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Letter to Western States Commercial Congress

April 07, 1891

Hon. H. B. KELLY,

Chairman, Kansas City, Mo.:


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of March 24, inviting me to attend the meeting of the commercial congress of the Western agricultural and mining States, to assemble in Kansas City, April 14 to 19, for the purpose of considering measures affecting the general agricultural and business prosperity of the Mississippi Valley States. I regret that it will not be possible for me to accept this invitation. If I am not detained here by public business I shall probably start about that time for the Pacific coast by the Southern route; and if that purpose should be thwarted it will be by considerations that will also prevent the acceptance of your invitation.

A public discussion of the conditions affecting agricultural and business prosperity can not but be helpful if it is conducted on broad lines and is hospitable to differences of opinion. The extraordinary development of the productions of agriculture which has taken place in a recent period in this country by reason of the rapid enlargement of the area of tillage under the favoring land laws of the United States, very naturally has called attention to the value and, indeed, the necessity of larger markets. I am one of those who believe that a home market is necessarily the best market for the producer, as it measurably emancipates him in proportion to its nearness from the exactions of the transportation companies. If the farmer could deliver his surplus produce to the consumer out of his farm wagon his independence and his profits would be larger and surer. It seems to me quite possible to attain a largely increased market for our staple farm products without impairing our home market by opening the manufacturing trades to a competition in which foreign producers, paying a lower scale of wages, would have the advantage. A policy that would reduce the number of our people engaged in mechanical pursuits or diminish their ability to purchase food products by reducing wages can not be helpful to those now engaged in agriculture. The farmers insist that the prices of farm products have been too low-below the point of fair living and fair profits. I think so too, but I venture to remind them that the plea they make involves the concession that things may be too cheap. A coat may be too cheap as well as corn. The farmer who claims a good living and profits for his work should concede the same to every other man and woman who toils.

I look with great confidence to the completion of further reciprocal trade arrangements, especially with the Central and South American States, as furnishing new and large markets for meats, breadstuffs, and an important line of manufactured products. Persistent and earnest efforts are also being made, and a considerable measure of success has already been attained, to secure the removal of restrictions which we have regarded as unjust upon the admission and use of our meat and live cattle in some of the European countries. I look with confidence to a successful termination of the pending negotiations, because I can not but assume that when the absolutely satisfactory character of the sanitary inspections now provided by our law is made known to those foreign states they will promptly relax their discriminating regulations. No effort and none of the powers vested in the Executive will be left unused to secure an end which is so desirable.

Your deliberations will probably also embrace consideration of the question of the volume and character of our currency. It will not be possible and would not be appropriate for me in this letter to enter upon any elaborate discussion of these questions. One or two things I will say, and first, I believe that every person who thoughtfully considers the question will agree with me upon a proposition which is at the base of all my consideration of the currency question, namely, that any dollar, paper or coin, that is issued by the United States must be made and kept in its commercial uses as good as any other dollar. So long as any paper money issued or authorized by the United States Government is accepted in commercial use as the equivalent of the best coined dollar that we issue, and so long as every coined dollar, whether of silver or gold, is assured of an equivalent value in commercial use, there need be no fear as to an excess of money. The more such money the better. But, on the other hand, when any issue of paper or coined dollars is, in buying and selling, rated at a less value than other paper or coined dollars, we have passed the limit of safe experiment in finance. If we have dollars of differing values, only the poorest will circulate. The farmer and the laborer, who are not in hourly touch with the ticker of the telegraph, will require, above all other classes of our community, a dollar of full value. Fluctuations and depreciations are always at the first cost of these classes of our community. The banker and the speculator anticipate, discount, and often profit by such fluctuations. It is very easy, under the impulse of excitement of the stress of money stringency, to fall into the slough of a depreciated or irredeemable currency. It is a very painful and slow business to get out when once in.

I have always believed, and do now more than ever believe, in bimetalism, and favor the fullest use of silver in connection with our currency that is compatible with the maintenance of the parity of the gold and silver dollars in their commercial uses. Nothing, in my judgment, would so much retard the restoration of the free use of silver by the commercial nations of the world as legislation adopted by us that would result in placing this country upon a basis of silver monometalism. The legislation adopted by the first session of the Fifty-first Congress I was assured by leading advocates of free coinage-representatives of the silver States-would promptly and permanently bring silver to $1.29 per ounce and keep it there. That anticipation has not been realized. Our larger use of silver has apparently, and for reasons not yet agreed upon, diminished the demand for silver in China and India.

In view of the fact that it is impossible in this letter to elaborate, and that propositions only can be stated, I am aware that what I have said may be assailed in points where it is easily defensible, but where I have not attempted to present the argument.

I have not before, excepting in an official way, expressed myself on these subjects; but feeling the interest, dignity, and importance of the assemblage in whose behalf you speak, I have ventured, without bigotry of opinion, without any assumption of infallibility, but as an American citizen, having a most earnest desire that every individual and every public act of my life shall conduce to the glory of our country and the prosperity of all our people, to submit these views for your consideration.

Very respectfully,


Benjamin Harrison, Letter to Western States Commercial Congress Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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