Then and Now.
It's a mild understatement to say that the Civil War was a rough time for the country. Grover already provided the "the Civil War was about money" post and I don't really want to get into that. Let's leave the discussion at the fact that, during the war, silver, gold, and eventually the copper-nickel cents were removed from circulation. Say what you want about cents, nickels and dimes now, but back then these coins were essential to commerce and their removal was potentially crippling to the economy.
I have an immense faith in the people and the spirit of this country to solve problems without the government, and sometimes even to solve the problems created or helped along by the government. True to this spirit, merchants in the large cities of the day made a solution. They started making thin, copper tokens that were the size of a small cent and used them to fill the void. These tokens, while not government issues, were given and accepted as money. There were some made for larger denominations like 10 cents but the vast majority are for just 1 cent. The American people, not the government, solved the problem.
Some of the tokens are simple, sometimes just naming the company or merchant that made them. Others are quite beautiful and very patriotic in their message.
In a fashion similar to many governments throughout history, including a very similar case in the UK in the early 1800s, the US government couldn't long tolerate this private solution. In 1864 the government issued it's own bronze cent using the design of the old copper-nickel cents and made the private tokens illegal.
These coins are a symbol of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American people. They also represent a basic freedom and right that I worry that we're forgetting as a country. The freedom and the right to solve problems ourselves, without the government. The freedom and the right to reject the government's solution and tell Congress where to shove it. No law ever written in this country that I'm aware of prohibits or invalidates the barter system. No law ever on the books requires that accounts and debts only be settled in US dollars or "Federal Reserve Notes." If someone offered you a chunk of refined copper in trade, and you accept it, then the transaction is valid. There shouldn't be a thing the government can say about it. Sadly though, I suspect that we're getting too used to choosing without choices.
Some of you may know of recent attempts by private organizations to mint and circulate gold and silver "coins" as a viable alternative to Federal Reserve Notes. The government raided the organization, seized their records and seized the metal. Whether you agree with what they were doing and how they were doing it or not, I think everyone should think about what they were saying. The government shouldn't have the right or the power to control us half as much as they are. (For my part, I believe they had the right to circulate/trade the silver and gold rounds, they just messed up when they included the words "XX dollars" on the design. If not for that, I don't think there would have been anything wrong with what they did.)
I personally believe that the real promise made at the birth of this nation was that all men had the freedom to act the way they wanted to as long as it didn't harm others. That simple. Freedom from the opinions and abuses of others. Freedom from the government. We don't have that anymore.
I have the seller's pictures of a token I just ordered attached below. It's pre-graded NGC AU-55 because that's about the only way I could find one that wasn't corroded. It says:
OBVERSE: "The Flag Of Our Union."
REVERSE: "If Anybody Attempts To Tear It Down, Shoot Him On The Spot."
Amen. Pass the ammunition.
I'll get off my soap box now.