oppressive which we can conceive would directly tend to destroy the credits of our paper money and introduce the greatest mischeifs.
We hope we have fully explained the justice and necessity of having made these notes a tender in payment guarding as we did the interest of the sterling creditors and if this was originally right every argument must doubly militate against an alteration at this time in this essential point. For when those notes have been allowed to circulate several years and the present possessors have received them under the faith of a law which obliged their creditors to take them in the same manner to takeaway that obligation and to stop the paper in their hands
would be an Act of injustice which in our opinion bears no proportion to any possible injury the sterling creditors sustained or can receive from continuing the notes on their present footing.
For these reasons after the most mature deliberation we cannot alter our former opinion and have come to the following Resolution.
Resolved that as the present possessors of the Treasury notes have received them under the faith of a law making them a legal tender in all payments except for his majestys quitrents to all that essential quality of them now would be an act of great injustice to such possessors and that as the British Merchants have constantly received and under the present regulations of our law will continue to receive such notes for their sterling debts according to the real difference of exchanges between this Colony and Great Britain at the time of payment their properly is so secured as to make such alteration unnecessary with respect to them.
Assembly of Virginia
27th May 1763