In March, 1841, I was, at the request of the joint-stock banks, examined as a witness before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, "appointed to inquire into the effects produced on the circulation of the country by the various banking establishments issuing notes payable on demand." The charge advanced at the time against the issuing joint-stock banks, and generally against all banks of issue, was, that they did not make the amount of their circulation correspond with the amount of the circulation of the Bank of England. With reference to this accusation, I laid before the committee a variety of tables, designed to show the laws which regulated the circulation of the Bank of England, of the country banks, and of the Banks of Ireland and of Scotland respectively. The inference was designed to show that no correspondence could exist between the circulation of these several banks. These tables cannot be introduced here. But the following is a summary of my evidence on this subject, taken from an article on "The Laws of the Currency," which I published in the "Foreign and Colonial Review" of April, 1844 :-
"We have before us two reports from the Committee on Banks of Issue, laid before the House of Commons in the years 1840 and 1841. The committee report the evidence, and abstain from giving any opinion upon the great questions involved in the inquiry. They, however, recommended the passing of the Act 4 & 5 Vict. c. 50, requiring a monthly registry of the circulation of the Bank of England, and of the other banks of issue, with the amount of bullion, to be published in the 'Royal Gazette.' It may therefore be expected that, in a course of years, a sufficient number of facts will be recorded to enable future generations to form 'well-grounded opinions' on this important subject..
" In the meantime we will make use of the information we already possess. We will take the monthly returns of the circulation for the period that is past, that is, from September, 1833, to the end of 1843, and endeavour, by observing their various revolutions, to discover if they are governed by any fixed causes or principles-to ascertain if those principles are uniform in their operation; and if we should discover that the revolutions of the currency are regulated by any uniform principles, we shall call those principles the Laws of the Currency.
"We shall begin with that portion of the currency which consists of notes issued by the Bank of England. On looking over the monthly circulation of the Bank of England, given in the Table No. 34, in the Appendix to the Report of 1840, we observe, that the circulation of the months in which the public dividends are paid is higher than in the subsequent months. Thus, the average circulation of January is higher than that of February or March. The circulation of April is higher than that of May or June. The circulation of July is higher than that of August or September. And the circulation of October is higher than that of November or December. This, then, we may consider as one law of the circulation of the Bank of England-that it ebbs and flows four times in the year, in consequence of the payment of the quarterly dividends. This law does not apply to any other bank, as all the Government dividends are paid by the Bank of England.
"Again, the purchase and sale of Government stock and exchequer bills by the Bank of England affect the amount of her circulation. If the bank purchase Government stock or exchequer bills, she pays for them in her own notes, and thus increases her circulation. If, on the other hand, she sell Government stock or exchequer bills, she receives payment in her own notes, and thus her circulation is diminished. Another law, then, and one peculiar to the Bank of England, is, that her circulation is affected by the purchases and sales of Government securities.
"As the payment of the public dividends puts into circulation the notes of the hank, the receipt of the public revenue will of course withdraw her notes from circulation. A large amount of the public revenue is paid at the latter part of the year, and this probably is the main cause why the amount of the Bank of England circulation is always the lowest in the month of December. Although the circulation ebbs and flows four times in the year, yet the December 1 point is always the lowest point throughout the year; and this is the case in every year, although the Bank of England is always open in December for short loans, the granting of which increases her circulation. This, then, is another law of the circulation.
"If the bank purchase bullion with her notes, that will;/ of course increase her circulation; if she sell bullion, that will diminish her circulation: and, as the bank is always open for the purchase of bullion at a fixed price, and as gold may at all times be withdrawn from her in payment of her notes, her circulation is subject to considerable fluctuation from this cause. There is not, however, any uniform correspondence between the amount of her circulation 2 and the amount of her bullion; for when she pays the public dividends, she increases her notes, but diminishes her bullion; and when she receives the public revenue, as in December, her circulation is diminished, but the bullion is increased. These contrary fluctuations are occasioned by that portion of our currency which is under £5 consisting of the precious metals; but they do not impugn the law which states that the purchase of gold increases, and the sale of gold diminishes, the amount of her circulation.
1 There was an exception to this law in December, 1843, in consequence of the calling in of the light sovereigns.
2 The word " circulation " means of course the amount of notes in the hands of the public. Since the passing of the Act of 1844 the word has been sometimes used in a more extended sense, so as to include also the notes in the banking department of the Bank of England.
"We have thus traced those peculiar laws which regulate the monthly revolutions of the circulation of the Bank of England.' "We shall now proceed to its annual revolutions.
Any of the causes of the monthly fluctuations of the circulation of the Bank of England, if called into operation more in one year than in another, may become causes of annual fluctuations. But the most uniform and permanent cause of annual fluctuation appears to be made by the purchases and sales of bullion. The word 'bullion' in the bank returns, means gold and silver, whether coined or uncoined, and whether lying at the head office or at the branches. When the foreign exchanges are in favour of this country, bullion is imported and sold to the Bank of England; and when the exchanges are unfavourable, gold is exported, and the exporters obtain the gold from the Bank of England, either by purchase or by demanding payment of her notes. In most cases, however, the circulation does not fluctuate so much as the bullion. For when notes are issued against a large importation of bullion, money becomes abundant and cannot be employed, and hence it is lodged by bankers and others in the Bank of England, on deposit. But so long as the bank keeps her securities of the same amount, the increase of the bullion will always be about equal to the increase of the circulation and the deposits added together. And on the other hand, when an adverse exchange draws bullion from the bank, the deposits decrease as well as the circulation: and the decrease in both together will be equal to the amount of gold withdrawn; that is, supposing the securities to remain the same.
"By 'securities' is meant Government stock, exchequer bills, loans, discounted bills, or anything else on which the bank may have advanced money. It is a principle of management by the bank to keep the total amount of their securities equal, or nearly so; and so long as this rule is acted upon, the tendency of exportations or importations of bullion to produce the variations we have described, must be considered as one of the laws of the circulation."