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THE SILVER QUESTION.

S P E E C H

OF

HON. JAMES W. COVERT,
OF

NEW

YORK,

IN THE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES




A U G U S T 23, 1893.

WASHINGTON.

1893.

S P E E C H
OF

HON.

JAMES

W.

COVERT.

. The House h a v i n g u n d e r consideration t h e hill (H. R. 1) t o repeal a p a r t of
a n act, approved J u l y 14, 1890, entitled " A n act directing t h e p u r c h a s e of
silver bullion and t h e issue of T r e a s u r y notes thereon, and f o r other purposes"—

Mr. C O V E R T said:
Mr. SPEAKER: This debate which has been participated in so
earnestly and so eloquently, is rapidly drawing toward its close,
I desire to congratulate t h e House and the country upon t h e
character of this discussion. I t has disclosed a d e p t h and extent of research,a close and logical reasoning, and a fairness and
completeness of presentation on both sides rarely reached in t h e
discussions of any lawmaking body on e a r t h , i t has been in t h e
fullest sense an educational debate, and as such has been carefully watched and followed in every section of t h e land. W h i l e
t h i s discussion has been eminently fair in every material respect,
yet gentlemen have on occasion^ indulged in references to t h e
people of my own State which m i g h t call for reply did we who
have been assailed believe in t h e sincerity of those who have
indulged in these references.
No imagination, unless abnormally vivid, could in t h e face of
established facts conceive the existence of " a gold combination "
in t h e State of New York, powerful enough to reach its ends
t h r o u g h any possible system of legislative action. Almost all
of my colleagues who have spoken on this question, have been
a t g r e a t pains to explain t h e character and methods of our people who favor t h e repeal of the existing purchasing clause. My
colleague [Mr. COOMBS] has spoken of the matchless generosity
exhibited by New Y o r k toward o t h e r communities and S t a t e s in
seasons of misfortune and distress. My other colleague [Mr.
WARNER] explained at length in presenting the memorial of t h e
Chamber of Commerce, t h a t t h a t body was constituted not alone
of bankers, but of business men generally.
My other colleague [Mr. HENDRIX] did not " b o a s t " of his
bank presidency, as stated by t h e gentleman from Illinois [Mr.
LANE], but r a t h e r apologized for it. H e intimated t h a t h e had
n o t h i n g but his salary to his credit; t h a t he was born and b r o u g h t
u p in Missouri; and t h a t , therefore, even t h o u g h he was now a
New York bank president, he was " o n l y a little one." [Laught e r . ] I submit t h a t New York has no need to be even semiapologetic in any explanation t h a t may be given of t h e attitude of
h e r people on t h i s question.
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The people of that sovereign State have in the strongest and
most forceful way declared their sentiments upon all questions
affecting- the rights of the many as against the demands and encroachments of the few.
Upon the statute books of the Empire State stands the recorded voice of her people upon t h e vital question of the preservation of their interests as against corporate aggression and the
excessive demands of a money power. Years ago her Legislature by form > enactment lessened the legal rate of interest on
1
loans and advances of every character. In no one State of this
Union can money be secured at so low a rate for any legitimate
business or industrial enterprise.
Mr. Speaker, your own State of Georgia knows this. Alabama
knows it. Florida knows it. Scarcely a Southern State whose
business and industrial interests have prospered since the war
but is glad to make acknowledgment of this fact. Capital for
the development of mines, the building of raifro ids, and the
f u r t h e r i n g of internal improvements has gone to the Southland
for all these desirable and beneficent purposes. Do not, I beg
you, Mr. Speaker, misunderstand the spirit in which this is said.
The obligation was not upon one side alone. Our business men
have been glad to make these investments—as glad, perhaps, as
the people of the South were to receive them. To-day the bond
of union, the community of interest between the people of the
New South and the people of the Empire State of New York is
closer and stronger than that which exists between the South
and any other one State in the whole Union. [Applause.]
W h a t else has New York done in the interests of the many as
against the few? The tax laws of New York have been characterized as drawn and enacted for the protection of poor and even
delinquent taxpayers rather than for the fair protection of prosperous property owners. The drift of legislation in the State
of New York during all the late years has been in the direction
of the restriction of the powers of corporations and the suppression of all manner of syndicates and trusts.
Our State laws even fotlow the wealthy property owner beyond
the grave, and compel his estate to pay a percentage of its value
in the way of succession and inheritance taxes into the public
treasury for the benefit of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Speaker, what State of all this grand sisterhood can point
to stronger and more uniform laws against the encroachment of
capital and its undue aggregation, and in the direct interests of
what gentlemen on this floor sometimes refer to as the "plain,
common people?"
The terms "leeches." ''vampires," and "Wall street bandits"
have no application to a body of people who have placed upon
the statute books of their State laws of the nature of those to
which I have made but brief and general reference.
Coming up from every section of the Empire State, from the
body of the people who have made insistence upon the enactment of these measures—from merchants, manufacturers, mechanics, wage-earners, from Montauk to the Lakes—is the demand, peremptory and emphatic, for the unconditional repeal
of the silver-purchasing Enactment.
This enactment as it stands is more and very much more than
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a "cowardly makeshift."' It is absolutely wrong as matter of
principle. I t has been demonstrated by the saddest experience
t h a t it is disastrous as matter of policy.
During the debate on the free-coinage bill in the last Congress,
from my place on this floor, I argued for the immediate and absolute repeal of this measure: and I do not purpose to repeat
now the reasons advanced at t h a t time in favor of its unconditional repeal.
That this measure, which has been tried in the balances and
found to be so grievously wanting, should be repealed upon some
proper basis, has grown to be the sentiment, the almost common
sentiment, of thoughtful minds in every section of this land.
W h y do the people of New York who have framed the laws I
have mentioned, laws strengthening the hand of labor and the
cause of the "common people''—why do they demand the unconditional repeal of this enactment?
Frequent reference has b3en made during this discussion to
the " d e b t o r class " of our people. The gentleman from Missouri
[Mr. H A I . T J has devoted the greater part of his speech to a defense
of this body as against the creditor class of the community, and
has argued that unconditional repeal would weigh heavily against
their interests.
Mr. Spe iker, I do not like the term " t h e debtor class," as applied to the great bulk of the people of this Republic. If I am
employed to try a law suit or to examine a legal question for a
client, and am to receive my pay when the work is done, from
the very moment that work is completed my client is my debtor,
though his possessions are ten times more than mine. The man
who sells a ton of coal or a barrel of flour on credit to a customer,
though the latter be a modern Croesus, holds him as his debtor
until the obligation is discharged.
The great bulk of the people of this land are wage-earners,
getting their pay at the end of the week or the month, as the
case may be.
Until "the end of the week or of the month, until the stipulated pay day, though the one may live in a palace and the
other in a hovel, the employer is the debtor, the employe t h e
creditor.
I submit, sir, that the legislation we frame shall be in the interest not alone of the debtor class, as that term is applied by
many gentlemen on this floor, but that it shall have a wider,
broader scope, and shall be in the interest of the wage-earners,
for this class, happily, makes up by far the greater number of
the people of this Republic.
These wage-earners, and large numbers of them are wagesavers, are entitled to the very best and soundest money in existence anywhere as the f r u i t of their labors. I t should be the
aim of Federal legislation to secure for them this kind of money
and absolutely nothing short of it. [Applause, j
And now, Mr. Speaker, can there be any definite assurance of
safety in this regard, if any one of the pending amendments shall
be adopted as a condition of the repeal of the existing law? Suppose t h a t any one of the various and varying propositions seeking to establish a ratio of value between gold and silver upon
the basis of 1 to 16 or 1 to 20, shall be adopted, can there be any
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definite assurance that the great bulk of our people who are
wage-earners, and those among them who are Wugj-s tvers, will
be protected in their right to receive the best kind of money
that c n be paid to them'?
The financial history of the world h is shown us that the value
of silver has been gradually but surely decreasing. Time was
when 1 ounce of gold would buy only 8 or 9 ounces of silver.
To-day, in the markets of the world, it requires about 25 ounces
of silver to obtain 1 ounce of gold. And this condition has not
been brought about alone by legislative action. The opening
and development of extensive silver mines, and the labor-saving
processes by which the cost of production has been lessened,
have been most potential agencies in bringing- about this result.
W h a t assurance can any man give, expert though he may be
in all questions of finance, that the variance in value between the
two metals may not be still f u r t h e r increased in the immediate
future?
Will legislation sustain the value of silver? Why, it was imagined that the very act which we are now called upon to repeal
would at once send up the price of silver and sustain its increased
value.
Here was the Government of the United States a regular purchaser of the metal to the extent of 4,500,000 ounces each month.
These conditions have been in operation for the past three ye^rs,
and yet the value of silver as comp ired with gold stands to-day
at about 25 to 1 in the markets of the world.
Mr. Speaker, the people of the State of New York, and I, as
one of their representatives here, believe in the coinage of
silver.
1 beiieve in the declaration made in this regard in the last
Democratic platform. I believe there can be no uncertainty in
the construction to be given to that declaration. If there was any
doubt or any ambiguity about it, that doubt or uncertainty was
removed, and the platform was revised and corrected when the
same men who adopted it made Grover Cleveland their nominee
for the Presidency. Early in 1892 he had hazarded his chances
for the nomination by a bold, manly, and courageous declaration
of his position on the financial question. His views, clearly and
emphatically stated, were known and understood by all men. His
views then, are his conclusions now. The people who were his
advocates then should be his strongest and staunchest supporters at this juncture, when legislation is invoked in affirmance
or these conclusions.
Neither the President nor any considerable number of the American people stand to-day opposed to the coin ige of silver. The
American people as a whole have an affection that can not be
alienated for the met il that has served them so faithfully and so
well. If, by international agreement, or by any other plan that
can be devised, we can safely continue the free coinage of silver
the whole people will say, " L e t the work goon. 1 ' It is the money
• o which we have for long ye irs been accustomed, and we have
for it all the affection we entert lin for an old friend and faithful
ervitor.
But we must face conditions as they are, and not as we m i g h t
w.sh them to be. Silver has become like an old and faithful




6
servitor who has fallen unfortunately into unsteady habits. I t
has been abandoned for this reason by m my of its former friends
among the nations of the earth, and its usefulness has been
largely diminished. The duty on our part is to reform it, if we
can, and to restore its former usefulness if this restoration can
be accomplished. Heroic me isures are invoked in extreme cases,
and in the existing emergency nothing, in my judgment, will
accomplish the desired reform except a resort to the "gold cure."
[Laughter and applause.]
I b lieve fully, Mr. Speaker, in the maintenance of the independence of this Republic in all material ways. I believe in
its being, so far as possible, self-sustaining, just as I believe in
its being in all ways self-respecting. And yet no man can doubt
t h a t we would lose in power and prosperity if through the use
of a debased currency our credit as a nation should in any way
be imp ired. The Americ in people are not to be persuaded to
a wrong course through any cry of subserviency to the practices
of European powers. They believe in the widest and freest
trade with the nations of the earth by the honest and honorable
methods which, being best alike in principle and in policy, will
best subserve the interests of the whole people.
Reference has very ingeniously been made to the fact that Great
Britain h aving, so f ar back as 1816, adopted the single gold standard as her measure of value, thereafter for years carried on trade
with foreign nations using a double or even a single silver standard without friction or emb rrassment.
I have no doubt that there was perfect freedom from either, so
far as Great Britain, with her single standard, was concerned.
St itistics have not been given, but t h a t Great Britain profited
by the transactions thus conducted may very readily be assumed
when we know that the most potential of the civilized nations
abroad with whom she thus traded, one after the other abolished
all other systems and adopted the single gold standard as the
only measure of value.
Eyery pound of English money, every French franc, every German mark which comes to this country adds to the wealth of the
nation. Every foreign investment here brings us into closer contact and communion with our sister nations across the seas.
Every investment of foreign money here, every business transaction with foreign nations, is in the direction of the casting away
of the sword, and the invocation of the gentler mediation of the
pen in the adjustment of all internationl complications.
W e have heard very much d u r i n g this discussion as to the
dangers and difficulties which would follow a contraction of the
currency; and this, in the face of the known fact that over 90 per
cent of the entire business of the country is conducted upon a
credit system. Whatever evils might follow currency contraction, I insist they would be but slight in comparison with those
which would come to us from loss of national credit, as a resultant
of a debased currency.
One of the most able and distinguished of the advocates of
free coinage, the Senator from Nevada [Mr. STEWART], has said
that the credit of the world is based on standard money, and
the same st itement is repeated by those who stand with him for
free coinage.
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Ifc is with nations as with individuals. Credit is a complex
quantity, constituted of various elements. Knowledge of the
abstract honesty of the debtor and the desire to repay the creditor,
faith in the debtor's integrity, these are elements entering into
the composition of what the world calls " c r e d i t . " Senator
S T E W A R T himself gives denial to his own theory that credit is
based on money alone by a sketch of his own life as found in the
Congressional Directory. I read only a line or two from page 72:
He a t t e n d e d Lyons U n i o n School and F a r m m g t o n Academy. W a s t e a c h e r
of Mathematics in t h e f o r m e r school while yet a pupil. W i t h t h e little
m o n e y t h u s earned, and the assistance of Jara.es C. Smith, one of t h e j u d g e s
of t h e ' s u p r e m e c o u r t of Ne w York, he entered Yale College.

This bright and brainy young man had not money enough,
" s t a n d a r d ' or otherwise, to enoer college, but Jie had what was
better—he had credit—which so jure. I him what he most desired—a liberal educ ation; and the distinguished Senator makes
manly and grateful acknowledgment of the fact even after more
than forty years of time.
As with individuals, so with nations. The s ame elements enter
into the formation of what individuals and nations alike call
credit—the preservation of which is and always should be the
primal obligation resting upon this Republic.
Mr. Speaker, I have said that the debate upon the pending
measure has been close and logical, and eminently educational
in its character. It has had its other distinguishing features,
which have given it more than ordin iry interest. Heroism is
by no means confined to the t anted field, where devoted patriots
have bared their bre.ists to receive the shock of battle.
There have been exhibitions of the highest order of heroism
on the floor of this House during discussion and attempted legislation on this silver question. I remember, and those who
served here during the last Congress will readily recall the intense excitement which prevailed while the consider ation of the
free-coin ge bill was tinde • discussion—excitement which reached
its climax when the final vote was taken. There was a district
in the State of West Virginia where the sentiment at the time
was strongly in favor of free coinage.
The member who represented that district had given c ireful
and studious consideration to the proposition, and could not conscientiously bring himself to its support. He had att Lied a
high, a very high, measure of distinction in nation il politics, nd
an adverse vole might mean for him political destruction, swift
and absolute and certain. W i t h all of his politic-1 future thus
in possible jeopardy, firm and loyal to his convic ions of duty as
a member of the American Congress, the cause of free coinage
received a negative vote when response was made to the n me
of W I L L I A M L . W I L S O N of West Virginia. [Applause.] That
he has since been returned to this Congress.is to the infinite
credit of his home district, and it is to the credit of my friend
from Tennessee [Mr. PATTERSON], and a number of other gentlemen on this floor, that they have, in a brave and minly way,
during this discussion, announced that while they favored freesilver coinage in the last Congress they stand opposed to it as
conditions present themselves to-day. [Applause.]
Mr. Speaker, with all the American affection for silver as cur97




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rency, there is yet a deeper American feeling for abstract honesty in governmental and business affairs. The people of this
country are honest people. They will never consent to coin silver upon any other basis than t h a t of its actual, commercial, and
intrinsic value.
They will make insistence that all metal money, be it gold or
be it silver, shall be worth as much when uncoined as it is when
coined. The American people have a proper national pride as
well as a proper national honesty. They will make insistence
t h a t every dollar, whether of gold or silver, coined in this country, and having upon it the stamp of the American Government,
shall be received, without demur and without suspicion, at its
full face value, in whatever country across the seas an American citizen may make a tender of an American dollar. [Loud
applause.]
Meanwhile, with the conditions which confront us—conditions,
in my judgment, based rather upon existing fears than existing
facts—it seems to me, sir, that we have but one duty to perform.
One of the most philosophical of modern writers has said t h a t
t h e most useful and important of all legislation in t h e world's
history has been legislation in repeal of existing obnoxious law.
T h e prompt and unconditional repeal of the silver-purchasing
enactment will add another illustration to the t r u t h of this statement. [Applause.] Let us leave for f u r t h e r and more deliberate consideration affirmative legislation for t h e strengthening
and building up of silver as currency.
I repeat, in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, t h a t t h e first, t h e greatest, the most imperative duty on our part as a self-respecting
people, is to preserve at all hazards our national credit at home
and abroad, and to maintain now and for all time our national
honor unspotted and unstained. [Applause.]
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