Richard “Silver Dick” Bland
Free silver, or the unlimited coinage of silver, and bimetallism, the use of silver in addition to gold as a monetary standard, were heated issues during the late nineteenth century. They were considered inflationary policies and were, therefore, opposed by banks and other creditors but were favored by debtors, Western silver miners, and many Midwest farmers (who sought higher prices for their goods).
Bland is perhaps best remembered as co-sponsor of the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which was enacted into law over President Rutherford B. Hayes’s veto. Also called the Grand Bland Plan, it required the U.S. government to buy between two and four million dollars’ worth of silver each month to be put into circulation as silver dollars. The act was replaced in 1890 by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which in turn was repealed in 1893.
However, free silver and bimetallism remained important political issues for several more years, until the gold standard triumphed as America’s monetary standard. (The gold standard was later abandoned as well.) Indeed, silver was the most important issue of the 1896 election, in which Bland ran against William Jennings Bryan (also a silver advocate) for the Democratic Party nomination. Bland was the favorite going into the convention but lacked enough votes to secure the nomination on the first, second, and third ballots, receiving fewer votes each time. The “silver-tongued” Bryan overtook him on the fourth ballot and finally secured the nomination on the fifth.
Bland died on June 15, 1899, and two days later a large memorial service was held in Lebanon, where he had lived for many years. Three years later, on June 17, 1901, a life-size bronze monument was unveiled and dedicated to Bland at Lebanon. Again, the event was largely attended, with spectators coming from miles away.