Primary Source Readings on the Issue of Bimetallism in the Late Nineteenth-Century


 

Assignment:

Read both of the following primary documents and write a 2-page essay in support for or against free silver. The first document is an argument in support of free silver, while the second is in opposition to it. Choose a side and make an argument in support of that side drawing upon ideas raised in the textbook, class lecture/discussion and the supporting primary document. At least one paragraph must address the other side's position and why their arguments are invalid (in your opinion). Also, include one paragraph addressing the perspective of the writer and why they may have used the arguments they did.

Pro-silver: Lane, Edward. Excerpts from "Bimetallism or Monometallism – Which? Speech of Hon. Edward Lane, of Illinois, in the House of Representatives, Tuesday, August 22, 1893." Appendix to the Congressional Record. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1895. 85-86.

Edward Lane was a Democratic Representative from Illinois.

[p. 85]

Why was silver demonetized in America in 1873? Who justified the act at that time? Is it not a fact that the people knew nothing about it at the time? President Grant, who approved the act of demonetizing silver, declared afterwards that when he signed the bill he did not know that it demonetized silver.

The leading men of both parties who were then in Congress and assisted in passing the measure have since stated on their honor in Congress, and on the public platform, that they did not know when the act was passed that the clause in regard to the coining of the silver dollar was omitted from the bill. It is very certain that very few knew of the dastardly act until its baneful effects were felt in every cottage in the land. Whatever other influences were made operative in the demonetization of silver the evidence is abundant in the capital at Washington that British gold and British influence were largely responsible for the downfall of the white metal. The act was a crime against organized society and a robbery of every wage-worker in the land; it increased the number of our millionaires, and for every one it made it caused a thousand paupers. Its effect were to reduce the price of farms and of farm products at least one-third in 

[p. 86] 

value and to intensify to the same degree the galling yoke of labor.

By references to the statistician we find that in 1873 barley was worth 91 1/9 cents a bushel, and yielded the farmer $21.15 an acre; in 1888 it was worth 59 cents per bushel and yielded $12.57 per acre; oats, in 1873, were worth 37 cents, and in 1889, 22 cents, and yielded the farmer $6.26, while in 1873 the yield was $10.37. In 1873 corn was worth per bushel 40 cents, and yielded the farmer $11.41 an acre; while in 1889 corn was worth 28 cents per bushel, and yielded a return to the farmer of but $7.63 an acre.

The wonder of the age is, how our farmers have survived the legislation of the past twenty years, by which they have been compelled to purchase the commodities on a protected market which raises the price from 47 to 62 per cent and to sell all their farm products at home and abroad in competition with the ryots of India and the serfs of Russia, and to be further subjected to the decline of prices because of the demonetization of silver. It is not the farmer alone who has suffered, but this loss has been felt by the wage-earner in every cottage in the land. When industries are active labor is prosperous. When money is plenty labor finds steady employment and earns more than in hard times. We may boast as we please about the high wages paid labor in this country, but the fact remains that since 1873 the total earnings of our laboring classes have been greatly reduced.

The only way to increase the earnings of all labor is to increase business and production, for in the end wages are but the share of production which labor gets; and there is no such thing as activity in business when the money volume is shrinking, and while the loss to labor has been very great because of the reduction in wages, yet the greatest loss of labor has been because of enforced idleness. When the business of the country is in an active condition, in which it would be if the volume of money bore a proper relation to the population and industry, then there would be an increased demand for labor. But it has been estimated by those best able to judge, that because of our money system at least two million men are annually kept out of employment. Assume, then, that if these men were employed at reasonable wages — say $2 per day — here is a loss of $4,000,000 daily, and say three hundred working days in a year, the loss per annum would be $1,200,000,000, or the aggregate for twenty years would reach the enormous sum of $24,000,000,000.

I know that hoarded wealth will laugh at the idea that this army of work-hunters would not find employment, but the record stands as I have stated. If the volume of the money of the country was sufficient to keep prices from falling, and then to encourage capital to seek productive enterprises in which labor was employed, every man willing to labor could have been kept at work, and no country could possibly enjoy a higher degree of prosperity than when all its people are employed and the product of their labor equally distributed.

Pro-gold: Christiancy, Isaac P. "Speech of Senator Christiancy Before the U.S. Senate, January 30, 1878." Congressional Record. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1878. 669.

Isaac P. Christiancy was a Republican Senator from Missouri.

[p. 669]

Another effect which the present bill will have [the Bland-Allison Act], if it becomes a law, is to make every creditor, when the debt was contracted with reference to payment in Treasury notes, lose from two dollars to three dollars and a half upon each hundred, as the silver dollar will be so far below the present value of the Treasury note; and the creditor, when the debt was contracted payable in coin, will lose from 3 to 5 per cent., the debtor being able to put so much into his own pocket which ought to go into the pocket of the creditor. Though the amount is not large the principle is the same, and the act justifiable only upon the same reason as if it were 50 per cent. instead of thee or five.

A great deal has been said outside of Congress by newspaper editors, stump-speakers, and pot-house politicians in justification of the robbing of the creditor class, on the ground that these creditors who happen to have something due them from other people or from the Government — especially the latter, who are sneered at as "bloated bondholders" — because it is said they are a set of shylocks or vampires refusing to use their money in business, but sucking the life-blood from the debtor class, the toiling millions: as if the people were all divided into distinct classes, the one consisting of rich money-lenders and the other of people compelled to live by their labor and to borrow. I deny that such is the fact. Our laboring population, whether mechanics, farmers, or day-laborers, are creditors to very large amounts if not collectively to greater amounts than the few prominent capitalists.

They consist of all classes, poor and rich: the laboring-men and women who have invested in these bonds the hard-earned savings of their daily wages; the farmer who has invested the small surplus of his earnings, drawn from the earth by hands hardened with toil; the widow who has also invested in them the small pittance left as the only means of rearing and educating her children; the guardians and trustees of widows and orphans whose whole patrimony has been thus invested; the men of gray hairs, no longer equal to the management of active business, who have sought them as a safe investment for the support of their declining years. Are these the "bloated bondholders," the shylocks, against whom the popular indignation is to be excited and from whom a part of their savings is to be filched for the purpose of flooding this country with a debased coin and injuring the credit of the nation?

But, suppose a large part of these bonds are held by men of wealth. In what code of law or morals has he been reared who thinks it is right to rob them because they happen to have more wealth than some of us any more than if they had less? There is a constant interchange going on, rich men becoming poor and poor men rich. But justice, simple justice is due alike to all. Most of our rich men have worked their way up from poverty by honest effort and industry. Shall they be punished for it?