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.
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limited bimetallism, but was repealed owing to the erosion of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."
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
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
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.
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.