In history, we're learning about the free silver movement (and populism) that sprang up in the late 19th century. I understand why farmers and western miners wanted silver to be minted: more silver in addition to the treasury's existing gold would make the dollar worth more, which would 1) help farmers out of debt and 2) increase the miners' profit.

In his famous "Cross of Gold" speech, Democratic (populist) presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan suggested that the Republicans were trying to crucify working-class Americans on a "cross of gold". Most Republicans at the time supported the "gold standard".

What (if anything) was so bad about only having gold to back the dollar, and why did the Republicans oppose bimetallism?

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    Added a (hopefully helpful) link. – T.E.D. Sep 22 '16 at 21:24
  • Much appreciated; your edits made the text a lot cleaner. – AleksandrH Sep 22 '16 at 23:55
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    "Free Silver" was an inflationary policy; it helped farmers with a lot of debt, but was bad for everybody else. A fixed rate of exchange between silver and gold would not have been so bad. – Peter Diehr Sep 23 '16 at 1:37
  • Republicans were big believers in Freedom back in those days...and they saw Big Silver the same way they would see Big Business under Teddy Roosevelt...a total scam by a bunch of scrub brush malcontents to get the g-man to bail them out of their over levered addiction. And indeed Big Silver did get their Bailout as the Federal Government bought up simply incredible amounts of silver. The irony was that the price of Silver collapsed anyways...so that put the USA on a "free gold" Standard. Not even Great Britain or Germany would allow for a private Bank...let alone a Private Banker...to control – Doctor Zhivago Sep 23 '16 at 2:40

The Republicans by the 1890s were supporters of "banking" interests, and "rich people" in general.

Over time, more and more silver was discovered relative to gold. At first, it required 14 ounces of silver to equal one ounce of gold; later it required 16 ounces. (In modern times, the silver-gold parity has ranged between 50 to 100 ounces of silver for one ounce of gold).

"Bankers liked to denominate their loans in gold. So if they lent you one ounce of gold (worth 14 ounces of silver in say, 1890), by 1896 that ounce of gold was worth 16 ounces of silver. But the borrower (e.g a farmer) got only 14 ounces of silver, earlier on, and now had to repay 16 ounces of silver, plus interest.

"Bi-metallism" would mean that (poor) farmers (who mainly transacted in silver) would have the choice of repaying 14 ounces of silver or one ounce of gold for each ounce of gold they borrowed; a "gold standard" would force those farmers to pay 16 ounces of silver.That's why the farmers would want bimetallism,and the bankers wouldn't. The bankers won by electing Republican William McKinley over Democrat William Jennings Bryant President in the 1896 election.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Sep 23 '16 at 0:25

The essence of the question is that the use of silver, in the exchange ratios desired, would result in inflation and lower the cost of paying off debts as it was really a devaluation in terms of gold. It was a debt cancellation move that would benefit debt-stricken farmers at the expense of bankers and other elites. A good general discussion of debt cancellation is the book Debt: The first 5000 years.

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