Washington, DC Speech, 1896-09-19

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Saturday, September 19, 1896 at 5:00pm
Capitol Park, Washington , DC

Source: The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896, 1896; BRYAN’S WASHINGTON SPEECH., Democratic Leader Explains the Issues of the Campaign, Omaha World-Herald (Sunday Edition), Sunday, September 20, 1896

"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am grateful to you for the very cordial welcome which you extend to me as I return to the city in which four years of official life were spent. I see before me the faces of a great many who are young men, and I am glad to speak to the young, because we who are young, and who in the course of nature must live under our government for many years, are especially interested in making that government good enough to live under.

I desire to call your attention to two planks in the platform adopted at Chicago, before touching on other matters connected with the campaign. I speak of these two planks because they directly concern the people who live in the District of Columbia. The Chicago platform contains this plank: 'We favor the admission of the Territories of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona into the Union as States. We favor the early admission of all the Territories having the necessary population and resources to be entitled to Statehood; and while they remain Territories we hold that the officials appointed to administer the government of any Territory, together with the District of Columbia and Alaska, should be bona fide residents of the Territory or District in which the duties are to be performed. The Democratic party believes in home rule and that the public lands should be kept for honest settlers and not to feed the rapacity of corporations.'

I desire to emphasize these words: 'The Democratic party believes in home rule.' I believe in the platform, in that plank of the platform and in that portion of the plank which I have emphasized. When I say I believe in home rule, I do not mean that officials appointed shall have a home in the District and in the Territories after they commence to rule, but that they shall have lived there before their appointment to office."


"Let me read another plank: 'We are opposed to life tenure in the public service. (Applause.) We favor appointments based upon merit, fixed terms of office, and such an administration of the civil service law as shall afford equal opportunities to all citizens of ascertained fitness, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States.'

My friends, we are in favor of a civil service reform that means something, not a civil service reform that permits one President to suspend the civil service until he can get his friends into office and permits another President to extend the civil service just as he is going out. (Applause.)

We believe in appointments based upon merit, and we believe in examinations which will open the offices to those of ascertained fitness. We are in favor of fixed terms of office in the civil departments of the Government. We want it so that when a man goes into office he will know how long he is going to stay and when he is going out. We do not want to build up an office-holding class and fill our offices for life, because men appointed under these conditions are likely to have no concern except to draw their salaries. We believe that a life tenure which relieves a man from all further care, is destructive of the highest form of citizenship and ought not to be tolerated in a country like ours.

Now, my friends, I desire to call your attention to another subject. Our opponents are doing as much for us in this campaign as we are able to do for ourselves, (laughter) and of all the campaign documents recently issued the most important one, in my judgment, is a letter written by the Secretary of the Treasury and just given to the public. I desire to quote from it the following words: 'It is the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury and of all other public officials to execute in good faith the policy declared by Congress. And whenever he shall be satisfied that the silver dollar cannot be kept equal in purchasing power with the gold dollar except by receiving it in exchange for the gold dollar when such exchange is demanded, it will be his duty to adopt that course.'"


"I want you to mark these words, because the Secretary of the Treasury tells you that whenever he is satisfied that it is necessary he will at once redeem silver dollars in gold. (Laughter.) I call your attention to the words because I want to emphasize the deception which has been practiced by this administration in its course upon the money question. (Applause.)

When this administration advised the repeal of the Sherman law you were told that the repeal of that act would remedy the difficulty. Yet as soon as the Sherman law was repealed the same authority, which promised relief as soon as it was repealed, came to Congress with the demand that the greenbacks and Treasury notes be retired by an issue of gold bonds in order to stop the drain upon the Treasury's gold.

(A violent gust of wind forces a brief intermission.)

But now the Secretary of the Treasury informs you that, even if the greenbacks and Treasury notes were all retired so that there would not be a dollar of paper money to be presented for gold, yet it would be his duty (whenever in his opinion it became necessary) to redeem silver dollars in gold and start another endless chain and drain upon the Treasury. According to the doctrine laid down in Mr. Carlisle's letter you cannot stop the drain of gold from the Treasury until you retire all the silver dollars and silver certificates, and leave nothing but gold as the money of the country."


"I am glad that this declaration has been made. I am glad that our opponents are, step by step, revealing to the public eye this heartless, merciless, criminal policy. I am glad that they have told the public that we must have gold alone after having confessed to the public that we are in the hands of two banking syndicates and must pay them for that gold whatever they want.

Talk about monopolies! Talk about trusts! My friends, they propose to establish the most gigantic of all trusts—a money trust—and let the few men who hold the gold dole it out at such price as they will to all the other seventy millions of American people. I denounce the policy as more cruel and heartless than the political domination of a foreign power. I would rather, as some one has said, put our army in the hands of a foreign general, or our navy in command of a foreign admiral, than to put the Treasury Department in the hands of a Secretary who would run it upon the European plan. (Cheers.) I would resist such a financial policy with as much earnestness as I would resist the progress of an invading army coming to attack our homes. (Cheers.)

Once, when Mr. Lincoln was a candidate for office, someone said to him: 'I hope the Lord is on your side,' and he replied that he was more anxious to be on the Lord's side. (Laughter and applause.) I am glad that in this campaign we have so many evidences that an overruling Providence is on our side, and in no instance that I know of is that overruling Providence so distinctly and clearly manifested as in the recent letter of the Secretary of the Treasury."


"Let me ask you a question. Did the administration, when recommending the unconditional repeal of the Sherman law, believe that the repeal would cure our troubles? (Cries of "no" and cheers.) If it did, then it has been so badly mistaken that you have a right to mistrust the judgment of the administration. If, on the other hand, the administration knew that the repeal of the Sherman law would not bring relief and concealed that knowledge from the American people, then you have a right to distrust the honesty of the administration.

(It begins to rain; umbrellas appear and the crowd calls for Mr. Bryan to continue.)

Did the administration know when it recommended the retirement of greenbacks and Treasury notes as a means of stopping the drain upon the gold in the Treasury that it would propose the policy that the Secretary of the Treasury has outlined in his letter? If it did know and did not tell the people, it was dishonest in not taking the people into its confidence (cheers), and if it did not know, then let it confess its ignorance of monetary laws and the finances of this country. (Applause.) Does the administration know now that, when it commences to redeem silver dollars in gold, it will start another endless chain which may drain the Treasury indefinitely and increase the bonded debt without limit, unless all the silver dollars are retired and bonds substituted for them? If it does not know, then it must confess itself ignorant on the subject, and if it does know and will not tell the people, then we have a right to question the candor and frankness of the administration.

Do not think that my language is harsh. It is not harsh. (A voice: "It is not half harsh enough." Applause.) These men are the public servants of the American people and they have no more right to betray the people into the hands of the financiers of London than Benedict Arnold had to betray the American colonies into the hands of the British. (Great applause.)

(The rain becomes more intense; a general run for shelter begins, leaving about 3,000 in the audience. Cries from the remaining crowd: "Hit them again!")

This is all I have to say about the Secretary's letter at this time. (A voice: "And that settles it!" Laughter and cheers.)

In the few moments left to me I will call attention to the language used by the father of his country in his message given to the world one hundred years ago today. In this campaign we are demanding an American financial policy for the American people and are insisting that to our people alone shall be submitted the determination of the kind of dollars and the quantity of dollars the American people shall have. The Republican party in convention assembled adopted a platform which declares that we must maintain the present gold standard until the leading commercial nations of Europe shall join with us in abandoning it. Washington's message contains a rebuke to those who would surrender to foreign nations the right to dictate our policies. He said 'Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens), the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.'

We are today feeling the effect of this foreign influence, this baneful foe of republican government. National character is being weakened and national independence threatened by servile submission to foreign dictation. Washington also said in that message: "There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard." Those who are expecting foreign nations, dominated by the creditor classes, to join with us in stopping the rise in the value of the dollar are doomed to disappointment. It is difficult to see how any one can expect silver to be restored to its rightful place by foreign aid when we have waited for twenty years only to find foreign nations more hostile than before. They covertly threaten that they will use the notes which they hold to control our financial policy. If relief is to come to the American people, it must come from the American people themselves and on this day, as we celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Washington's farewell address, we should resolve to gain our own financial independence without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation." (Great applause.)

(The rain intensifies further; much of the remaining crowd exits. A few cries of "Go on." Mr. Bryan departs in a carriage.)

About this Document

  • Source: The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896
  • Author: William Jennings Bryan
  • Publisher: W.B. Conkey Company
  • Published: Chicago, Illinois
  • Citation: 459-462
  • Date: September 19, 1896