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S I L V E

R.

SPEECH
OF

HON. TOM L. JOHNSON,
O F

OHIO,

IN THE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

THURSDAY, AUGUST 24,




—

—

WASHINGTON.

1893.




SPEECH
OF

HON.

TOM

L.

JOHNSON.

The House having under consideration the hill (H. R. 1) to repeal a part or
an act, approved July 14,18^0, entitled "An act directing the purchase of
silver bullion and the issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes"—

Mr. JOHNSON of Ohio said:
Mr. SPEAKER: I shall vote for the Wilson bill—for the unconditional repeal of the purchasing- clause of the Sherman act.
I am far from charging- to this measure the difficulties from
which the country is suffering, the breakdown of credit, the
paralysis of business, the stoppage of industry, now filling the
country with idle men, and imposing upon our people losses and
suffering as real and as widespread as though we had been visited by a great convulsion of nature or a destructive war.
Nor do I believe that its mere repeal can bring again prosperity—even that moderate prosperity to which we are in normal
times accustomed. The cause of such recurring depressions of
business, such spasms of paralysis in the interlaced machinery
of production and exchange, is to my mind not to be found in
our financial legislation, bad as that has been, but is more deeply
rooted.
Our disturbed monetary condition is rather a symptom than a
cause—an index or expression of evil and unnatural conditions,
rather than their source. The bottom cause lies in that monopolization of the materials of nature, which goes on all around us
with an intensity accelerating with every improvement; that
speculation in the value of land—the indispensable requisite of
all production and of all life—which, with every addition to productive power, piles up fictitious values, on which labor and
capit > are called to pay as the condition of their exertions.
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Important as the money question may be, its importance is as
nothing when compared with the question of taxation. Money
at most is a mere instrument of exchange, a mere tool for the
transfer of values. Whether there is much money or little
money, whether we estimate commodities in dollars or in cents,
will nowise affect the fact that where labor is burdened with
taxation and monopoly is exempt, where a few own the land and
the many must pay directly or indirectly a tribute for living* or
working in a country they call their own, the few must be rich
and the many poor, and labor—the mere power to work without
the right to anything to work upon—must be driven by cutthroat competition to look upon the mere opportunity of work as
a privilege.
Imagine, if you will, the entire absence of money,and the making
Tof exchanges by barter, and we would, under present conditions,
witness the same conjunction of wealth and want, the same phenomena of periodical hard times. What change in the amount
of money or character of money could prevent the wealth created
by Irish tenants from being drained across the Irish sea to the
absentee owners of Irish land? What change in the amount or
character of our currency could prevent wealth created in our
own West being drained to the East as long as so many of the toilers of the West are but tenants or mortgagees of landowners who
live in the East or in Europe? What mere monetary change
would alter the law under which here in the national capital we
may see that everything that adds to the population and wealth
of the city of Washington, every symptom of improvement and
growth, is discounted in advance by the addition of millions and
millions to the capitalization on >vhich the owners of land can*
demand tribute from those who live here or work here? Nevertheless, the money question is an important one—next to that
of taxation the most pressing business before this Congress, and
the full discussion that has been forced upon the country and
upon us must be productive of good,
I am opposed to the storing up of silver by the Government,
as I would be opposed to the storing up of wheat, or wool, or
whisky, and just as I am opposed to the subtreasury proposal of
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the Populist, so I am opposed to this subtreasury act of the silver producers. It is a taxing of the many for the benefit of a
few—a prostitution of governmental powers to a purpose with
which government should have no concern. It is a step on the
road which must inevitably destroy government of the people,
by the people, for the people, and make it a government of plutocrats, by plutocrats, and for plutocrats—a form of government
more corruptive and more degrading than that of hereditary
aristocrats or rulers by right divine.
It is because we have swerved from the Democratic principle
of simple government and equal rights, because we have allowed
the very gifts of God to be monopolized, because we have abused
the power of legislation to affect prices and create special privileges and manacle trade with restrictions that the political and
social evils of which we are all conscious have come upon us.
Here is the reason why rings control our cities and tramps infest our roads. It is time that we should set our faces unhesitatingly and steadily against all special privileges, no matter
what be their form, and against every attempt to wrest the
powers of government beyond their proper sphere, no matter by
what plausible pretense it is supported. Nor do we lack the
mandate of the people. The popular verdict of last year meant
but this, and I for one shall vote for the repeal of the Sherman
act without an " if or an an," just as I \yould vote for the abolition of all protective duty, or, better still, for all taxes on production or consumption of whatever kind.
But the real opposition to the repeal of the purchasing clause
of the Sherman act is that popular discontent with the cbnditions of labor, which, feeling that somehow or other the rich
are growing richer and the poor poorer, turns to an extension of
the volume of money for relief. It is this feeling which seeks
to impose as a condition of repeal the free and unlimited coinage of silver at some ratio.
If I could see in free silver what has been so eloquently claimed
for it by its advocates, I would gladly join their ranks. If it
would really cure, or even in some degree tend to cure, the inequalities manifest on every side, producing the millionaire and
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the tramp; if it would stop, or even tend to stop, the closing1 of
factories and the forcing of able-bodied, willing men into idleness; if there would be in it any remedy for the apparently overstocked labor market and for the hardships that the producers of
this country are now suffering from, it would be our duty, even
though it worked some injustice to the rich, to adopt it as a
measure calculated to bring greater comfort to that class of society which, in my judgment, bears the heaviest burden.
But what does the free and unlimited coinage of silver mean?
It does not mean, as its advocates ssem to suppose, the concurrent coinage and use of both gold and silver. It can only mean
the concurrent coinage and use of both metals when and during
such time as the legal ratio in the value of the two metals shall
coincide with the commercial ratio. It is not the choice between bimetallism and monometallism which is offered to us,
but the choice between gold monomatallism and silver monometallism.
The free coinage of silver is urged upon us under the cry of
bimetallism, but that cry is but a delusion and a snare. The
free coinage of silver under any of the ratios proposed would at
the present commercial ratio be equivalent to the legislative
prohibition of the coinage and use of gold. It would drive from
our mints, and from common use as money, gold and the representatives of gold, and that by virtue of a natural law more potent than legislative fiat.
The monetary systems of the civilized world are measured by
a fixed quantity of some commodity, gold or silver, but nowhere
for any length of time where free coinage of both is permitted,
by both metals at once. Platform declarations, statutory provisions, constitutional requirements, penal laws, the most lavish exertions of the power of supreme monarchs, h&ve never been able
to defy this natural law. The undervalued metal will not circulate under equal free-coinage privileges.
There is no need of recalling the history of the world. Our
own history proves this. From 1792 to 1834 silver was our unit
of value, gold being undervalued by the established ratio of
coinage. From 1834 to 1861 gold was our unit because silver was
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undervalued, and except worn, abraded, and foreign coins there
was practically no silver in circulation at this time. So scarce
was silver coin during the latter part of this period that in 1853
Congress purposely debased the minor silver coins by reducing
the quantity of silver in them. From 1861 to 1879 the reign of
gold as a measure of value was interrupted by the depreciation
of our paper money. From that period until to-day it has again
been the unit.
Mr. SNODGRASS. Do I understand the gentleman then to
concede that the country is to be reduced to a single gold standard?
Mr. JOHNSON of Ohio. I understand that the country has
been upon a single gold standard since 1834, except during the
period of depreciated paper money; and I for one am not willing
now to make a change. You offer no reason for it. You tell us
that prices will go up. What of it? We are not here to deal
with prices. We are here to maintain a unit (or if it were an
original proposition, to select one) which will operate honestly
as between these two conflicting classes. It is our duty to have
a unit of value which will be fair to both debtor and creditor.
Mr. SNODGRASS. I wish to ask the gentleman whether,
when the public debt was funded in 1870, that debt was not made
payable in the coin of the country, both gold and silver, and
whether, if we change the medium of payment now and adopt a
single gold standard, we do not appreciate the claim of the creditor while we depreciate the ability of the people to pay.
Mr. JOHNSON of Ohio. If you ask me whether a great injury was then committed, I answer yes. But can you, here and
now, complaining of that wrong, ask us to do a similar injury to
another class?
Mr. SNODGRASS. W e simply ask that the contract shall be
complied with.
Mr. JOHNSON of Ohio. That is a transaction of twenty years
ago. We are not responsible for what then occurred. I think it
is true that when the change was then made from a depreciated
paper money to the gold standard there was inflicted a great injury upon an immense class. But we can not correct that by
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now doing a \ike injury to another class. And you who complain
ought to be the last to come here and ask us to scale down debts—
to adopt a standard of value that will injure the creditor classes
as we admit the debtor classes were injured then.
There is only one way to even momentarily obtain free' coinage of both gold and silver at the same time, and that is to adopt
a legal ratio that would conform to the commercial ratio—a matter as difficult as standing a needle on its point. But even if
there is anyone wise enough to determine this point in advance
(allowing for changes in the market values of the metals brought
about through the act), the whole experience of the past shows
us that with one metal or the other the free coinage thus secured
would in a short time be merely nominal. A slight change in
the commercial value of the metals would again, as it has before,
drive one or the other of them out of use.
I think that it must be conceded to the bimetallic theory tfetat
where both metals may be legally used as the unit of value,
there is a steadying influence exerted on the world value of
both, for, where one of the two metals becomes relatively less
'valuable, it infallibly drives out the other, and this greater use
of the least valuable metal tends to the increase of its value and
the decrease in the value of the metal displaced. But is it wise,
especially when international agreement is hopeless, if not futile, for us to purchase this advantage for the world at the cost
of constant and perpetual changes in our own measure of value
and medium of exchange—of constant and inevitable fluctuation
from one metal to the other?
Yet whatever may be said for the theory of bimetallism, it
should be clearly kept in mind that the Sherman act is not bimetallism- It is an attempt to keep up the value of silver, not
by permitting its greater use when it is, under the ratio, the
cheaper metal, but by buying it up and storing it away, issuing
against it certificates or Treasury notes which are in reality obligations to pay gold, and which bear to-day not a silver, but a
gold value. And this is the real character of all of Mr. Bland's
amendments now under discussion. None of them really proposes the free coinage of silver pure and simple, but, instead of
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that, unlimited Government purchase at the option of the seller.
Even were we thus to provide in ,the Government a customer
at $1.29 an ounce in gold for all the silver offered, we would still
be on a gold basis, debts would not be paid more easily, and prices
would not increase. We should only be purchasing at a fixed
price all the silver presented. We might, so long as we would
and could afford to stand the expense, keep gold and silver in
this way at their old parity, just as a strong government that
should offer to exchange a bushel of wheat for a bushel of corn
might, by an unlimited buying of corn, keep corn and wheat at
a parity.
We might thus raise the price of silver bullion all over the
world, and keep it up so long as our people would consent to bear
the cost of the losing investment. But sooner or later the crash
would come, and when the day of reckoning arrived it would be
found that the taxpayer must lose the difference between the
price at which the Government had been purchasing silver and
its true commercial level. Such propositions are not for free
coinage, but for forced coinage, the force which might for a time
artificially keep up the value of silver being the force of the taxgather, exerted upon the working masses of the United States
to take from them the products of their labor. They are not bimetallism—they are silver purchase run mad.
Let me repeat. None of the substitutes for the Sherman act
proposes free coinage. What they propose would amount under
existing laws and rulings simply to continued and unlimited purchase. What has been during all these years the effect of the
attempt to get silver into circulation by any less drastic measure
than that of reducing our unit of value to the silver level? What
has become of all the silver dollars we have coined and the silver
bullion we have bought? It remains in the Treasury vaults—
all except the small portion that has been forced upon an unwilling people by refusing to them the small notes they would
prefer.
The paper currency nominally issued on the basis of our hoarded
silver is not in reality issued upon it at all. It is really issued
upon the credit of the nation, and circulates upon the basis of
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the understanding-, expressed or implied, that it is to be accepted
by the Treasury and in payment of all public dues on an equal
valus with gold. The public credit, which gives these silver
notes their circulation, derives nothing at all from the tons of
idle silver with which our treasuries are gorged. Instead of
strengthening the credit of the United States the tendency of
this useless locking up of a depreciating commodity has been but
to weaken it; first, by putting an unnecessary tax on the people,
and, second, by giving ground to the fear of an impending change
in our measure of value.
That we can not have a really free coinage of silver without
ultimately driving out gold is shown not only by our own experience, but by the experience of the world. But even with the
injuries that would attend this, it does not seem tome that there
would really be much increase in the actual use of silver, and
consequently much appreciation of its commercial value. It is
the use of a commodity as an actual medium of exchange, not as
an ideal measure of value, that affects the demand for it and consequently its commercial value. And the plain and indisputable
fact is that, except for small change, our people do not like silver,
and that for all the uses of small change they do not like it even
for that.
In the progress of civilization we have to a very large extent
got past the using of silver an I even gold for currency, and prefer paper as more convenient. To reduce our currency to a
silver basis doss not mean that people would be content to carry
around silver to mucli, if any, greater extent than they do now.
It would mainly mean that the paper which we have become accustomed to use both as money and as substitutes for money
would represent a silver value instead of a gold, and it is the
conscious or unconscious recognition of this which causes the
advocates of silver to always include in their real proposition
some proposal for silver certificates; and up to the present the
so-called silver certificates which the free-silver men have had
issued, or have proposed to issue, have been certificates really
payable in gold.
In considering the question before us, let us frankly and hon152




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estly face the main issue—that of a change in the unit of value.
Are we ready to change our measure of value—the unit on which
all our transactions and contracts and obligations and estimates
are based? This is the real heart of the question.
If it were a fresh question—that is to say, if it were unembarrassed by existing habits and agreements—it might be open to
debate.
I am free to confess that it is not clear to me that gold possesses
any advantage over silver as a unit of value. As well as I can
make out in the confusion of evidence, I am inclined to think that
silver has maintained a more constant relation with commodities
generally than has gold—that is to say, that its change with regard to them has been less than that of gold. But we are now
on a gold basis, and, with the exception of the interlude of depreciation which began with the war and continued for some
time after it, we have been' on a gold basis since 1834. Why
should we change?
Sentimentality on such a subject is nonsense. Gold is not, as
thought by some, the God-ordained measure of value, and there
is no. proof that it was designed by nature to be the money of the
world. Nor should we decide on silver because our forefathers
at any time used it, or because of what some are pleased to call
the injustice that has been done to that noble metal. Injustice
is not done to metals, but to men. It may be worth while to
quote against the eloquence of the "friends of silver" the similar eloquence of that staunch Democrat, Thomas H. Benton, in
favor of the act of 1834, which restored gold to use in the United
States and virtually drove silver out of the country. He said
the object of the bill was—
To enable the friends of gold to go to work at the right place to effect the
recovery of that precious metal which their fathers once possessed, which
the subjects of European kings now possess, which the citizens of the young
republics to the south all possess, which even the free negroes of San
Domingo possess, but of which the yeomanry of this America have been deprived for more than twenty years.

But all such fine speaking or fine writing, while it may captivate the unthinking, is really idle. The question of money is
simply the question of the best tool of exchange. As to this we
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have at least this light: Not only did the people of the United
States deliberately and to their own satisfaction change in 1834
from a unit of silver to a unit of gold, and subsequently, and for
obvious public convenience, reduce silver to the only place it
can permanently occupy in order to concurrently circulate with
gold, that of a token money, but the same change has during
this century been carried out by nearly all civilized nations. It
is too much to attribute this general movement to a mere conspiracy. Its steadiness and universality are much more indicative of a general demand caused by the needs of a larger commerce and a more complex industry.
Just as copper, which was at first the unit of value among the
Romans and other nations, gave way in time to silver, so now it
seems that silver is giving away to gold, and gold, at least as a
medium of exchange, is giving way to paper. This growth in
the use of paper seems to me a sufficient answer to the fears
that the exclusive use of gold as a unit of value will so increase
the demand for it as to abnormally raise its value.
It is clear that the use of gold as a unit of value does not necessarily involve the actual use of gold as a medium of exchange,
or even as a reserve. Canada, for instance, maintains her paper
money on a parity with gold, yet has neither a gold issue nor
mints to coin it. This is surely a sufficient answer to those who
claim that there is not gold enough in the world to furnish a
sufficient basis for credit. It shows how far the use of the substitutes for gold can be carried.
The favorite argument of those who advocate a change is as
to its effect on prices. This is the most captivating form of presenting the question, but it will not bear careful analysis. The
question of price is one with which the Government should have
no concern, further than that of preventing general fluctuation by
changes in the unit of value. It is not the proper function of
government to legislate with reference as to prices. It is a form
of paternalism that all free-traders should condemn. An appreciation of the unit of value, of course, lowers prices, as depreciation
raises them.
But, except where there is debt, this makes no difference, for
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a change of prices causad by depreciation or appreciation in
the unit of value affects all priced alike, and does not change
relative values. If a mere change in the unit of value gives the
farmer $2 abushel for his grain where before he only got $l,the
$2 give him no greater command over commodities than the $1
did before. The change is a change only in expression.
If there was anything in the argument that increased prices
means increased purchasing power, and that sellers are the only
ones to be considered, we nought not to stop with the doubling
of prices, but should at once inaugurate a system that would
make wheat worth $10 a bushel in rqoney instead of $2, or
rather so increase our currency that money would bear the same
relation to commodities that it did at the close of the Revolution
or in the last day, of the Southern Confederacy.
That there are temporary differences in the demand for money
I am well aware, and that we are suffering to-day from a temporary scarcity in the supply of actual currency, caused by the
curtailment of credits and a general distrust that has led to the
hoarding instead of the circulation of money, is too obvious for
argument. But in a bill to establish an interconvertibility between United States bonds and Treasury notes which I introduced at the last session of Congress, and a still simpler and more
quickly effective measure of the same kind which I have introduced in this, I have endeavored to put into practical form what
I believe to be the* quickest, safest, and most efficient mode of
putting an end to the currency famine and giving elasticity to our
present currency.
While the difference in general prices caused by the greater
or less value of money makes no difference as between buyer and
seller—while no matter what be the medium or tool of exchange,
tHe purpose and end of exchange is the transfer of commodities
or services for commodities or services—the depreciation or appreciation of money does make a great difference as between borrower and lender in regard to the transactions entered into upon
a different monetary basis.
Where it has been agreed that debt shall be paid in dollars,
that it would be greatly to the interest of the debtor to have
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dollars become cheap, no one doubts, and so it is likewise to the
interest of the creditor to have money appreciate and dollars
become dear. But it should be the aim of the legislator to maintain, as near as possible, a constant measure, so as to deal honestly and fairly between these interests, and a proposition to now
change our legal meisur3 of value by accepting silver at any
ratio less than its commercial parity is a proposition to destroy
the validity of contracts and to wantonly exert the legislative
power to injure some citizens and help others. It would be as
unfair and dishonest to the creditor classes of the country as was
the appreciation of the unit of values existing between 1865 and
1879 to the debtor classes.
It is true that even the free coinage of silver at 16 to 1 would
not scale down the national debt. That, we have rightly or
wrongly agreed, is to be paid principal and interest in gold.
Nor will it in the vast majority of cases do any harm to the
holders of mortgagesorbring any relief to mortgagees, for these
also are in most cases protected by specific contracts for the payment of gold. And this also is true of the greater number of
Obligations held in large amounts. But it would work injury to
national and individual credit and to the public morals, and
those who condemn the appreciation of the unit of value as a
measure of injustice should b3 equally prompt and clear in denouncing its depreciation.
Whatever of error or injustice comes from, natural changes in
the unit of value once selected is excusable, but a wanton change
from one unit to another that will thus affect the relations of
debtor and creditor can not be justified on any ethical ground,
nor yet on any ground of expediency.
In our own history we have seen the evils of such change. The
record of our national life begins with it in the burdens imposed
and evils wrought by the depreciation and final repudiation of
the continental money. We of this generation know how disastrous was the depreciation of our standard of value during the
war, and the subsequent injustice worked in coming back from
a lower to a higher standard of value. Why should we wantonly
take that road again? We have a good currency in the credit
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of the national Government—a credit sustained by great sacrifices and which has shown its strength even under the present
stress.
One of the most striking features in what has recently happened is the reversal of the predictions made that gold would go
to a premium, when it is, in fact, the paper currency of the Government, and not gold, that is most demanded and is selling at
above par. Let us maintain that currency and improve it by
giving it a feature of interconvertibility, and not, by suddenly
changing the unit of value, bring about a shock of which no one
can tell the full results.
Any forcing of the use of silver, like the forcing of the use of
gold instead of paper money, is an obstacle to trade and impairs
the usefulness of our currency as a tool of exchange. Absolute
constancy in the value of money or of anything else is unattainable, but the true rule should be that where a government undertakes to furnish the circulating medium of the people it
should provide, first, the utmost possible constancy in its measure of value, and should at least scrupulously refrain from wantonly changing it; second, convenience as to the form and character of its primary and secondary money, being controlled by
the wishes of the user as to whether it should be paper or coin;
and, third, furnishing a sufficient volume to perform comfortably
its office, providing some feature of'automatic flexibility, so that
the needs of trade and not the guesses of legislative bodies shall
control its amount.
W e should keep clearly in mind the functions properly under
governmental management, and avoid all subjects over which
the legislature of a free people should properly have no control.
Much of our distress comes from confusion in men's minds as to
where to draw this line. While it is entirely in keeping with
democratic institutions that the Government should issue money,
it is no part of the functions of government to go into the banking business.
The reason for the governmental control of the mints and the
furnishing of a circulating medium is that the interests of the
people are thus best served. That is a business in which com152




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petition can not enter except at a sacrifice of utility. But the
banking business, the receiving and safely caring for deposits,
conducting exchange, loaning money, is a business in which
competition does exist, and which, therefore, should not be undertaken by Government agents. Necessary regulation and
supervision of banking seems to be a step in the right direction
and the proper subject of still further legislation.
I am deeply anxious to get this money question out of the way,
that we may turn our attention to far more vital things. The
three branches of the National Government stand pledged before
the people to the abolition of the protective features of the tariff. W e ought not to lose a day nor an hour in redeeming our
pledge.
To strike off the shackles which protectionism has imposed
upon production and trade, to strike down the trusts and monopolies which it has built up, would do more to open the factories and give relief, and create a demand for the products of
mine and farm, than any amount of tinkering with the finances.
And for thai permanent relief which would do away with industrial depressions, which will end the strife between labor and
capital, which will secure to all men their full share in the opportunities offered by nature and the improvements made by
an advancing civilization, we can only look to a measure to
which the advance of free trade leads, and which is its final culmination—that great measure popularly called the single tax.
[Applause.]
[Here the hammer fell.]
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