Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Populist Movement

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For many generations, adults and children alike have relished L. Frank Baum’s cleverly written bedtime story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. On the surface, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz seems like an innocent fairy-tale that was written “solely to pleasure children today” ; however a deeper look into the main characters and symbolism inherent in the story, suggest an outlook into the Gilded Age. Many historians, beginning with Henry Littlefield, have interpreted The Wizard of Oz as being an allegory to the Populist Movement and the issue of money that surrounded the Gilded Age. Although Baum mentions that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written as a bedtime fairy-tale to be read and enjoyed by people of all ages, the hidden symbols and deeper implications present in the book, such as silver shoes and the yellow brick road, suggest that Baum wrote it as a parable on the Populist Movement and its main issue- The Free Silver Movement. Anyhow, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be used as a tool to better comprehend the Populist Movement.

In order to understand the Populist interpretation of The Wizard of Oz, it is necessary to be aware of the history behind Populism and the free coinage issue. The Populist Party was a third party that stemmed from its appeal to the “common man” and also from strikes of farmers, which combined with the enemies of monopolies and blue-collar workers . Their main plan was to introduce the bimetallic standard- the combination of both gold and silver in the Treasury, and the addition of greenbacks. The amount of money in circulation was backed by the amount of gold and silver in the Treasury. The price of silver was rapidly declining because the supply of silver increased more rapidly than the demand. Thus the government abandoned the minting of silver currency and put the United States on a gold standard according to the Coinage Act of 1873. The Specie Resumption Act allowed for the resumption of greenbacks issued during the Civil War for specie at the official exchange ratio of one greenback dollar for one gold dollar . The Civil War inflated the currency so much that the greenback dollar lost most of its value relative to gold, and if resumption was to occur, the U.S government’s gold reserve would have run out . Therefore, they deflated the old gold dollar. The United States government was also scared to incorporate silver in the Treasury because it would hurt international trade, and other countries were mainly on the gold standard. Including silver in the currency would encourage inflation, which meant that the price of goods produced in the United States would be higher than those produced in other countries, resulting in a less international demand for those goods. The Populists, advocated the Free Silver Movement, which involved the free and unlimited coinage of silver in the ratio of 16:1 relative to gold. The Populists naturally supported the cause of free silver, because additional silver in the treasury would lead to price inflation, since it meant a greater supply of money in circulation. Inflation was good for the Populists who were mainly farmers and opponents of monopolies because it lowered the value of the dollar, and therefore they could repay their debts easier and also increased their crop prices. The Populists were strong supporters of the fiat-money system and viewed it as a complement to the free coinage of silver. In 1896, Populist Senator William A. Pefer of Kansas explained his party’s position as follows: “The money that the People’s Party (Populist Party) demands is gold, silver and paper. Populists believe in the ultimate and free-coinage of both metals, and if there is not enough of coin money in the country, supplement it with paper money” . The inclusion of paper money was another method to encourage inflation. The Southern and Western Democrats sided with the Populists, because they too shared the fear of railroad monopolies and big bankers. However the more conservative...
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