Cross of Gold speech

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The Cross of Gold speech was delivered by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 8, 1896.[1][2][3] The speech advocated bimetallism. Following the Coinage Act (1873), the United States abandoned its policy of bimetallism and began to operate a de facto gold standard. In 1896, the Democratic Party wanted to standardize the value of the dollar to silver and opposed a monometallic gold standard. The inflation that would result from the silver standard would make it easier for farmers and other debtors to pay off their debts by increasing their revenue dollars. It would also reverse the deflation which the U.S. experienced from 1873 to 1896.

Contents

Opposition

Backers of a monometallic gold standard felt that protection against inflation was of paramount importance, and they believed that a monometallic gold standard was the best way to achieve this end. Inflation is disadvantageous for creditors, and degrades the value of savings. Saving represents deferred spending and a source of capital for lending.

William Jennings Bryan secured the Democratic Party nomination at the convention, but was beaten in the presidential election by William McKinley. This situation was repeated in the year 1900 and the United States adopted the monometallic gold standard de jure in that year. By the first decade of the twentieth century, among major nations, only China and Hong Kong remained on the silver standard.

The speech

The speech was given in the context of a wider debate about bimetallism at the Democratic convention, and so the greater part of Bryan's speech was devoted to responses to other speakers whose contributions have largely been forgotten. Bryan's speech places him in the camp of Western interests (largely farmers and other borrowers) against Eastern interests (moneylenders), in the camp of rural interests against urban interests, and in the camp of economic nationalists against internationalists who were concerned about the U.S. abandoning the gold standard. Bryan's speech cemented his role as a leading voice for economic populism.

Origin of the name

The speech, with its biblical allusions, gets its popular name from its closing phrase:

At the conclusion of the speech, Bryan stretched out his arms in a Christ-like manner for five seconds, while the crowd remained quiet. According to the New York World, at that point everyone seemed to go mad at once and shrieked and rushed the stage. The New York Times commented that "a wild, raging irresistible mob" had been unleashed.[4]

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