Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Committed to unlimited silver coinage ("free silver"), Silver Republicans opposed the restrictive financial policies of the national Republican Party in the late nineteenth century. They predominated in the West, especially in the Rocky Mountain states, whose silver production would benefit from a larger federal market, and in the Plains states, where troubled farmers favored inflation to reduce their debt burden and to increase farm prices.

From the 1870s on, silverites succeeded in including free silver in Republican state platforms, and they steadily supported silver proposals in Congress. In 1889–90 the "omnibus" admission of six new western states, including North and South Dakota, increased their congressional influence, and they secured passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

After eastern Republicans joined conservative Democrats under President Grover Cleveland to repeal the Sherman Act in 1893, the silver issue quickly rose to dominate politics and contribute to the realignment of the 1890s. Led by Sen. Henry Teller of Colorado and Sen. Richard Pettigrew of South Dakota, Silver Republicans joined Democrats and Populists in agitating the issue.

When the 1896 Republican platform adopted the gold standard, many Silver Republicans reluctantly acquiesced, but others bolted to organize the Silver Republican Party. It proposed Teller as a candidate acceptable to all silverites but endorsed the subsequent Democratic nomination of William Jennings Bryan on a silver platform. Although the Bryan campaign failed, Silver Republicans had success in state elections in Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where they fused with Democrats and Populists.

Thereafter, some Silver Republicans rejoined the main party; others continued to fuse with Populists and Democrats but with diminishing success. After Bryan's second defeat in 1900, they dissolved their organization and followed Pettigrew into the Democratic Party.

Peter H. Argersinger Southern Illinois University

Ellis, Elmer. Henry Moore Teller: Defender of the West. Caldwell ID: Caxton Printers Ltd., 1941.

Hendrickson, Kenneth E. "The Public Career of Richard F. Pettigrew of South Dakota." South Dakota Department of History, Report and Historical Collections 34 (1968): 143–311.

Wellborn, Fred. "The Influence of the Silver Republican Senators, 1889–1891." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 14 (1928): 462–80.

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