The Public’s Feeling Towards Economy and Media Between 1896 and 1996

By Peter Chien

Money has been our trading standard for more than 100 years. It is no doubt to be the foundation of our modern society. Back in 1896, money was not that common in trade. People often used gold and silver to pay and sell their goods. This type of gold and silver standard were the bimetallic standard. In another word, gold and silver work as our paper bill and coins. One-dollar equivalent to 4 quarters, vice versa. This mechanism works the same in bimetallism system between gold and silver. There would be certain exchange rate from gold to silver or silver to gold. In fact, the exchange rate will vary just like our currency exchange rate, it varies by time and economy. In 1896, economy and society were in panic. The inflation between gold and silver, lack of job opportunity, impact of technology advance, all to be consider directly result in tough economy. Fast forward to 1996, the economy was not in panic, but the United States certainly grow slower compare with other European nations. Back in 1896, newspaper was considered to be one of the most common source of information. In another word, it is the only way to know how our nation function and what happened in the nation for most citizens. But through the advance of technology, the newspaper argument shifts from conservative to more liberal way in discussion.

In 1896, it was a transition state of America. Before that time, the Americans used to be able to trade their product in bimetallism system which is a monetary system typically gold and silver. In another word, gold and silver can be exchange freely without limitation and was legally acceptable payment to all. During that year, economy was not in a good shape. People still suffer in the depression especially farmer and the people who consider to be lower class such as miner. Therefore, bimetallism system was mostly preferred by farmers which they can pay off their debt with silver. In another word, famer can take advantage of this system because they had access to the silver more easily. William Jennings Bryan said “we ought to declare in favor of international bimetallism-thereby declaring that the gold standard is wrong and that the principle of bimetallism is better” (Bryan 3). But this dream was quickly dropped when government decided to switch to a gold standard only system. Moreover, The Idaho Avalanche mention “the coinage of silver under the Blend act provided a gradual increase to our currency that was much needed, but which as population increased, proved insufficient” (“Unequalled Service.” Idaho Avalanche [Silver City, Idaho] 13 Mar. 1896) which farmer was unable to pay off their debt. Farmer and miner were lacking confident to the economy and directly result in destructive behavior to the employer.  Furthermore, even some major leading mine were closed down, the total output of fold and silver were both went up (“Mineral Output.” Idaho Avalanche [Silver City, Idaho] 13 Mar. 1896). In fact, this happened due to the advance of technology. But on the other hand, even with the advance of technology, the cotton market still significantly decreases in price and demand (“The Markets.” Fayetteville Observer [Fayetteville, North Carolina] 13 Mar. 1896). In fact, various market report on the news shows trend on price drop. Therefore, people who lived in that era tend to lose their faith to the economy and government. Fast forward to 1996, GOP leader added $2.7 billion in education and job training to ensure function of the agency (Fram, Alan. “GOP leaders boost funds, move away from a U.S. shutdown.” Philadelphia [Philadelphia]13 Mar 1996: 7). Moreover, this bill was in concern which is not going to be well spend and people losing confidence to the government’s decision to pass this bill. Additionally, this bill was only temporary which only last till the end of the month. It seems that the people from 1896 and 1996 shares the common concern to their economy. In 1896, people were fighting for their survival under depression, and in 1996, people were carefully examined their government policy to ensure the bill won’t drag the economy down.


(“THE REALITY. The triumph of gold over silver,” New Orleans Bee, November 4, 1896)

This image William McKinley winning a boxing match against silver dollar which symbolic the victory over bimetallism system. In another word, gold standard was adapted to the new single standard. This image also demonstrate how media was using descriptive way to tell story without much of comments as well.

Back to 1896, advance of communication technology were being reach out to peoples’ daily life. People tend to care and pay attention to public matters and even someone’s speech. In the article “Curious Diplomatics”, author states that “government by newspaper was a wholesome innovation, and, indeed, a natural outcome of free institutions, but that concerns the supreme direction of affairs. Subordinate to which are the diplomatic and consular service and the army and navy, branches of the public service necessarily held under very strict rules of conduct” (“Curious Diplomatics.” Fayetteville Observer [Fayetteville, North Carolina] 13 Mar. 1896). This statement was made when Mr. De Lome, the Minister from Spain send a letter out to criticize the speech which made by United States Senator. It was very interesting to see such things being published on newspaper at that time. In fact, this was very uncommon to saw a letter or statement coming from an official staff from the Spanish government to illustrate his personal opinion in public and he even credited it.  This might be result how people in that era was adapting themselves to more openly discuss things. Moreover, it seems like author was arguing the validity of government employee wrote some documents like that to be public or is it proper to do so. Deeply, this might cause serious consequences if public misinterpreted. In the other time of 1996, the first amendment was being openly discuss when and African American GOP presidential candidate seeking to join the hall of the debate that sponsored and broadcast through local television station. (“Abusing The First Amendment.” Washington Informer [Washington, D.C]13 Mar 1996: 12) Certainly, this type of discussion demonstrates how much racism was in that era. But more importantly, is how media such as newspaper or television can publicly discuss this type of matter. It seems like after a hundred year later, people start to get used to this type of discussion regardless which criteria or category it was. In another word, we won’t see this type of judgement and detail descriptive to a political even on the newspaper if we were in 1896. In fact, this might not even be on the newspaper if it happens in 1896. It is simply racism and most political participant were Caucasian instead of African Americans. It seems like just that one hundred years apart, people transition themselves from indirect criticism tone to a more direct and straight to the point fashion. From the perspective of American citizen, it truly represents an improvement of human rights towards the first amendment. In another word, the improvement on freedom of speech and how media was being able to accelerate that process was phenomenon.


(Henry Cisneras, “The Gingrich Protection Club,” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Mar 29, 1996)

This image shows how president, GOP ethics committee members and GOP federal election commission members guarding the funds to prevent anyone trying to abuse the system. In another word, if people trying to live decent live with their children, then they will not get access to public housing and benefits. This image shows how government should do in people’s mind in a direct image representation.

shape up

(“You Gotta Shape Up,” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Mar 21, 1996)

This image illustrate congress as a drunk person and regulatory agencies was asking him to shape up. In another word, the congress was drunk by consume all those money from company and citizens without putting it to good use. This image instead of only telling readers what happened, but was also telling the government what people think for this specific bill and event.