Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Club Weighs American Vulnerabilities

This may be a wagon wheel. Silver City, Nev.

by Glenn Franco Simmons

This post returns us to the gentlemen of fictitious Comstock Club in Virginia City.

Author C.C. Goodwin created a back-and-forth that began with the gentlemen's feeling that silver was not worth what should be. They wondered if the price of silver and gold were being manipulated.

The conversation also encompasses what the wealth and silver will bring to the relatively new nation, now becoming an empire.

Will it create wealth unseen in the annals of history? Will it, as one gentleman believes, eclipse even the might and wealth of Imperial Rome at its height?

Will such wealth make the European nations, all in an arms buildup, become suspicious of the United States' power and wealth. As a result, they pondered, will those same nations' fear of a new world power lead to them joining together to attack the United States?

Also mentioned is how the new nation escaped what could have been a catastrophe to maintaining The Union, had the British joined the French in supporting the Confederacy.

It may take more than one reading of this, to truly understand what C.C. Goodwin is asking of his compatriots who may have purchased his literary masterpiece titled "The Comstock Club":

As usual, the first theme was the condition of stocks. Miller believed that Silver Hill was the best buy on the lode, Corrigan had heard that day that a secret drift had been run west from the thirteen hundred level of the Con. Virginia; that up in the Andes ground an immense body of ore had been cut through, but that nothing would come of it until the Bonanza firm could gather in more of the stock.

Carlin was disposed to believe that a development was about to be made in Chollar Potosi, because during the past month the superintendent had come up twice from Oakland, California, to look at the property.

Strong was disposed to unload all the stocks that he had and invest in Belcher and Crown Point because the superintendent of both mines had that day assured him that they had no developments worth mentioning.

At length the conversation turned on silver.

The Club had that day received a portion of their month's pay in silver, and some grumbled, thinking they should have received their full wages in gold.

After a good deal had been said, the Professor, who had been quietly reading and had taken no part in the discussion, was asked for his opinion.

He answered as follows: "It is not right to pay laboring men in a depreciated currency; it is a still greater wrong that there is a discount on silver. It is the steadiest measure of values that mankind has ever found; it is the only metal that three-fifths of the human race can measure their daily transactions in; its full adoption by our Government, as a measure of values and basis of money, would mean prosperity; its rejection during the past five years and the denying to it its old sovereignty, have wrought incalculable loss.

Photograph of Chollar, Norcross, Savage Shaft, Virginia City, Nevada. Photo by R. J. Waters. Photo courtesy of the University of Nevada, Reno, which provides a significant public service by offering its collections of photos and other material to the public for study.

"Here on the Comstock it sleeps in the same matrix with gold, the proportion in bullion being about forty-four per cent. gold to fifty-six per cent. silver.

"The Nation cannot make a better adjustment than to keep that proportion good in her securities.

"Five years ago silver commanded a premium over gold. Since then two dollars in gold to one in silver have been taken from the earth, but silver is at a discount, because through unwise if not dishonest legislation, its sovereignty as a measure of values, its recognition as money was taken away.

"The whole burden was put upon gold, and the result is that the purchasing power of gold has been enhanced, and silver is, or seems to be, at a discount. Those who have accomplished this wrong affect to scorn the proposition that legislation could restore to silver its old value, ignoring the fact that the present apparent depreciation is due entirely to unfriendly legislation, and conveniently forgetting that with silver, everything else is at a discount when measured by gold. That is, gold is inflated by the discriminations which have been made in its favor.

"The chief use of silver in the world is for a measure of values, as the chief use of wheat is for material out of which to make bread. Were men forbidden to make any more bread from wheaten flour and compelled to use corn meal as a substitute, would the present prices of wheat and corn remain respectively the same?

"Silver should be restored to its old full sovereignty, side by side with gold. Then, in this country, just as little of either metal as possible should be used in men's daily transactions. Handling gold and silver directly in trade is but continuing the barter of savage men, and is a relic of a dark age. Moreover, the loss by abrasion is very great. Both metals should be cast into ingots and their values stamped upon them. Then they should be stored in the Treasury and certificates representing their value should be issued as the money of the people.

"If this makes the Government a banker no matter, so long as it supplies to the people a money on which there can be no loss. The thought that this would drain our land of gold has not much force, because the trade balances are coming our way and will soon be very heavy; if the gold shall be taken away something will have to be returned in lieu of it, and after all the truth is that four-fifths of our people do not see a gold piece twice a year. Our internal commerce is very much greater than our foreign commerce, and to keep that moving without jar should be the first anxiety of American statesmen. For that purpose nothing could be better than the silver certificate.

Silver coinage was minted in Carson City from the
same Comstock silver the club's gentlemen were
mining in Virginia City. Public domain.

"The Government has commenced to coin silver and has partially remonetized it. It is only partial because gold is still made the absolute measure of values and preference is reserved for it in ways which will keep silver depressed until there shall come a demand for it which cannot at once be met; then it will be discovered that it is still one of the precious metals and it will take its place in trade as it has its place here in the mines, side by side and the full brother of gold.

"Were the Government to-morrow to commence to absorb and hoard all the product of our mines and keep this up for a generation, issuing certificates on the same for the full value, at the end of about thirty years there would be on deposit as security for the paper afloat more than one thousand millions of dollars. This seems like a vast sum, but it would then amount to but ten dollars per capita for our people. You have each received two and a half times that amount to-day on account of your last month's wages, and the only serious inconvenience it has inflicted upon you is the discount which wicked legislation has given to silver.

"But long before one thousand millions in silver could be secured it would command a premium, because that would mean one-fourth of all the silver in circulation, and this old world cannot spare to one Nation that amount and still keep her commerce running and the arts supplied."

"But, Professor," said Alex, "why hoard the metals? Why may not money be represented by paper backed by the Nation's faith? Why pile up the metals in the Government vaults when the printing press can supply as good money as the people want?"

"That," replied the Professor, "is an argument for times of peace and prosperity only. The failure of one crop would so lessen the faith of the people that a serious discount would fall upon the money that was only backed by faith. And suppose Europe were to combine to fight the United States, then what would the loss be to the people? We can only estimate the amount by thinking what the United States currency was worth in 1864.

"Such a combination is not at all impossible. There is a vast country to the south of us, the trade of which should be ours, and with the Governments of which we have notified Europe there must be no interference from beyond the Atlantic. There are channels for ships to be hewed through the Spanish American Isthmus, and their control is to become a question.

"Above all, the light and majesty of our Republic are becoming a terror to the Old World. Think of it. The immigrants that come to us annually, together with the young men and women that annually reach their majority here, are enough to supply the places of all the people of this coast were they to go away. Who can estimate the swelling strength that is sufficient to fully equip a new state annually?

"Before the spectacle thrones are toppling and kings sleep on pillows of thorns. If our soil was adjacent to Europe, the nations would combine and assail us to-morrow, in sheer self-defense. They have tremendous armies; they are accumulating mighty navies and arming them as ships were never armed before. Suppose that sometime they decide that the world's equilibrium is being disturbed by the Great Republic, even as they did when Napoleon the first became their terror, and that, as with him, they determine that our country shall be divided or crushed. What then? Of course they will maneuver to have a rebellion in our country and espouse the cause of the weaker side. This is what nearly happened in 1862; what would have surely happened had not Great Britain possessed the knowledge that if she joined with France in the proposed scheme, whatever the outcome might be, one thing was certain, for a season at least, there would be no night on the sea; the light made by British ships in flames would make perpetual day.

"Then ocean commerce was carried mostly in ships that had to trust alone to the fickle winds for headway. In twenty years more steam will be the motive power for carrying all valuable freights, and will be comparatively safe as against pursuing cruisers.

"Imagine such a crisis upon us, what then would the unsupported paper dollar be worth? But imagine that behind the Republic there was in the treasury a thousand millions of dollars in silver, the original money of the world, and another thousand millions in gold, what combination of forces could place the money of the Nation in danger of loss by depreciation?

Gold was also mined on The Comstock Lode. It was also
minted into coinage in Carson City. Note the "C.C." on the
coin. Wikipedia. Public domain.

"Gold and silver when produced are simply the measures of the labor required to produce them; they are labor made imperishable; and when either is destroyed — and demonetization is destruction — just so much labor is destroyed, and you who work have to make up the loss by working more hours for a dollar. You are supposed to receive the same wages that the miners did who worked on this lode six years ago, for a month's work. But you do not because, through the mistake of honest men or the manipulation of knaves, twenty per cent. of the twenty-five dollars paid you in silver for last month's work has been destroyed; and now those who have dealt this blow insist that money can in no wise be changed in value by legislation.

"The trouble is our law-makers do not estimate at half its worth their own country. They stand in awe of what they call the money centers of the world, and refuse to see that already the world is placed at a disadvantage by our Republic; that within thirty years all existing nations, all the nations that have existed through all the long watches of the past, will, in material wealth and strength, seem mean and poor in comparison with our own.

"Look at it! Five hundred thousand foreigners absorbed annually, and not a ripple made where they merge with the mighty current of our people! What is equal to a new State, with all its people and equipments, launched upon the Union every year — it makes me think of the Creator launching worlds — with immeasurable resources yet to be utilized; the wealth of the country already equal to that of Great Britain, with all her twelve hundred years of spoils; all our earnings our own; no five millions of people toiling to support another million that stand on guard, as is required in France and Germany and Russia and Austria and Italy; our great Southern staple commanding tribute from all the world; hungry Europe looking to our Northern States for meat and bread, and to our rivers for fish; our Western miners supplying to business the tonic which keeps its every artery throbbing with buoyant health, while over all is our flag, which symbols a sovereignty so awful in power and yet so beneficent in mercies, that while the laws command and protect, they bring no friction in their contact; rather they guarantee the perfect liberty of every child of the Republic, to seize with equal hand upon every opportunity for fortune, or for fame, which our country holds within her august grasp.

"To carry on the business of such a land an ocean of money is needed, and infinitely more will be required in future. And for this money there must be a solid basis; not merely a faith which expands with this year's prosperity and contracts with next year's calamity; not something which the death of a millionaire or a visitation of grasshoppers will throw down; but something which is the first-born child of labor, and is therefore immortal and without change. This is represented by gold and silver, and to commerce they are what 'the great twin brethren' at Lake Regillus were to Rome."

When the Professor ceased speaking, Harding said: "Professor, what you have been saying about our Republic sounds to me almost like a coincidence. Did you dream what you have been saying?"

The Professor replied that he did not, and asked what in the world prompted such a question.

Harding smiled and blushed, and then said: "Because I had a dream last night."

All wanted to hear what it was. "You won't laugh, Carlin?" said Harding. Carlin said he would not.

"And you will not call me a fool, Wright?" Harding asked. Wright promised to conceal his sentiments, if necessary.

"You will not call it a mirage, Corrigan?" asked Harding. Corrigan agreed to refrain.

"And, Colonel, you will not ask mysterious questions about who usually sits as a commission of lunacy in Virginia City?" Harding inquired. The Colonel agreed to restrain himself.

"And, Alex, you will not expose me in the paper?" questioned Harding. Alex promised to be merciful to the public.

In final appeal, Harding said: "And you, Professor, you will not say it is a tough, hard formation and too nearly primitive to carry any treasure?" The Professor assured him that faults and displacements were common in the richest mineral-bearing veins.

"Well," said Harding, "I was tired and nervous last night. I could not sleep, and so determined to get up and read for an hour. I happened to pick up a volume of Roman history, and became so absorbed in it that I read for an hour or two more than I ought to. I went to bed at last, and my body dropped to sleep in a moment, but my brain was still half awake, and for a while ran things on its own account in a confused sort of a way.

"I thought I was sitting here alone, when, suddenly, a stranger appeared and began to pace, slowly, up and down the room. He had an eye like a hawk, nose like an eagle's beak and an air that was altogether martial. His walk had the perfect, measured step of the trained veteran soldier. After watching him for a little space, I grew bold and demanded of him his name and business.

Hannibal's celebrated feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: detail of a fresco by Jacopo Ripanda, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome. © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 4.0. Wikipedia.

"When I spoke the sound of my own voice startled me, for he was more savage looking than a shift boss. He turned round to me — don't laugh, I pray you — and said: 'I am that Scipio to whom Hannibal the terrible capitulated. I was proud of my Rome and my Romans. We were the Iron Nation, truly. All that human valor and human endurance could do we accomplished. Amid the snows of the Alps and the sands of Africa we were alike invincible. We were not deficient either in brain power. We left monuments enough to abundantly establish that fact. To us the whole civilized world yielded fealty, but we were barbarians after all. Listen!'

"Just then there floated in through the open window what seemed a full diapason of far-off but exquisite music.

"'Do you know what that is?' he asked. 'It is the echo of the melody which the children of this Republic awaken, singing in their free schools. It smites upon and charms the ear of the sentinel angel, whose station is in the sun, through one-eighth of his daily round; those echoes that with an enchantment all their own ride on the swift pinions of the hours over all the three thousand miles between the seas.

"'My Rome had nothing like that. We trusted alone to the law of might, and though we tried to be just, the slave was chained daily at our gates; we sold into slavery our captives taken in war; we fought gladiators and wild beasts for the amusement of our daughters and wives; we never learned to temper justice with mercy; only the first leaves of the book of knowledge were opened to us; our brains and our bodies were disciplined, but our hearts were darkened and we perished because we were no longer fit to rule.

"'Whether by evolution the world has advanced, or whether, indeed, the lessons of that Nazarene, whom our soldiers crucified, are bearing celestial fruit, who knows! But surely our Rome, with all its power, all its splendor, all its heroic men and stately women; its victories in the field, its pageants in the Imperial City on the days when, returning from a conquest, our chieftians were laurel-crowned; our art, our eloquence — all, were nothing compared with this song of songs. It started at first where the sullen waves wash against Plymouth Rock; it swelled in volume while the deep woods gave place to smiling fields; over mountain and desert it rolled in full tones and only ceases, at last, where the roar of the deep sea, breaking outside the Golden Gate, or meeting in everlasting anger the Oregon upon her stormy bar, gives notice that the pioneer must halt at last in his westward march.'"

"As he ceased to speak the melody was heard again, sweeter, clearer and fuller than before. My guest faded away before me and I awoke. In all the air there was no sound save the deep respirations of the hoisting engine in the Norcross works, and the murmur of the winds, as on slow beating wings they floated up over the Divide and swept on, out over the desert."

The verdict of the Club was that if old Scipio talked in that strain he had softened down immensely since the days when he was setting his legions in array against the swarthy hosts of the mighty Carthagenian.


Or, perhaps C.C. Goodwin could foresee a time when the United States would achieve more than even Imperial Rome. Perhaps he was correct, when one consider the United States has approximately 5,000 military bases with 600 overseas, according to the Pentagon in 2013, the last year for which I could find an official number.

But, more importantly, what the Romans could do in hours, days, months and years, the United States can do in minutes, hours, days and weeks. There is nowhere in this world that is not monitored in some way by a branch of the American military — even truer if you add the CIA to the mix.

Was C.C. Goodwin saying that might doesn't always make right; that brains and compassion are more important than brute force and brawn?

From the contemporary Washoe Courts' website.

No matter what conclusion one draws from C.C. Goodwin's prescient literary back-and-forth, it is apparent that some Americans were, even in the 1800s, thinking about excesses, vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses of the growing American empire.

He seems to be asking what will be America's fate when it becomes an imperialist power; and, although I'm a patriotic American who used to construct flag poles all over his parent's property in a rural forested valley of the North Coast of California, I have to say that the United States is every bit the imperial power foreshadowed by this Comstock Club conversation.

Sadly, it may be too late to heed the fears of those who, like C.C. Goodwin, realize what can happen when an advanced society becomes an imperial state.

What of Rome? What of Persia? What of Greece?

It is a fear of empire that permeates several Comstock Club discussions. Rather than being unpatriotic, it is indeed a citizen's duty to humbly ask if people in the future will say the same about us: what of the United States? What caused its empire to crumble?

Perhaps our leaders today could use a dose of C.C. Goodwin's wisdom, what with our imperial military and its thousands of bases.

What about our tight-knit de facto social-cultural-political-educational aristocracy, which is a class unto its own on the East Cost, with the five wealthiest counties in the United States surrounding its Capital: Loudon County, Va., Faifax County, Va., Howard County, Md. Falls Church City, Va. Arlington County, Va.?

Surely, the concentration of such wealth based on a fiat currency, and not on gold and silver, would send shivers down the spines of the Comstock Club's gentlemen.

What would they think about the federal government's overreach into every aspect of our lives?

Perhaps the same pitfalls faced by other empires will also see an end to the American empire as we know it.

To ponder such questions is not unpatriotic; in fact, it is unpatriotic not to consider such possibilities because it blinds you to necessary change.

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