Silver Politics

Silver Eagle DollarsIn 1890 the supply of silver authorized by the 1878 Bland-Allison Act had run out. Once again the voices of silver mining interests in the west were heard, and Congress obliged by passing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This new legislation brought still more bullion into government coffers, as did melted-down trade dollars which under another law were converted into silver dollars as well. The government continued to be the prime buyer for the output of Western silver mines in a political quid pro quo situation.

As might be expected, not everyone liked the idea of this largesse, and by the 1890s America was firmly split into pro-silver and anti-silver fractions. Indeed, the “silver question” formed a primary focus of the 1896 presidential campaign that pitted Democrat William Jennings Bryan against Republican William McKinley, who won the election. Silver was again in the news in the 1900 presidential election, with the same two adversaries debating the silver issue, and with the same results.

In the two campaigns, 1896 and 1900, the Republican Party, with William McKinley, of Ohio, as its candidate for President, endorsed gold as a single monetary standard, and was successful. The Democratic and several lesser parties sponsored William Jennings Bryan, of Nebraska, for their presidential candidate, and advocated the free coinage of silver to be standard money with gold at the ratio of 16 to 1. Debates over the issue were heated, and opinions were divided even among members of the same political parties.

Bryan promoted his plan for pricing silver at the ratio of16 to 1 by producing numerous medals and tokens with images and slogans advocating his ideas. The price of silver bullion in 1896 made the composition of the silver dollar worth fifty-three cents, thus inviting the criticism often seen on Bryan’s coins that stated “In God We Trust For The Other 47 Cents.” Other satirical “coins” were made of base metal and in over-size format representing the weight that would be necessary to equal the stated face value of silver coins.

The so-called Bryan Money is unique as a collectible series and contains many rarities. All examples of these historic items are of interest to numismatists and deemed valuable. The monetary-political issue, conditions and temperament of the time, and the tolerance of disregard for the letter of the law, made possible what never before or may never again occur in American numismatics.

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