The Election Of 1896 Essay

1007 words - 5 pages

Though not valued as the most important or influential election of American history, the presidential election of 1896 served to demonstrate multiple divisions inherent of American society at the time as well as to precipitate political change. In fact, the division between those who supported gold backed currency and those who sought to utilize silver was perhaps the most important issue of the election. Furthermore, the distribution of votes demonstrated the underlying cause of such debate; as the poorer and more agriculturally based regions of the United States overwhelming backed the “silver democrats”, whereas the centers of industry, particularly the Northeast, supported the Republicans. Thus, the election also helped to further establish the Republican party as “pro-business”. Concurrently, both parties assumed more hardline foreign policies, seeking to compete with, or further separate from, Europe for whatever reason their platforms may have presented. Therefore, it is quite evident that the presidential election of 1896 highlighted the divisive issues of monetary debate and of sectional, or perhaps economic, division, while also serving to cause changes in political platforms.
During the election, the parties’ platforms were nearly entirely defined by their stances on the issue of silver, thereby demonstrating the main political division of the period. In order to arrive at this conclusion, one must merely examine the platforms presented by the Republican and Democratic parties. For example, the Democratic party declared that it was, “unalterably opposed to monometallism”, and that, the demonetization of silver resulted in, “the appreciation of gold and a corresponding fall in prices of commodities produced by the people; a heavy increase in the burden of taxation… [and] the enrichment of the money-lending class at home and abroad”, which would ultimately result in the “impoverishment of the people”. (Document B) Thus, it is quite obvious that the Democrats avidly supported the employment of silver. Meanwhile, a poster for the Republican party demonstrates that Mckinley called for the complete opposite, as it depicts him standing on top of a gold coin, supported by the working, middle and upper classes. (Document F) The poster, also and perhaps more importantly, contains imagery of successful “commerce” and “civilization” in the background, which also helps to demonstrate the deeper contrast between the two parties at the time: namely, the difference in constituents.
Essentially, it seems that the Democrats’ support of the utilization of silver had made them the primary party for the increasingly disenfranchised farmers of the west; as such people were avid supporters of silver. Such a notion is demonstrated in the platform of the Populist party, who, it should be noted, had ran William Jennings Bryan for president in a joint effort with the Democrats. For instance, the Populists state that, “[e]xecutive power and patronage have...

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