The First Battle/Chapter 4
Some weeks elapsed after the repeal of the purchasing clause of the Sherman Act before there was any further discussion of financial legislation, but in February the seigniorage bill was brought before the House and passed. I voted for the measure and made a speech in support of it.
Notwithstanding the seigniorage bill had a considerable majority in both Houses, and a still larger majority among the Democratic Representatives in the House and Senate, the President vetoed the measure and thus thwarted the first effort put forth to relieve the people from the financial conditions which, already bad, were aggravated by the repeal of the purchasing clause of the Sherman law. Quite a number of the public men who supported unconditional repeal were anxious to secure the passage of the seigniorage bill in order to put themselves in better position before their constituents.
The last session of the Fifty-third Congress witnessed a renewal of the discussion of monetary topics. President Cleveland presented to Congress a plan for reforming the currency and Mr. Springer of Illinois, chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency, introduced the Administration measure. This bill had for its object the withdrawal of a portion of the greenbacks and Treasury notes and the extension of the national bank system. I opposed it it in a speech of considerable length.
The bill failed of passage and the President then recommended the retirement of the greenbacks and Treasury notes with an issue of gold bonds. Mr. Springer prepared and brought forward a measure carrying out the recommendation. Mr. Reed, on the part of the Republicans, proposed a substitute which authorized the issue of low rate bonds payable in coin. I offered the following amendment to Mr. Reed's substitute:
Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed as surrendering the right of the Government of the United States to pay all coin bonds outstanding in gold or silver coin at the option of the Government, as declared by the following joint resolution, adopted in 1878 by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, to wit:
"That all the bonds of the United States issued or authorized to be issued under the said act of Congress hereinbefore recited are payable, principal and interest, at the opion of the Government of the United States, in silver dollars of the coinage of the United States, containing 412½ grains each of standard silver; and that to restore to its coinage such silver coins as a legal tender in payment of said bonds, principal and interest, is not in violation of the public faith nor in derogation of the rights of the public creditor."
My amendment was voted down without discussion, then Mr. Reed's substitute was rejected and Mr. Springer's bill defeated. Immediately after the defeat of the gold bond proposition the President entered into the Rothschild-Morgan contract and notified Congress in a special message that he had made the contract and at the same time called attention to the fact that he had reserved the right to substitute gold bonds at a lower rate of interest, and asked authority for the issue of such bonds. The Ways and Means Committee reported a bill granting to the President the authority for which he asked. To me fell the honor of preparing a minority report against this bill. Hon. Justin R. Whiting joined in the report; the other members of the minority explaining their positions upon the floor in the course of the debate. I give below the minority report and also a copy of the contract which gave rise to the discussion:
I felt that the issue of bonds payable specifically in gold would establish a very dangerous precedent, and therefore took a deep interest in the defeat of the proposition. I believed that the issuance of gold bonds would be followed by a demand upon the part of the bond holding class for another credit strengthening act, like the one passed in 1869, except that this one would declare all bonds payable in gold. On February 14, 1895, I submitted the following argument in opposition to the bill:
- See Against Gold Bonds.
There was great rejoicing among the opponents of the measure when the vote disclosed its defeat.
Just before the close of the session the Speaker appointed Hon. David Culberson, of Texas, and Hon. Robert E. Hitt, of Illinois, as the House members of a commission to attend an international monetary conference which then seemed about to be called. The House by unanimous vote made Speaker Crisp a member of the commission. The appointment of this commission aroused some discussion in regard to international bimetallism and on the last day of the session, a little before adjournment, I made my last speech in the House of Representatives. I said: