The gentleman from Wisconsin has said he fears a Robespierre. My friend, in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth.
If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing . . . we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
—William Jennings Bryan
In 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, William Jennings Bryan launched his famous jeremiad against the gold standard, the final portion of which is quoted above. The gold standard was in its heyday when Bryan uttered these words, and with the benefit of hindsight was the most successful international and domestic monetary system the world has yet seen. That didn’t seem to bother Bryan. To be fair, Bryan was arguing in favor of bimetallism (i.e., currency backed by gold and silver and not a flat-out fiat paper money system). But in fact, he was really one of the great populists arguing for cheaper money. Unfortunately, he has ultimately got his way.
The populists could never abide by a financial system essentially run by an anonymous metal. Bryan’s reference to the “encroachments of aggregate wealth” resonates today. ...