This month in history: February 1878
Western mining interests and farmers strongly supported the Bland-Allison Act, providing a return to the minting of silver coins.
The argument regarding coining silver is difficult for most of us to understand this day in time, but in the late 19th century it was a topic of intense political and economic interest. Today’s value of American currency is secured by the stability of the government, but during the 1800s, money was generally backed by actual deposits of silver and gold, or what is called the “bimetallic standard.”
Because silver was relatively scarce and because the US Congress desired to simplify the monetary system, they decided to follow the lead of many European nations and quit buying silver and minting silver coins in 1873.
When the government stopped buying silver, prices naturally dropped, and many owners of primarily western silver mines were hurt. Farmers and others who carried substantial debt loads ridiculed the so-called “Crime of ’73.” They believed that it caused a tighter supply of money, which in turn made it more difficult for them to pay off their debts.
The leader of the fight to remonetize silver was Missouri Congressman Richard Bland. Having witnessed the struggles of small farmers and mining himself, Bland became a strong force in the “silver cause”. With the backing of powerful western mining interests, Bland secured passage of the Bland-Allison Act, which became law on February 16, 1878.
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