How Not To Make Money (Newton Force)

18 Dec

Whatcha gonna do?
Everyone knows Sir Isaac Newton for his work on physics, but were you aware that he also did a lot in the field of criminal law?

All of this post’s quotes are selections from the Wikipedia:

As warden of the Royal Mint, Newton estimated that 20 percent of the coins taken in during The Great Recoinage were counterfeit. Counterfeiting was high treason, punishable by the felon’s being hanged, drawn and quartered. Despite this, convicting the most flagrant criminals could be extremely difficult. 

When I first heard this I assumed he was just a figurehead, or at least simply the creative mind behind certain measures. (For example, he had an inscription placed along the rim of British coins to stymy “clippers”, folks who would trim the edges of silver coins for the metal’s value.) Further reading proved this out somewhat – the title was intended as mostly ceremonial.

Gravity: It's the LawClick the image for an interesting side-trip into the history of The Gravity Poster

Still, something funny happened: Sir Isaac Newton didn’t take the position lightly, and instead decided to get his Steven Seagal on.

Disguised as a habitué of bars and taverns, he gathered much of that evidence himself. […] Newton had himself made a justice of the peace in all the home counties. Then he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects between June 1698 and Christmas 1699. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 coiners. 

I love the idea of a bewigged Newton prowling from gin joint to bordello, his eyes on other men’s money. Did he carry some weapon for his own protection? A knife in the pocket, in case things should go sour? Was there some point where the father of modern physics was clutching at the hilt with a sweaty palm, ready for action, only to have the tension of the moment broken by his potential foe breaking into a smile and declaring he was “just kiddin'”?

It seems he even had an arch-nemesis of sorts:

One of Newton’s cases as the King’s attorney was against William Chaloner. […] Chaloner made himself rich enough to posture as a gentleman. Petitioning Parliament, Chaloner accused the Mint of providing tools to counterfeiters[…] He petitioned Parliament to adopt his plans for a coinage that could not be counterfeited, while at the same time striking false coins. 

Newton actually brought Chaloner to trial, but couldn’t make the charges stick after the counterfeiter’s connections pulled some strings.Newtonian LawIt was at this point in my reading that I realized Newton, like some high-sock wearing Dirty Harry, was not a fellow to be messed with.

Newton put him on trial a second time with conclusive evidence. Chaloner was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered


3 Responses to “How Not To Make Money (Newton Force)”

  1. Justin December 18, 2010 at 14:32 #

    Interesting research. I investigated adding to Newton’s Laws to cover his activities as a force for justice, but of course Newton’s existing Laws already cover it. You just have to read between the lines.


    I. Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.

    Unopposed villainy succeeds effortlessly. Here Newton identifies that a force for justice is necessary.

    II. The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress’d; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress’d.

    Massive operations require massive force to oppose. Here Newton specifies exactly how much Force of Justice is required to stop a criminal operation in motion and push them on the right line towards Justice.

    III. To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.

    Villainy and justice will forever be in opposition. Here Newton shows that wherever villainy is present, an equal and opposite force for justice will arise to kick some butt.

    He’s got a backstory (where he goes home due to plague and gains physics superpowers), villains (curse you Leibniz!) and enough varied interests in his life (optics, alchemy) to justify an incredible underground lab. Where is the early-Renaissance superhero comic book? Where the my action figure with F=ma grip? Who is worthy of being his sidekick?

    • JRD Skinner December 19, 2010 at 12:01 #

      Where’s my like button for this comment? I feel like I should re-post this as an entirely separate item. Nicely done.

      Action figure with F=ma grip is t-shirt worthy.

      I know you’ve inspired our sketchist to come up with a little something, although I’m not sure if she’ll complete it to a point of being willing to display it. 🙂

  2. Justin December 19, 2010 at 13:25 #

    Thank you; however, I must point out an error on my part.

    Apparently Newton is solidly post-Renaissance: a father of the Enlightenment.

    I apologize to the authors of any comics that may be on their way to press.

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