John Mosby on the silver issue, 1895

John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, July 25, 1897 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)In the late nineteenth century, Democrats and Republicans fought over whether the gold standard ought to be retained or if the United States should switch to a free silver system.

In 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed, increasing the amount of silver purchased by the government. In 1893, Democratic President Grover Cleveland successfully pushed for the act’s repeal. Cleveland’s anti-silver measures split the Democratic Party, however, as many Democrats were silver supporters. By the election year of 1896, the Democratic Party had been taken over by silverites.

In July 1897, former Virginia Confederate commander John S. Mosby wrote to his friend Sam Chapman about the nation’s monetary plan and its impact on politics. After the Civil War, Mosby had become a Republican, supporting Ulysses S. Grant and earning the ire of his fellow Southerners. Mosby’s views were aligned with the Republican Party, supporting the gold standard and repudiating a switch to free silver. To Chapman, Mosby writes, "You know that I have always been opposed to full coinage of silver." He points to Republican concerns about inflation, asserting that "You can’t make people richer by debasing the currency. If the people want cheap money give them old Confederate notes." Mosby also takes some satisfaction from the effects of Cleveland’s anti-silver measures on the Democratic Party, writing, "Cleveland has certainly done two good things - he has sat down the silver craze, & he has broken up the Democratic party - I wd. not be surprised if Kentucky goes Republican this fall."

A full transcript is available.

Excerpt

I sent you two of Carlisle’s speeches on the silver question - You know that I have always been opposed to free coinage of silver. It is simply a new phase of the old greenback lunacy - If you had one barrel of sugar & were to put enough sand in it to fill two barrels wd. you have any more sugar? You can’t make people richer by debasing the currency. If the people want cheap money give them old Confederate notes - If the mere fiat of Government can create money why not make it out of iron, & decree that pound of gold shall be equal to a pound of iron - after the iron is coined. Cleveland has certainly done two good things - he has sat down on the silver craze, & he has broken up the Democratic party - I wd. not be surprised if Kentucky goes Republican this fall.