Marciano, best known as an illustrator and author of popular children's books (Madeline at the White House, 2011, etc.), delves into the political ramifications of the American and French revolutions on the adoption of the metric system.
The author begins with Thomas Jefferson, who had just witnessed the approval of his proposal to replace British currency with an American national currency based upon a decimal version of the Spanish dollar. “Jefferson wanted to take the radical step of dividing the coin by tenths, hundredths, and thousandths—decimal fractions,” writes Marciano. “It was a thing no other nation in the world had ever entirely achieved, not with coins or any other measure.” Tasked by Congress to tackle the broader subject of establishing a uniform system of weights and measures, Jefferson presented one but urged that it not be accepted until it was clear what would be decided in France, where leaders were discussing similar issues. Marciano explains how many different political and cultural issues converged in the question of measurement. In America, the need for a uniform national coinage was obvious, but weights and measures were fairly uniform throughout the former colonies. Not so in France, which employed as many as “250,000 different measures.” The revolutionary demand for uniform taxation and the abolition of the special privileges of the three estates (aristocracy, clergy and king) necessitated a comprehensive overhaul of measurements. The French Revolution gave birth to the metric system as we know it today, but Jefferson's hope that America and France would lead the world in jointly adopting a new universal standard of measurement has yet to be realized. However, this is not a problem. “[W]e now live in an age where the villain has become uniformity,” writes Marciano; with the advent of the digital age, measurements are now easily convertible.
A lively perspective on globalism as it relates to currency and systems of measurement.