Why Was Free Silver the Hot Topic of the 1896 Election?

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It would be hard to imagine American voters today getting excited about the money supply. So why was free silver the hot topic of the 1896 election?

At that point in time, social unrest, political ambitions, and unconditional economic interests came together to cause a power push to increase the money supply. (1). On July 14, 1890, Senator John Sherman of Ohio passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This act provided for the issuance of legal tender notes sufficient in amount to pay for approximately 4.5 million ounces of silver bullion every month at the frequent market price. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan knew that he had to have a catchy platform for his campaign. He then decided to go with ‘free silver’. With the economy still recovering, he believed it would be easy to persuade his followers. Bryan felt that this would be an easy task, because of his opponent not being able to campaign like him. William McKinley, the republican nominee, was at home with his who was very ill and did not feel up too all the campaigning. Bryan did not realize that he would end up in the bottom like he did. McKinley stole the fame and votes of most of the people. Many businessmen and bankers were scared of William Jennings Bryan's populist oratory and encouragement for ending the gold standard. In overall standings, William McKinley won the 1896 presidential election.

1. Answers.com, Sherman Silver Purchase Act; accessed 2009.04.08.
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