Free Silver

DESCRIPTION: "Laboring men please all attend While I relate my history, Money it is very scarce...." "The farmer is the cornerstone, though he is cruelly treated. Bryan is the poor man's friend...." "We'll arise, defend free silver's cause...."
AUTHOR: James W. Day ("Jilson Setters")
EARLIEST DATE: 1939 (Thomas)
KEYWORDS: money political nonballad
July 7, 1896 - William Jennings Bryan gives his "Cross of Gold" speech calling for a silver currency
1896, 1900, 1908 - Bryan's three runs for the presidency
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Thomas-Makin', pp. 191-192, (no title) (1 text)
NOTES: William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a curious mix of genius and fool. A genuine peacemaker and friend of the poor, and a brilliant speaker, he had neither economic nor scientific sense (as he demonstrated by serving as prosecutor in the Scopes trial).
By the 1890s, farmers oppressed by debt were begging for a loosening of the money supply, and their proposed solution was free coinage of silver. That they needed relief is beyond question; that free silver was the answer is unlikely. Even J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894, p. 480, writing *during* the Panic of 1893, write that "The crisis of 1893 seems to have been rather due to financial legislation than to an unsound condition of the business of the country." More recent experts have generally agreed: The imbalance caused by silver and gold being arbitrarily linked at an unnatural exchange rate led to an unstable monetary supply and led to disaster.
It should be noted that silver had been legal tender from 1792 (Jameson, p. 600). The problem with free silver was not silver-as-currency, it was with the notion of an irrational, non-floating exchange rate between silver and gold. The imbalance, at times, was substantial. Kevin Phillips, William McKinley [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2003, p. 50, demonstrates how fast the "exchange rate" fluctuated in the 1870s after western silver mines made the metal much more abundant: In 1873, the amount of silver in a silver dollar was worth one dollar in gold, but only 99 cents in 1874, 96 cents in 1875, and 89 cents in 1876! Thus there was more than a 10% premium on gold over silver. Little wonder that the economy suffered.
But Bryan adopted the cause of free silver, and his famous "Cross of gold" speech ("you shall not press down upon the brown of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold") swept the 1896 Democratic convention and made Bryan the youngest serious presidential candidate in history.
But while Bryan inspired fervent devotion in certain circles, the country was basically conservative, and he lost in 1896 -- and by wider margins in 1900 and 1908.
Several other songs in the Index also refer to the election of 1896, although there is little evidence that any of them truly went into tradition; see "Don't You Know," "The Patches on My Pants," "That Prosperity Wave," and "We Want None of Thee." For the second Bryan/McKinley election, in 1900, see "Bryan Campaign Song." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.6
File: ThBa191

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