Many Democrats, including loyal followers of President Grover Cleveland, could not stomach their party's new silver platform and the nomination of William Jennings Bryan. When asked what they would do, conservative Democrats like New York's David Hill told reporters that they were "still Democrats . . . very still." Others quietly threw their support to McKinley.
Still others refused simply to wait out the election in hopes of recapturing the party next time. In early September, they declared themselves "National Democrats" at a convention in Indianapolis, chaired by Congressman W. D. Bynum of Indiana. The convention nominated John Palmer (left) and Simon Bolivar Buckner, (right) both of Kentucky. The choice reflected the strength of Gold Democrats in that state, where editor Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal was one of the country's most vigorous voices for Gold Democracy. Watterson was in Europe during the crisis but sent advice in a series of letters during the campaign.
The split reflected state-level conditions: anti-Bryan Democrats who controlled state patronage felt more comfortable with a "wait and watch" strategy, while those who had been forced out by free-silver forces at the state level had nothing left to lose by standing and fighting. Ridiculed by silverites and praised by many Republicans, the Gold Democrats were widely perceived as helping—intentionally or not—McKinley's cause. They argued, in return, that their independent ticket offered Democrats an honorable alternative to voting Republican.
Palmer, at age 79, was the oldest candidate in the campaign. Though their campaign was never strong, Palmer and Buckner were celebrated as symbols of sectional reconciliation because one had served as a Union, the other as a Confederate general in the Civil War.
(Read more on the Gold vs Silver currency question.)
There is no claim put forth by any body that Palmer and Buckner stands any chance to carry Kentucky. . . . The larger their vote in Kentucky, the more likely the state is to go for McKinley, then why can it not be truthfully said that Carlisle is in Kentucky speaking for McKinley.
—Birmingham State Herald, 23 October 1896
Jones—I hear that the Democratic party is going to sue David B. Hill for alimony. Smith—For alimony? Why, what is the charge against him? Jones—Desertion and non-support.
—New York World, 11 October 1896
Delegates from the following named States refused, either wholly or partly, to vote for the nomination of a candidate on a free silver platform, thereby practically repudiating the work of the Convention. These delegates numbered nearly 200, and they represent millions of voters who will cast their ballots in November against the free silver candidate:
- New Hampshire.
- New Jersey.
- New York.
- Rhode Island.
- West Virginia.
...Only two days have passed since Bryan was nominated for President, and the ticket was not completed until the day before yesterday. Yet sixty-five leading newspapers, Democratic and independent, have had the courage and conscience to come out and repudiate both platform and ticket, and most of these openly advocate the election of McKinley.
—St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 14 July 1896
The suggestion of another Democratic ticket is not favorably received, for the manifest reason that it could not possibly be elected.... It is likely, therefore, that as a rule the Democrats who sincerely desire the maintenance of the gold standard and believe that the adoption of the free silver policy would be a public calamity will vote for McKinley and Hobart. They recognize the supreme importance of the money question, and consider it a duty to place their ballots where they will count effectively on the right side. This does not mean that they have changed their minds on questions that have heretofore divided the two great parties; but it does signify that they consider the Republican party the same one in the present emergency.
—St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 14 July 1896
The present campaign has the youngest presidential candiate ever nominated in Mr. Bryan, and the oldest ever nominated in Mr. Palmer. Mr. Palmer was considerably older than Bryan is now at the time when Bryan was born.
—Boston Globe, 5 September 1896
from Boston Globe, 5 September, 1896
SENATOR PALMER AND GOV. BUCKNER
Chosen to Lead the Yellow Bellies to Certain Defeat on the Ides of Next November.
BLUE AND GRAY UNITED.
Palmer Fought Under Grant in the Late War and Buckner Followed the Stars and Bars.
... BUCKNER UNANIMOUSLY CHOSEN.
The Platform Declares For the Gold Standard Without Saying Anything About International Agreement or the Income Tax.
—Raleigh News and Observer, 4 September 1896
Fellow-Democrats, let us not disguise from ourselves the fact that we bear in this contest a serious and grave and solemn burden of duty. We must raise our hands against the nominee of our party, and we must do it to preserve the future of that party itself. We must oppose the nominee of the Chicago Convention, and we know full well that the success of our opposition will mean our own exclusion from public life.
—Senator Bourke Cockran, New York City, in New York World, 19 August 1896
Paris, Mo., Oct. 31— As Generals Palmer and Buckner stood on the rear platform of their car here this morning to speak for the gold standard, a number of young men pushed up with a Bryan banner and flaunted it in the faces of the generals. The disturbers hooted for Bryan, whereat a number of ex-Confederate soldiers cried to General Buckner: "We are ashamed of them."
—National Reflector (African-American), 31 October 1896
As far as the paternal theory of Government is concerned the Bryan platform is equally objectionable with the McKinley platform, the Bryan candidacy with the McKinley candidacy. The two platforms differ in degree, not in kind. The two candidates agree in theory to differ on its application. Except for the Indianapolis platfom and ticket the people would have to choose between radical paternalism masquerading as a Democrat and radical paternalism, open and undisguised, pressing the pretentions of radical Republicanism. The triumph of either is bad enough; but in the case of Mr. McKinley, we are promised at least immunity from tampering with the money and credit of the nation, whilst in the case of Mr. Bryan we embark our all in a leaky boat upon a shoreless sea; and set sail in quest of adventures.
—Henry Watterson, Louisville Courier-Journal, 9 October 1896
THE NATIONAL (GOLD) DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM.
Adopted at the Convention of the National Democratic Party at Indianapolis, Ind., September 3, 1896.
This convention has assembled to uphold the principles upon which depend the honor and welfare of the American people in order that Democrats throughout the Union may unite their patriotic efforts to avert disaster from their country and ruin from their party. The Democratic party is pledged to equal justice and exact justice to all men of every creed and condition; to the largest freedom of the individual consistent with good government; to the preservation of the Federal Government in its constitutional vigor and the support of the maintenance of the public faith and sound money; and it is opposed to paternalism and all class legislation.
The declarations of the Chicago Convention attack individual freedom, the right of private contract, the independence of the judiciary, and the authority of the President to enforce Federal laws. They advocate a reckless attempt to increase the price of silver by legislation to the debasement of our monetary standard, and threaten unlimited issues of paper money by Government. They abandon for Republican allies the Democratic cause of tariff reform to court the favor of protectionists to the fiscal heresy.
In view of these and other grave departures from Democratic principles, we cannot support the candidates of that convention, nor be bound by its acts. The Democratic party has survived many defeats, but could not survive a victory won in behalf of the doctrine and the policy proclaimed in its name at Chicago.
The conditions, however, which make possible such utterances from a national convention are a result of class legislation by the Republican party. It still proclaims, as it has for many years, the power and duty of the Government to raise and maintain prices by law; and it proposes no remedy for existing evils except oppressive and unjust taxation.
THE CONTINUITY OF DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES.
The National Democracy, here convened, therefore renews its declaration of faith in Democratic principles, especially as applicable to the conditions of the times.
Taxation, tariff, excise or direct, is rightfully imposed only for public purpose and not for private gain. Its amount is justly measured by public expenditures, which should be limited by scrupulous economy. The sum derived by the Treasury from tariff and excise levies is affected by the state of trade and volume of consumption. The amount required by the treasury is determined by the appropriations made by Congress.
The demand of the Republican party for an increase in tariff taxation has its pretext on the deficiency of revenue, which has is causes in the stagnation of trade and reduced consumption, due entirely to the loss of confidence that has followed the Populist threat of free coinage and the depreciation of our money, and the Republican practice of extravagant appropriations beyond the needs of good government.
We arraign and condemn the Populistic conventions of Chicago and St. Louis for their co-operation with the Republican party in creating these conditions which are pleaded in justification of a heavy increase of the burdens of the people by a further resort to protection.
We therefore denounce protection and especially free coinage of silver, as schemes for the personal profit of a few at the expense of the masses, and oppose the two parties which stand for these schemes as a hostile to the people of the Republic, whose food and shelter, comfort and prosperity, are attacked by higher taxes and depreciated money.
In fine, we reaffirm the historic Democratic doctrine of tariff for revenue only. We demand that henceforth modern and liberal policies toward American shipping shall take the place of our imitation of the restricted statutes of the eighteenth century, which were long ago abandoned by every maritime power but the United States, and which, to the nation's humiliation, have driven American capital enterprise to the use of alien flags and alien crews, have made the stars and stripes an unknown emblem in foreign ports, and have virtually extinguished the race of American seamen. We oppose the pretense that discrimination duties will promote shipping; that scheme is an invitation to commercial warfare upon the United States, unAmerican in the light of our great commercial treaties, offering no gain whatever to American shipping, while greatly increasing ocean freights in our agricultural and manufactured products.
GOLD AND SILVER IN THE CURRENCY.
The experience of mankind has shown that, by reason of its natural qualities, gold is the necessary money of the large affairs of commerce and business, while silver in conveniently adapted to minor transactions, and the most beneficial use of both together can be insured only by the maintenance of silver at a parity with gold by its limited coinage under suitable safeguards of law. Thus the largest possible employment of both metals is gained, with a value universally accepted throughout the world, which involves the only practical bimetallic currency assuring the most stable standard, and especially the best and safest money for all who earn a livelihood by labor or the product of husbandry. They cannot suffer when paid in the best money know to man, but are the peculiar and most defenseless victims of a debased and fluctuating currency, which offers continual profits to the money changer at their cost.
Realizing these truths demonstrated by long public inconvenience and loss, the Democratic party, in the interested of the masses and of equal justice to all, practically established by the legislation of 1834 and 1853 the gold standard of monetary measurement, and likewise entirely divorced the Government from banking and currency issues. To this long-established Democratic policy we adhere, and insist upon the maintenance of the gold standard and of the parity therewith of every dollar issued by the Government, and are firmly opposed to the free and unlimited coinage of silver and to the compulsory purchase of silver bullion. But we denounce also the further maintenance of the present costly patchwork system of national paper currency as a constant source of injury and peril.
We assert the necessity of such intelligent currency reform as will confine the Government to its legitimate functions, completely separated from the banking business, and afford to all sections of our country a uniform, safe, and elastic bank currency under governmental supervision, measured in volume by the needs of business.
PRESIDENT CLEVELAND'S ADMINISTRATION.
The fidelity, patriotism, and courage with which President Cleveland has fulfilled his great public trust, the high character of his administration, his wisdom and energy in the maintenance of civil order and the enforcement of the laws, its equal regard for the rights of every class and every section, its firm and dignified conduct of foreign affairs and its sturdy persistence in up holding the credit and honor of the nation, are fully recognized by the Democratic party and will secure to him a place in history beside the fathers of the republic.
We also commend the administration for the great progress made in the reform of the public service, and we endorse its effort to extend the merit system still further. We demand that no backward step may be taken, but that the reform be supported and advanced until the undemocratic spoils system of appointments shall be eradicated.
ECONOMY, PEACE, JUSTICE AND LAW.
We demand strict economy in the appropriations and in the administration of the government. We favor arbitration for the settlement of international disputes. We favor a liberal policy of pensions to the deserving soldiers and sailors of the United States.
The Supreme Court of the United States was wisely established by the framers of our Constitution as one of three co-ordinate branches of the government. Its dependence and authority to interpret the law of the land without fear or favor must be maintained. We condemn all efforts to degrade that tribunal or impair the confidence and respect which it has deservedly held.
The Democratic party ever has maintained, and ever will maintain, the supremacy of law, the independence of its judicial administration, the inviolability of contract, and the obligations of all good citizens to resist every illegal trust, combination or attempt against the just rights of property and the good order of society, in which are bound up the peace and happiness of our people.
Believing these principles to be essential to the well-being of the public, we submit them to the consideration of the American people.
© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press
Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)