The Political Crisis of the 1890s
|William Hope Harvey||Previous||Next|
|Digital History ID 3124|
In 1893, William Hope Harvey, a Chicago journalist, published Coin's Financial School, which sold 400,000 copies within a year. It argued that the gold standard penalized farmers and working people and that backing the dollar with silver as well as gold would solve the nation's economic problems.
In 1792, Congress had made both gold and silver coins legal tender. In 1873, no provision was made for continuing the silver dollar as legal tender, and Congress declared gold the single unit of value. Falling crop prices and high interest rates led farmers to focus on the elimination of silver as legal tender as the prime reason why money had become so scare. This decision to make gold the sole legal tender was known as "the crime of 1873."
Using an easy-to-read style, Coin's Financial School argued that since the world's gold supply was limited, the amount of money available for investment and loans was restricted. Backing the dollar with silver would expand the currency, cut interest rates, and make investment capital more readily available. But the clash between gold and silver came to symbolize a much deeper conflict--about whether the United States would be a rural and agricultural or an urban and industrial society.
The early and mid-1890s were years of bitter contention. Farmers, who had suffered depressed prices, difficulties in obtaining credit, and high costs in producing and shipping their crops since the 1870s, saw conditions worsen. The depression of 1893 was one of the most severe in the nation's history. Labor violence broke out in many parts of the country, culminating in 1894 with the Pullman strike that temporarily paralyzed half the nation's railroads.