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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/593

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APPLETONS’

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

SEPTEMBER, 1897.



SPANISH EXPERIMENTS IN COINAGE.
By HENRY CHARLES LEA.

MUCH instructive research, has of late years been devoted to the history and inevitable results of paper inflation. The French assignats, our own continental money, colonial over-issues, and the practically irredeemable currency of the banks of some of the States prior to the civil war have furnished subjects for elaborate discussion and have yielded their appropriate warnings; but I am not aware that the most remarkable and significant of all attempts to create and sustain fiat money has ever received the attention which is its due, I term it the most remarkable because it was made with coin and not with paper, and the vitiated currency was comparatively small in amount, because it was carried on for more than two centuries with true Spanish persistency, and because it permanently and disastrously affected the destinies of a great nation. Many causes contributed to the decadence of Spain, but, after the expulsion of the Jews and Moors, none perhaps did more to destroy its industry and commerce than its vicious currency legislation. The story is a long one, and I can here touch only on its more salient points. If some of the measures adopted should seem incredibly violent, it must be borne in mind that they were the devices, not of rude and unlettered savages, but of the best trained and most experienced statesmen of the land vainly seeking to escape the consequences of the first fatal step in the wrong direction. The lesson taught is the more impressive from the fact that, in the sixteenth century, Spain was by far the richest and most powerful state in Europe, practically owning Italy through her hold on Naples, Milan, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, and mistress of the wealthy provinces of the Nether-