Millions for Defense, but Not One Cent for Tribute
(Hard Times token collectors may enjoy this 1837 song!)
“No, no, not a sixpence, sir!” replied Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to France’s demand for tribute. Pinckney, along with Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall, was sent to France in 1797 by President John Adams to try to negotiate an end to French attacks on American ships. As news of the French demand spread throughout America, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” eventually became the public rallying cry as anti-French feelings grew. But, contrary to what some Hard Times token and historical references say, it was not Charles Pinckney who first spoke the famous phrase.
Hard Times Tokens
Hard Times token collectors are familiar with this slogan because it appears on many different varieties of satirical tokens dated 1837 and 1841. Although the spelling of "defence" may look strange to today's Americans, this was the proper spelling at the time. The history surrounding the “Not One Cent” tokens makes them very desirable to collectors, yet the rarity of each variety ranges from very common to the extremely rare (i.e. 2 to 3 examples known). Thus, the “Not One Cent” group of tokens has something for everyone.
Lyman Low Catalog
In 1899, Lyman Low cataloged the Hard Times tokens known to him at that time, numbering them from 1 to 183. Some collectors still only collect the initial 183 tokens cataloged by Low. Later the Low numbers were expanded to include additional tokens. Today, Hard Times tokens are generally cataloged under an HT number system devised by Russell Rulau in his book Hard Times Tokens 1832-1844.
Many varieties of the “Not One Cent” tokens have both obverses and reverses that are similar to those found on the large cent of the time. Others have obverses that reflect the great political issues of the day. It is said that in order to avoid charges of counterfeiting, the phrase “NOT ONE CENT” was emphasized on the reverse of these tokens.
America’s First Undeclared War
Although most people know that France was our ally towards the end of the Revolutionary War, what they don’t know is that just a few years later, France also became oure enemy in our first undeclared war against another country. France suffered its own revolution in 1789 that overthrew the monarchy.
In 1797, France was run by a group of five men known as The Directory. The Directory wanted the United States to be an ally of theirs in a war against Great Britain. George Washington, on the other hand, wanted the United States to stay neutral. In 1794, the United States signed Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain which angered France. The French, in turn, unleashed their navy and privateers on American shipping.
Demand for Tribute
It was these events that led Pinckney and the others to travel to France to try to address the French grievances. When they got to France they were kept waiting by the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand. During this time, they were approached by three individuals, later identified as X, Y, and Z in documents. Messengers X, Y, and Z informed the American party that before any negotiations could begin, the United States would have to pay the five members of The Directory $50,000 each and pay tribute to France in the form of a $10,000,000 loan. These demands are what prompted Pinckney’s “not a sixpence” response.
Pinckney’s Not the Man!
The history regarding the origin of the “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” phrase has been somewhat controversial over the years. From shortly after Pinckney’s trip to France, until fairly recently, Pinckney was given credit for giving this “not one cent” reply to the French. Pinckney himself is said to have denied ever uttering the phrase in place of his “not a sixpence” response. In an October 1797 letter from Pinckney to Timothy Pickering, Pinckney wrote that he had replied to the French with the “not a sixpence” phrase.
So where did the phrase “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” come from?
Shortly after returning from France, John Marshall, who would eventually become the 4th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was honored at a dinner in Philadelphia on the night of June 18, 1798. Representative Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was one of those present at the dinner. Charles Pinckney was also present.
The next day a newspaper recorded the toasts that were given to John Marshall at the dinner the night before. The toast from Robert Goodloe Harper was stated as “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute!” It wasn’t long before people, and later historians, had taken these words and placed them in the mouth of Charles Pinckney for his reply to the French.
Just a few years later, President Thomas Jefferson again took up the cry “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” in regard to the Barbary States of Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. These Barbary “pirates” demanded tribute from the United States in order to keep them from attacking American shipping. The capture and enslavement of the crew of the USS Philadelphia by Tripoli appalled most Americans. A newspaper known to be a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson ran an article with the headline “Millions for Defense, but not a Cent for Tribute” thus picking up the rallying cry once again.
This Barbary hostage crisis was the equivalent in its day to the Iran hostage crisis at the end of the Carter Administration some 175 years later. The resulting military action, specifically the battle of Derne, led to the Tripoli portion of the phrase “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli” in The Marine Corps’ Hymn.
By 1837, there were still many Americans that remembered the cry “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”. So it is not surprising that this would end up on many Hard Times tokens. These “hard times” came about as a result of President Andrew Jackson’s economic policies. These policies, which included the President’s stand against the Second Bank of the United States, certainly led to the Panic of 1837 and a resulting shortage of coinage due to hoarding. The production of Hard Times tokens was a direct response to help solve this nation's coin shortage during this time.
Appleby, Joyce. Thomas Jefferson. Macmillan, 2003.
Brown, Everit and Albert Strauss. A Dictionary of American Politics: Comprising Accounts of Political Parties, Measures and Men . . .etc. A.L. Burt, 1907.
Editor. “Letters to the Editor,” Time Magazine (April 12, 1937).
Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.
Marrota, Michael E. "Hard Times Tokens." (May 31, 1994) http://www.limunltd.com/numismatica/articles/hard-times-tokens.html (accessed June 4, 2009). Originally appeared in Topic 43 of the Well Collectibles Conference.
Meriwether, Colyer. Publications of the Southern History Association, v. 4. Southern History Association, 1900.
Rulau, Russell. Hard Times Tokens: 1832-1844, 6th Ed. Krause Publications, 1996.