Monetary historians have contended that Free Silver advocates were inflationists seeking debt reduction. We offer an alternative interpretation using a theory of money demand with differential returns on nominal units and a nonoptimum nominal money stock. Our explanation is more logically appealing and more consistent with contemporary evidence. The restrictive coinage laws of the period produced chronic shortages, and our empirical analysis provides clear evidence of these shortages. A shortage of coins valued at a half-day's wage and less, raised transactions costs, produced hardship and spawned protest.