Montesquieu

Money is a sign that repre­sents the value of all mer­chan­dise. A metal is used so the sign will be dura­ble,1 will be lit­tle dimi­ni­shed by use, and can without dete­rio­ra­tion be mul­ti­ply sub­di­vi­ded. A pre­cious metal is cho­sen so the sign can easily be car­ried. A metal is most sui­ta­ble to serve as a com­mon mea­sure because it can easily be redu­ced to the same unit. Each state puts its imprint on it so that the form will cor­res­pond to the purity and weight, and both will be known on sim­ple ins­pec­tion.

The Athenians, being unac­cus­to­med to metals, used cat­tle,2 and the Romans sheep ; but one ox is not the same thing as ano­ther ox the way one piece of metal can be the same as ano­ther.

As sil­ver is the sign of the values of com­mo­di­ties, paper is a sign of the value of sil­ver ; and when it is good, it repre­sents it so well that as far as the effect is concer­ned, there is no dif­fe­rence.

Just as sil­ver is a sign of a thing, and repre­sents it, every thing is a sign of sil­ver, and repre­sents it ; the state is pros­pe­rous to the extent that, on the one hand, sil­ver indeed repre­sents all things, and on the other, all things indeed repre­sent sil­ver, and are the sign of each other : in other words, in their rela­tive value, you can have one as rea­dily as you have the other. That never hap­pens except in a mode­rate govern­ment, but it does not always hap­pen in a mode­rate govern­ment : for exam­ple, if the laws favor an unjust deb­tor,3 the things that belong to him do not repre­sent sil­ver and are not a sign of it. As for the des­po­tic govern­ment, it would be a mira­cle if things there repre­sen­ted their sign ; tyranny and dis­trust lead eve­ryone to bury his sil­ver,4 thus things there do not repre­sent sil­ver.

Sometimes legis­la­tors have been so art­ful that things not only repre­sen­ted sil­ver by their nature, but became money like sil­ver itself. Cæsar the dic­ta­tor allo­wed deb­tors to give their cre­di­tors as pay­ment par­cels of land at the price they brought before the civil war.5 Tiberius decreed that those who wan­ted sil­ver could get it from the public trea­sury by put­ting up land for dou­ble the amount.6 Under Cæsar, par­cels of land were the cur­rency that paid all debts ; under Tiberius, ten thou­sand ses­ter­tii in land became a com­mon cur­rency as five thou­sand ses­ter­tii in sil­ver.

In England, the Magna Carta rules out sei­zure of the lands or reve­nues of a deb­tor when his mova­ble or per­so­nal assets suf­fice for the pay­ment and he offers to yield them ; at that point all the assets of an Englishman repre­sent sil­ver.

The laws of the Germans eva­lua­ted in sil­ver satis­fac­tions due for dama­ges incur­red and for cri­mi­nal fines. But as there was very lit­tle sil­ver in the coun­try, they re-eva­lua­ted the sil­ver in food­stuffs or live­stock. We find this fixed in the law of the Saxons, with cer­tain dif­fe­ren­ces accor­ding to the well-being and conve­nience of the various peo­ples. At first the law decla­res the value of the sou in live­stock : the two-tré­misse sou amoun­ted to a year­ling steer or a ewe with her lamb ; a three-tré­misse sou was worth an ox of six­teen months’ age.7 Among these peo­ples, money became live­stock, mer­chan­dise or a comes­ti­ble, and these things became cur­rency.

Not only is sil­ver a sign of things ; it is also a sign of sil­ver and repre­sents sil­ver, as we shall see in the chap­ter on exchange.

The salt which is used in Abyssinia has the drawback of being constantly consumed.

Herodotus, in Clio, tells us that the Lydians found the art of striking money ; the Greeks took it from them ; the moneys of Athens had their ancient steer on its face : I saw one such coin among the curiosities of the Earl of Pembroke.

[I.e., a debtor who does not repay his debts on time.]

It is an ancient usage in Algiers that each paterfamilias should have a buried treasure (Laugier de Tassy, Histoire du royaume d’Alger).

See Cæsar, On Civil War, book III.

Tacitus, book VI.

Leges Saxonum, ch. xviii.