This is the second part in a six-part series about the history of the Carson Mint.
Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase at yearend 1862 urged Congress to give serious consideration to the expedient establishment of “an assay office or branch mint at some convenient point in Nevada Territory.” Sacramento’s Daily Union of Jan. 5, 1863, reported that Rep. Aaron A. Sargent from California had referred Secretary Chase’s favorable remarks to the Ways and Means Committee in the House. As one of the first orders of business in Congress in the first week of January 1863, the prospect of securing a mint (or at the least an assay office) for Nevada appeared “very good,” according to the Daily Union’s contact in Washington, D.C. Rep. Sargent introduced the bill, on Jan. 9, 1863, to establish a branch mint in Nevada Territory. Two weeks later, on Jan. 26, 1863, House Representative John L. N. Stratton from New Jersey, submitted the Ways and Means Committee’s report. In it the Committee expressed “an urgent necessity for a branch mint in [Nevada] Territory.”
Nevada Territory had “principal clusters of gold and silver discoveries ... in the counties of Washoe, Storey, Lyon, and Ormsby, surrounding Carson City, the capital of the Territory,” according to the secretary of the Interior’s office. “The discoveries of the precious metals in Nevada,” stated the House Committee’s report, “warrant the belief that in a few years it will in that respect surpass even the ‘Golden State.’” Gold and silver production would increase annually and, as a result, stated the Committee, “There seems to be a necessity for the establishment of a mint in a region so central and so rich in the precious metals.”
Furthermore, wrote the committee, Nevada residents needed ready access to sufficient money in the form of coins to pay for supplies and transportation costs.
The committee also noted the burden of the added cost the miners faced “in transporting the bullion from the (Territory’s) mines to California,” in addition to the 30 or more days they had to wait to receive their processed bullion (in coins or bars) in return. “The whole country will be greatly benefited by a speedy development of (Nevada Territory’s) mines,” stated the report, but before that could happen, the miners would need a mint to speedily process their bullion.
In conclusion the Committee gave the following recommendation of where the government should locate a mint: “Carson City, from the fact that it is the central point of a vast area of mineral wealth, and that it is peopled by an industrious and loyal people, would indicate it as being the proper point for the establishment of a branch mint.”
The bill (H.R. 663) passed easily, and was sent to the Senate.
A U.S. senator from California, Milton S. Latham, on March 3, 1863, motioned that the Senate consider the Nevada Mint bill. A discussion ensued on the Senate floor for perhaps 30 minutes. Sen. Latham then proceeded to summarize the contents of the House-approved bill.
At the conclusion of Latham’s address, Sen. William P. Fessenden from Maine responded. Fessenden, a chief architect of the Revenue Act in 1862 to help fund the Civil War, and later appointed by President Lincoln as Treasury Secretary, served as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee at the time. He said that his committee had not had time to review the House’s Nevada Mint bill. He said that it “would be very hasty and unwise” for the Senate to pass it. He saw no “pressing necessity for the establishment of a branch mint at once in Nevada,” especially since Congress had “recently established one in Colorado,” and not too long ago in California. He wanted to wait a year and then resume discussions about the practicality of a mint in Nevada, to give the Senate time to deal with the more pressing issues relating to the Civil War.
Latham, whose term in the Senate expired on the day of this discussion, agreed that he would have preferred that the Senate Finance Committee would have had adequate time to examine the bill and approve it. He reminded Sen. Fessenden, however, that the House Ways and Means Committee had prepared an exhaustive and convincing report on the subject, and that the House would not have passed the bill if it had not believed it would benefit the citizens in the western states and the country at large. He assured his colleagues that the Nevada Mint Bill contained nothing different in it than the bills Congress had passed to establish mints in California and Colorado. Scrutiny and safeguarding were inherent in such bills.
They took a vote. Twenty-five senators said “Yea,” and 12 (including Fessenden) said “Nay.” The territory’s residents had demanded a mint, and now they had one; on paper anyway. President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law on the same day the Senate approved it, March 3, 1863.
Next would come design and construction of the sanctioned coin factory.
Rusty Goe, of Southgate Coins, 5032 S. Virginia St. in Reno, can be reached at number is (775) 322-4455. For more information visit www.southgatecoins.com. In 2012, Rusty collaborated with the California-based rare coin auction firm Stack’s Bowers to bring to market a complete (111-piece) set of Carson City coins in history. Rusty served as the chief architect , which he christened the Battle Born Collection, in honor of Nevada. It sold at auction in August 2012 for nearly $10 million.