Today, the Congress Commemorative Five-Dollar Coin remembers when the Continental Congress received word of the Battle at Breed’s Hill and decided to approve a Continental Currency to pay for the war efforts on June 22, 1775.
From the Historical Sketches of the Paper Currency of the American Colonies by Henry Phillips, Jr., A. M., published in 1865:
The colonies continued to press on the attention of congress their necessities for money, for loans and for supplies. They “had stretched their own public faith as far as it would go, and the pledge of a future fund to be here after devised had been trusted to its full value.”
Their representations seem at last to have wrought on congress a knowledge that their constituency, whether for well or for ill, desired a continental paper currency which should be equally current in all the colonies; the following Monday, June 12th, appears from a letter of the New York delegation, to have been fixed upon for the consideration of the propriety and expediency of such emission.
On the 17th of June Mr. Duane writes: “Your great complaint of the want of money, will, I hope, he soon removed. For your present satisfaction we have obtained leave of the congress to inform you that the general committee of the whole body have reported a resolution to emit in continental paper currency a sum not exceeding the value of ten millions of Spanish dollars, for the redemption of which all the colonies are to be pledged. We hope soon to furnish you with the particulars of this important transaction.“
No notice appears on the journals of congress, either public or private, of any such intention, until the twenty-second day of June, 1775, when it was resolved, agreeably to the information conveyed in the foregoing letter, to issue a sum in bills of credit for the defense of America, not to exceed two millions (2,000,000) of Spanish milled dollars, pledging for their redemption the faith of the twelve confederated colonies.
On the next day some of the minor particulars of bills were agreed upon, and a committee consisting of John Adams, John Rutledge, James Duane, Benjamin Franklin, who most probably was one of the prime movers in the matter, and James Wilson, was appointed to have the proper plates engraved, procure paper, and make arrangements for printing the notes, which were to be in denomination from one to twenty dollars, and in form as follows:
“This Bill entitles the Bearer to receive Spanish milled dollars, or the value thereof in Gold or Silver, according to the resolution of the Congress, held at Philadelphia, on the 10th day of May, A. D. 1775.”
R. Bache, Stephen Paschall, and Michael Hillegas were appointed to superintend the press and to have the oversight and care of printing the bills.
But a mere committee of superintendence, chosen from the members of congress, upon whose time more engrossing calls were made, and upon whom more weighty duties rested, could not satisfactorily or rapidly enough administer the governmental funds.
Accordingly, after an additional issue to the amount of one million of dollars had been ordered, Michael Hillegas and George Clymera were appointed the joint treasurers of the United Colonies.
The original intention had been that the members of congress should sign the bills, but it was seen that too much invaluable time would have been uselessly wasted if the project was carried out.
A committee of gentlemen, who were not thus officially disqualified, was appointed for that purpose: two were to sign and number each note, and as fast as completed to hand them over to the continental treasurers, and to receive for their compensation one and one-third dollars for every thousand bills so signed and numbered.
The persons appointed to this duty were well known citizens of Philadelphia.
The notes themselves are remarkable as specimens of the progress which the art of engraving had made at that time in this country.
In issuing these notes the expectation of congress was that the individual colonies would lay the proper taxes for their ultimate extinction.
An assessment was prepared, based upon the supposed population of the colonies, in order to distribute equitably among them the quotas required from each: this scale was to be afterwards settled when a correct list of each colony should be obtained.
Georgia is not included in the assessment, as she had not yet linked her fortunes with the rest of the colonies.
New Hampshire was rated at … $124,069.5
Massachusetts Bay do … 434,244
Rhode Island do … 71,959.5
Connecticut do … 248,139
New York do … 248,139
New Jersey do … 161,290.5
Pennsylvania do … 372,208.5
Delaware do … 37,219.5
Maryland do … 310,174.5
Virginia do … 496,278
North Carolina do … 248,139
South Carolina do … 248,139
The payments of these sums were to be made in four annual equal installments, the first being on or before the last day of November, 1779, and the last on or before the last day of November, 1782.
And that for this end the several provincial assemblies or conventions should provide for laying or levying taxes in their respective provinces or colonies, towards sinking the continental bills.
That the bills should be received by the collectors in payment of such taxes, and be by the collectors paid into the hands of the provincial treasurers, with all such other moneys as they may receive in lieu of the continental bills; which other moneys, the said provincial treasurer were to endeavor to get exchanged for continental bills, and where that could be done should send to the continental treasurers, the deficiency in silver or gold, with the bills, making up the quota to be sunk in that year, taking care to cut, by a circular punch of an inch diameter, a hole in each bill, and to cross the same, thereby to render them impassable, though the sum or value was to remain fairly legible.
“And the continental treasurers, as fast as they receive the said quotas, shall with the assistance of a committee of five persons to be appointed by the congress, if sitting, or by the assembly or convention of the province of Pennsylvania, examine and count the said continental bills, and in the presence of the said committee burn and destroy them. And the silver and gold sent them to make up the deficiencies of quotas, they shall retain in their hands until demanded in redemption of continental bills that may be brought to them for that purpose, which bills so redeemed they shall also burn and destroy in presence of the said committee. And the said treasurers whenever they have silver or gold in their hands for the redemption of continental bills, shall advertise the same, signifying that he is ready to give silver or gold for such bills to all persons requiring it in exchange.”
Such were the pains taken to anticipate any surplusage of revenue and to keep up the credit of the notes: steady search does not however reveal to us a single advertisement of the nature set forth in the above resolve.
At the outset it was hoped that the debt thus about to be created would be but small, would have ample provision made for its redemption and therefore suffer no depreciation. One project for keeping the bills at par, proposed by Dr. Franklin, was of letting them bear interest; this however was overruled, though it probably would not if adopted, have answered the purpose intended.
But the states were in no condition for taxation, and could not and did not respond to the call of congress.
Far from withdrawing their own circulation and permitting the issues of congress to be their only currency, nearly all of the states were driven to emit their own bills of credit, in many instances in large amounts, which fearfully clashed against the continental notes.
The battle at Breed’s hill had taken place, and it was seen how fallacious were the hopes of a peaceful solution of the question.
It is asserted that the news of the battle on its arrival at Philadelphia exercised an influence on causing this emission; the news arrived on the twenty second of June as stated, but as the matter of the issue of paper money had been long previously considered in committee and agreed upon at last ten days before, the statement cannot be considered as substantiated.
With this sum of three millions of dollars it was purposed to combat the inexhaustible revenues of Britain.
It would almost provoke a smile to consider how long this petty amount would last or how far it would go towards the support of any one army.
The various colonies issued their paper money in large amounts in support of their troops; from Massachusetts to Georgia none had neglected this device.
The Congress Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an image of the In Congress record approving the Continental Currency on June 22, 1775.