Jefferson & the U.S. Coin System
Thomas Jefferson had long recognized the need for a more rational coinage in America. Hoping to simplify a colonial system in which numerous foreign coins circulated at a variety of exchange rates, Jefferson in 1776 began suggesting that decimal reckoning could order this chaos. . In 1784, after his "Notes on the establishment of a Money Unit," he recommended a system with the advantages of convenience, simplicity, and familiarity. The Spanish dollar was convenient in size, its decimal division would make computation simple, and its multiples and subdivisions would accord with already well-known coins. "Even mathematical heads," he admitted, "feel the relief of an easier substituted for a more difficult process." Jefferson's lucid arguments overwhelmed rival plans and the United States soon became the first nation in history to adopt a decimal coinage system.
Jefferson later oversaw the minting of coins as Secretary of State and continued his efforts for monetary uniformity as president. “Coinage is peculiarly an attribute of sovereignty,” he once stated. Jefferson understood that an orderly system of currency would not only facilitate local exchange, but would also help cement the new union of states and act as a system of national identity. Like the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s coin system endures to this day.