CHAPTER XVI. 1896
The East looked upon the rising in the West at first with amusement, and was quite ready to accept the diagnosis of a western newspaper man, quoted by Peck in his Twenty Years of the Republic:
What's the matter with Kansas?
We all know; yet here we are at it again. We have an old
moss-back Jacksonian who snorts and howls because there is a
bath-tub in the State House. We are running that old jay for
Governor.... We have raked the ash-heap of failure in the State
and found an old human hoop-skirt who has failed as a business
man, who has failed as an editor, who has failed as a preacher,
and we are going to run him for Congressman-at-large.... Then we
have discovered a kid without a law practice and have decided to
run him for Attorney-General.
Later the East looked upon tendencies in the West with more concern: Roosevelt, although admitting the honesty of the Populists, characterized their ignorance as "abysmal"; others were more inclined to doubt their sincerity; their conventions were supposed to be made up of cranks and unsexed women; and their principles were looked upon as "wild and crazy notions."
In fact it was no simple task to distinguish between the legitimate grievances and ambitions of the westerners, and their eccentricities and errors. Nor was this difficulty lessened by the reputation with which some of the proponents of silver were justly or unjustly credited. "Sockless Jerry" Simpson and Mrs. Lease were among them - the Mrs. Lease to whom was ascribed the remark "Kansas had better stop raising corn and begin raising hell!" Benjamin R. Tillman was another - a rough, forceful character, leader of the poor whites and small farmers of South Carolina, organizer of the "wool hats" against the "silk hats" and the "kid gloves" - Governor of the state and later member of the federal Senate. Although a Democrat, he was thoroughly at odds with Cleveland, and publicly declared it was his ambition to stick his pitchfork into the President's sides. Richard P. Bland, of Missouri, had the disadvantage of having been one of the earliest of the silver supporters, since he had initiated the bill which resulted in the Bland-Allison act, and was looked upon in the East as a thorough-going, free-silver radical. Governor Altgeld, of Illinois, leader of the Democrats of that state from 1892 to 1896, was a successful lawyer who was looked upon by his friends as a liberal-minded humanitarian, the friend of
The mocked and the scorned and the wounded,
the lame and the poor,
whose sympathies with the laboring classes had given him the support of the reformers and the wage earners. But his pardon of the Haymarket anarchists and his attitude during the Pullman strike had led the East to regard him as a dangerous revolutionist and an enemy to society.
The free-silver movement nevertheless continued to gather momentum. For some years influential silver advocates had been associated in the Bimetallic League, an organization which supported the free coinage of both gold and silver. Among its members were prominent Democrats, Republicans and Populists, especially from the western states, and some of the foremost labor leaders. At one of its meetings in 1893 it was determined to invite every labor and industrial organization in the country to send delegates. A few experts, even in the East, gave some scientific support to the argument for the greater use of silver. Eastern Republicans like Senator Henry Cabot Lodge proposed free coinage of both metals by an international agreement, which, they thought, might be brought about through threats of tariff discrimination against nations refusing to adhere to the arrangement. A silver convention in Nebraska in 1894 was attended by a thousand delegates. From the point of view of party harmony the subject was a nuisance. Democratic state conventions were badly divided. Thirty of them adopted resolutions distinctly favorable to free coinage and fourteen opposed. Ten of the latter committed themselves definitely to the gold standard. The fourteen included all the northeastern states, together with Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Such gold Democrats as President Cleveland sought to stem the tide, but Cleveland's control over his followers was rapidly dwindling, and it seemed likely that the silver element of the party might reach out to seize the organization and displace the former leaders.