Silver Democrats

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SILVER DEMOCRATS was a term used at various times after 1878 to refer to those members of the Democratic party who advocated replacing the gold standard with a policy of bimetallism. The Silver Democrats believed that the free coinage of silver at a ratio of sixteen to one would inflate prices and thus relieve the burden on the nation's depressed farmers. More general use of the term "Silver Democrats" followed the 1893 inauguration of President Grover Cleveland, a Gold Democrat, and his support for repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. Cleveland's position polarized the party into two factions: a proadministration gold faction based in the industrial Northeast and an antiadministration silver faction based in the agrarian South and Great Plains. The rift between pro-Cleveland Gold Democrats and anti-Cleveland Silver Democrats reached a climax at the 1896 Democratic convention in Chicago, where the two sides met to nominate a presidential candidate. Silverites dominated the convention and secured the nomination of William Jennings Bryan as the party's presidential candidate. Bryan's free-silver stand also won the endorsement of the Populist party convention, but it alienated Gold Democrats so severely that many bolted the party. Some Gold Democrats supported the third-party candidacy of Gold Democrat John Palmer, but most turned to the Republican candidate William McKinley. The November election results broke down along regional lines, as Mc-Kinley captured the presidency on the strength of his support in the Midwest and Northeast. Bryan's defeat, coupled with growing inflation, led to silver's demise as a major issue in the early twentieth century.


Durden, Robert. The Climax of Populism: The Election of 1896. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.

Goodwyn, Lawrence. Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Ritter, Gretchen. Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Antimonopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

ElmerEllis/a. g.

See alsoConventions, Party Nominating ; Gold Bugs ; Populism .