Shortly after the revision of the coinage laws in 1873, which suspended the free coinage of the silver dollar, the gold value of silver depreciated greatly and the silver question became the leading economic and political issue for a generation. From 1792, when our first coinage law was passed, to 1873, the commercial ratio of gold and silver had fluctuated between comparatively narrow margins, never falling below 16 to 1 or rising above 15 to 1. In 1875, however, the market ratio fell to 16.62 to 1; by 1880 it was 18.04 to 1; and in 1895 the ratio was 31.60 to 1. Among the circumstances that contributed to this great change in the relative values of the two metals, the following stand out prominently: (1) The opening up of rich silver mines in the Western States; (2) the stoppage of free and unlimited coinage of silver by several European countries; (3) a falling off in the demand for silver in India; (4) an increase in the value of gold as shown by the fall in the general price level of commodities.
Reference has been made to the very large issues of legal tenders by the Government during the war. These notes were simply the Government's promise to pay and did not specify how and when they were to be redeemed. Upon the restoration of peace and the return of normal financial conditions, the business interests of the country demanded the redemption of these pledges. Despite strong opposition to the retirement of the greenbacks on the part of those who wished to check the fall in prices which set in after the panic of 1873, Congress in 1875 committed itself to the resumption of specie payments. Then arose a clamorous demand, particularly from those interested in the new silver mines in the West, for the remonetization of silver, that is, the opening of the mints to the free and unlimited coinage of silver dollars at the ratio of 16 to 1. This demand on the part of the silver interests who wanted to check the falling price of their product was supported by the so-called currency "inflationists" who opposed the resumption of specie payments and the retirement of the greenbacks. The silver agitation appealed also to the Western farmers who, after a period of high prices, were going through an era of falling prices and who believed that more money would bring higher prices; and many believed that the demonetization of the silver dollar in 1873 was an injustice.