Primary tabs


Silver Coinage.

On the bill (H.R. 5690) for the free coinage of silver, and for other purposes.

Mr. RIGGS said:

Mr. SPEAKER: The importance of the question of silver coinage is conceded by all gentlemen here, and the people of the country fully appreciate that importance. For some time it has been the chief subject among them. And when we review the history of the last few years in regard to it all surprise at the interest manifested by the masses ought to disappear.

A few years ago we had as legal-tender money among us gold coins, silver coins (including the silver dollar), and greenbacks. While these were in circulation as legal tender a large amount of indebtedness was contracted. Included in this indebtedness was the large bonded obligation of the United States — some of it payable in any of the legal-tender dollars of the country, and some of it payable in any kind of legal-tender coin dollars.

After these obligations had been issued by the Government and bought by the money lenders and paid for in greenbacks a Republican Congress conceived the notion that the public credit needed strengthening. Just why it needed it at that time may be difficult for an ordinary mortal to understand. The Government had already contracted its public debt. The bonds had been sold, the proceeds received and expended, and we were not wanting to sell any more bonds or borrow any more money. On the contrary, we were getting ready to pay our debt. In private affairs the credit of the individual needs strengthening,


if at all, during the borrowing or debt-contracting period, and not after that has been safely passed and the paying period has been successfully entered upon.

But so impressed was Congress with the notion that the public needed strengthening that it passed laws the real effect of which was to provide that the obligations of the Government which were payable in greenbacks should be payable in legal-tender coin only.

Not satisfied with this success those benefited by it secured, a little later, the demonetization of the silver dollar, which of course had the effect to make coin obligations of the Government payable in gold coin only. This legislation solely in the interest of the bondholding and creditor classes, and at the expense and to the disadvantage of the many, soon aroused the people; and Congress found it necessary to restore the silver dollar to our stock of legal-tender money, which was done in 1878, but with a limitation upon the amount of monthly coinage.

Lately those who profited by that unfair legislation have discovered that the coinage of the silver dollar ought to be suspended, their real object being no doubt to demonetize it again. The reason assigned, in brief, is that the relative values of our gold and silver coin have diverged and to continue the coinage of the standard dollar will endanger the business interests of the country. The whole field of statistics is put under contribution the world over in the attempt to convince Congress that the country is in danger from the continued coinage of this dollar. We are told that we are powerless in this matter because England and Germany choose monometallism; that our remedy is to follow their example and adopt a gold standard only. That is to say, we must yield to the mistaken or avaricious notions of European royalty and aristocracy and reduce the volume of our circulating medium, thereby adding to the difficulties and burdens of the toiling millions in this country.

I must be permitted to deny the necessity or the wisdom of such a course. We are a nation, and I will not quarrel with those who choose to spell it with a big "N." It is our duty to legislate for our own people, not to please the rulers of the imperial governments of Europe. Instead of yielding to the notions of those governments we should consider and, as wisely as possible, provide for the welfare of the American people.

I do not believe there can be a gentleman found on this floor who will sincerely contend that a reduction of the volume of our money at the present time will — can by any possibility — be beneficial to the masses of our people. It seems to me that all must admit such a course would add to the present distressing stringency in business affairs.

Of course, a contraction would be individually beneficial in a money point of view to the very wealth, the lenders, the rich corporations, the plethoric bankers, the millionaires. But these constitute numerically only a small part of our population, and the larger part, the laborers, the mechanics, the farmers, the small manufacturers, in short, the mass of our people all over the country, would be materially injured by a suspension of silver coinage and many of them would be financially ruined by its demonetization.

I am sorry to say I believe such a result would be looked upon placidly and with pleasure by the very wealthy in the money centers. They have toyed with the poverty of the poor and fattened on the misfortunes of their fellow-men. They have grown so wealthy while the masses have been oppressed and growing poor that they have come to regard their good fortune, growing out of such a state of affairs, as their birthright, and want to see this state of affairs continued and intensified. They have built and enjoyed their yachts and their palaces, while the masses who work and make the wealth of the country have struggled, and struggled hard, to keep the wolf from the door, not always with success.

By means of unfair legislation and unfair administration the wealthy have grown very wealthy and the poor have grown very poor.

Now, I do not want any one to misunderstand me. I have no sympathy with the lawless spirit which would disregard property rights; no sympathy whatever with anything in the nature of communism. When a man, by industry and economy, has acquired property, he should be protected in his possession. But he should not be permitted to oppress those who are less fortunate; and, more than that, he should not be assisted by legislation in crushing to earth those who have little or nothing.

I would not properly deprive any man of property or money properly acquired, no matter how much he may have.

But I have long felt, and still feel, that a millionaire is a curse to a Republic, and I firmly believe we would be better off if we had none. The poor and those of moderate means are the real support of the Government. I do not wish the millionaires any harm. If I were going to make a wish in regard to them I would wish them in heaven. I think the country would be much better off if a kind Providence should find need for all of them beyond "the shadowy valley." "They toil not, neither do they spin," yet "Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." With their yachts, their palaces, their pleasure cottages, their liveried equipages, and, what is infinitely worse, their vicious notions of legislation and governmental policy, they constitute an element which is of no good use in a republic.

It is different under an imperial form of government. Their royalty and nobility must be maintained at all hazards, even though in maintaining it the subject be bowed to the earth. If a scion of royalty, or a descendant of a house of long and noble lineage, meet with mishap at the gaming-table or race-course, or otherwise, he must be provided for from the public treasury, so that by no means shall the line of distinction which separates him from the people be permitted to disappear. And the people furnish the money. We want none of that. Yet we are asked to follow the example of the two great imperial governments of Europe on this money question. And who asks this? Are the farmers asking it? Are the mechanics asking it? Are the laborers asking it? Are the small traders asking it. Are the poor or those in moderate circumstances asking it? No. But these classes constitute the real body of our population — nineteen-twentieths, probably ninety-nine hundredths. If legislative wisdom can not devise legislation on the subject which will benefit all, then it should consider the interests of the many even at the expense of the few, especially when the few are opulent while the many are poor.

But to return to the immediate subject. Who is urging the suspension of silver coinage and the demonetization of the silver dollar? We all know: The millionaire, the rich corporations, the plethoric bankers of the money-centers. Those who have been in the habit of playing "hocus-pocus" with the country's finances. I am aware that this may be called denunciation. Gentlemen on this floor who have championed the cause of these monometalists have charged that the friends of the silver dollar are denunciatory — that they seem to expect to settle the question by heaping abuse on their opponents. Mr. Speaker, the abuse and denunciation have not all been on one side. The advocates of the suspension of coinage and the demonetization have for a long time industriously denounced the friends of the silver dollar as "silver lunatics;" they have denounced the Government as dishonest. Here is a sample from a leading New York weekly, which assumes to be the spiritual teacher of its readers:

We can not expect the people of this country to be very distinguished for their morality while the Government, by its laws and practices, is directly teaching immorality.

A man who passes a counterfeit coin composed in part of silver or gold and the balance of it in some inferior metal is called a swindler, and is very unceremoniously hustled off to prison. The Government of the United States, however, may cheat in that direction, and force the people to take millions of 79-cent dollars, and then claim that such counterfeit morality deserves the name of honesty. It proposes still to do, in the future, as it is now doing, an act even worse than this — it proposes not only to cheat the people by compelling them to take these 79-cent dollars, but to lie about them also by calling them dollars. It now says to the world that these swindling 79-cent coins shall be called, each and every one of them, "one dollar," and be so stamped on the face of every one of them. By this monumental immorality the Government of the United States of America is now, in the judgment of all honest men, the world over, entitled to the high rank of being called the chief counterfeiter and champion liar among all civilized and uncivilized nations. This is, to be sure, very plain talk; but it is nevertheless the solemn truth.

The organs of the capitalists and lenders have been and still are filled with such denunciation as the foregoing. It would serve no good purpose to occupy time and space in the RECORD by reproducing other specimens. Gentlemen who have advocated the cause of the monometallists on this floor have taken up the refrain, and called our dollar "a fraud and a cheat," "a dishonest dollar," "a 79-cent dollar," &c. Why does any one so designate the silver dollar? Why charge the Government with dishonesty for making it? IF the Government had made and put into circulation a new metallic dollar, containing less intrinsic value than had before been employed, and had made it a legal tender for all dues, I can understand why the creditor class might complain of being compelled to take it in payment of debts contracted before it was made.

But what is the fact in regard to the real, intrinsic value of our standard silver dollar? The truth is, it contains just the same quantity of pure silver contained in our silver dollar from the foundation of the Government to the present time. In 1792 the first act was passed regulating the coinage of the United States. It provided that the silver dollar should contain 371 ź grains of pure silver. The act of 1837 provided for a dollar containing the same quantity of pure silver; and the act of 1878, sometimes called "the Bland act," now in force, provides for exactly the same quantity of silver. So that the standard dollar of to-day, denounced as "a fraud and a cheat" on this floor, has precisely the same quantity of silver in it as has been contained in our silver dollar ever since we began to coin money. This being true, I should like for some one to point out particularly the dishonesty in paying our debts with it. Is it dishonest for me to pay my debts in the same money which was current and a legal-tender when they were contracted? It certainly is not. If I contract a debt at a time when there are two kinds of legal-tender dollars in circulation, and afterward one of those legal-tenders enhances in relative value, shall it be said I must pay in that alone?

Talk about dishonesty! Those who would thus impose on the creditor class, or require the tax-ridden masses of this country to furnish from their scant earnings the means to thus pay public obligations, have peculiar notions of honesty.

In the discussions which this subject has provoked throughout the country, in the newspapers, on the rostrum, and elsewhere, we have had many apostrophes and appeals to "honesty" and "patriotism"


from those who desire the demonetization of silver and the consequent establishment of gold monometallism.

I never have known an experienced operator to go about a legislative body with a view of procuring legal sanction for a plan to rob somebody but that he went clad in the garments either of piety or patriotism, or both. It is really trying to witness the apparent evidences of pain depicted on the faces of some of these gold men when they contemplate and speak of the moral obliquity of the American people as manifested in their desire to pay their debts in the same kind of legal-tender money that was in circulation when the debts were contracted.

We are told that the business men of the country demand a suspension of the silver coinage. Do all the business men demand it? Certainly no one will have the effrontery to assert the affirmative of this question. Then, what business men? As before stated, they are the great lenders, the managers of rich corporations, the very wealthy. And there are reasons satisfactory to them based on the purest selfishness, in my judgment, why they demand it. A reduction in the volume of our money would enhance the relative value of their possessions. Many of them hold obligations of the Government soon to become payable which may be discharged in legal-tender coin, and a demonetization of silver, toward which suspension of coinage would be a long step, would make them payable in gold coin only and thereby further add to the gratification of their rapacity. It would no doubt be of financial benefit to the creditor class.

In looking over the many opinions of bankers which have been published to establish the necessity and desirability of suspending silver coinage, I felt refreshed when I found one that plainly and frankly stated the real facts in regard to the controversy. It is the address before the bankers' convention at Chicago last fall by Mr. John Thompson, president of the Chase National Bank of New York, and the following is a quotation:

The warfare over the two precious metals is a contest between debtor and creditor. The advocates of the gold standard commenced the trouble. In 1873, Germany, having obtained a thousand millions of gold from France (indemnity money), undertook to substitute gold for silver. At the commencement of this movement silver was at a premium, but the natural effect of supply and demand soon followed. The German silver overstocked the London bullion market; this, together with the absorption of gold, caused a violent parting of the market value of the two metals. Following the lead of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and this country demonetized silver; France, Belgium, Spain, and Italy stopped coining it; and in July, 1876, four dollars of gold was equal in the London bullion market to five dollars of silver.

* * * * * * *

Gold as money is practically unknown by the people; they handle silver and paper money only. If the paper money is redeemable in coin, then it is equal to coin, and is more satisfactory than the coin itself.

The debtor class is ten to one of the creditor class; the mortgageors are numerous as compared with the mortgagees. The debtor knows full well that the conversion of silver into merchandise, instead of being monetized, will fully double the burden of his debt.

Having stated only a few of the indisputable facts involved in the currency discussion, I will venture a prediction at the risk of being called a false prophet.

Congress will not demonetize silver. It always has been and will continue to be money.

* * * * * * *

Finally, if the determination to demonetize silver is persisted in, silver will be the standard and gold will be merchandise.

I regret the necessity of this plain talk, and do sincerely hope that some measure can be adopted to perpetuate the double, or bimetallic, standard. The equities, as between debtor and creditor, should not be violated. The wheels of prosperity should not be blocked by the conversion of one-half of the basis of our currency and credit into mere property. The extra liability of suspending specie payments should not be incurred.

The most active financial minds of Europe are discussing the "hard times," much of which is attributable to the demonetization of silver.

This gentleman evidently is intelligent. He correctly states the situation. His statement may be briefly summarized, changing to some extent his order of arrangement.

First. The warfare over the two precious metals is a contest between the debtor and the creditor.

Second. The debtor class is ten to one of the creditor class. (I believe the debtor class is greater in proportion to the creditor class than he states.)

Third. The demonetization of silver will double the burden of the debtor.

Fourth. Congress will not demonetize silver.

Fifth. Silver will continue to be money.

Sixth. The wheels of prosperity would be blocked by converting silver into mere merchandise.

Seventh. The equity between debtor and creditor should not be violated by the demonetization of silver.

Eighth. Much of the hard times in Europe is attributable to the demonetization of silver.

Ninth. The advocates of the gold standard commenced the trouble.

Mr. J.K. Upton, late Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and not a friend to the silver dollar, in his book entitled Money in Politics, makes a statement which is also interesting in this connection. Speaking of the demonetization of silver in 1873 he says:

Had the silver dollar not been discontinued, its coinage at the mint for purposes of circulation would have been resumed upon the fall in the price of silver bullion, and resumption of specie payments would have occurred in 1876 upon a silver basis of 20 per cent. below that of gold. Public, State, municipal, corporate, and private indebtedness, contracted prior to the change of standard and payable in coin, would have then been satisfied by the payment of silver dollars, these coins having had a legal if not an actual existence at the time the obligations were contracted. Nor would the debtor have had, in such an event, any just ground of complaint. No one had ever alleged of either metal an immutability of value, and the obligee to a contract calling for coin took a risk, which he was presumed to know, of being paid in the cheaper metal.

The discontinuance of the silver dollar, however, took from the obligor the powers, if not the right, to satisfy his coin obligations by payment in silver coin. The number of private contracts affected by the discontinuance of the silver dollar in the country was probably not great, nor their amount excessive; but a large amount of corporate, municipal, and State indebtedness existed, payable in coin, and contracted previously to 1873, and this could now be paid only in gold.

The entire bonded debt and the circulating medium of the United States was affected by the discontinuance. A large portion of the debt contracted during the rebellion called only for "dollars," and not without reason there had arisen in the country a considerable demand that these obligations should be satisfied with United States notes, those being the kind of dollars the Government received for the obligations.

This is a reasonably fair statement of what were the rights of the debtor class when the silver dollar was discontinued and what the legal effect of the discontinuance was. Coming from an enemy of the silver dollar and from one who seeks to justify the crime perpetrated against the people in the interest of the bondholders by legislation requiring our bonds to be paid in gold, including the demonetization of silver, it is worthy of the reproduction I have given it here.

To return to the charge that the silver dollar is a dishonest coin, a 79-cent dollar, let me ask who refuses to take it at par? All over this country the laborer takes it and is glad to get it. The mechanic takes it. The farmer takes it. The professional man takes it. All of them are glad to get it, and they never think, when it is offered in payment for a dollar's worth of work or commodity, of suggesting that it is only a 79-cent dollar. It will buy as much labor and as much of the necessaries of life anywhere in this land as a gold dollar. This is admitted by the gold men. The gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. SCOTT], in the same speech in which he characterized it as "a fraud and a cheat," uses also the following language:

Sir, no gold monometallist denies that the purchasing power of the present standard silver dollar of 412 ˝ grains is to-day equal to a gold dollar.

True, he follows this statement with an attempted explanation in this language:

But we do deny, sir, that this state of affairs grows out of the fact that the Government has stamped it a dollar and makes it a legal tender as such. This condition of affairs arises solely from the fact that the Government receives it as the equivalent of a gold dollar; and if the Government should stamp 412 ˝ grains of copper and receive it as the equivalent of a gold dollar, its purchasing power would equal the present gold or silver dollar so long as we are on a bimetallic basis.

The attempted explanation is not altogether satisfactory, and leaves the fact in existence, and also concedes more to the flat-money theory than I would have supposed a gold man would be willing to grant.

But they tell us if we continue the coinage of this dollar we will drive the gold out of the country. That cry has gone up so often that it has ceased to be alarming. We have heard that for years. We have heard it from the gold men, from their organs, from Secretaries of the Treasury, from Presidents, and in one instance — a monumental instance — from a President-elect.

But while the gold prophets and the Treasury prophets and other prophets have been assuring us that the gold would certainly all go out of the country, what have the facts — those stubborn things — been establishing? Simply this: that during the time which has elapsed since the passage of the Bland act, beginning with the year 1879, the gold imported into this country has exceeded that exported from it by over $183,000,000. In the same period of time the exports of silver have nearly doubled the imports.

The following table, compiled from official sources and believed to be accurate, exhibits by years during the period named the imports and exports of both metals:

Year. Gold. Silver.
Imports. Exports. Imports. Exports.
1879 $5,624,948 $4,587,614 $14,671,052 $20,409,827
1880 80,758,396 3,639,025 12,275,914 13,503,894
1881 100,031,259 2,565,132 10,544,238 16,841,715
1882 34,377,054 32,587,880 8,095,336 16,829,599
1883 17,734,149 11,600,888 10,755,242 20,219,445
1884 22,831,317 41,081,957 15,504,777 29,868,748
1885 26,691,696 8,477,892 16,550,627 33,753,633
Total 288,048,819 104,540,388 88,397,186 151,426,861

This table discloses that in every fiscal year since the coinage of the standard dollar began under the Bland act, except one, more gold has been brought into the country than has been shipped out of it. In 1884 the balance was against us, but in 1885 there was a large balance, over sixteen million, in our favor. And thus, while the gold men have been year after year playing the role of alarmists and trying to scare the country into the belief that all our gold was going or would soon certainly go out of the country, the facts of history have been constantly accumulating against them and giving daily contradiction to their dire predictions. But still the predictions continue.


Now, Mr. Speaker, what has occurred in the past, under a certain state of circumstances, may be presumed to be of at least probably occurrence, in the future, under the same circumstances. The facts conclusively show that in the past, with the coinage and circulation of the silver dollar progressing, gold has not been driven out of the country, but on the contrary it has been constantly coming to us from abroad in greater quantities than have been going away. We have a right to judge the future by the past. So judging it we may properly conclude that the balance will continue to be in our favor so far as the importation and exportation of gold are concerned, and the prophesied danger from that source is not imminent.

The bill under consideration proposes not only to continue the coinage of silver, but to put its coinage on an equal footing with gold by making it free; and I am in favor of it. From the organization of our Government, or more accurately speaking, from 1792 when our first coinage act was passed, down to 1874, the coinage of silver was free, and I do not perceive any good reason why it should not be so. From time immemorial both these precious metals have been used as money. The Constitution of our country recognizes them both, and, I believe, makes them both legal tender and forbids the demonetization of either. This opinion has been entertained by eminent men in all periods of our history. I will quote the opinion of one gentleman, quite prominent in our late history, who ought to be accepted as authority, at least, on one side of this House. I refer to Mr. Blaine, who in 1878 said:

I believe gold and silver coin to be the money of the Constitution, indeed the money of the American people anterior to the Constitution, which the great organic law recognized as quite independent of its own existence. No power was conferred on Congress to declare either metal should not be money. Congress has therefore, in my judgment, no power to demonetize either any more than to demonetize both. * * * If, therefore, silver has been demonetized, I am in favor of remonetizing it. If its coinage has been prohibited, I am in favor of ordering it to be resumed. If it has been restricted, I am in favor of having it enlarged.

But we are told the silver dollars accumulate in the Treasury and do not circulate. The accumulation, to a large extent at least, is due I believe to administrative discrimination against this coin. Let the Treasury officials pay the maturing obligations of the Government in standard dollars wherever not bound by the previous legislative crime to pay them in gold, and the Treasury will be relieved of its burden, at any rate to some extent.

And now, in conclusion, let me say the Democracy of the country and the people in general demand and expect of this Congress, and are entitled to have, action which shall be in the interests of the people generally, and not solely in the interests of the few and the wealthy who are in condition to take care of themselves. All over the country there is business stagnation, and legislation which intensifies the malady, or a failure to legislate for the general relief, may prove disastrous to the party in power.