The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Lyman J. Gage, September 1st, 1900


Bolton Landing, Lake George, N. Y.,
Sept. 1, 1900.

The newspapers of August 26th published an interview with you in which you were quoted as saying that

there is no doubt Mr. Bryan (if elected President) could order his Secretary of the Treasury to make payment in silver of all the public debt payable in coin, and for all current disbursements of the Government as well, which amount to from $1,500,000 to $1,750,000 per day; and that he would give such an order, too, is very certain, if he is in the same mind that he was in 1896.

You went on to say that although Mr. Bryan “would have great difficulty in doing that at once,” owing to the small silver resources of the Government, yet he might accomplish it in time, as the mere announcement of such a purpose “would stop the inflow of gold or at least very largely diminish payments in gold and correspondingly increase payments into the Treasury of silver and silver certificates”; that this would practically put the Government on a silver basis, ruin its credit and bring incalculable disaster upon the business interests of the country.

Having for a great many years taken a deep and some what active interest in the establishment of a sound monetary system in the United States, I may without impropriety publicly address to you a few remarks in reply to your public statement. I emphatically deny, Mr. Secretary, that the danger set forth by you in your interviews really exists, and that any President will be able to do what you say might be done, unless the Republican party in control of the Government in both its Legislative and Executive branches prove itself utterly dishonest in its professed purpose to maintain the gold standard.

This denial is not based upon the reasoning of those of your critics who seek to show by figures that a President, desiring ever so much to put the country upon a silver basis, would lack the means for doing so. On the contrary, for argument's sake, I will accept all you say on that point. But you omit to mention a fact of decisive importance.

If the Executive, as you say, possesses the discretion of “paying silver in settlement of all interest on the public debt not specifically payable in gold, and of making its daily disbursements to its creditors in silver,” it is owing to a flaw in the currency law passed at the last session of Congress—a law which, as the spokesman of the Republican party promised, was to put the gold standard upon an impregnable basis. It was suggested at the time by some of its critics that this law was purposely so manipulated by Republican politicians in the Senate as to leave the possibility of the subversion of the gold standard by Executive action open in order to enable the Republicans in the present Presidential campaign to say that the election of a Republican President was absolutely necessary to save the gold standard and to prevent dreadful economic disaster. Whether any such scheme entered into that legislation, I do not assume to determine. Certain it is, however, that this feature of the law is now so used, and that you, Mr. Secretary, actually do so use it for the evident purpose of alarming the business community and the possessing classes generally.

I hardly need to say to you that the spreading of false alarms of this kind is a very questionable and responsible thing for anybody, and especially for a Secretary of the Treasury. And I call your prediction of the possibilities specified by you and of the disasters sure to follow a false alarm for a very simple reason. Whoever may be elected President on November 6th, there will be another session of Congress before he will take office on March 4, 1901. The Republicans will have strong majorities in both houses of that Congress. The Executive, too, will be in their hands. They will, therefore, be able to make such laws as they please. They will thus have full power and ample opportunity before the inauguration of the next President to pass any legislation required to make it utterly impossible for any President to break down the gold standard in the way you, Mr. Secretary, describe in your interview. A simple enactment in two or three lines substantially providing that it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to pay in gold or silver, at the option of the creditor, all kinds of indebtedness of the United States now payable in coin, may be sufficient. And if there should be another flaw in the present law dangerous to the gold standard in any other way, you, Mr. Secretary, able financier as you are, will surely detect it, and find a legislative remedy and have it ready in the shape of a well-matured bill to be submitted to Congress at the opening of the session. In short, the Republicans, controlling both the Legislative and the Executive branches of the Government, will, next winter, have ample power and opportunity to do what they ought to have done at the last session—to put the currency law in such a shape that the gold standard cannot possibly be shaken by Executive action, no matter who may occupy the Presidential chair—and thus remove, to that extent at least, the basis of our monetary system from the changeful game of party politics.

Do you see any reason for doubting that Congress at its next session will do this? It is quite evident that, if there is any substance at all in your predictions of disaster, the Republicans in Congress cannot refuse to do it without proving that the professed solicitude of the Republican party for the maintenance of the gold standard is arrant hypocrisy. But if there be any wavering, I am convinced public opinion will, in case of necessity, compel them to take the necessary steps.

You will thus have to admit, Mr. Secretary, that when you sounded your note of alarm, you had overlooked the most important fact that you and your party friends, that is, the Republican majority in Congress, led by the Administration of which you form so influential a part, will be able easily and promptly to remedy the defects of the law which you have described as a source of terrible danger, and therefore your note of alarm was, to say the least, a mistaken one. It may suggest itself to you as a matter worthy of grave consideration whether you should not retract what you have said, in fairness to the business community, which should not be unnecessarily disquieted, especially not by those in authority. I am sure many of your fellow-citizens are anxious to know what you may have to say on this aspect of the situation.

  1. An open letter to the Secretary of the Treasury.