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In the message which he sent to the Forty-ninth Congress, at the beginning of the first session, we find these words:
Prosperity hesitates upon our threshold because of the dangers and uncertainties surrounding this question. Capital timidly shrinks from trade, and investors are unwilling to take the chance of the questionable shape in which their money will be returned to them, while enterprise halts at a risk against which care and sagacious management do not protect.
As a necessary consequence, labor lacks employment, and suffering and distress are visited upon a portion of our fellow-citizens especially entitled to the careful consideration of those charged with the duties of legislation. No interest appeals to us so strongly for a safe and stable currency as the vast army of the unemployed. I recommend the suspension of the compulsory coinage of silver dollars, directed by the law passed. in February, 1878.
It will be seen that the same forces were at work then as now; the same apprehensions existed as now; the same pressure was brought from the same sources in favor of the debasement of silver; but the members of Congress, refusing to take counsel of their fears, stood by the record of both great parties and by the Nation's history and retained the coinage of silver as then provided for. Let it be said to the credit of the Democratic party that in the House only thirty-three of its members voted to suspend the Bland law, while 130 are recorded against suspension. Time has proved that the members, reflecting the opinions of their people, were wiser than the Executive, and he is doubtless grateful today that they did not follow his suggestion.
I have read with care the message sent to us last week, and have considered it in the light of every reasonable construction of which it is capable. If I am able to understand its language it points to the burial of silver, with no promise of resurrection. Its reasoning is in the direction of a single standard. It leads irresistibly to universal gold monometallism-to a realm over whose door is written: "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!" Before that door I stop, appalled. Have gentlemen considered the effect of a single gold standard universally adopted? Let us not deceive ourselves with the hope that we can discard silver for gold, and that other nations will take it up and keep it as a part of the world's currency. When all the silver available for coinage could gain admission to some mints and all the gold available for coinage would find a place for mintage, and some nation like France maintained the parity by means of bimetallism it was of comparatively little importance whether a particular nation used silver, or gold, or both.
Exchange did not fluctuate and trade could be carried on without inconvenience. But times have changed. One nation after another has closed its mints to silver until the white metal has, in European countries, been made an outcast by legislation and has shown a bullion value different from its coinage value. India, at last, guided by the misrepresentations of the metropolitan press, which proclaimed as certain what was never probable, has suspended free coinage, fearing that this country would stop the purchase of silver. If the United States, the greatest silver producing nation, which now utilizes more than one-third of the total annual product of the world, closes its mint to the coinage of silver, what assurance have we that it can retain its place as primary money in the commercial world?
Is it not more reasonable to suppose that a further fall in the bullion value of silver will be followed by a demand for a limitation of the legal tender
qualities of the silver already in existence? That is already being urged by some. Is it not reasonable to suppose that our hostile action will lead to hostile action on the part of other nations? Every country must have money for its people, and if silver is abandoned and gold substituted it must be drawn from the world's already scanty supply. We hear much about a “stable currency" and an "honest dollar." It is a significant fact that those who have spoken in favor of unconditional repeal have for the most part avoided a discussion of the effect of an appreciating standard. They take it for granted that a gold standard is not only an honest standard, but the only stable standard. I denounce that child of ignorance and avarice, the gold dollar under a universal gold standard, as the most dishonest dollar which we could employ.
I stand upon the authority of every intelligent writer upon political economy when I assert that there is not and never has been an honest dollar. An honest dollar is a dollar absolutely stable in relation to all other things. Laughlin, in his work on Bimetallism, says:
Monometallists do not-as is often said-believe that gold remains absolutely stable in value. They hold that there is no such thing as a "standard of value" for future payments in either gold or silver which remains absolutely invariable.
He even suggests a multiple standard for long-time contracts. I quote his words:
As regards National debts, it is distinctly averred that neither gold nor silver forms a just measure of deferred payments, and that if justice in long contracts is sought for, we should not seek it by the doubful and untried expedient of international bimetallism, but by the clear and certain method of a multiple standard, a unit based upon the selling prices of a number of articles of general consumption. A long-time contract would thereby be paid at its maturity by the same purchasing power as was given in the beginning.
Jevons, one of the most generally accepted of the writers in favor of a gold standard, admits the instability of a single standard, and in language very similar to that aɓove quoted suggests the multiple standard as the most equitable if practicable. Chevalier, who wrote a book in 1858 to show the injustice of allowing a debtor to pay his debts in a cheap gold dollar, recognized the same fact, and said:
If the value of the metal declined, the creditor would suffer a loss upon the quantity he had received, if, on the contrary, it rose, the debtor would have to pay more than he calculated upon.
I am on sound and scientific ground, therefore, when I say that a dollar approaches honesty as its purchasing power approaches stability. If I borrow a thousand dollars today and next year pay the debt with a thousand dollars which will secure exactly as much of all things desirable as the one thousand which I borrowed, I have paid in honest dollars. If the money has increased or decreased in purchasing power, I have satisfied my debt with dishonest dollars. While the Government can say that a given weight of gold or silver shall constitute a dollar, and invest that dollar with legal-tender qualities, it cannot fix the purchasing power of the dollar. That must depend upon the law of supply and demand, and it may be well to suggest that this Government never tried to fix the exchangeable value of a dollar until it began to limit the number of dollars coined.
If the number of dollars increases more rapidly than the need for dollars as it did after the gold discoveries of 1849-the exchangeable value of each dollar will fall and prices rise. If the demand for dollars increases faster than the number of dollars-as it did after 1800-the price of each dollar will rise and prices generally will fall. The relative value of the dollar may be changed by natural causes or by legislation. An increased supply—the demand remaining the same-or a decreased demand-the supply remaining the same-will reduce the exchangeable value of each dollar. Natural causes may act on both supply and demand; as, for instance, by increasing the product from the mines or by increasing the amount consumed in the arts. Legislation acts directly on the demand, and thus affects the price, since the demand is one of the factors in fixing the price.
If by legislative action the demand for silver is destroyed and the demand for gold is increased by making it the only standard, the exchangeable value of each unit of that standard, or dollar, as we call it, will be increased. If the exchangeable value of the dollar is increased by legislation the debt of the debtor is increased, to his injury and to the advantage of the creditor. And let me suggest here, in reply to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McCall), who said that the money loaner was entitled to the advantages derived from improved machinery and inventive genius, that he is mistaken. The laboring man and the producer are entitled to these benefits, and the money loaner, by every law of justice, ought to be content with a dollar equal in purchasing power to the dollar which he loaned, and any one desiring more than that desires a dishonest dollar, it matters not what name he may give to it. Take an illustration: John Doe, of Nebraska, has a farm worth $2,000 and mortgages it to Richard Roe, of Massachusetts, for $1,000. Suppose the value of the monetary unit is increased by legislation which creates a greater demand for gold. The debt is increased. If the increase amounts to 100 per cent. the Nebraska farmer finds that the prices of his products have fallen one-half and his land loses one-half its value, unless the price is maintained by the increased population incident to a new country.
The mortgage remains nominally the same, though the debt has actually become twice as great. Will he be deceived by the cry of "honest dollar?" If he should loan a Nebraska neighbor a hog weighing 100 pounds and the next spring demand in return a hog weighing 200 pounds he would be called dishonest, even though he contended that he was only demanding one hogjust the number he loaned. Society has become accustomed to some very nice distinctions. The poor man is called a socialist if he believes that the wealth of the rich should be divided among the poor, but the rich man is called a financier if he devises a plan by which the pittance of the poor can be converted to his use.
The poor man who takes property by force is called a thief, but the creditor who can by legislation make a debtor pay a dollar twice as large as he borrowed is lauded as the friend of a sound currency. The man who wants the people to destroy the Government is an anarchist, but the man who wants the Government to destroy the people is a patriot.
The great desire now seems to be to restore confidence, and some have an idea that the only way to restore confidence is to coax the money loaner
to let go of his hoard by making the profits too tempting to be resisted. Capital is represented as a shy and timid maiden who must be courted, if won. Let me suggest a plan for bringing money from Europe. If it be possible, let us enact a law "Whereas confidence must be restored; and whereas money will always come from its hiding place if the inducement is sufficient, Therefore, be it enacted, That every man who borrows $1 shall pay back $2 and interest (the usury law not to be enforced)."
Would not English capital come "on the swiftest ocean greyhounds?" The money loaner of London would say: "I will not loan in India or Egypt or in South America. The inhabitants of those countries are a wicked and ungodly people and refuse to pay more than they borrowed. I will loan in the United States, for there lives an honest people, who delight in a sound currency and pay in an honest dollar." Why does not some one propose that plan? Because no one would dare to increase by law the number of dollars which the debtor must pay, and yet by some it is called wise statesmanship to do indirectly and in the dark what no man has the temerity to propose directly and openly.
We have been called cranks and lunatics and idiots because we have warned our fellow-men against the inevitable and intolerable consequences which would follow the adoption of a gold standard by all the world. But who, I ask, can be silent in the presence of such impending calamities? The United States, England, France, and Germany own today about $2,600,000,000 of the world's supply of gold coin, or about five-sevenths of the total amount, and yet these four nations contain but a small fraction of the inhabitants of the globe. What will be the exchangeable value of a gold dollar when India's people, outnumbering alone the inhabitants of the four great nations named, reach out after their share of gold coin? What will be the final price of gold when all the nations of the Occident and Orient join in the scramble?
A distinguished advocate of the gold standard said recently, in substance: "Wheat has now reached a point where the English can afford to buy it, and gold will soon return to relieve our financial embarrassment." How delighted the farmer will be when he realizes what an opportunity he has to save his country! A nation in distress; banks failing; mines closed; laborers unemployed; enterprise at a standstill, and behold, the farmer, bowed with unceasing, even if unremunerative, toil, steps forth to save his country-by selling his wheat below the cost of production! And I am afraid he will even now be censured for allowing the panic to go as far as it has before reducing his prices.
It seems cruel that upon the growers of wheat and cotton, our staple exports, should be placed the burden of supplying us, at whatever cost, with the necessary gold, and yet the financier quoted has suggested the only means, except the issue of bonds, by which our stock of gold can be replenished. If it is difficult now to secure gold, what will be the condition when the demand is increased by its adoption as the world's only primary money? We would simply put gold upon an auction block, with every nation as a bidder, and each ounce of the standard metal would be knocked down to the one offering the most of all other kinds of property. Every disturbance of finance in one country would communicate itself to every other, and in the misery which
would follow it would be of little consolation to know that others were suffering as much as, or more than, we.
I have only spoken of the immediate effects of the substitution of gold as the world's only money of ultimate redemption. The worst remains to be told. If, as in the resumption of specie payments in 1879, we could look forward to a time when the contraction would cease, the debtor might become a tenant upon his former estate and the home owner assume the role of the homeless with the sweet assurance that his children or his children's children might live to enjoy the blessings of a "stable currency." But, sir, the hapless and hopeless producer of wealth goes forth into a night illuminated by no star; he embarks upon a sea whose further shore no mariner may find; he travels in a desert where the ever-retreating mirage makes his disappointment a thousand-fold more keen. Let the world once commit its fortunes to the use of gold alone and it must depend upon the annual increase of that metal to keep pace with the need for money.
The Director of the Mint gives about $130,000,000 as the world's production last year. Something like one-third is produced in connection with silver, and must be lost if silver mining is rendered unproductive. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the annual product is used in the arts, and the amount so used is increasing. Where, then, is the supply to meet the increasing demands of an increasing population? Is there some new California or some undiscovered Australia yet to be explored?
Is it not probable that the supply available for coinage will diminish rather than increase? Jacobs, in his work on the Precious Metals, has calculated the appreciation of the monetary unit. He has shown that the almost imperceptible increase of 2 per cent. per year will amount to a total appreciation of 500 per cent. in a century. Or, to illustrate, that cotton at 10 cents today and wheat at 60 cents would mean cotton at 2 cents and wheat at 12 cents in one hundred years. A national, State or municipal debt renewed from time to time would, at the end of that period, be six times as great as when contracted, although several times the amount would have been paid in interest.
When one realizes the full significance of a constantly appreciating standard he can easily agree with Alison that the Dark Ages resulted from a failure of the money supply. How can anyone view with unconcern the attempt to turn back the tide of civilization by the complete debasement of one-half of the world's money! When I point to the distress which, not suddenly, but gradually is entering the habitations of our people; when I refer you to the census as conclusive evidence of the unequal distribution of wealth and of increasing tenancy among our people, of whom, in our cities, less than one-fourth now own their homes; when I suggest the possibility of this condition continuing until passed from a land of independent owners, we become a nation of landlords and tenants, you must tremble for civil liberty itself.
Free government cannot long survive when the thousands enjoy the wealth of the country and the million share its poverty in common. Even now you hear among the rich an occasionally expressed contempt for popular government, and among the poor a protest against legislation which makes them "toil that others may reap." I appeal to you to restore justice and bring back prosperity while yet a peaceable solution can be secured. We mourn the lot of