During the economic hard times of the 1890s, there were many calls for the federal government to implement the inflationary free coinage of silver. The gold standard was denounced as a plot by the moneyed class to oppress the working masses. William Jennings Bryan was one of the leading free-silver advocates, first as a congressman (1891-1895) and then as the Democratic presidential nominee of 1896. He was soundly defeated in his first bid for the White House by Republican William McKinley. By 1900 the nation had been enjoying three years of economic prosperity without free silver, and Congress placed the United States solely on the gold standard that March.
On this January 27, 1900, cover of the pro-Republican humor magazine, Judge, Bryan appears as a bum. His free-silver addiction has left him impoverished and out in the political cold. With the “Free Silver Saloon” now closed, Bryan has dropped his silver growler (a bucket used to transport beer home from a drinking establishment) and rings the bell of the “Republican Gold Cure.” The latter alludes to the “Keeley Gold Cure,” a popular program for those suffering from alcohol, drug, or tobacco addiction. Dr. Leslie E. Keeley founded the first Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois, in 1879. By the end of the century, there were 200 branches across the country. The federal government adopted its treatment in veterans’ homes and seven state governments endorsed its use. Patients were injected with an undoubtedly ineffective solution grandly called “Double Chloride of Gold” (a chemically impossible compound). Nevertheless, the Keeley Institute’s innovation of group therapy was helpful to some and a precursor of methods adopted later by Alcoholics Anonymous and other substance-abuse programs.
Despite this cartoon’s prediction that Bryan would have to abandon the free-silver cause in 1900, he did not. In fact, he insisted that the 1896 free-silver plank be incorporated into the 1900 Democratic National Platform.