The basis of the populist campaigns Purvis mentioned was the abandonment of the gold standard in favor of "bimetallism," giving silver an equal place alongside that of gold as specie. This would have had the effect of instantly enriching thousands of laborers, mostly in the West, who possessed the much more common silver, and allowing them to pay off debts previously assumed payable only in gold.

The gold or silver decision was his main campaign plank, and while it played well in the less populous West, the more populous and business-heavy East (where, not coincidentally, most of the creditors did business) feared the instability this might cause, both domestically and internationally (as the U.S. would be the first bimetallist country in the world).

For the text of his most famous speech, given 9 July 1896 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, see Cross of Gold.