Home | Mises Library | A History of American Currency

A History of American Currency

A History of American Currency by Sumner

Tags Booms and BustsMoney and BanksU.S. EconomyU.S. HistoryMoney and Banking

06/07/1874William Graham Sumner

The author, William Graham Sumner, was the great sociologist of late 19th century America, but also a wise observer of economic conditions.

In 1874, in the midst of another debate about the future of the American monetary system, he offered this sweeping history of the calamity of paper money in the United States from the Colonial Period to the Civil War. In many ways, it is a popular history in the sense that he hoped it could be read by anyone.

What's strike here is his "Austrian" understanding of the relationship of paper money to credit cycles, inflation, and corruption. He was a firm advocate of sound money and 100% reserve banking.

His lesson was that paper currency leads to a trap: continued crisis, hyperinflation, or the restoration of sound money. This pattern has been repeated again and again. The burden of this book is to show that there is nothing good to come out of any paper money experiment, and that sound money is the only answer in a free society.

So there is profound historical interest in these pages--he was writing at a time when these issues were debated in all campaigns and classrooms--but also excellent theorizing too. Indeed, this work demonstrates that Sumner was not only a pioneering American sociologist but also one of the great American pre-Austrians of the late 19th century.


William Graham Sumner

William Graham Sumner was one of the founding fathers of American sociology. Although he trained as an Episcopalian clergyman, Sumner went on to teach at Yale University, where he wrote his most influential works. His interests included money and tariff policy, and critiques of socialism, social classes, and imperialism.


Henry Holt and Co., 1874