This unique Old Main artifact is a drinking glass base, embossed “PROTECTION AND PLENTY” with portrait of William McKinley from the presidential election of 1896.
According to Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr. “President McKinley is portrayed as a puppet of the robber barons. Yet he was much admired by immigrant steelworkers and inspired an unlikely following among laborers. He believed that a strong American industry was the beating heart of our democracy and he fought for protective tariffs from the beginning; the growth of American industry in the late 19th century bears him out.”
First, let’s look at what McKinley’s campaign meant by Protection. His policies were focused on protecting American laborers and firms from foreign competition using a high tariff, a policy known as protectionism.
Now let’s look at what was meant by Plenty.
According to the Authentic History Center:
“One of the most powerful political themes of the late-nineteenth century Republican Party was American nationalism. For some Republicans, nationalism was best expressed by continuing to push the moral high ground of the Civil War era, or to raise fears about Papists (Catholics) or immigrants, or the social calamities caused by alcohol consumption. McKinley, however, was able to focus the Republican Party’s nationalist creed on the need for protective tariffs. Though McKinley had suffered politically in the early ’90s for this stance, by 1896 the Republican Party was ready to present itself as standing behind the farmer, the rising middle class, and the Protestant industrial worker through high taxes on foreign imports. McKinley had also skillfully avoided the money question. This would turn out to be an important asset in an election where the opposition focused almost entirely on the issue.”
The aforementioned “money question” was related to a monetary policy debate regarding a silver or gold standard, with the side favoring silver called “free silver.” According to Wikipedia:
Free silver was a Central United States policy issue in the late 19th century. Its advocates were in favor of an inflationary monetary policy using the “free coinage of silver” as opposed to the less inflationary gold standard; its supporters were called “Silverites”. The Silverites promoted bimetallism, the use of both silver and gold as currency at the ratio of 16 to 1 (16 ounces of silver would be worth 1 ounce of gold). Because the actual ratio was about 32 to 1 at the time, most economists warned that the cheaper silver would drive the more expensive gold out of circulation. Everyone agreed that free silver would raise prices; the question was whether or not this inflationary measure would be beneficial. The issue peaked from 1893 to 1896, when the economy was in a severe depression—called the Panic of 1893—characterized by falling prices (deflation), high unemployment in industrial areas, and severe distress for farmers.
The debate pitted the pro-gold financial establishment of the Northeast, along with railroads, factories and businessmen, who were creditors who would benefit from disinflation (resulting from demand pressures on the relatively fixed gold money supply against a backdrop of unprecedented economic expansion), against poor farmers who would benefit from higher prices for their crops (resulting from the prospective expansion of the money supply by allowing silver to also circulate as money). Free silver was especially popular among farmers in the wheat belt (the western Midwest) and the cotton belts (the Deep South), as well as silver miners in the West. It had little support among farmers in the Northeast and the Corn Belt (the eastern Midwest). Free silver was the central issue for Democrats in the presidential election of 1896 and that of 1900, under the leadership of William Jennings Bryan. The Populists also endorsed Bryan and free silver in 1896, which marked the effective end of their independence. In major elections free silver was consistently defeated, and after 1896 the nation moved to the gold standard.”
McKinley’s avoiding the money question did not go unnoticed, however.