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ancient moorings. What it had sown was not the true seed, but dragons' teeth; what it had admitted into its citadel was not a helpful engine, but a Trojan horse. It became a rule at Democratic conventions in the West and South, and especially in those conventions whose main object was to elect delegates to the Chicago Convention, to declare in favor of the free coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to 1, which was one of the planks in the Populist platform of 1892, inserted at the Omaha Convention.
In order to stem this rapidly rising silver tide, and to correct as far as possible the error of 1892, the administration entered into contests in several States, notably in Kentucky, but with little avail. Its every advice and appeal either passed unheeded, or served to stir opposition to deeper depth and bitterer proportions. The tide daily grew higher and swept along more irresistibly. It took on more and more the lines of sturdy purpose and intelligent direction Direct antagonism to the administration was courted rather than feared, and defiance became a test of faith in the free silver doctrine.
Meanwhile circumstances all contributed to a possible coherence of the silver strength. The Prohibitionists met in National Convention at Pittsburgh in May, only to find that a large contingent of their strength was so infected with free silver coinage as to make its acceptance a condition of support of the old cardinal principles of the party. Being defeated, this “broad guage" contingent bolted the convention and nominated a ticket on a free silver coinage platform.
In June, the Republicans met in National Convention at St. Louis. There also a free silver contingent was on
hand, and in earnest demand for a free silver coinage plank in the platform of the party. Their request was denied, and they too bolted the convention to cast their political fortunes in with the other exponents of their doctrine. These bolts affected the respective parties more or less seriously. While they were deprecated, they served, perhaps, to clarify party situations; at least they served to encourage the free silver coinage sentiment, and to render it brave for the work of closer amalgamation and final coherence.
At length, the opportunity that had long been desired for a show of coherent strength and aggressive initial came with the Democratic Convention at Chicago, in July. A single test of strength showed that free silver coinage had captured the Democratic citadel, and that, as to aggressiveness, it was fully endowed with the old Democratic martial spirit. It would hear no concession or compromise, but enthroned itself as an only rightful master, determined that its cardinal doctrines which were many, novel, striking, and, as some say, dangerous, should henceforth bear the full Democratic stamp and possess the clear Democratic ring.
This signal triumph gave new metes and bounds to the political situation. As to Democracy, it was a rightabout-face of the oldest political organization in the country. It at once put the hitherto unorganized free silver element in possession of a party name and party machinery. It afforded them a nucleus around which every other free silver party, or element, by whatever name called, could rally. It imparted the prestige of generations of conflict to the newly pledged captors of a time-honored political army. The standard of Jeffer. son, the gonfalon of Jackson, the ancient spirit of battled-scarred Democracy, were all theirs by virtue of bravery and numbers, and for inspiration in fresh wars for newly engrafted principals. What matter if the dissaffected should bolt? Better that than divided counsels, or traitorous priests within the holy-of-holies. What matter if the unruly and untrue should set up counter tickets or go off into the wilderness of despair to worship strange gods? Every vacancy would be filled by new recruits. Thus hopefully did the enthusiastic victors of Chicago reason, thus they presumed on the strength and character of their conquest. Their position had all the radiance of newly achieved glory, all the promise of a broad popular victory at the polls.
Discomfitted and mourning Democrats likened the situation to that of 1860, when the party was rent into two irreconcilable factions over the question of slavery. They saw in the new departure of the majority of their party a step toward repudiation and anarchy, and they naturally likened it to a time when patriotism was preferred to party allegiance. The problem was how best to cope with a situation they deemed revolutionary and dangerous. Should they cope with it by holding to the party name and making another nomination for President? Should they quietly acknowledge the will of the majority and enter secret protest at the polls ? Never had dileinma two such formidable horns. Both were charged with a voltage that rendered their touch hazardous. A second ticket would divert strength that ought to go to to the defeat of the first, and which might, in the end, only show the weakness of the minority. To let matters drift might, in the end, be accepted as acquiescence in what they regarded as absurd politics and as an attack on national credit and institutions. Time alone could bring about an intelligent decision. The new frontage of Democracy not only bore the seeds of disintegration on the winds of alarm, but it presented a stragetic problem to the Republicans who were fully committed to the dual doctrines of sound money and protective tariff. They had even dug their trenches and stretched their tents on an alignment by means of which they could most successfully resist a free trade onslaught. Should they shift position and re-arrange for a currency attack by flank and front? And if so, what was to become of the issue upon which they staked their most ardent hopes of success, which had for them involved a life or death principle throughout all the years of their existence? The Democratic dilemma became the Republican quandary.
The judgment was eventually reached that the Republican lines as first laid down were ample, with a little shifting so as to anticipate the free silver artillery charge, and a little strengthening in places, so as to provide against unexpected developments of strength by the enemy. It would still be an industrial battle as well as one of finance, but with the former as a reserve to the latter wherever the character of the fray determined it wise. Thus the sudden and alarming diversion at Chicago would not necessarily prove fatal, however disturbing it might be to political calculations for a time,
It is almost unnecessary to speak of the influence of the Chicago outcome upon the fortunes of the triumphant majority of the Democratic party there, or rather upon the Democratic party as it existed after that triumph. Its platform called for much of a radical and impracticable nature, but on nothing so
loudly, squarely and honestly as the free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1. This was the momentous and absorbing tenet. In this it was to be original, in this wholly at variance with ancient party traditions, On this it was to go before the country as an independent pleader for suffrage. It would scarcely have another battle cry. Around this standard it expected to rally the disaffected of all parties. With this inspiration it confidently counted on a campaign as triumphant in the end as that which had placed a venerable Democracy within its control. If nothing occurred to thwart its plans or depress its hopes, the country would certainly witness one of the grandest of marches of sentiment toward a coveted destination. No political calculation could for a time compass this novel, persistent, dauntless and enthusiastic force. It certainly had a right to the confidence its capture of Democracy inspired. It also had a right to pose as the central planet about which all other silver planets should revolve. Upon it would rest the responsibility of every initiative in the pending battle, and with it would abide all the glories of victory or disgraces of defeat. Hence its boundless energy and restless determination; hence also its right to expect, or even command, the adhesion of all sentiment that looked toward free silver coinage as a relief from existing ills.
At no stage of the campaign were party lines ever so tightly drawn as to exclude free intercourse between the pickets or free leaps over the parapets. This was essential. The educative work was stupendous — far more so than if tariff alone had been an only, or the prime, issue, for the average voter had made himself familiar with the objects and effects of a tariff. To