Chapter 20: Political Realignments in the 1890s, 1890-1900 (#3) The Presidential Election of 1896

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Chapter 20: Political Realignments in the 1890s, 1890-1900 (#3)

The Presidential Election of 1896

  • election of 1896 – known as the “battle of the standards” – focused primarily on the gold and silver standards of money

    • became both an exciting and dangerous election

  • The Mystique of Silver

    • sentiment for free silver coinage was even supported in pro-silver literature

      • pamphlets issued by the millions argued silver’s virtues

    • people wanted quick solutions to the economic crisis

      • silverites offered a solution – simple but compelling: the free and independent coinage of silver at the ration of 16 ounces of silver to every ounce of gold

    • the U.S. mints would coin all the silver offered to them

      • nation would coin silver regardless of the policies of other nations (nearly off of which were on the gold standard)

    • believed in a quantity theory of money: that the amount of money in circulation determined the level of activity in the economy

      • if the government coined silver as well as gold, that meant more money in circulation, more business for everyone, and more prosperity

    • 1896 – silver had become a symbol

    • stood for a wide range of popular grievances

      • silver represented the common people, as the vast literature of the movement showed

        • William H. Harvey – Coin’s Financial School

    • silver was more than just a political or economic issue – it was a social movement

      • flourished between 1894 and 1896 – then succumbed to electoral defeat, the return of prosperity, and new concerns

        • in its time, the silver movement showed a national mood, and won millions of followers

  • The Republicans and Gold

    • William McKinley was the advance agent of prosperity

      • had the republican nomination and backed a platform that favored the gold standard against the free coinage of silver

  • The Democrats and Silver

    • Democratic party – outlook increasingly reflected southern views on silver, race, and other issues

    • silver Democrats were in charge of the electing convention and put together a platform that stunned the Cleveland wing of the party – demanded the free coinage of silver, attacked Cleveland’s actions in the Pullman strike, and censured his sales of gold bonds

    • easterners (William Jennings Bryan claimed) like to praise businessmen but forgot that plain people – laborers, miners, and farmers – were businessmen

    • he defended silver in his famous “Cross of Gold” Speech

      • “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

  • Campaign and Election

    • People’s party – had staked everything on the assumption that neither major party would endorse silver

      • had a painful choice to make: nominate an independent ticket and risk splitting the silverite forces, or nominate Bryan and give up its separate identity as a party

    • choice was unpleasant and it shattered the party:

      • the party’s national convention nominated Bryan

        • but named its own candidate for vice-president Tom Watson

    • won Bryan very few votes, because many Populists would have voted for him anyway

      • identified him as a Populist (which he was not) allowing the Republicans to accuse him of heading a ragtag army of malcontents

    • August 1896 – Bryan set off an a campaign that became an American legend

      • took his campaign directly to the voters

        • Bryan traveled 18,009 miles, visited 27 states, and spoke 600 times to about 3 million people

          • worked to educate and persuade voters

    • McKinley – let voters come to him

      • railroads brought them by the thousands into McKinley’s hometown of Canton, Ohio and he spoke to them from his front porch

    • voter turnout was high with McKinley taking 50% to Bryan’s 46%

    • the election struck down the Populists and many Populist proposals were adopted under different leadership

      • graduated income tax, crop loans to farmers, the secret ballot, and direct election of US senators

        • People’s party could never win over a majority of the voters

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