The Front Porch Campaign

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A clear and direct issue had been presented to the American people, McKinley wrote, and upon its right settlement largely rested the financial honor and prosperity of the country. The mere declaration for the free coinage of silver involved such grave peril to the nation’s business and credit that conservative men everywhere were breaking away from their old party associations and uniting with other patriotic citizens in protest. McKinley cautioned his countrymen against misleading phrases and false theories. Free silver would not mean that silver dollars would be freer to the many. It would mean the free use of the United States mints for the few who were owners of silver bullion. They would receive a dollar for fifty-three cents’ worth of bullion, and other people would be required to receive it as a full dollar in payment for their labor and products. The silver dollars already in use had been coined by the government—not for private account or gain—and the government had agreed to maintain their value at a parity with gold. This at times had been accomplished with peril to the public credit. The Sherman law had failed to realize the expectation that it would advance the bullion value of silver.

Under coinage at sixteen to one, the government would have neither the obligation nor the power to maintain the parity. The nation would be driven to a silver basis, with resultant reduction of property values, financial loss and damage to commerce, impairment of contractual obligations, further impoverishment of laborers and producers, and business panic of unparalleled severity. Until the ratio between the two metals was fixed by international agreement, it was “the plain duty of the United States to maintain the gold standard.”

 

McKinley’s extensive dissertation on the currency question was marked throughout by composure and moderation of tone. He said that money should be free from speculation and fluctuation, and ought never to be made the subject of partisan contention. He also observed that it was a cause for painful regret that an effort was being made by the Democratic party and its allies to divide the country into classes and create distinctions that did not exist and were repugnant to the American form of government. These appeals to passion and prejudice were in the highest degree reprehensible. They were opposed to the national instinct and interest, and should be resisted by every citizen. Having administered a dignified rebuke to the Bryanites, McKinley passed on to a long discussion of “another issue of supreme importance,” the tariff. He examined the defects of the unpopular Democratic tariff of 1894 and charged to its operation all the miseries of the depression. It was mere pretense, he said, to attribute the hard times to the gold standard. “Good money never made times hard.” It was not an increase in the volume of money that was needed, but an increase in the volume of business. A wise protection policy had lost none of its virtue and importance. The enactment of a new tariff law would be the “first duty” of the Republican party, if restored to power in the autumn.

The concluding paragraphs of the document pledged the promotion of a spirit of fraternal regard between the North and South. The fervor of McKinley’s expressions attracted attention to these passages, but the predominant interest of the letter lay in its treatment of the currency, and it was scarcely noticed that the writer had repeatedly implied that the issue was transient and subsidiary. In the hours he had snatched for composing the paper in his beleaguered house, McKinley had accomplished a considerable political feat. He had eminently satisfied the sound-money men, from goldbugs to bimetallists, while firmly retaining his status as a tariff candidate.

McKinley’s prestige steadily mounted after the publication of his letter of acceptance. The Republican National Committee distributed hundreds of thousands of copies. “Good money never made times hard” became a popular campaign slogan. It was October before Hanna’s organization proved its effectiveness, but Canton was engulfed weeks earlier by the tide that rolled toward McKinley.

The correspondent of the Cleveland Plain Dealer , accustomed to scoff at the cut-rate excursions, capitulated on September 19. The opening of the floodgates, he telegraphed his newspaper, had swept Canton off its feet. That day, McKinley gave a continuous performance, making nine addresses, shaking hands with thousands. The delegations formed a solid, slowly moving procession—western railroad men, laborers from the Carnegie furnaces at Pittsburgh, Hungarian-Americans from Cleveland, hardware men, commercial travelers, farmers’ associations. The Republican National Committee had organized the railroad contingent, which arrived in ten special trains from Chicago, but the Plain Dealer man admitted that the enthusiasm was genuine. No one who saw these crowds of sturdy citizens, he said, could fail to be impressed with the “blind faith” that the wage earners had been taught to place in McKinley. Every week that followed the formal opening of the Ohio campaign saw a greater invasion. On the last Saturday in September, special trains steamed in from morning until night, bringing over twenty thousand people, who represented thirty-odd cities and towns in half a dozen states. McKinley addressed eleven gatherings, some of which comprised two, three, and even six delegations. A week later, he made sixteen speeches in one day to crowds that were estimated at thirty thousand.