US Coins

Fight against the gold standard defines 1896 election

This is the fourth part of a multi-part series on Presidential campaign collectibles from the Nov. 7, 2016, monthly issue of Coin World:

Presidential campaign banners, badges, tokens, medals and more from 200-plus years of American elections provide windows into the campaigns and their eras. Depending upon the campaign and candidates, available items may be abundant and cost only a few dollars each, or scarce, some costing  thousands of dollars regardless of condition.

The hotly contested presidential race of 1896 pitted former Ohio Gov. William McKinley, a Republican, against Democratic contender and perennial presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan was also the nominee for the Populist Party and the Silver Republicans in the election of 1896.

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Some political historians consider the campaign of 1896 to be one of the most dramatic and complex races in American political history.

McKinley’s conservative coalition comprised businessmen and professionals, skilled factory works and well-heeled farmers into a well-oiled machine.

For Bryan, a former Nebraska congressman, the crusade was for silver, and opposition to the gold standard. Bryan believed the fight pitted the working man against the rich who kept much of the nation impoverished by limiting the money supply.

Bryan argued that sufficient supplies of silver were available to be coined into money, restore prosperity and break the stranglehold of the rich in power.

Since the Panic of 1893, the United States was bogged down with an economy marked by low prices, low profits, and high unemployment.

Central to the presidential race were unavoidably economic topics, focusing on tariff policies and whether the gold standard should be preserved to regulate the money supply.

McKinley’s campaign was heavily bankrolled through the fundraising efforts of Republican campaign manager Mark Hanna.

Hanna’s ability to raise $3.5 million — calculated to $3 billion today — allowed McKinley to outspend Bryan by a 5 to 1 margin.

The Democratic Party’s rejection of its economically conservative Bourbon faction — represented by incumbent President Grover Cleveland — gave Bryan and his backers control of the party into the 1920s. It also provided the Republicans the opportunity to control the White House for 28 of the next 36 years.

Cleveland, a fiscal conservative, had denounced political corruption and fought hard for lower tariffs and the gold standard.

Just a month after McKinley captured the GOP nomination, supporters of U.S. currency backed by silver took control of the July 7 to 11, 1896, Democratic Party convention in Chicago.

Party members were geographically divided on the issues of free silver espoused by the Populists and the rejection of Cleveland’s tariff policies and the gold standard.

There was no clear cut nominee among the eight potential Democratic Party contenders.

That is, until Bryan, on July 9, 1896, delivered from the convention floor his “Cross of Gold” speech, considered to be one of the greatest political orations in American history.

Bryan defended the struggling farmers and factory workers affected by the nation’s existing economic policies. Bryan called for reform of the American monetary system, government relief for the economically oppressed, and an end to the gold standard.

The speech earned Bryan the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

Political campaign items from the 1896 election include what are referred to as Bryan dollars — campaign medals struck in silver professing Bryan’s monetary ideals — which compose a separate collecting field beyond presidential campaign memorabilia.

Pro-gold Democrats, rankled by Bryan’s nomination, removed themselves from the main party to form a third-party effort, the National Democratic Party, and at a hastily planned convention, selected former Illinois Sen. John M. Palmer as their candidate joined by running mate Simon Bolivar Bucker, a former Kentucky governor.

The schism in the Democratic Party helped derail Bryan’s bid and deliver the White House to McKinley.

Read our entire series so far on collecting Presidential election materials:

1828 election collectiblesThe presidential election that might have been the nastiest on record: So nasty were the personal attacks between Jackson and the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, during the 1828 campaign that Jackson blamed the stress of the attacks for contributing to the death of his wife.

1828 election collectiblesThe election of 1800 saw a number of firsts among American presidential races: The presidential election of 1800 was a particularly uncomfortable one in political circles, pitting Vice President Thomas Jefferson against the president he was currently serving under, John Adams.

1860 presidential election collectiblesAbraham Lincoln faced more than one opponent in the 1860 presidential election: While it is not uncommon today for political candidates in state and national contents to stump in any small community that will host them, during the 1860 campaign the tactic was considered somewhat tacky.

1896 presidential election collectiblesSounds like jewelry, so why was a ‘cross of gold’ not considered a good thing in 1896?: The hotly contested presidential race of 1896 pitted former Ohio Gov. William McKinley, a Republican, against Democratic contender and perennial presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan.

Teddy Roosevelt cigar cutterHow Theodore Roosevelt helped deliver the White House to Woodrow Wilson: The 1912 election witnessed the establishment of a new political entity, Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, also dubbed the Bull Moose Party. 

Franklin Roosevelt buttonFour-time winner Franklin Roosevelt generates opposition collectibles: The election of 1932 put Democrat and former New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the White House for the first of his unprecedented four terms. 

Donald Trump novelty noteThe 2016 presidential election hitting new heights, or depths, of nastiness: Campaign collectibles are trying to promote the 2016 presidential candidates amid all the mudslinging.

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