American Bimetallic League national convention
The Event: Convention of supporters of adding a silver standard to the gold standard to increase the American money supply
Date: August, 1893
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Significance: The American Bimetallic League sought to pressure the federal government to mint silver dollar coins to be reintroduced into general circulation as legal tender. These free silver advocates wanted the government to set a standard valuation of silver against gold as a 16:1 ratio and allow payments of government debts in silver.
In 1893, the United States was facing serious financial problems. Advocates of a silver and gold standard thought that adoption of a bimetallic standard would increase the country’s monetary supply, control inflation, and raise commodity prices to benefit farmers—an important consideration for an economy that was still primarily agricultural rather than industrial. Free silver advocates argued that the Panic of 1873 had been caused by the removal of the silver dollar coin from general circulation. They met in early August of 1893 to discuss strategy.
The Panic of 1893 followed very shortly after the American Bimetallic League national convention. U.S. gold stocks had dropped to dangerously low levels, in part as a result of gold exports and in part because of a decline in gold mining production in Nevada and California.
The free silver movement reached its apex three years later, when presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan gave his famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention. The speech, and the issue, earned him the nomination of his party. However, it lost him the backing of many Democratic newspapers, and William McKinley defeated him in the 1896 general election. Bimetallism continued as an issue, but it was associated with the fringes rather than the mainstream of economic and political theory.
Bayoumi, Tamim, et al. Modern Perspectives on the Gold Standard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Lewis, Nathan. Gold: The Once and Future Money. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
Timberlake, Richard H. Monetary Policy in the United States: An Intellectual and Institutional History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
See also: Black Friday; Coin’s Financial School; currency; Fort Knox; Klondike gold rush; U.S. Mint; Federal monetary policy.