Lot #7023
John Tyler Autograph Letter Signed

Tyler recalls his exchequer plan, a means to create a national "paper currency which would be the true representative of the precious metals, and would circulate all over the commercial world"

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Tyler recalls his exchequer plan, a means to create a national "paper currency which would be the true representative of the precious metals, and would circulate all over the commercial world"

Important ALS signed "J. Tyler," four pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.75 x 9.75, no date but circa 1857-1858. Handwritten letter to one of his sons, recollecting his proposed plan to create an 'exchequer' system based on Jeffersonian principles, evidently at the request of newsman and former congressman William Alexander Harris. In part: "My exchequer plan will be found in limine in a report made by Mr. Forward, then Sec: of the Treasury, to the Senate in the winter of 1841-2. My message of December 1841 presents its outlines, and that of Dec'r 1842 repeats the recommendation for its adoption, and briefly answers the most prominent objections…The report which accompanied the plan is worthy of deliberate study. That paper was written by Webster and adopted by Forward. The plan itself was my own, and was drawn up at my house in Williamsburg…It was presented to the cabinet and adopted as a cabinet measure, only one suggestion of amendment being urged upon me, and that I adopted upon the condition that I should present the plan to Congress in the alternative to be adopted by that body either with, or without the amendment as it might see proper. The amendment simply provided the means of paying the expences by authorizing a limited dealing in the exchanges. Agencies were proposed to be established in all the States, but if a State prohibited it, the agency in such State was forbidden to deal in exchange. This proviso was incorporated by myself under the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of the City of Augusta vs. Earle and other similar cases.

I cannot lay my hand on the original draft…and presume I handed it over to Mr. Forward. The scheme doubtless may be modified and improv'd. Mr. Cushing's suggestions in the House, and those of Mr. Talmage in the Senate in regard to it are well worthy to be look'd to. My present impression is that taking the subtreasury as its basis, and authorizing the issue of certificates of deposits to individuals in the form of bank notes of denominations of $5 and up to one hundred, with larger sums to be put upon the footing of bills of exchange, for the issuing of which the actual premium of transporting specie from one place to another should be charged, the country would have a paper currency which would be the true representative of the precious metals, and would circulate all over the commercial world. In order to get it under way the government might issue certificates to its creditors, taking care to place actually in deposit gold and silver to the amount of each certificate. The specie deposited should be regarded as sacred for the purpose of redeeming the certificates whenever presented. Those certificates would bear a premium in the markets of the world, and furnish a currency of more value than gold or silver, because more easily transported about one. The only danger would be that the bankers would snatch them up for hoarding in place of gold and silver.

The agencies might be the sub-treasuries; but of course the government funds should be kept entirely separated and distinct from the funds of private depositors, except as suggested above. The Madisonian of that day would repay the reading of Mr. Harris, as many of the articles proceeded from the great minds of the Cabinet in support of the project. He would also revive his earlier recollections by referring to Mr. Jefferson's letters to John W. Eppes in the volumes of his correspondence, (which volume I do not at the moment remember). The letter was written, I think, in the year 1816, and relates to Finance. By consulting the index he would readily find the letter. It will repay his search. I wish you to file away this letter carefully after Mr. Harris has either perus'd it, or been furnished with a copy of what precedes. It may become at a future day, a key to the history of the matter to which it relates." In a handwritten postscript, he describes a visit to the sickbed of his friend Littleton Waller Tazewell and sadly anticipating his death: "When I left he grasped my hand and said, 'Farewell my old friend, it is the last time you will ever see me.' What a mind will have gone to sleep when his last breath is over." In very good to fine condition, with wrinkling to the center, and some splitting along the hinge. Accompanied by a handsome custom-made quarter-leather case. Extracts of this letter were published in the New York Times on January 12, 1858.

Tyler's plan, essentially a precursor to the Federal Reserve Bank, was designed to create a strong, nationwide paper currency-backed by precious metals-to replace the unstable flood of notes from state banks that brought about repeated episodes of boom and bust. The scheme called for a three-member board to oversee the issue of paper notes, with never more than $15 million worth of paper money in circulation for every $10 million of gold and silver held in the federal government's vaults. In this letter, Tyler presciently observes that this sound money would be in high demand all over the world. Today, the United States dollar stands as the globe's dominant international reserve currency.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: U.S. Presidents
  • Dates: #630 - Ended February 17, 2022

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