William Lee Trenholm.

Extracts from speech at the Atlanta Convention, May 21st, 1885 online

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May 21st, 1883,



Delegate at Large from the State of South Carolina,


The members of this Convention have sustained an irreparable
loss. They have lost an opportunity they may never have again.
They have lost the opportunity of hearing from the accredited re-
presentatives of the silver-mine owners on what grounds they ask
the continued compulsory coinage of silver. There are present two
gentlemen, one an officer of an association formed for the express
purpose of advancing the interests of miners of silver, the other
formerly a member of Congress from Colorado, and, therefore, no
doubt well versed in all the arguments by which the Bland bill was
commended to the favor of our national legislature. We naturally
expected them to enlighten us upon this great question, and that
expectation seemed to be on the point of realization, when all yes-
terday afternoon was given to hearing one of these gentlemen, and
most of the evening was given to the other, but the opportunity is
past, and we are not enlightened. The Convention will bear me
out in saying, in all seriousness, that nothing fell from either of
these two able advocates of silver which tends in the least to eluci-
date the interest which any one here, except the gentlemen them-
selves, had in the passage of the Bland bill, or to show that any one
here but themselves has the least tangible interest in the continued
coinage of silver dollars.

That the people of Colorado had an interest in Mr. Bland's
benevolent measure, and have still a very great interest in prevent-
ing its repeal, or even its suspension, does not admit of doubt.
Silver is the staple product of Colorado, as cotton is of Georgia.
In 1877-'7S Colorado and other silver-producing countries were

turning out their silver faster than the world could use it up, and
the price of it began to decline. The same thing has happened
with cotton, and we can therefore sympathise with these worthy
silver kings of Colorado when their annual revenues began to

Now, it must be borne in mind, those men in Colorado mine silver
not to keep, but to sell; it is their crop, and unless they can sell it
they have to stop mining. This is important remember, because it
shows that silver, until it gets the Government stamp on it, which
makes it a coin, is not money, but is a commodity, like cotton.

Now, as I was saying, in. 1877-'78 this commodity began to move
off very slowly and its prices began to decline, whereupon, through
the good offices of Mr. Bland and those who voted with him, the
Government of the United States was ordered by law to go into the
market and buy each and every month silver enough to coin from
2,000,000 to 4,000,000 silver dollars, and having coined those dollars,
to pay them out and keep them out, in circulation among the people.

Now, this was a good thing for the Colorado miners of silver; but
how was it a good thing for you and me ? Many members of Con-
gress who voted for it thought it would make money plentiful. It
has made money plentiful; the vaults of the Treasury cannot con-
tain all the money made under the Bland law ; but what good does
that do to any one. Money is no easier to get than it was before.
The government only pays out its dollars for value received, and if
we have value to give, whether in labor or products, we should be
paid for it all the same whether the Bland bill had passed or not.

There is a popular weakness for big figures, and perhaps it made
our hearts swell with pride when the member from Colorado spoke
of the volume of the currency being at present $1,500,000,000.
Some gentleman says it is $1,700,000,000. What is $200,000,000
more or less in these vast figures ? Gentlemen, it is of much more
consequence to each of us to know how we are to earn a few dollars
than to be amused with these unmeaning figures; and I. venture to
say that we have all found it harder and harder to earn money, be-
cause this coinage of silver has been piling up more and more dol-
lars in the Treasury, and I tell you now that unless the compulsory
coinage is stopped we shall have to encounter a great monetary dis-

I wish these gentlemen from Colorado had let us into the secret
of their influence with Mr. Bland and his followers; for if we only
knew it, we might get the Government to help us out as it helped
out the Colorado mine-owners. Suppose we could get a law passed
requiring the Government to invest from 82,000,000 J;o $4,000,009


every month in cotton ; to store that cotton, sample it, and brand
its grade on the bales, and to keep it in warehouses built quite
handy to the manufacturing centres, such as Fall River. Do you
not suppose we should get rich as the silver kings of Colorado have
done ? And if the cotton manufacturers or others should become
restive under it, as our commercial communities are restive under
the silver gorge, do you not think we could invent opprobrious
names for them, and tell the rest of the people of the United States
that these cotton manufacturers were cloth monopolists and wanted
to impoverish, the country for their own aggrandisement?

I should like the gentlemen from Colorado to say what good their
constituents out in the Northwest would derive from the Govern-
ment's becoming a monthly buyer and a monster holder of cotton ?

It takes the same money to buy the silver in Colorado that would
buy the cotton in Georgia. Indeed, the Colorado people get better
money, for you do not suppose they take silver dollars for silver
bars ? They are sellers of silver, not holders ; they want other
things, and sell their silver to get these things ; but we are told that
it is well for us to sell our cotton for this very silver which they are
getting rid of. Now, if the Government should become a holder
of cotton instead of the silver, it would have just as much real value
on hand, perhaps a more solid value, because cotton, cannot go much
lower, and silver can. If the cotton had been accumulated by
monthly purchases since 1878, as the silver has been, the cotton
producers would have gained what the silver producers have gained.
But what would the silver producers have got out of the Govern-
' merit purchases of cotton? Manifestly nothing at all, and that is
precisely what the producers of cotton have got out of the purchases
of silver absolutely nothing at all.

But what has it cost the cotton-growers ? This is difficult to com-
pute. They have lost their proportion of the depreciation in what-
ever silver is in circulation among them, because they might have
had gold, or paper based on gold, just as well as silver, and would
have had it were it not for the Bland law. Cotton commands gold,
it brings it from England and from other countries; so does wheat;
so does tobacco; so do all exportable products; then, in the name
of all that is reasonable, if gold is daily getting scarcer and dearer,
while silver is daily getting cheaper, why do not the producers of
these articles demand the gold ? Why do they suffer themselves to
be cajoled into taking silver ? Why do they force their government,
by law, to adopt a policy which tends to send gold out of the
country, and has already put it out of the reach of most people,
when, if they would only let the natural laws of trade, money, and

exchange have free play, we should all get full gold value for our
labor, and for the products of our fields, forests, and mines ? But
the farmers have lost and are losing much more than they can pos-
sibly lose by the mere depreciation of silver coins. They are losing
by the stagnation of trade, by the pause in railroad building, by the
curtailment of credits, by the disturbance of foreign exchanges ; all
these evils, though first affecting in a direct manner other industrial
classes, invariably in the end affect the farmer and reduce, if they
do not entirely exhaust, his profits.

If we are to have a paternal Government, let it show no partiality.
If it is to help the silver men, let it help the cotton, the wheat, the
tobacco men. [A voice, "And pig-iron."] I say so, too; pig-iron
and petroleum. Even stocks and bonds sometimes get too plentiful
and are heavy to carry. The Government might absorb them too,
which would at times mightily ease Wall Street.

Gentlemen, so far I have looked at this matter as a farmer might
look at it; but you have a deeper and a broader interest in it than
the farmers. As merchants and bankers you are in peril of being
crushed between the upper and nether millstones. You are givers
of credit and recipients of credit on one side you are debtors, on
the other side creditors. Have you considered how your business
would be affected if some day you should learn by telegraph that
gold had gone to a premium in New York ? Do you not know that
this announcement will cause the instant disappearance from circu-
lation of every gold coin, every greenback, every national bank
note, and that nothing but silver and silver certificates will be avail-
able as currency ? The member from Colorado says the currency
of this country is $1,500,000,000, and that it ought to be increased.
If gold touches a premium the currency will be instantly contracted
to 8^75,000,000. Such a thing is unprecedented, and I dare not
venture to speculate as to the consequences ; they must be dis-
astrous in the extreme and involve every interest and every class.

If there are any who think that a depreciated currency will be a
relief to debtors, let th'em remember that in the case now hanging
over us the currency, besides being depreciated, will be contracted,
and debtors will be unable to command currency to pay their debts
with unless they make sacrifices of property greater than would be
requisite if the currency were at par in gold.

What keeps the silver dollar now at par in gold is the popular
faith in the coin mark of the Government. " This is a dollar," says
the Government, and from one end of this vast country to the other
people are taking it as a dollar, although most of them know that
it is only worth 85 cents.

It is my conviction that this faith should not be abused. I think
the Government is bound to make good to its people the full gold
value of everything it puts out as a dollar, whether that thing be
made of silver or of paper. I not only think the Government should
do this, but I believe it will do it unless the silver coinage should
outgrow the Government's means of redemption.

The coinage of silver is now $275,000,000, on which the deprecia-
tion at 15 per cent, is only about $40,000,000 a sum easily within
the reach of the Government's means. But, if the compulsory
coinage continues, and the silver money goes up, as the gentleman
from Colorado thinks it should, to $600,000,000, and its value should
decline, as some have conjectured it may, to 60 cents, then it would
require $240,000,000 to make good the depreciation, and that is
more than the Government will probably be allowed to appropriate
to such a purpose.

The shorter, broader road will be to adopt the debased dollar as a
standard, and if that is taken the country will be set back a century,
and a calamity will be entailed upon our children more enduring in
its effects than the disasters of the war of secession.

Let us strive to avert this danger by a general movement in favor
of repealing the Bland law. Already such a movement has begun
in my own State. The merchants and bankers are getting up memo-
rials for its repeal, and I warn our friends from Colorado that this
is the little cloud which portends the coming storm. Let them
hasten to their constituents and bid them prepare for the day of
discomfiture, which will be to us a day of deliverance. If we make
it certain before the summer is done that the Southern representa-
tives in Congress who voted for the Bland. bill will now vote for its
repeal, we shall save the country from a great peril, and do much
towards restoring confidence to capital, and so providing employ-
ment and compensation for labor.

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Online LibraryWilliam Lee TrenholmExtracts from speech at the Atlanta Convention, May 21st, 1885 → online text (page 1 of 1)