Goldbug Variations

By Murphy, Tim | Mother Jones, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

Goldbug Variations


Murphy, Tim, Mother Jones


The politics of gold mania and the rise of the right-wing gold fanatics.

1775 The Continental Congress prints paper dollars backed by Spanish gold. Overprinting and hyperinflation render them "worthless as a Continental."

1795 The US Mint produces its first gold coins, though most early American currency is silver.

1849 California Gold Rush increases supply of gold currency.

1862 To pay for the Union war effort, the Treasury prints "greenbacks"- bills not backed by specie, prompting gold hoarding. The Confederacy says its money is backed by gold - when it turns out it's not, the Confederate dollar's value crashes.

1873 Amid a silver boom, the Coinage Act cuts back on the production of silver coins. Cashstrapped farmers and small businessmen. who'd hoped to pay off debts with "free silver," brand the act "the Crime of 1873" and vilify gold as the choice of East Coast bankers.

1893 Financial panic leadstoarunon gold, which plunges the nation into a depression. The Treasury is left with devalued silver stock. Republicans blame pro-silver forces.

1896 William Jennings Bryan delivers his "Cross of Gold" speech, railing against gold and "the idle holders of idle capital" who back it. "Silver Democrats" square off against Republican "goldbugs."

1900 The Gold Standard Act formally places the dollar on the gold standard. L Frank Baum publishes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which some see as apolitical parable of the tensions between the supporters of gold and silver (the original color of Dorothy's slippers).

1932 Wary of the incoming Roosevelt administration's monetary policy, Americans withdraw $1.3 billion worth of gold from banks.

1933 To fight gold hoarding. Congress authorizes an executive order making the possession of gold coins and bullion a felony. Alarmed, fdr's budget director warns, 'This is the end of Western civilization!" The gold standard is temporarily suspended in an effort to beat back deflation.

1937 Most of the nation's gold supply is moved to the new US Bullion Depository inside Ft. Knox.

1952 The Daughters of the American Revolution call for an investigation into the alleged disappearance of Ft. Knox's gold. President Truman invites them to inspect the stockpile themselves; they decline. (See "All the Gold in Ft. Knox," page 12.)

1953 The Treasury audit s the federal gold stockpile, reporting, "Everything is there. …

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