In the midst of a political and economic crisis, when the government had already run wild deficits, debts, and inflation, one man rose to condemn corrupt policies and practice. Risking reputation and popularity, he warned Congress that “paper money . . . is not, properly speaking, money at all,” but rather, “essentially defective as a medium of universal commerce.” Worse yet, “to arm such bills with the authority of the state, and make them a legal tender in all payments, is an absurdity so great that is not easy to speak with propriety upon it.”
While these issues and warnings describe our own modern economic crisis, they actually come from the speeches of the Rev. John Witherspoon—the only Clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most revered speakers in the Continental Congress from 1776–1782. Amidst the failure of the Continental paper money, Witherspoon’s speeches on Money and Finance related a theory of money so sound that even some of Witherspoon’s opponents in Congress eventually capitulated. After the Continental currency finally collapsed, they came to Witherspoon urging him to publish his speeches as an essay for the education of future generations.
How slowly we learn. The United States experienced the same crisis with “Greenback” currency during the Civil War, and since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, we have witnessed more than a 95 percent devaluation of today’s paper currency.
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