What Did the “Cross of Gold” Speech Mean?

The Cross of Gold was a speech given by William Jennings Bryan at the Democratic National Convention in 1896 which advocated for bimetallism, or the use of both gold and silver in funding the currency. This speech quickly became one of the most famous in American history, and led to Bryan’s nomination for president. This speech also helped to unite a fractured Democratic party.

Bimetallism was a controversial policy at the time, because there were no other countries that used this system. The Republican party had nominated their candidate, William McKinley, on a platform that supported gold currency. The Democratic party was split over whether to support the gold platform or to advocate the use of silver.

What the silver-supporting Democrats were calling for was a system in which both gold and silver were used in making the currency. Gold would still be more valuable than silver, and the amount of silver to gold would be a 16:1 ratio. However, both would be used. This would be a radical departure from the international norm, and would make it harder to trade with other nations.

This action would also benefit and disadvantage certain groups within the United States. Lenders, such as bankers and businessmen, would suffer because of the inflation that this policy would cause. Poor farmers and workers from the South and West would benefit because of the inflation that would occur with this policy.

This speech was important because it turned a large part of the Democratic party into bimetallism supporters. Later Democrats like Huey Long and Franklin Delano Roosevelt drew on this speech, either copying the form directly or appealing to the same audience.