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Dollar (Federalist Failure)

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The Dollar is the name of several currencies in North America, descended from the Peso of the Spanish Empire.

Shortly after achieving independence, the new United States realized the necessity of a unified - and national - currency. Prior to this time, most financial transactions were made with either paper money or foreign coin (most especially the "Spanish Dollar", that is, the peso), with values in a theoretical form of the British £sd system. At the time, the various colonies defined the dollar in terms of £sd differently. The affect of this was to make a unified denomination (dollar) with local currencies (£sd). The dollar was defined by the various colonies as follows:

In each case, the shillings and pence followed the standard British model of £1 = 20s = 240d

Various proposals were made to unite the currencies. One, which was partially adopted, would establish a unit known as the mill, equal to ¼ grain of silver, or 1/1440 dollar. This had the advantage that the currency units in use (except for South Carolina's) could be defined exactly in terms of mills, as follows:

  • Georgia
    • Pound = 5760 mills
    • Shilling = 288 mills
    • Penny = 24 mills
    • Farthing = 6 mills
  • New England, Virginia
    • Pound = 4800 mills
    • Shilling = 240 mills
    • Penny = 20 mills
    • Farthing = 5 mills
  • Middle Colonies
    • Pound = 3840 mills
    • Shilling = 192 mills
    • Penny = 16 mills
    • Farthing = 4 mills
  • New York, North Carolina
    • Pound = 3600 mills
    • Shilling = 180 mills
    • Penny = 15 mills
    • Farthing = 3¾ mills
  • South Carolina
    • Pound = 886.154 mills
    • Shilling = 44.308 mills
    • Penny = 3.692 mills (13 pence = 48 mills)

Others, such as Jefferson, urged a completely new system, a decimal system wherein the dollar would be divided into 10 dismes, 100 cents, or 1000 mills.

Unfortunately, no federal mint was ever established, and so neither system was adopted. The legacy of this attempt remained in the use, by all the new states, of the Dollar as a formal unit of currency, equal in all states, divided up in various ways. The mill was also preserved as a miniscule unit of account.

South Carolina redefined their shilling as 45 mills, or 1/32 dollar, while Pennsylvania and Maryland adopted the New York value. Thus, the three different systems were adopted:

  • Georgia - 1 dollar = 5 shillings = 60 pence = 240 farthings = 1440 mills
  • New England, Virgina - 1 dollar = 6 shillings = 72 pence = 288 farthings = 1440 mills
  • Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and North Carolina - 1 dollar = 8 shillings = 96 pence = 384 farthings = 1440 mills
  • South Carolina - 1 dollar = 32 shillings = 384 pence = 1440 mills

Today, the various dollars have diverged

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