Barbara Villiers: History of Monetary Crimes - Alexander Del Mar

The Cattle and Coinage Bill.

Let us commence with 1663. The object of the East India Company, their backers the landlords of England, their colleagues the goldsmiths of London, and their agents in Parliament, assisted by the Countess of Castlemaine's faction, was first, to remove the restriction upon the exportation of coins and bullion; second, to get rid of the State seigniorage upon the coins; and third, to usurp the prerogative of coinage for themselves. These objects they accomplished by means of separate measures. And here it is to be noticed that the Mint laws of 1816 and 1870 in England and of 1873 in the United States of America, were likewise altered by means of separate measures. By this device the extent and importance of the alteration escaped attention.

I. The first measure of 1663 was entitled "An Act for the Encouragement of Trade." It provided that between the 1st of July and the 20th of December in any year, all cattle imported from Ireland, Wales or Scotland into England shall pay a duty of 20 shillings per head and it repealed the various provisions that had theretofore been enacted forbidding the export of coin or bullion from the kingdom. The patriotic pretext for the first provision was that Irish (and Scotch) cattle, already fattened, were imported into England to the injury of English landlords, who were thus deprived of the means of letting their pastures to advantage. The pretext for the second provision was that trade generally was hindered by the restriction on the export of coin. On July 21, 1663, the bill, having passed through the Commons, apparently without debate, and being then on its third reading in the Lords, a protest against its enactment was signed by the Earl of Anglesey, for himself and others, and delivered to the Commons. Among other objections the Earl of Anglesey urged the following:

"There appearing already great want of money in His Majesty's dominions and almost all the gold of His Majesty's stamp gone, notwithstanding the restraint made by law . . . it must necessarily follow by this free exportation" (the balance of trade being against us) "that our silver will also be carried away into foreign parts and all trade fail for the want of money, which is the Measure of it." . . . "It trencheth highly upon the king's prerogative, he being by law the only exchanger of money, and his interest (as) equal to command that, as to command the militia of the kingdom, which cannot subsist without it; and it is dangerous to the peace of the kingdom when it shall be in the power of half-a-dozen or half-a-score of rich, discontented, or factious persons to make a bank (meaning an accumulation) of our coin and bullion beyond the seas, for any mischief (this meant India) and leave us in want of money when it shall not be in the king's power to prevent it, (the liberty being given by a law) nor to keep his mint going—because money will yield more from, than at, the Mint . . . Because a law of so great change and threatening so much danger is made perpetual and not probationary."

This nobleman, whose earnest patriotism appears in all his writings and public actions, clearly perceived what the intriguants were driving at, and plainly pointed out the unconstitutionality and mischievous effects of their bill; but without avail. There was no power to which appeal could be made. The king was a voluptuary, a profligate, the prey of panders and parasites. The people had been silenced; the press was without influence; the Commons were in the pockets of the East India Company; and the Lords were, many of them, suitors at the palace for the forfeited estates, titles, benefices, monopolies and privileges which the king squandered, or his favorites offered for sale."

The corrupt character of the Cattle and Coinage Bill is indicated by the indecent haste and urgency which were manifested in the Lords to pass it. The Duke of Buckingham (a relative of Barbara Villiers), who usually did not rise until eleven o'clock in the morning, was now at his post at the opening of each session and remained to the last; "and it grew quickly evident that there were other reasons which caused so earnest a prosecution of it above the encouragement of the breed of cattle in England, insomuch as the Lord Ashley, who, next the Duke, (of Buckingham) appeared to be the most violent supporter of the bill, could not forbear to urge it as an argument for the prosecuting it, that if this bill did not pass, all the rents in Ireland would rise," etc. "The whole debate upon the bill was so disorderly and unparliamentary that the like had never been before; no rules or orders of the House for the course and method of the debate were observed."

The members of the corrupt faction spoke out of their turn and more often than they had a right to speak, and this gave rise to many violent scenes. "In fine there grew so great a license of words in this debate, and so many personal reflections that every day some quarrels arose to the great scandal and dishonor of a Court that was the supreme judicatory of the kingdom." "Buckingham was challenged to mortal combat by Lord Ossory, and after escaping this danger by skulking the meeting and charging his opponent in the House with having delivered an unlawful challenge to him, was assaulted with blows by the indignant Marquis of Dorchester."

In spite of all this and of many conferences between the Lords and Commons, whose obstinacy refused all accommodation or compromise, the bill was passed, after "Berwick-on-Tweed" was substituted for "Scotland" and the word "foreign" was prefixed to "coin and bullion." This measure appears in the Statute Book as the 15 Charles II., c. 7 The preamble to the coinage provision is in the following words:

XII. Whereas, "Several considerable and advantageous trades cannot be conveniently driven and carried on without the species of money or bullion, and that it is found by experience that they are carried in greatest abundance (as to a common market) to such places give free liberty for exporting the same, and the better to keep in and increase the current coins of this kingdom"—therefore let us resolve to let them freely go out! In other words, after August 1, 1663, leave is given to export all foreign coins or bullion of gold or silver, free of interdict, regulation, or duties of any kind.

Another preamble occurs in section V to the effect that in order to keep the colonies in America and elsewhere in firmer dependence upon England, be it enacted (in sections VI to XI) that henceforth all trade to and from such colonies may be conducted only in British ships, belonging, of course, though this is not mentioned in the act, to the East India Company, or their coadjutors, who sought, promoted, or assisted in the enactment of these mischievous measures.

In every instance, whether the legislation related to the fattening of cattle or the export of coin, or the colonial trade, patriotic reasons were alleged as the motive; in every instance, the real motive was a corrupt and selfish one.

The export of coin was solely for the benefit of the East India Company, whose active member and clever apologist was Sir Josiah Child. This arch intriguant succeeded in getting many of his copartners (now numbering 556) returned as members of the Commons, and, as we shall presently see, he kept a guilty hold upon them and others. The Irish Cattle Clause was a palpable bribe to the English landed interest in the House of Lords; whilst the Colonial Clause prevented the Americans from participating in the Oriental trade, and at the same time sufficed to appease those British ship-owners who did not enjoy the advantage of being shareholders in the East India Company. The moral status of Parliament at this period may be gathered from the fact that on July 27, 1663, a bill for the better observance of the Sabbath (probably closing the public-houses and restricting the liquor traffic), which bill had been enacted and was ready for the Royal assent, was "lost off the table of the House of Lords;" and on May 13, 1664, Mr. Brynne was censured in the House for "altering the draft of a bill relating to public-houses." But there is more to be said on this subject as we proceed.

The immediate effect of the export-of-coin measure was to increase at a single bound the exports of silver coin, from England to the Orient, from £40,000 or £50,000, to £400,000, or £500,000 per annum. Pollexfen says £40,000 increased to £600,000.

Its further effects, the scarcity of coin in England, the clipping of the hammered coin, and the great recoinage of 1696, are eloquently set forth by Macaulay, who, however, has entirely overlooked the source of all this mischief. While the act confined the exportation permit to foreign coin and bullion, it practically also permitted the exportation of English coin. All that was necessary was to melt the latter to bullion, which thus, it was argued, became foreign bullion, for it had originally come from Spanish America. In fact and apart from this subterfuge, there are practically no means to distinguish the nationality or origin of an ingot of gold or silver metal. Under these circumstances, the best of the foreign and English silver coins, the broad pieces of Spain and the milled coins of England, were melted down and shipped to India by Sir Josiah Child and his patriotic associates, and there exchanged for their own private benefit, for gold bullion at 9 to 10 for 1.

II. The next step of the Company was to obtain control of the Royal Prerogative of coinage and erect a mint of their own. By these means they would become the exchangers and coiners, not merely of the bullion which passed through Madras and the ports which had been opened to them, but through all the ports of India. At the same time it was not desirable to quite destroy the Royal Prerogative, for fear that distant and unlawful mints, like that of John Hull, in Boston, Massachusetts, might cease to confine their issues to local coins and extend them to others destined for the profitable trade of India. To prevent this calamity, the Royal Prerogative was kept nominally alive, while, so far as the East India Company and the moneyed classes were concerned, not a vestige of it was permitted to remain.