A Democratic politician from Missouri, Richard P. Bland was nicknamed “Silver Dick” and then “The Great Commoner”—the first sobriquet came from his campaigning for the use of silver in the coinage, which made him very popular with many miners. He later cosponsored the Bland-Allison Act in 1878.
Richard Parks Bland was born on August 19, 1835, on the family property near Hartford, Kentucky, the son of Stoughton Edward Bland and Margaret Parks (née Nall). Both his father's and his mother's families were originally from Virginia, although both of them had been born in Kentucky.
When Bland was two months short of his seventh birthday, his father died, and he was brought up by his mother, who died when he was 14. Bland had been educated at Hartford Academy, and after being orphaned, he left the school as a student and then returned there to teach, moving to Wayne County, Missouri, in 1855 when he was 20. However, in 1856 he moved to California and was involved in mining camps there and in Colorado and Nevada. He also taught in some local schools and ended up studying law and being admitted to the bar, serving as the treasurer of Carson County, then in the Utah Territory.
It was not until 1866 that he returned to Missouri and started practicing law in Rolla, working with his brother Charles C. Bland. In 1869, he moved to the nearby town of Lebanon, which was growing in prosperity due to the presence of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad.
The major political move by R. P. Bland was his cosponsoring of the Bland-Allison Act in 1878 with Republican William Allison of Iowa. The authors of this bill wanted to end the five-year depression that been sparked by the Panic of 1873. The Coinage Act of 1873 had ensured that U.S. currency adhered to the gold standard. Bland wanted a return to silver coinage and particularly bimetallism, which would embrace the use of both gold and silver.
President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the bill, but the U.S. Congress voted to override the veto, and the bill became law. It was eventually replaced by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890, which was repealed by Congress three years later.
The use of silver was something that was much wanted by the miners as it would not only create a much larger demand for silver but would also stabilize the price of silver, which fluctuated far more than that of gold. The Bland-Allison Act, however, did not shore up the price of gold, which declined from a ratio of the gold price to that of silver of 16:1 in 1873 to 30:1 twenty years later. This was largely because of the major discovery of silver deposits in Nevada and nearby states.
R. P. Bland contested the 1896 Democratic presidential nomination. He lost to William Jennings Bryan and then loyally supported Bryan, who in turn lost to William McKinley. Bland died on June 15, 1899.
See also: Bryan, William Jennings (1860–1925) ; Depression of 1873 ; Gold Standard/Free Silver ; McKinley, William, Jr. (1843–1901) ; Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890) ; Silver Republicans
Schlesinger, Arthur M., ed. The Election of 1876 and the Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.
Unger, Irwin. The Greenback Era: A Social and Political History of American Finance, 1865–1879. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.