The bimetallist replies that such is, in truth, the natural tendency; but when the dearer metal is thrown out of use as money it thereby becomes cheaper, and as the cheaper metal must take its place, a vastly greater demand for it is created, and so it becomes dearer; thus an alternating action keeps the two near a parity, provided that the ratio corresponds nearly with the relative amounts of the two metals in the world’s stock. They claim that the world has thus a far less fluctuating standard of value than it ever can have with one metal alone.
The monometallist rejoins that this is “all theory.” This brings both parties to the test of experience, and by common consent the experience of France in the seventy years from 1803 to 1873 is taken as the best practical test. At first view, it would seem as if the matter could easily be settled, as the time is so recent that there could be no great obscuration of the history; but on inquiry a determination of the real facts is found to be no such simple matter, and as the disturbance of natural law by war and other causes was almost constant, both sides find enough in the facts to make a basis for their respective contentions. Let us then consider this history.
Napoleon Bonaparte became First Consul and practically ruler of France in 1799, and at once addressed himself, with his usual energy, to the task of establishing a stable monetary system. He found that in 1785 Calonne had established the ratio of 15-1/2 of silver to 1 of gold, and that it had worked reasonably well. He accepted it, therefore, as justified by experience, and his Finance Minister carried through the Council of State an act for the free coinage of both metals at that ratio. For seventy years this law stood practically unchanged, and it is speaking with great moderation to say that in those seventy years there occurred more disturbance of every kind unfavorable to the maintenance of a ratio than in any other seventy years in monetary history. France was twice conquered, her soil overrun, and her capital held by the enemy. She four times changed her form of government. Once she was subjected to the payment of enormous war expenditures, and again not only to the payment of still greater expenditures but to a fine exceeding in amount the largest sum of gold ever held in the United States. During a large part of this time the world’s production of silver was in excess of that of gold to an extent very much greater than it has been in recent years, and then, after a very brief interval of something like equal production, there was a sudden and tremendous increase in the production of gold until it exceeded that of silver more than 3 to 1 in value. During these years, also, several of the neighboring nations, including seventy million people, demonetized gold and threw the whole burden of sustaining its equality on the continent of Europe upon France, and during another portion of the time there were monetary disturbances so far-reaching that they shook the foundations of credit in every civilized country in the world. And yet, through all these convulsions, France for seventy years maintained a substantial parity, by welding the two metals together for monetary purposes.