Blogs > Liberty and Power > John M. Palmer and the Gold Democrats

Sep 15, 2004 2:46 pm

John M. Palmer and the Gold Democrats

On this day in 1817, John M. Palmer was born. He was a key figure in the"last stand" of classical liberalism as a political movement in the nineteenth century. When the Democratic Party, repudiated Grover Cleveland, a defender of the gold standard, freer trade, and anti-imperialism, many of his followers formed a new third party, the National (Gold) Democrats . The party nominated Palmer as its standardbearer. Since he began his political career in the 1840s, Palmer had been a Jacksonian Democrat, Free Soil Democrat, antislavery Republican, Union general and governor of Illinois. His vice presidential nominee was another Civil War general (this time for the Confederacy), former Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner of Kentucky.

The choice of the new party’s name was more than coincidental. The NDP (more widely known as the Gold Democrats) had been founded by disenchanted Democrats as a means to preserve the ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland. In its first official statement, the executive committee of the NDP accused the Democratic Party of forsaking this tradition by nominating William Jennings Bryan for president.

For more than a century, it declared, the Democrats had believed “in the ability of every individual, unassisted, if unfettered by law, to achieve his own happiness” and had upheld his “right and opportunity peaceably to pursue whatever course of conduct he would, provided such conduct deprived no other individual of the equal enjoyment of the same right and opportunity. [They] stood for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of trade, and freedom of contract, all of which are implied by the century-old battle-cry of the Democratic party, ‘Individual Liberty’” The party criticized both the inflationist policies of the Democrats and the protectionism of the Republicans.

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Kenneth R Gregg - 9/14/2004

I believe that there was an expectation that he FDR going to stick with the platform, and were pretty much "holding their (collective) noses" real tight.

I don't know if there were promises by FDR to stick with the platform or what.


David T. Beito - 9/14/2004

Interesting. The Gold Democrats would have probably liked the anti-imperialist features(which I recall) were in that platform too.

I think you are basically right that the Anti-Prohitionists were basically (the long dormant) successors of the Gold Democrats. I disagree somewhat about Roosevelt though. I don't think the more conservative pro-gold/wet folks ever really thought of him as one of their own.

Kenneth R Gregg - 9/13/2004

I want to thank you for the excellent essay on the Cleveland, or “Gold” Democrats. It’s a great overview of these activists/intellectuals within the Democratic Party. Perhaps it’s a misperception of mine, but I’ve always regarded much of the later anti-Prohibitionist or “wet” Democrat movement as a continuation of the Cleveland Democrats, with an effort to choose their fight so as to build up their base once again within the Democratic Party.

The resultant success of these classical liberals was demonstrated by the 1932 Platform of the Democratic Party which once again put the Gold back into the Democrat, with their “wet” nominee, “Franklinstein” (as E.C. Reigal called him). It was only when they found their candidate to have stabbed them in the back and departed from the Party Platform that the AAAP was converted into the Liberty League.

Just a thought.
Ken Gregg