Mount Saint Elias

Above: First sited in 1741 by Europeans, Mount Saint Elias, 2008. Courtesy National Park Service. Right: Fort Necessity, French and Indian War.

Fort Necessity

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s

1740-1759



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  • Timeline

  • 1751 Detail

    June 10, 1751 - British Parliament passes the Currency Act to control the use of paper money in the New England colonies and plantations.

    Currency Act

    It was nineteen years since the British had been testing the liberty of the colonies to rule themselves in acts of taxation and laws of control. At first, in 1733, it was the Molasses Act, levying a hefty tax on molasses, rum, and sugar imported from the British West Indies to the Americas. One year before the Currency Act would be enacted, it had been control of the finished goods iron industry, attempting to end that trade in the colonies with the Iron Act. What better way to control commerce in those colonies now but to mandate the method and printing of payment by paper money.

    In actuality, there was a nobler goal. Colonial paper money had a way of depreciating with a variety of methods to back its value causing concerns among British merchants that the goods sold would not be equaled by the value of that money. There was a preference for specie money, backed by silver and gold, commodity money backed by a commodity common to a region, and paper money, backed by the land value of the individual who issued it. The colonies had always had a problem in their use of all three since their inception, but the third, paper money, seemed the most problematic, as it was dependent on the value of land, which fluctuated. By 1690, the colonies themselves began to issue their own paper currency, with the first issued by the Massachusetts Colony. By 1715, there were ten colonies in the paper currency game. However, the same problem started to occur when the colonies themselves issued more paper currency than the amount of their taxation. The paper currency then depreciated again. Hyperinflation followed.

    Parliament sought remedies to the situation and crafted a bill now known as the Currency Act of 1751, but known at the time as the Paper Bills of Credit Act. It placed restrictions on the use of paper money in the New England colonies, allowing it to pay some bills and taxes, but not to pay British merchants. Therefore use to pay private debts was essentially constricted. New public banks were also to be organized.



    Full Text, Currency Act 1751


    WHEREAS the Act of Parliament made in the sixth Year of her late Majesty Queen Anne, intituled An Act for ascertaining the Rate of foreign coins in her Majesty's Plantations in America, had been intirely frustrated in his Majesty's said Colonies of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, the Massachusetts Bay, and New Hampshire in America, by their creating and issuing, from Time to Time, great Quantities of Paper Bills of Credit, by virtue of Acts of Assembly, Orders, Resolutions of Votes, made or passed by their respective Assemblies, and making the Tender of such Bills of Credit in Payment for Debts, Dues and Demands; which Bills of Credit have, for many Years past, been depreciating in their Value, by means whereof all Debts of late Years have been paid and satisfied with a much less Value than was contracted for, which hath been a great Discouragement and Prejudice to the Confusion in Dealings, and Lessening of Credit in those Parts: Therefore, for the more effectual preventing and remedying of the said Inconveniences, may it please your most Excellent Majesty, that it may be enacted; and be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That from and after the twenty-ninth Day of September one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one, it shall not be lawful for the Governor, Council or Assembly for the Time being, or any of them, or for the Lieutenant Governor, or Person presiding or acting as Governor or Commander in Chief, for the time being, within all or any of the aforesaid Colonies or Plantations of Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, the Massachusetts Bay, and New Hampshire, to make or pass, or give his or their Assent to the making or passing of any Act, Order, Resolution or Vote, within any of the said Colonies or Plantations, whereby any Paper Bills or Bills of Credit, of any Kind or Denomination whatsoever, shall be created or issued under any Pretense whatsoever; or whereby the Time limited, or the Provision made, for the calling in, sinking or discharging of such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, as are already subsisting and passing in Payment, within any of the said Colonies or Plantations, shall be protracted or postponed; or whereby any of them shall be depreciated in Value, or whereby the same shall be ordered or allowed to be re-issued, or to obtain a new and further Currency; and that all such Acts, Orders, Resolutions or Votes, which shall or may be passed or made, after the said twenty-ninth Day of September one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one, within all or any of the said Colonies or Plantations, shall be, and are hereby declared to be null and void, and of no Force or Effect whatsoever.

    II. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit as are now subsisting, and passing in Payments, within any of the said Colonies or Plantations of Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, the Massachusetts Bay, and New Hampshire, shall be duly and punctually called in, sunk and discharged, according to the Tenor of and within the Periods limited by the respective Acts, Orders, Votes or Resolutions, for creating and issuing, or continuing the same respectively, unless where the same have been altered by any subsequent Act or Acts of Assembly; and in that Case, that the same be discharged according to the Tenor mentioned in the said Act or Acts of Assembly; and that no such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, shall, from and after the Periods so limited, as aforesaid be any longer current in all or any of the said Colonies or Plantations respectively.

    III. Provided nevertheless, That nothing in this Act contained shall extend, or be construed to extend, to restrain any Governor or Governors, Council or Assembly, within any of the said Colonies or Plantations, from making or passing any Act or Acts of Assembly in any of the said Colonies or Plantations, for the creating and issuing of such Paper Bills or Bills of Credit, in lieu of, and for securing such reasonable Sum or Sums of Money, as shall be requisite for the current Service of the Year; so as by such Act or Acts of Assembly, whereby such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, shall be created or issued, sufficient Provision be made to secure the calling in, discharging and sinking of the same, within a short reasonable Time not exceeding the Space of two Years, to be computed from the Dates of the respective Acts whereby such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, were created and issued; any Thing herein before contained to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.

    IV. Provided also, That nothing herein contained shall extend, or be construed to extend to restrain any Governor or Governors, Council or Assembly, within any of the said Colonies or Plantations, from making or passing any Act or Acts of Assembly, in any of the said Colonies or Plantations, for creating and issuing such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, in lieu of and for securing such reasonable Sum or Sums of Money as shall, at any Time hereafter, be necessary or expedient upon sudden and extraordinary Emergencies of Government, in case of War and Invasion, so as in every such Act or Acts of Assembly for the Emission of Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, so issued as aforesaid, due Care be taken to ascertain the real Value of all such principal Sum or Sums for which the same shall be so made, created and issued as aforesaid, and also the Interest to be paid thereon; and so as Care be likewise taken, in the Act or Acts, to establish and provide an ample and sufficient Fund for the calling in, discharging and sinking, within as short and reasonable a Time as may be, not exceeding five Years at the farthest, all the said Bills, by actual Payment of all and every the Sum and Sums of Money for which the same shall be made, created and issued as aforesaid, with the Interest due thereon.

    V. And whereas there are now subsisting and passing in Payment, within the said Colonies and Plantations, divers Kinds of Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, of various Denominations, which have been heretofore created and issued within the said Colonies and Plantations, or some of them, on Loans and otherwise, whereby private Persons and their Estates stand liable to, and bound for the Discharge of the Sums by them borrowed and received on such Loans; without the Payment of which Sums (in case any Difficulty or Obstruction should arise in the Payment thereof) such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit so issued on such Loans, cannot be called in, discharged and sunk, according to the Tenor of the respective Acts, Orders, Votes or Resolutions, by virtue whereof the same have been so respectively issued. For the providing a Remedy for such Inconveniences, be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, of what Kind or Denomination soever, which have at any Time heretofore been created and issued on such Loans, within of the said Colonies and Plantations, be duly called in, and discharged and sunk, according to the Tenor of the respective Orders, Votes or Resolutions, for creating and issuing, or continuing the same respectively, in like manner as all other Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, already subsisting within the said Colonies and Plantations, are herein before required to be called in, discharged and sunk.

    VI. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all Persons who have borrowed and taken up any Sum or Sums of Money on Loans, for the Discharge whereof they and their respective Estates stand bound, shall be required and compelled, by all due and legal Means, to satisfy and discharge the Sums by them borrowed, according to the Terms of such Loans respectively, and the true Intent and Meaning thereof, except as is herein before excepted; and in case any Deficiency or Loss shall happen by Failure of the Security so taken on such Loans respectively, that the same, and every Part thereof, shall be suppled and made good by an adequate Tax or Imposition, to be equally and rateably assessed, levied and raised within the said Colonies or Plantations respectively, where such Loss or Deficiency shall so happen.

    VII. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty-ninth Day of September one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one, no Paper currency, or Bills of Credit, of any Kind or Denomination, which may be made, created or issued in any of the said Colonies or Plantations, pursuant to the Provisions herein before made in this Act, shall be a legal Tender in Payment of any private Bargains, Contracts, Debts, Dues or Demands whatsoever, within the said Colonies or Plantations, or any of them.

    VIII. Provided, That nothing herein contained shall extend, or be construed to extend to make any of the Bills now subsisting in any of the said Colonies a legal Tender.

    IX. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That if any Governor or Commander in Chief for the Time being, in all or any of his Majesty's said Colonies or Plantations, whether commissioned by his Majesty, or elected by the People, shall, from and after the said twenty-ninth Day of September one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one, give his Assent to any Act of Assembly, Order, Resolution or Vote, for the Emission or Issuing of any Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, of any Kind or Demonination whatsoever; or for prolonging the Time limited for calling in and sinking any such Paper Bills, or Bills of Credit, as are now subsisting and passing in Payment; or for re-issuing or depreciating the same, contrary to the true Intent and Meaning of this Act; such Act, Order; Resolution, or Vote, shall be ipso facto null and void, and such Governor or Commander in Chief shall be immediately dismissed from his Government, and for ever after rendered incapable of any publick Office or Place of Trust.


    Was Parliament Done With Currency Acts?>


    Short answer. No. The Currency Act of 1751 was followed up by the Currency Act of 1764 within the reign of King George III. This time they would ban the use, in all the colonies, of colonial paper currency at all. All debts and bills to British merchants would thereafter have to be paid for in British currency. This was particularly aimed at trade in the middle and southern colonies, i.e. outside New England, which had been specifically addressed in the 1751 Currency Act, and prompted by the desire to tighten monetary policy after the French and Indian War.

    The original Paper Bills of Credit Act of 1751 was disliked by the colonies, and the subsequent Currency Act of 1764 was stated in the Declaration of Rights issued by the First Continental Congress of 1774 as one of the seven acts of Parliament that subverted colonial rights.


    Full Text, Currency Act of 1764


    Great Britain : Parliament - The Currency Act; April 19, 1764.

    WHEREAS great quantities of paper bills of credit have been created and issued in his Majesty's colonies or plantations in America, by virtue of acts, orders, resolutions, or votes of assembly, making and declaring such bills of credit to be legal tender in payment of money: and whereas such bills of credit have greatly depreciated in their value, by means whereof debts have been discharged with a much less value than was contracted for, to the great discouragement and prejudice of the trade and commerce of his Majesty's subjects, by occasioning confusion in dealings, and lessening credit in the said colonies or plantations: for remedy whereof, may it please your most excellent Majesty, that it may be enacted; and be it enacted by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That from and after the first day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, no act, order, resolution, or vote of assembly, in any of his Majesty's colonies or plantations in America, shall be made, for creating or issuing any paper bills, or bills of credit of any kind or denomination whatsoever, declaring such paper bills, or bills of credit, to be legal tender in payment of any bargains, contracts, debts, dues, or demands whatsoever; and every clause or provision which shall hereafter be inserted in any act, order, resolution, or vote of assembly, contrary to this act, shall be null and void.

    II. And whereas the great quantities of paper bills, or bills of credit, which are now actually in circulation and currency in several colonies or plantations in America, emitted in pursuance of acts of assembly declaring such bills a legal tender, make it highly expedient that the conditions and terms, upon which such bills have been emitted, should not be varied or prolonged, so as to continue the legal tender thereof beyond the terms respectively fixed by such acts for calling in and discharging such bills; be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every act, order, resolution, or vote of assembly, in any of the said colonies or plantations, which shall be made to prolong the legal tender of any paper bills, or bills of credit, which are now subsisting and current in any of the said colonies or plantations in America, beyond the times fixed for the calling in, sinking, and discharging of such paper bills, or bills of credit, shall be null and void.

    III. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any governor or commander in chief for the time being, in all or any of the said colonies or plantations, shall, from and after the said first day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, give his assent to any act or order of assembly contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, every such governor or commander in chief shall, for every such offence, forfeit and pay the sum of one thousand pounds, and shall be immediately dismissed from his government, and for ever after rendered incapable of any public office or place of trust.

    IV. Provided always, That nothing in this act shall extend to alter or repeal an act passed in the twenty fourth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, intituled, An act to regulate and restrain paper bills of credit in his Majesty's colonies or plantations of Rhode Island and Providence plantations, Connecticut, the Massachuset's Bay, and New Hampshire, in America, and to prevent the same being legal tenders in payments of money.

    V. Provided also, That nothing herein contained shall extend, or be construed to extend, to make any of the bills now subsisting in any of the said colonies a legal tender.

    Image above: Colonial paper currency from Province of Pennsylvania, 1764, Benjamin Franklin and D. Hall. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image Below: Montage of Colony of Massachusetts currency (left), 1741, Courtesy National Museum of American History; Portrait of King George II (center), circa 1755, John Shackleton; and Province of North Carolina currency (right), 1729, Courtesy National Museum of American History. All via Wikipedia Commons. Info Source: Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, Yale Law School, Great Britain, The statutes at large ... [from 1225 to 1867] by Danby Pickering, 1762-1869; stamp-act-history.com; digitalhistory.uh.edu; "Genesis of the Currency Act of 1764 Virginia Paper Money and the Protection of British Investments," Joseph Albert Ernst; Wikipedia Commons.


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