Слике страница
PDF
ePub

est efforts of human science, ingenuity, and skill, to the common pur. poses of all; as this system is yet new, imperfect, susceptible of great improvements, and struggling for existence even in the country which gave it birth; as its universal establishment would be a universal blessing; and as, if ever effected, it can only be by consent, and not by force, in which the energies of opinion must precede those of legislation; it would be worthy of the dignity of the Congress of the United States to consult the opinions of all the civilized nations with whom they have a friendly intercourse; to ascertain, with the utmost attainable accuracy, the existing state of their respective weights and measures; to take up and pursue, with steady, persevering, but always temperate and discreet exertions, the idea conceived, and thus far executed, by France, and to co-operate with her to the final and universal establishment of her system.

But, although it is respectfully proposed that Congress should immediately sanction this consultation, and that it should commence, in the first instance, with Great Britain and France, it is not expected that it will be attended with immediate success. Ardent as the pursuit of uniformity has been for ages in England, the idea of extending it beyond the British dominions has hitherto received but little countenance there. The operation of changes of opinion there is slow; the aversion to all innovations, deep. More than two hundred years had elapsed from the Gregorian reformation of the calendar, before it was adopted in England. It is to this day still rejected throughout the Russian empire. It is not even intended to propose the adoption by ourselves of the French metrology for the present. The reasons have been given for believing, that the time is not yet matured for this reformation. Much less is it supposed adviseable to propose its adoption to any other nation. But, in consulting them, it will be proper to let them understand, that the design and motive of opening the communication is, to promote the final establishment of a system of weights and measures, to be common to all civilized nations.

In contemplating so great, but so beneficial a change, as the ultimate object of the proposal now submitted to the consideration of Congress, it is supposed to be most congenial to the end, to attempt no present change whatever in our existing weights and measures ; to let the standards remain precisely as they are; and to confine the proceedings of Congress at this time to authorizing the Executive to open these communications with the European nations where we have accredited ministers and agents, and to such declaratory enactments and regulations as may secure a more perfect uniformity in the weights and measures now in use throughout the Union.

The motives for entertaining the opinion, that any change in our system at the present time would be inexpedient, are four :

First, That no change whatever of the system could be adopted, without losing the greatest of all the elements of uniformity, that referring to the persons using the same system. This uniformity we now possess, in common with the whole British nation; the nation with which, of all the nations of the earth, we have the most of that intercourse which requires the constant use of weights and measures. No change is believed possible, other than that of the whole system, the benefit of which would compensate for the loss of this uniformity.

Secondly, That the system, as it exists, has an uniformity of proportion very convenient and useful, which any alteration of it would disturb, and perhaps destroy; the proportion between the avoirdupois and troy weights, and that between the avoirdupois weight and the foot measure; one cubic foot containing of spring water exactly one thousand ounces avoirdupois, and one pound avoirdupois consisting of exactly seven thousand grains troy.

Thirdly, That the experience of France has proved, that binary, ternary, duodecimal, and sexagesimal divisions, are as necessary to the practical use of weights and measures, as the decimal divisions are convenient for calculations resulting from them; and that no plan for introducing the latter can dispense with the continued use of the former.

Fourthly, That the only material improvement, of which the present system is believed to be susceptible, would be the restoration of identity between weights and silver coins; a change, the advantages of which would be very great, but which could not be effected without a corresponding and almost total change in our coinage and moneys of account; a change the more exceptionable, as our monetary system is itself a new, and has hitherto been a successful institution.

Of all the nations of European origin, ours is that which least requires any change in the system of their weights and measures. With the exception of Louisiana, the established system is, and always has been, throughout the Union, the same. Under the feudał system of Europe, combined with the hierarchy of the church of Rome, the people were in servitude, and every chieftain of a village, or owner of a castle, possessod or asserted the attributes of sovereign power. Among the rest, the feudal lords were in the practice of coining money, and fixing their own weights and measures. This is the great source of numberless diversities existing in every part of Europe, proceeding not from the varieties which in a course of ages befell the same system, but from those of diversity of origin. The nations of Europe are, in their origin, all compositions of victorious and vanquished people. Their institutions are compositions of military power and religious opinions. Their doctrines are, that freedom is the grant of the sovereign to the people, and that the sovereign is amenable only to God. These doctrines are not congenial to nations originating in colonial establishments. Colonies carry with them the general laws, opinions, and usages, of the nation from which they emanate, and the prejudices and passions of the age of their emigration. The North American colonies bad nothing military in their origin. The first English colonies on this continent were speculations of commerce: they commenced precisely at the period of that struggle in England between liberty and power, which, after long and bloody civil wars, terminated in a compromise between the two conflicting principles. The colonies were founded by that portion of the people, who were arrayed on the side of liberty. They brought with them all the rights, but none of the servitudes, of the parent country. Their constitutions were, indeed, conformably to the spirit of the feudal policy, charters granted by the crown; but they were all adherents to the doctrine, that charters were not donations, but compacts. They brought with them the weights and measures of the law, and not those of any particular district or franchise. The only change which has taken place in England with regard to the legal standards of weights and measures, since the first settlement of the North American colonies, has been the specification of the contents of measures of capacity, by prescribing their dimensions in cubical inches. All the standards at the exchequer are the same that they were at the first settlement of Jamestown; with the exception of the wine gallon, which is of the time of queen Anne: and the standards of the exchequer are the prototypes from which all the weights and measures of the Union are derived.

A particular statement of the regulations of the several states relative to weights and measures, is subjoined to this report, in the appendix.

The first settlement of the English colonies on the continent of North America was undertaken towards the close of the reign of queen Elizabeth, in honor of whom it received the name of Virginia.

During the same reign of Elizabeth, and cotemporaneous with the adventures which preceded the settlement of Jamestown, the act of parliament of 1592 passed, defining in feet the statute mile. This mile, together with its elementary units, the foot and inch, were the measures by which all the territories, granted by the successors of Elizabeth, in this hemisphere, were defined. The foot and inch, from usage immemorial in England, and by a statute then of more than three centuries' antiquity, had been the elements of superficial, as well as of itinerary land measure. Tlrese, therefore, were not only the most natural measures for the use of the English colonies; they were inwoven in their primitive constitutions, and were brought with their charters, an essential part of their possessions.

Among the earliest traces of colonial legislation in Virginia and in New England, we find acts declaring the assize of London, and the standards of the exchequer, to be the only lawful prototypes of the weights and measures of the colonies. The foot and inch were of dimensions perfectly well ascertained: and in the year 1601, only seven years before the settlement at Jamestown, and less than twenty before that of Plymouth, new standards, not only of the yard and ell, but of the avoirdupois and troy weights, and of the bushel, corn gallon, quart, and pint, had been deposited at the exchequer. There was neither uncertainty, nor perceptible diversity, with regard to the long measures or the weights; but the standard vessels of capacity were of various dimensions. The bushel of 1601 contained 2,124 cubic inches : it was therefore a copy from an older standard, made in exact conformity to the rule prescribed in the statute of 1266, and very probably the identical standard therein described. It contained eight corn gallons of wheat, equiponderant to eight Irish gallons of Gascoign wine; of wheat, thirty-two kernels of which were of equal weight with the round, unclipped penny sterling of 1266. Its corresponding wine gallon, therefore, would have been the Irish gallon of 217.6 cubic inches; and its corresponding corn gallon of 265.5 inches, an intermediate between the Rumford quart and gallon of 1228, and differing less than one inch from either of them. There were two other standard bushels at the exchequer, of the same dimensions; one of the age of Henry the Seventh, and one dated 1091. This has been supposed to be a mistake for 1591 or 1601. But as it is not probable that two standard bushels should have been deposited in the exchequer at the same time, or even at dates so near to each other, a conjecture may be indulged, that the 1091 marks the date, when the standard measure, described in the statute of 1266 was made. Of that standard, these three bushels were unquestionably copies.

The corn and the ale gallons of 1601 were of 272 cubic inches ; and there was one of Henry the Seventh there, of the same size, as reported by the artist who measured them for the commissioners of the excise in 1688. When measured again by order of the committee of the House of Commons, in 1758, they were reported to contain each about one inch less. The true size intended for all of them was 272; and they were made by an application of the rule of 1266 to the troy weight wheat of the act of 1496. They were the eighth parts of a bushel of 2,176 inches ; and their corresponding wine gallon was the Guildhall gallon of 224 inches.

There were, in 1601, a standard quart of 70 inches, and a pint of 34.8; wbich were evidently intended to be in exact proportions to each other : and the gallon, to which they referred, was the gallon of 282 inches. This would have made a bushel of 2,256 inches, and its corresponding wine gallon is of 231 inches. The standards, thus made, were by an application both of the wheat and of the rule described in the statute of 1266 to the troy weight gallon of 1496; that is, the wheat was of the kind, 32 kernels of which weighed the same as the old penny sterling, and of which the wine gallon contained eight pounds troy weight. There was a standard bushel of Henry the Seventh at the exchequer, of 2,224 inches, probably the bushel from which this quart and these pints were deduced.

There was also the Winchester bushel of 2,145.6 cubic inches, made in the reign of Henry the Seventh, but from its name evidently copied from a standard which had been kept at Winchester when that place was the capital of the kingdom. This bushel had been made, by combining the rule of 1266 with the assize of casks which, in the statute of 1423, is declared to be of old time, by which the hogshead, or eight cubic feet of Gascoign wine, consisted of 63 gallons. That hogshead was a quarter of a ton of wine, as eight Winchester bushels contained a quarter of a ton of wheat. The gallon was of 2192 cubic inches; and the corresponding ale gallon was of 268.2 inches. There was at the exchequer no wine or ale gallon of those dimensions ; because the wine gallon of 224 inches, and the corn gallon of 272, made under the statutes of 1496 and 1531, had been substituted in their stead. At the exchequer, there was indeed no wine gallon at all. Those of older date than the act of 1496 had disappeared, and the gallon of 224 inches made according to that act, had been delivered out of the exchequer to the city of London, and was at Guildhall.

Such was the state of the standards in London, at the time of the first colonial emigrations to this continent.

MASSACHUSETTS.

Among the colony laws of Massachusetts, there is an act of the year 1647, directing the country treasurer to provide, at the country's charge, weights and measures of all sorts for continual standards. In the specification which ensues in the act, all the measures, of which there were standards at the exchequer, are mentioned, with special discrimination of wine and ale measures; but the weights only after sixteen ounces to the pound, are named. They then had no occasion for the troy weights.

At a still earlier date, in 1641, it had been prescribed that all casks for any liquor, fish, beef, pork, or other commodities to be put to sale, should be of London assize: and in 1646 a corresponding as. size of staves had been ordained.

The law of 1647 did not expressly direct where the treasurer was to procure the standards : but the Exchequer and Guildhall were the only places where they were to be obtained; and, from subsequent acts, the fact appears that they were obtained there.

At the first session of the general court under the charter of Wil. liam and Mary, in 1692, two laws were enacted; one, re-ordaining the London assize of casks, and specifying that the butt should contain 126 gallons, the puncheon 84, the hogshead 63, the tierce 42, and the barrel 31) gallons; the other, for due regulation of weights and measures, declaring that the brass and copper measures, formerly sent out of England, with certificate out of the exchequer to be approved Winchester measure, according to the standard in the exchequer, should be the public allowed standard throughout the province for the proving and sealing all weights and measures thereby, and re-enacting, with an additional clause, the colonial law of 1647.

An act of the year 1700 prescribes, that the bushel used for the sale of meal, fruits, and other things, usually sold by heap, shall be not less than 182 inches wide within side; the half bushel not less than 13% inches; the peck not less than 10%, and the half peck not less than 9 inches.

It is very remarkable that this law was enacted one year before the act of parliament of 13 William III. which gives and prescribes in cubical inches the dimensions of the Winchester bushel. The object of the provincial law was, to prohibit the use of bushels, which,

« ПретходнаНастави »