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)
cf. "Wait for the Wagon (Free Silver version)" (subject of Free Silver and the 1896 election)
cf. "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight (Bryan Version)" (subject of the 1896 election)
cf. "Bryan Campaign Song" (subject of the 1896 election)
cf. "Don't You Know (Way Over in Williamson)" (subject of the 1896 election)
cf. "We Want None of Thee" (subject of the 1896 election)
cf. "The Patchs on My Pants" (subject of the 1896 election)
cf. "Bye, Old Grover" (subject of the 1896 election?)
NOTES [496 words]: 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 as well as by his support of "free silver").
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 Jameson, p. 480, writing *during* the Panic of 1893, recorded 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. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 had called for purchase of a limited amount of silver for use as currency -- at a 16:1 ratio to gold by weight (Graff, pp. 101, 103).
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. Phillips, 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 -- in effect, people used silver to buy gold, and then hoarded the gold. Capital dried up -- and so, separately, did government finances, resulting not only in the Panic of 1893 but also in a near-government bankruptcy in that year that forced President Cleveland to borrow gold at high rates of interest (Graff, pp. 114-115). So the government attempted to free itself of the silver requirement.
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
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.3
File: ThBa191

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