By Nathan Barton
The following pictures are of the very first coin authorized by the Continental Congress, in 1776. It is called the Fugio coin. (The Continental Congress was known then as the Congress of the Confederation, and officially “the United States in Congress Assembled.” More on that, later.)
Much like the modern (and now defunct) Liberty coin, it did not have a value on it. It is called a dollar (back when a dollar was worth a whole lot), apparently when it was minted in silver. It was the same size as the common and popular Spanish (or Austrian) “thaler” or dollar. But if it was made out of copper, it was apparently worth some smaller amount (perhaps 1/8 dollar, or 12.5 cents – the original “bit” as in “eight bits” to the Spanish thaler or dollar), and out of brass, worth perhaps a single cent or penny (equal to the British penny of the day).
Eleven years later, in 1787, the Continental Congress authorized a cent with the same design that was an actual copper cent.
But that history, while interesting, is not the reason for this commentary. No, it is rather the mottoes and design that I want to discuss. The symbolism and mottos were apparently the brainchild of Ben Franklin, a lover of puns and of giving advice (wanted or not).
The obverse has a sundial in the center, with the Latin word “Fugit” (I fly)” implying that indeed, Time Flies. Are we minding our business? Are we keeping up with things?
There is also a chain of thirteen links – representing pictorially the motto “we are one.” The thirteen states, united in their quest for liberty, for freedom from the tyranny not just of King George but from the tyranny of Parliament: both Lords and Commons. In some ways, though it reminds us of the circle of thirteen stars in the first flag of the United States of America, it is a greater symbol. Not necessarily a symbol of true liberty, but perhaps a forerunner of the goal of “unity” which was to come to dominate and even replace the goal of liberty. (Yes, I’m referring to the War Between the States, eight decades later – when the excuse of liberty for black slaves and the demand for “one nation, indivisible” ran roughshod over the liberty, sovereignty, and freedom of the people of eleven or thirteen of the states in what had formerly been a federation.)
Franklin (and whomever else helped design this set of coins) knew the value of a clear symbol. He knew, too, as ancient kings and Roman emperors did, of the value of coins as propaganda. As a result, he sent a mixed message to the world, and especially to the citizens of the Thirteen States. A canny old man, wasn’t he?
The question is, as always, WHAT propaganda is found on the coins?
Is it the proclamation of the almighty state – the “god” of this world? Of Caesar or Washington or Lincoln?
Is it the proclamation of doing business honestly and openly, and of minding our own business?
Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.
Mama’s Note: Liberty was lost with the idea of “unity.” The very first president made that clear when he sent out his minions to force people to pay a “tax” on the whiskey they produced. Of course the politicians needed “unity.” It’s hard to get people to pay taxes if they won’t all march to the same drum, all going in more or less the same direction.
Thank heavens they were never able to stamp out liberty even so. There are still a lot of independent cats. They can’t herd cats.