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Easy Money

American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency

A sweeping history of the American invention of modern money.

Economists endlessly debate the nature of legal tender monetary systems—coins and bills issued by a government or other authority. Yet the origins of these currencies have received little attention.

Dror Goldberg tells the story of modern money in North America through the Massachusetts colony during the seventeenth century. As the young settlement transitioned to self-governance and its economy grew, the need to formalize a smooth exchange emerged. Printing local money followed.

Easy Money illustrates how colonists invented contemporary currency by shifting its foundation from intrinsically valuable goods—such as silver—to the taxation of the state. Goldberg traces how this structure grew into a worldwide system in which, monetarily, we are all Massachusetts. Weaving economics, law, and American history, Easy Money is a new touchstone in the story of monetary systems.

360 pages | 6 halftones, 14 line drawings, 1 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Markets and Governments in Economic History

Economics and Business: Economics--History, Economics--Money and Banking

History: American History


"Paper money and legal tender clauses did not emerge in a vacuum. Easy Money tells how exigencies, forethoughts, and experiments combined to make an early paper money sustainable and valuable—at least for a while. Full of insights about the 21st century brought from carefully interpreting 17th century events, Easy Money is a fascinating mixture of American political, economic, and intellectual history that is sharply focused on how paper money was invented and implemented."

Thomas Sargent | New York University | recipient of 2011 Nobel Prize in Economics

“Skillfully assembling a large body of evidence in this ambitious work, Goldberg has woven a complex, yet accessible narrative about an important event in monetary history, which tackles important questions such as: How does money evolve? What explains the timing, location, and form of monetary invention? And why Massachusetts?

Jane Knodell | University of Vermont

“It is often said that money is a social construct. But few of us take the time to painstakingly chronicle the political, economic, and social processes by which it is constructed. In Easy Money, Dror Goldberg traces the story of modern legal tender currency back to its 17th century Transatlantic roots and the upstart colony of Massachusetts. It is a story of war, politics, law, religion, and circumstance in which necessity reveals itself as the mother of monetary invention. It is also a story with important lessons for the future of money.”

Dan Awrey | Cornell University

Easy Money is the story of one of history’s great inventions in a depth that no one has done before. The outlines of this story have been known for quite a while, but no one has explained in Goldberg’s rich detail how the 1690-1692 innovation happened when and where it did.”

Richard Sylla | New York University

Table of Contents


Part I. Introductions

Chapter 1. Introduction to the Book

Chapter 2. Money and Its Inventions: Theoretical Considerations

Chapter 3. England in the Late Sixteenth Century

Chapter 4. English Developments, 1584–1692

Part II. The Atlantic

Chapter 5. Before 1630: Harvesters of Money

Chapter 6. The Puritan Exodus, 1629–1640: General Features

Chapter 7. Massachusetts Takes the Monetary Lead, 1630–1640

Chapter 8. A New Hope, 1640–1660

Chapter 9. The Empire Strikes Back, 1660–1686

Chapter 10. Governments and Paper Money Projects, 1685–1689

Chapter 11. The Massachusetts Legislator: The Case of Elisha Hutchinson

Chapter 12. The Return of the General Court, 1689–1690

Summary of Part II

Part III. A Monetary Revolution

Chapter 13. The Legal Tender Law, 1690

Chapter 14. Aftermath, 1691–1692

Chapter 15. Back to England’s Financial Revolution, 1692–1700

Chapter 16. Analysis

Chapter 17. Conclusion





"As most of the English nation gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve, the English subjects in Massachusetts were in no festive mood. For one thing, Puritans did not celebrate what they considered a pre-Christian holiday. More important, Massachusetts was broken—militarily, spiritually, morally, and financially. A large expedition sent to occupy French Quebec returned defeated. Previously confident of a divine victory against Catholics, the Puritan government declared in unprecedented despair: 'Our Father spit in our face.' The defeat implied there was no plunder—which was supposed to pay for the expedition. In an extremely cold winter, the smallpox-infested, mutinous soldiers and sailors demanded pay. A caretaker revolutionary government had nothing to offer them. It was the day before Christmas, and in order to pacify the troops, the chief Puritan colony gave birth to its own influential baby: modern currency."

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