Monetary standard under which the basic unit of currency is defined as a stated quantity of silver. It is usually characterized by the coinage and circulation of silver, unrestricted convertibility of other money into silver, and the free import and export of silver for the settlement of international obligations. No country now operates under a silver standard. In the 1870s most European countries adopted the gold standard, and by the early 1900s only China, Mexico, and a few small countries still used the silver standard. In 1873 the U.S. Treasury stopped coining silver, which led to the Free Silver Movement, but the defeat of William Jennings Bryan ended agitation for free silver in the U.S. Seealso bimetallism.
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The silver standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of silver. The silver standard was widespread until the 19th century, when it was replaced in most countries by the gold standard.
By the American Revolution in 1775, Spanish dollars were backed by paper money authorized by the individual colonies and the Continental Congress. In addition to the American dollar, the 8-real coin became the basis for the Chinese yuan.
The early silver pennies were struck from fine silver (as pure as was available). However, in 1158, King Henry II introduced Tealby penny. English currency was almost exclusively silver until 1344, when the gold noble was put into circulation. However, silver remained the legal basis for sterling until 1816.
In 1663, a new gold coinage was introduced based on the 22 carat fine guinea. Fixed in weight at 44½ to the troy pound from 1670, this coin's value varied considerably until 1717, when it was fixed at 21 shillings (21/-, 1.05 pounds). However, this valuation overvalued gold relative to silver compared to other European countries. British merchants sent silver abroad in payments while exports were paid for with gold. As a consequence, silver flowed out of the country and gold flowed in, leading to a situation where Great Britain was effectively on a gold standard. In 1816, the gold standard was adopted officially, with the silver standard reduced to 66 shillings (66/-, 2.3 pounds), rendering silver coins a "token" issue (i.e., not containing their value in precious metal).
The economic power of Great Britain was such that its adoption of a gold standard put pressure on other countries to follow suit.
The US Treasury was put on a strict hard money standard, doing business only in gold or silver coin as part of the Independent Treasury Act of 1848, which legally separated the accounts of the Federal Government from the banking system. However the fixed rate of gold to silver overvalued silver in relation to the demand for gold to trade or borrow from England. Following Gresham's law, silver poured into the US, which traded with other silver nations, and gold moved out. In 1853 the US reduced the silver weight of coins, to keep them in circulation, and in 1857 removed legal tender status from foreign coinage.
In 1857 the final crisis of the free banking era of international finance began, as American banks suspended payment in silver, rippling through the very young international financial system of central banks. In 1861 the US government suspended payment in gold and silver, effectively ending the attempts to form a silver standard basis for the dollar. Through the 1860–1871 period various attempts to resurrect bi-metallic standards were made, including one based on the gold and silver franc, however, with the rapid influx of silver from new deposits, the expectation of scarcity of silver ended.
The combination that produced economic stability was restriction of supply of new notes, a government monopoly on the issuance of notes directly and indirectly, a central bank and a single unit of value. As notes devalued, or silver ceased to circulate as a store of value, or there was a depression as governments, demanding specie as payment, drained the circulating medium out of the economy. At the same time there was a dramatically expanded need for credit, and large banks were being chartered in various states, including those in Japan by 1872. The need for stability in monetary affairs would produce a rapid acceptance of the gold standard in the period that followed.
The Fourth Coinage Act enacted by the United States Congress in 1873 embraced the gold standard and de-monetized silver. Western mining interests and others who wanted silver in circulation labeled this measure the "Crime of '73". For about five years, gold was the only metallic standard in the United States.
On June 4, 1963, president John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order No. 11110 that gave the Treasury Department the power "to issue silver certificates against any silver bullion, silver, or standard silver dollars in the Treasury." This order has never been acted upon, but has yet to be repealed.