Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States

Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States

The "Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States" was a report submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on July 13, 1790 by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

At the First United States Congress, which met in 1789 when the metric system had not yet been developed in France, the system of units to be used in the future USA was one point of discussion. The Congress would have had (and still has) the constitutional right (article I, section 8) to decide on a standard of weights and measurement, but "never" did so.

In the meeting Thomas Jefferson was employed to find the best system of weights and measures to be used in the USA. The decimal dollar had already been agreed upon in principle in 1785 [ [ Journals of the Continental Congress] , Wednesday, July 6, 1785] , but would not be implemented until after passage of the Mint Act in 1792. In mid-1790 he proposed two systems of units, one evolutionary with a mere refinement of definitions and simplification of the existing English system, the other one revolutionary being decimal and only reusing some of the traditional names.

The seconds pendulum basis

In coordination with scientists in France, he selected the seconds pendulum at 45° latitude as the basic reference. For technical reasons, Jefferson proposed using a uniform rod as the pendulum rather than a traditional pendulum. The pendulum was estimated to be 39.14912 English inches of that time long (it wasn't until much later that the inch was defined to be 25.4 mm), that is about 994.4 mm, or 1.5 times that for a vibrating rod (58.72368 inches).

More traditional proposal

In the evolutionary approach, the foot was to be derived from one of these lengths by a simple integer factor, which would be either three (pendulum) or five (rod), i.e. lengthening it from the traditional value by 1.04970¯6 inches to ca. 331.463 mm or shortening it by 0.255264 inches to ca. 298.317 mm. For practical purposes he wanted the rod to be 58¾ (new) inches long, an increase of less than 0.045%.

Decimal system based on the foot

The revolutionary system was quite similar to the metric system, except the mentioned difference of about 5.5 mm between the second pendulum at 45° and the 10,000th part of the distance from the northpole to the equator, which became the first definition of the metre. Also it didn't have the concept of prefixes at all. A very similar system was a base of discussion in France after the revolution of 14 July 1789, with Jefferson observing.

In distinguishing this from the less radical changes proposed in the first alternative, the report stated::cquote|"But if it be thought that, either now, or at any future time, the citizens of the United States may be induced to undertake a thorough reformation of their whole system of measures, weights and coins, reducing every branch to the same decimal ratio already established in their coins, and thus bringing the calculation of the principal affairs of life within the arithmetic of every man who can multiply and divide plain numbers, greater changes will be necessary."

ubsequent developments

Under the United States Constitution, Article 1 Section 8, Congress shall have power "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures". In his first annual message to Congress (what later came to be called "State of the Union Addresses") on January 8, 1790 (a few months before Jefferson's report to the House of Representatives), George Washington stated, "Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to." [ The American Presidency Project, [ George Washington: First Annual Message] , accessed 13 October 2006]

Though Washington repeated similar calls for action in his second [ The American Presidency Project, [ George Washington: Second Annual Message] , accessed 13 October 2006] and third [ The American Presidency Project, [ George Washington: Third Annual Message] , accessed 13 October 2006] annual messages (after Jefferson's report), no official action was taken by the House of Representatives with respect to Jefferson's report and Congress passed no legislation relating to weights and measures.

See also

* Approximate conversion of units
* Mesures usuelles
* Metrication in the United States
* United States customary units



* "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson", Monticello Edition, Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904, Vol. 3 pp. 26-59.

External links

*" [ Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States] "

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