Coin's
Financial School

The nature of the American financial structure was the subject of contentious debate throughout the late 19th century. By the 1890s, gold-based and silver-based currency represented distinct political as well as monetary philosophies.

As Houghton Mifflin's Reader's Companion to American History notes, "The Coinage Act of 1873 introduced a currency based on gold alone. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 restored limited bimetallism, but was repealed owing to the erosion of Treasury funds after the crash of June 1893. By mid-1894 the American economy was in deep depression, and calls for some kind of monetary inflation mounted."

William Hope Harvey saw an opportunity in the midst of this unprecedented social strife and published his Coin's Financial School, which quickly became the quintessential expression of the free-silver philosophy.

"Capitalizing on rural distrust of the urban East and of British monetary power," says the CAmpion, "Harvey denounced attempts to restrict bimetallism as a conspiracy against farmers and debtors."

Harvey charged that such attempts were designed to enrich eastern financiers controlled by London. The appeal of the book lay in its simple, accessible style and its graphic cartoons.

"The eponymous hero, youthful and uncorrupted, lectured financiers and politicians, many of them real-life figures, on the errors of their ways," says Houghton Mifflin. "The depression, he argued, was caused by reliance on gold monometallism, which restricted the money supply and lowered prices. Free and unlimited coinage of silver was the only solution."

Coin's Financial School, printed in cheap paper editions, quickly sold a cool million copies. Historians says that without it, William Jennings Bryan could never have struck so receptive a chord in his "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896.

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