“Crime of 1873” (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: Proponents of free silver charge that the 1873 Coinage Act represents a “gold conspiracy.”
Summary of Event
The “Crime of 1873” was an emotion-laden slogan first used in 1876 by proponents of the free coinage of silver to express hostility toward the Coinage Act, passed on February 12, 1873, which made gold the sole monetary standard, with no provision for the coining of silver dollars. The money controversy, which the shibboleth “Crime of 1873” dramatized, raged between 1865 and 1896 and can best be understood in the context of the nation’s antebellum and Civil War monetary policies.
Until the Civil War, the United States functioned under bimetallism—a monetary system based on silver and gold, supplemented by the notes of its banks. The use of the two kinds of specie as money was deemed desirable because there were insufficient quantities of precious metals for the requirements of trade, commerce, and exchange. Under bimetallism, both silver and gold were acceptable for the payment of debts at a rate fixed by the government. The Currency Act of 1834 established a legal ratio between the two metals of sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold (16:1). Under this “mint ratio,” the Treasury was obligated to purchase either metal at the established price.
Bimetallism presented a problem, in that the value of silver and gold fluctuated on the world market in...
(The entire section is 1417 words.)
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