BACKING PAPER MONEY WITH PRECIOUS METALS
After the California gold rush that began in 1849 and lasted into the 1850s came the Nevada Silver bonanza of the 1860s. Scattered gold and silver discoveries also popped up in other Western states. All this glittering metal allowed the U.S. Treasury to back paper money with gold by 1879 (see Chapter 13).
The many senators who represented the few people living in the low-population, high-treasure West pushed for the government to buy more precious metal. This push encouraged inflation, which was good for debt-ridden workers and farmers who could see that silver-based money would ease their woes by making loans easier to repay (see Chapter 13).
At the Democratic Party convention in 1896, presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan made his famous Cross of Gold (1896) speech, which emotionally compared the Republicans, who demanded money tied only to gold, to the Romans who crucified Jesus. Poor people were elated; rich people were horrified. Backed by middle-class fear and upper-class financing, the Republicans easily beat Bryan.
Question: What was William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech?
Answer: Delivered to the Democratic convention that nominated him for president, the speech called for the inflationary use of silver money to keep poor people from being crucified by golden hard money on the bankers' "cross of gold."
As the 1800s drew to a close, America was bursting at the seams. It had been the longest time in U.S. history without a major war, and the country needed something to distract itself from its economic troubles. The European powers were in a final imperialistic feeding frenzy, gobbling up the chunks of Africa and Asia they'd overlooked before. The U.S. had peacefully purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867.
Could the United States, founded on anticolonialism, stay out of the game? As the Washington Post editorialized, "The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood is in the jungle." Some people believed social Darwinism proved that the United States must rule because it could rule.
The old Monroe Doctrine (see Chapter 10) got enforced in 1896 when the United States offered to mediate in a conflict between Venezuela and Britain on the border of British colony British Guiana in South America. After blowing America off at first, the British agreed when they found themselves fighting in the Boer War in Africa. This was a small diplomatic victory for the United States.