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Third Speech Against Unconditional Repeal


Mr. Speaker: Nothing that can be said at this time will affect the fate of this bill, but those gentlemen who vote for it should do so with a full and clear understanding of what they are doing. We have been told, sir, that the Democratic platform adopted in 1892 demanded the unconditional repeal of the Sherman law. No person has brought into this House a single platform utterance which will bear out that assertion. The platform does not even demand repeal, not to speak of unconditional repeal. It says: "We denounce the Republican legislation known as the Sherman act of 1890 as a cowardly makeshift fraught with possibilities of danger in the future, which should make all of its supporters, as well as its author, anxious for its speedy repeal." Its author does seem to be "anxious for its speedy repeal," and in this desire many of its supporters join with him; but why should a Democratic Congress secure that repeal without first restoring, at least, the law which the Sherman law repealed? Then, too, the denunciation contained in the platform is directed against the whole law, not simply against the purchase clause. Yet we are urged to support this bill for the unconditional repeal of the purchase clause only as a Democratic measure. What is the history of this bill? It is identical in purpose and almost identical in language with a bill introduced by Senator Sherman July 14, 1892.

To show the similarity between the bill introduced then by Senator Sherman and the bill introduced since by Mr. Wilson, I place the two bills in parallel columns:

Fifty-second Congress, first session. S. 3423, introduced in the Senate July 14, 1892, by Mr. Sherman.

A bill for the repeal of certain parts of the act directing the purchase of silver bullion and the issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes, approved July 14, 1890.

Be it enacted by the Senate, and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That so much of the act entitled "An act directing the purchase of silver bullion and the issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes," approved July 14, 1890, as directs the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase, from time to time, silver bullion to the aggregate amount of 4,500,000 ounces, or so much thereof as may be offered in each month, at the market price thereof, and to issue in payment for such purchases of silver bullion Treasury notes of the United States is hereby repealed, to take effect on the 1st day of January, 1893; Provided, That this act shall not in any way affect or impair or change the legal qualities, redemption or use of the Treasury notes issued under said act.

Fifty-third Congress, first session. H. R. 1, introduced in the House August 11, 1893, by Mr. Wilson.

A bill to repeal a part of an act, approved July 14, 1890, entitled "An act directing the purchase of silver bullion and the issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes."

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That so much of the act approved July 14, 1890, entitled "An act directing the purchase of silver bullion and issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes," as directs the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase, from time to time, silver bullion to the aggregate amount of 4,500,000 ounces, or so much thereof as may be offered in each month, at the market price thereof, not exceeding $1 for 371.25 grains of pure silver, and to issue in payment for such purchases Treasury notes of the United States, be, and the same is hereby repealed; but this repeal shall not impair or in any manner affect the legal-tender quality of the standard silver dollars heretofore coined; and the faith and credit of the United States are hereby pledged to maintain the parity of the standard gold and silver coins of the United States at the present legal ratio, or such other ratio as may be established by law.

Does the Senator from Ohio originate Democratic measures?

The gentlemen who favor this bill may follow the leadership of Senator Sherman and call it Democratic; but until he is converted to true principles of finance I shall not follow him, nor will I apply to his financial policy the name of Democracy or honesty. The Wilson bill passed the House, but a majority of the Democrats voted in favor of substituting the Bland law in the place of the Sherman law before they voted for unconditional repeal, showing that they were not for unconditional repeal until Republican votes had deprived them of that which they preferred to unconditional repeal, namely, the Bland law. When the bill in its present form was reported to the Senate, four of the Democratic members of the Finance Committee opposed the bill and only two Democrats favored it. When the bill passed the Senate, twenty-two Democrats were recorded in favor of the bill and twenty-two against it, and that, too, in spite of the fact that every possible influence was brought to bear to secure Democratic support for the measure. Before a vote was reached thirty-seven Democratic Senators agreed to a compromise, so that this bill does not come to us expressing the free and voluntary desire of the Democratic party.

Not only does unconditional repeal fail to carry out the pledge made in the last national platform, but it disregards the most important part of the financial plank, in not redeeming the promise to maintain "the coinage of both gold and silver, without discrimination against either metal or charge for mintage." That promise meant something. It was a square declaration in favor of bimetallism. The tail to this bill, added in the Senate as an amendment, pretends to promise a future fulfillment of platform pledges. We are not here to promise, but to fulfill. We are not here to renew platform pledges, but to carry them out. But even if it were our duty to postpone bimetallism and record another promise, the Senate amendment does not contain the vital words of the financial plank. The Senate amendment eliminates from the platform the important declaration in favor of "the coinage of both gold and silver without discrimination against either metal or charge for mintage." To show the important difference between the Senate amendment and that part of our platform, I arrange them in parallel columns:

DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM.

THE SENATE AMENDMENT.

We hold to the use of both gold and silver as the standard money of the country, and to the coinage of both gold and silver without discrimination against either metal or charge for mintage, but the dollar unit of coinage of both metals must be of equal intrinsic and exchangeable value or be adjusted through international agreement, or by such safe guards of legislation as shall insure the maintenance of the parity of the two metals and the equal power of every dollar at all times in the markets and in the payment of all debts.

And it is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to continue the use of both gold and silver as standard money, and to coin both gold and silver into money of equal intrinsic and exchangeable value, such equality to be secured through international agreement, or by such safeguards of legislation as will insure the maintenance of the parity in value of the coins of the two metals and the equal power of every dollar at all times in the markets and in the payment of debts. And it is hereby further declared that the efforts of the Government should be steadily directed to the establishment of such safe system of bimetallism as will maintain at all times the equal power of every dollar coined or issued by the United States, in the markets and in the payment of debts.

Were those important words striken out by intention or was it simply an oversight? No, Mr. Speaker, those words were purposely left out because those who are behind the bill never intend to carry out the Democratic platform; and if we can judge their purpose by their acts, those who prepared the platform never intended when it was written that it should be fulfilled after it had secured the suffrage of the American people.

When they had a strike at Homestead some time ago they used force to remedy what they considered their grievances. We said then that the ballot, not the bullet, was the means by which the American people redressed their grievances. What shall we say now when people elected upon a platform and pledged to a principle disregard those pledges when they come to the legislative halls? It is a blow at representative government which we cannot afford to give. We are not sent here because we know more than others and can think for them. We are sent here to carry out the wishes, to represent the interests, and to protect the rights of those who sent us. What defense can we make if this bill is passed? It is not demanded by the people; the farmers and laborers who constitute the great bulk of our people have never asked for it; those who speak for their organizations have never prayed for it.

So far as the laborer has been heard from, he has denounced unconditional repeal; so far as the farmer has been heard from, he has denounced unconditional repeal. Who gave the eastern capitalists the right to speak for these men. It is a contest between the producers of wealth and those who exchange or absorb it. We have heard a great deal about business interests and business men demanding repeal. Who are the business men? Are not those entitled to that name who are engaged in the production of the necessaries of life? Is the farmer less a business man than the broker, because the former spends three hundred and sixty-five days in producing a crop which will not bring him over a dollar a day for his labor, while the latter can make ten times the farmer's annual income in one successful bet on the future price of the farmer's product? I protest, Mr. Speaker, against the use of the name business men in such a way as to exclude the largest and most valuable class of business men in the country. Unconditional repeal stops the issue of money. With this law gone, no more silver certificates can be issued, and no more silver bought. There is no law to provide for the issue of greenbacks. We must rely for our additional currency upon our share of the limited supply of gold, and the bank notes which national banks may find it profitable to issue.

Does anybody deny that our currency must increase as our population increases and as our need for money increases? Does any one believe that our need for money can be supplied without affirmative legislation? Is it any more wise to destroy the present means for increasing our currency before a new plan is adopted than it would be to repeal the McKinley tariff act without putting some other revenue measure in its place? Our platform says: "We denounce the McKinley tariff law enacted by the Fifty-first Congress as the culminating atrocity of class legislation," and "we promise its repeal as one of the beneficent results that will follow the action of the people in intrusting power to the Democratic party." We also demanded a tariff for revenue only. Is there any more reason for separating the repeal of the Sherman law from the enactment of bimetallic legislation than there is for separating the repeal of the McKinley bill from the enactment of a "tariff for revenue only" measure? Having harmonized with Mr. Sherman, shall we proceed to harmonize with Mr. McKinley? There are many Republicans who tell us now that the prospect of tariff reduction has destroyed confidence to a greater extent than the Sherman law has.

In order to avoid another manufacturer's panic will it be necessary to abandon another tenet of the Democratic faith and give up all hope of tariff reduction? Unconditional repeal will make it more difficult to restore free bimetallic coinage. It cannot aid bimetallism without disappointing the dearest hopes of those gentlemen who are most active in its support. If it were not so serious a matter it would be interesting to note the mortification which must come either to the gold supporters or to the silver supporters of unconditional repeal. They are working in perfect harmony to secure exactly opposite results by means of this bill. Who will be deceived? This is only the first step. It will be followed by an effort to secure an issue of bonds to maintain gold payments. Senator Sherman, the new prophet of Democracy, has already stated that bonds must be issued, and we know that last spring the whole pressure of the monied interest was brought to bear to secure an issue of bonds then. Do you say that Congress would not dare to authorize the increase of the public debt in time of peace? What is there that this Congress may not dare to do after it has given its approval to the iniquitous measure now before us?

It has also been suggested that the silver dollars now on hand be limited in their legal-tender qualities. We need not be surprised if this suggestion assumes real form in attempted legislation. It has already been proposed to increase the circulation of national banks and thus approve of a policy which our party has always denounced. But we need be surprised at nothing now. The party can never undergo a more complete transformation upon any question than it has upon the silver question, if the representatives really reflect the sentiments of those who sent them here. We have been told of the great blessings which are to follow unconditional repeal. Every rise in stocks has been paraded as a forerunner of coming prosperity. I have taken occasion to examine the quotations on one of the staple products of the farm, and in order to secure a basis for calculation, I have taken wheat for December delivery.

I give below the New York quotations on December wheat, taken from the New York Price Current. The quotations are for the first day of the months of June, July, August, September, October and October 30, or as near those dates as could be gathered from the Price Current, which is published about twice a week:

June 1, December wheat, 83 ¾.
(Special session called June 30, to meet August 7.)
July 1, December wheat, 81 1/8.
August 1, December wheat, 75.
(Congress convened August 7.)
September 1, December wheat, 74 ½.
(Senate debate continuing.)
October 1, December wheat, 74 5/8.
(Compromise abandoned and repeal assured about October 23.)
October 30, December wheat, 71 ½.
(Unconditional repeal passed Senate evening of October 30.)
October 31, December wheat (post-marked report), 69 ½.

The following is an extract from the market report touching the general situation in New York and the grain market in Chicago. The report appears in the morning issue of the Washington Post, November 1.

Big Scramble to Sell—The Change of Sentiment was a Surprise to the Street—London Began the Raid—Those Who Believed the Passage of the Repeal Bill Would Lead to Heavy Buying Orders, and Had Purchased for a Rise, Also Turned Sellers and Sacrificed Their Holdings—Rallied a Little as the Market Closed—The Business on 'Change.


New York, Oct. 31.

Yesterday's vote by the Senate repealing the Sherman silver lay did not have the effect on the stock market that the bulls expected. In the first place, London cabled orders to sell various stocks, much to the disappointment of local operators, who were confident that the action of the Senate would result in a flood of buying orders. The liquidations for foreign account induced selling by operators who had added to their lines on the belief that the repeal of the silver purchase act would instantaneously bring about a boom.

When it was seen that instead of buying the outside public was disposed to sell the weak-kneed bulls tried to get out.


Chicago, October 31.

Wheat was very weak throughout the entire session today. The opening was about 1 cent per bushel lower than the closing figures of Saturday, became weak, and after some minor fluctuations prices further declined 1 7/8 to 2, then held steady, and the closing was 2 ½ to 2 5/8 lower than the last prices of Saturday. There was some surprise at the course of the market, which became consternation, and at one time amounted almost to a panic, when little or no reaction appeared and the price continued to sink. The fact of the matter was that traders were loaded with wheat and were merely waiting for the opportunity to sell. The bulge toward the end of last week gave them this chance and they were quick to take advantage of it. The silver repeal bill having been discounted for several days had little or no effect in the matter of sustaining prices. New York stocks were weak and much lower and this speculative feeling was communicated to wheat. New Yorkers who have seen the big bulls for so long were selling today, and it was said that there were numerous orders from abroad on that side of the market.

Corn was dull, the range being within three-eighths of a cent limit. The tone was steady and at times an undertone of firmness was noticeable, although prices did not show any essential changes. The accumulations of cash corn during the past three days were the cause of a somewhat liberal offering of futures early, but after a time they became light and the market dull. The opening was at a decline of ¼ to 3/8, but on a good demand an advance of 3/8 was made, receding ¼ to 3/8 later, and closing ¼ to 3/8 under the final figures of Saturday.

Oats were featureless, but the feeling was steady. There was very little trading and price changes were within ¼ cent limit, the closing being 1/8 below Saturday.

From the statement given it will appear that wheat has fallen more than 14 cents a bushel since the beginning of the month in which President Cleveland issued his call for the extra session. The wheat crop for 1892 was about 500,000,000 bushels. A fall of 1 cent in price means a loss of $5,000,000 on the crop if those figures can be taken for this year's crop. Calculated upon December wheat the loss since June 1 has been over $70,000,000, or one-sixth of its value at the beginning of the decline. The fall of 2 cents on yesterday alone, after the repeal bill passed the Senate and its immediate passage in the house was assured, amounted to $10,000,000. The fall yesterday in wheat, corn, and oats calculated upon a year's crop amounted to more than $17,000,000. Are these the first fruits of repeal? Wall street was terribly agitated at the prospect of a slight reduction in the gold reserve. Will they take notice of this tremendous reduction in the farmer's reserve? The market report above quoted says:

Yesterday's vote by the Senate repealing the Sherman silver law did not have the effect on the stock market that the bulls expected. In the first place London cabled orders to sell various stocks, much to the disappointment of local operators, who were confident that the action of the Senate would result in a flood of buying orders.

Is it possible that instead of money flowing to us, it is going to flow away in spite of repeal? The argument most persistently made by the advocates of repeal was that money would at once flow to this country from Europe and relieve us of our stringency in the money market. The business centers became impatient because the Senate insisted upon a thorough discussion. Some of the papers even suggested that the Senate ought to be abolished because it stood in the way of the restoration of confidence. Finally the opposition was worn out, the bill was passed, just as the metropolitan press demanded, and behold it is greeted in the market by a general decline. We may now expect to hear that the vague, indefinite, and valueless tail added in the Senate as an amendment has prevented returning confidence, and that it is our highest duty to repeal the caudal appendage of the Wilson bill, just as the repeal of the purchase clause of the Sherman law was demanded. For twenty years we have denounced the demonetization act of 1873, and yet we are now prepared with our eyes open, fully conscious of what we are doing, to perpetrate the same crime. We leave silver just where it was left then, except that there was provision then for trade dollars which this bill does not contain. You may assume the responsibility, I shall not.

The line of battle is laid down. The President's letter to Governor Northen expresses his opposition to the free and unlimited coinage of silver by this country alone. Upon that issue the next Congressional contest will be fought. Are we dependent or independent as a nation? Shall we legislate for ourselves or shall we beg some foreign nation to help us provide for the financial wants of our own people?

We need not fear the result of such a contest. The patriotism of the American people is not yet gone, and we can confidently await their decision.

Source: William J. Bryan, The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896 (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1896), pp. 114–120.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1925, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.