The Time Flies Cent

The FIRST Coin of the United States of America!

After the Thirteen Colonies won their independence from England, it quickly became apparent that they were only loosely united. Each state was very protective of it's liberty, and one privilege each coveted was the right to regulate money. Every state established it's own exchange standards for the coins then in circulation, the most important of which was America's First Silver Dollar.

The founding fathers knew the existing system was too cumbersome to facilitate trade between the states and the rest of the world. Two of the major questions they grappled with for the five years between 1782 and 1787 concerned who would have the right to regulate money, and just what form would that money take.

Before the Constitution was adopted, whether or not the thirteen colonies would be able to form a united country remained to be seen. One of the stumbling blocks was money (Library of Congress)

Pounds or Dollars?

In 1782 Congress assigned the task of coming up with monetary standards for the new nation to Robert Morris. He devised a plan so complicated that Thomas Jefferson, then a member of the House of Representatives, balked. Look, Jefferson reasoned, America's First Silver Dollar has been circulating for years, and the Morris system is far too complicated. Jefferson argued further that a decimal system based on America's First Silver Dollar should be adopted as the American standard.

Two sides quickly formed: Those in favor of Morris' plan; and those in favor of Jefferson's. They could not reach an agreement, and no coinage legislation was passed by Congress. During this period of indecision, each state continued to regulate the value of money within it's own borders, and with no restrictions on their monetary activities coming down from Congress, some even established their own mints and began to coin money.

For four long years Congress continued to debate, but, by 1786, the problem of a monetary system still had not been solved.

In 1786 a serious effort was made to resolve the issue. The debate raged for months. Should US money be patterned after the Morris system, or should Jefferson's decimal system be adopted?

Continental Congress in session in New York City

Jefferson's system finally won, likely due to it's simplicity and the fact that it was based on a coin which by then had become familiar to every American. In 1786 Congress passed a bill establishing America's First Silver Dollar as the basis for a decimal coinage system.

But those opposed to Jefferson's ideas still had a trick or two up their sleeves. In order for Jefferson's plan to be implemented, Congress would have to pass a law establishing a US Mint, and this was not done. No Mint, no coins. No coins, no money.

If something wasn't done soon, there might never be any US coins, and if Congress couldn't wrest the authority to regulate coinage away from the states, there might never be a United States.

Time Flies

As the elder statesman of the Continental Congress, Ben Franklin was the one man who could get the decimal system rolling

There was a shortage of small coins at the time, and as a result, one coin being minted in some of the states was a large copper penny. The size, weight and dimensions of the coins being produced didn't vary much from mint to mint.

Even though the issue of the US Mint was still unresolved, in 1787 Congress purchased 300 tons of copper and contracted with a private mint in Connecticut to produce pennies. Those who had favored the Morris system agreed to the production of pennies, and since they were not establishing a Mint, they perhaps felt they were not adopting Jefferson's system. Those who favored decimal coinage may have felt that since 100 pennies equaled the decimal system dollar, the production of this coin would literally put the Jeffersonian system into the pockets of Americans in every state.

In order to avoid any more controversy, Congress turned to Benjamin Franklin, asking him to design a coin everyone could accept.

Mind Your Business

Franklin went right to work designing the first coin of the United States of America. On one side of the coin he placed the word Fugio beside a sundial. Fugio in Latin means I Fly, and in conjunction with the sundial it implies "Time Flies." Franklin also put one of his favorite mottoes, "Mind Your Business" on this side of the coin. With the sun above the sundial, the effect of the design is rather artistic and coveys two of Franklin's favorite aphorisms: Time Flies, so, Mind Your Business.

On the other side of the coin Franklin decided to put a message for everyone in the new nation. Around the outside he placed thirteen entwined rings, one for each of the the thirteen states. In the center of the coin the words United States appear surrounding the slogan "We are one."

Franklin's Fugio Cents were minted and immediately entered circulation.

Later in 1787 Congress approved the Constitution of the United States of America, and in 1788 the states ratified it, agreeing once and for all with Franklin's message: We Are One.

By the time Washington was inaugurated as the nation's first president in 1789, Fugio cents were already in circulation in the United States of America.

Congress didn't get around to establishing the United States Mint until 1792, but when they did, Jefferson's decimal system, already established in the thirteen states by Franklin's Fugio Cent, was the monetary system they adopted, and the one we continue to use to this day.