A Second Answer of Government
In the campaign of 1896 the same three ideas of the role of government with respect to recovery continued to contest for popular support. The first was the Cleveland idea, held most strongly by financial and creditor interests, that the panic of 1893 was a psychological phenomenon. The depression would pass away gradually as soon as faith was restored in the maintenance of the gold standard. The second was the partisan and Republican idea. While not in opposition to that held by Cleveland, it nevertheless explained both the depression and doubts concerning the stability of the American currency in terms of the protective tariff. The third was the agrarian, silver, and debtor idea. It maintained that national prosperity was possible only if agriculture was prosperous. Agricultural prosperity was not possible so long as the national government had a currency system that excluded silver and that was so inadequate in volume as to depress agricultural prices, destroy agrarian purchasing power, and make debts inordinately burdensome.
The Cleveland idea had had its day; in 1896 it was supported only by the Gold Democrats, a weak offshoot of the Democratic party. The agrarian idea in 1896 controlled the Democratic party, the Populists, and the Silver Republicans. The real struggle was between two programs promising positive action: a restoration of a high protective tariff versus free silver, or, as the Democrats called it, bimetallism.
The Republican convention met in St. Louis on June 18. Not anxious for an issue possessing the divisive and sectional force of the monetary controversy, the Republican leadership drew up a platform centering on the tariff. This issue, paramount in the last two presidential campaigns, could now be given partisan relevance with respect to recovery. In addition, the platform expressed opposition "to the free coinage of silver, except by international agreement" and declared that "until such agreement can be obtained, the existing gold standard must be maintained." The gold plank, however,