The Bryan Campaign
BETWEEN the congressional elections of 1894 and the presidential campaign of 1896, the money question came to obscure all other political issues. Free silver seemed, for a time, the only issue on which men who desired political change could unite. The Populists, distressed by their poor showing in 1894, gradually abandoned their complicated program of reform and concentrated on the simpler issue of monetary inflation, which experience had shown to be the most effective means of attracting votes, at least in the western states. General Weaver declared, "I shall favor going before the people in 1896 with the money question alone, unencumbered with any other contention whatsoever."1
Silver had other political advantages. For those Populists who now believed that success could come only through collaboration with one of the older parties, it offered the best hope of fusion, for both parties abounded with inflationist sentiment. Radicals in the older parties, hoping to attract Populist support, valued the issue for the same reason. Moreover, it appealed to the silver miners, who were ready to contribute large amounts to finance a campaign for silver legislation-- an immensely practical consideration in view of the difficulty of obtaining funds for campaigns. Above all, the money issue had about it a deceptive simplicity which commended itself to reformers and politicians alike. If times were hard and people poor, surely the explanation must lie in the scarcity of money. Did it not stand to reason that if more money were created there would be more of it to go around?
The latter argument was compellingly set forth by W. H. Harvey in____________________