In 1792 George Washington refused to have his name and portrait placed on the proposed coinage for the fledgling United States. Why? This question has become harder to answer in the last century since placing the images of dead Presidents on coinage has become commonplace – including that of George Washington. The symbolism of the images placed on money has lost much of its significance.
The answer is to be found in the Founding Father’s perception of money as a conveyor of political ideals. This perception was inherited from European ideas about money that, in turn, derived from Roman Republican monetary concepts. It is intimately connected to the core American problem of the period – how to forge a new nation of thirteen bickering States. This discussion explores the numismatic history behind the Founding Fathers’ concepts of the relationship between money and sovereignty and the imagery appropriate for a Republic.