Grand Rapids, MI Speech 2, 1896-10-15

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Thursday, October 15, 1896
Powers' Opera House, Grand Rapids, MI

Source: The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896, 1896; ONE MORE BUSY DAY, Mr. Bryan Speaks Before Sixteen Audiences in the Towns of Michigan., Omaha World-Herald (Morning Edition), Friday, October 16, 1896

"Mr. Chairman, Ladies—I had intended to say 'and Gentlemen,' but I think there are hardly enough gentlemen in the audience to deserve mention. I saw in the evening paper that after a certain hour the gentlemen were to be admitted. I do not know whether that hour has arrived yet or not, but it seems that the gentlemen are not here.

I desire to talk to you just a little while about the silver question, and I desire, if I can, to help you to understand what bimetallism means and what the gold standard means in order that you may decide on which side of the question you ought to stand. In a great contest like this, we must be on one side or the other—there is no middle ground. If the gold standard is right we ought to be for it; if the gold standard is wrong we ought to be against it. But, my friends, you need not hope that everybody will think the same way upon the money question even after investigation. There is a valid reason for these differences of opinion; they spring largely from difference of interest. I do not want you to think that I am putting politics on a low plane when I tell you that a person's interests will affect that person's judgment on any political question. Let me illustrate: I used to live at Jacksonville, Illinois, and while I lived there, there was an election and the question to be determined was whether cows should run at large. It was an exciting election. People would gather upon the streets and discuss the subject and you would frequently hear an argument like this: One person would say, 'The cows ought to be allowed to run at large. The grass is going to waste in the streets; it is better for the city to have the cows run at large and eat the grass up.' You would find that he had a cow. Then another would say, 'The cows ought to be shut up. You cannot leave your gate open at night without danger that the cows will get in and ruin your garden. It is better for the city to have the cows shut up.' And you would find that he did not have any cow. When the vote was counted it was found that each voter was largely influenced by the question, whether he kept a cow or not. Now if you have ever passed through an election where that question was submitted to the people you will recognize what I say to be true, that the cost of keeping a cow will largely determine the vote of a person upon the question. If that is true in small things it is also true in large things; some people want the gold standard because they, so to speak, have cows running at large. It is bad enough to have them feeding their cows upon the public domain, but they are not satisfied with that. They want to feed their cows upon private pastures as well.

When a person takes a position upon any question you have a right to examine and see what that person's business is and what his interests are.

I desire to admit in the very beginning that there are some people who would be temporarily benefited by the gold standard. Let me suppose a case. If a person's property is entirely invested in government bonds which run for a long time, such a person would be benefited by a gold standard. Why? Because the bonds draw a fixed rate of interest and that interest is payable quarterly. As the dollars rise, in value the interest, remaining the same in dollars, buys more and more and therefore the person who receives the interest is benefited each year—that is, his interest will buy more of the things which he desires, or, if he does not desire to buy more, he is able to save more out of his interest each year and add it to his capital. I say that such a person will be temporarily benefited. But mark you, I say temporarily benefited. And why? Because while the person may be benefited by the gold standard that person's children may be cursed by the same thing which has blessed him. We cannot afford to engraft upon government a bad financial system even though we get a temporary benefit from it. The best thing that parents can leave to their children is a just government which robs nobody for the benefit of others. Now, in the discussion of the money question we can prove our case in many ways. We can apply well known principles to this question, and by the application of those principles, we can make the subject clear. But if this is not sufficient, we can prove our case by authority. There is not a position which we take in this campaign which we are not able to support by authority from the most eminent Republicans in this country.

You will remember that a few years ago there was a great deal of talk about a character in fiction—I do not know whether I ought to call it a character or two characters—but it was Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You will remember that the same person appeared at different times in the different characters. At one time the man was a good man, benevolent, kindly disposed; at another time the same person was a bad man and even sought to take human life. We have the character of Jekyll and Hyde illustrated well when we come to discuss the silver question, because we can cite you to a number of men who have been both Jekyll and Hyde on the money question. We can point to a number of men who have been kindly disposed and interested in the public welfare at one time and who at another time have been supporting a financial system which, according to Mr. Carlisle, means more of misery to the human race than all the wars, pestilences and famines that have ever occurred in the history of the world. (Applause.)

Let me call your attention to two or three persons who have spoken on both sides of the money question. Our opponents have been able to bring into the campaign all the movable guns in the country. They have enlisted on their side and are sending out a great many pieces of large artillery, and one of the ablest speakers whom they have sent out is Colonel Ingersoll. Mr. Ingersoll brings to the money question his great ability as an orator and is now using his chief weapon, ridicule, against silver."


"Let me show you what he once said on the other side of the question, and, my friends, he will have to talk a long while before he can answer what he has said on our side. I think it is fair to assume that we still have with us all those who, although they may have turned, have not yet been able to answer themselves. Here is what Mr. Ingersoll said in a speech made some years ago to the farmers—it is printed in a pamphlet issued by Mr. Baldwin, 184 Madison street, Chicago. In that speech, Mr. Ingersoll said:

'For my part I do not ask any Interference on the part of the Government except to undo the wrong it has done. I do not ask that money be made out of nothing. I do not ask for the prosperity born of paper, but I do ask for the remonetization of silver; silver was demonetized by fraud. It was an imposition upon every solvent man, a fraud upon every honest debtor in the United States. It assassinated labor. It was done in the interest of avarice and greed and should be undone by honest men. The farmers should vote only for such men as are able and willing to guard and advance the interests of labor.'

That is what he said when he spoke to the farmers some years ago. What he said was true then and is true now. Silver was excluded from the mints by a law which was never discussed by the American people. No wonder the American people have demanded the remonetization of silver, and yet, my friends, that act, passed secretly and in the dark, has been upon the statute books ever since. The people have remonstrated to some extent but they have never been able to undo that wrong. Why? Because sometimes we have had the House of Representatives for silver and sometimes the Senate of the United States, but we have never been able to get both House and Senate at the same time; and if we had succeeded in getting both House and Senate, the President has always been against us and the Secretary of the Treasury has always received his inspiration from Wall street rather than from the people. For twenty years the people have tried to undo this wrong which Mr. Ingersoll described with so much vividness."


"Now you will notice that one of the most distinguished journalists of this day, one of the most eminent men in his profession, Mr. Murat Halstead, is doing all he can to maintain the gold standard. Let me read you what he said on the subject a few years ago. In a letter dated October 24, 1877—I take the extracts from the New York Journal of last Saturday, October 10—Mr. Halstead said:

'This British gold policy was the work of experts only. Evasion was essential to success in it, and possible because coin was not in circulation, and, being out of public view, could be tampered with without attracting attention. The monometallic system of the great creditor nation was thus imposed upon the great debtor nation without debate.'

Mr. Halstead thus declares that this is a British policy and furthermore he declares that the monometallic system of the great creditor nation was imposed upon this debtor nation without debate. It was a British policy then and it is a British policy today, and all that we ask is to replace a British policy with an American policy. In another part of his letter he explains the advantage of bimetallism. He says:

'The two metals support and regulate each other. The two afford an adequate basis for an abundant currency, and neither can be "cornered" in aid of the speculative schemes that are often prepared and always opposed to the general welfare. If one metal rated according to the fixed ratio becomes dead, the option of payment in the cheaper coin makes a demand for it that enhances its value, and the money unit is subjected to slighter fluctuations, in comparison with commodities, than if founded upon but one metal, Copper and steel together in the compensation balance wheel of a chronometer, and perfectly measuring time through all temperatures, illustrate that principle.'"


"So Mr. Halstead at that time understood the advantages of a double standard and his illustration of the pendulum is an apt illustration because the metals vary in expansion under different temperatures and the one will compensate the other. And yet you will find men who did understand this money question years ago who speak today as though they had never known anything about the science of money. Can they have forgotten so much in so short a time?

But let me quote from larger men. Secretary Carlisle, who today stands as the representative of those Democrats who believe in the gold standard, spoke on this subject in 1878 and in that speech said:

'The contest now going on cannot cease and ought not to cease until the industrial classes are fully and finally emancipated from the heartless domination of the syndicates, stock exchanges and combinations of money grabbers in this country and in Europe.'

This is the language which Mr. Carlisle used in 1878. He went even farther than that and said: (I quote the substance.)

'We have passed measure after measure of relief, and if the President vetoes the measures and we are not able to pass them over his veto we will put them in the appropriation bills with the distinct understanding that, if the people can get no relief, the Government can get no money.'

Do you know of any greater condemnation of a system than that? And yet that heartless domination still continues; the industrial classes have not yet been fully and finally emancipated; aye more, at this time we are more bound to the money grabbers and stock exchanges than we ever were before. The industrial classes need relief today as much as they ever did, although the ma" who in 1878 spoke the words which I have quoted has turned his back upon the American people and become the chief agent in fastening this heartless domination upon the American people.

Let me quote one more great man. In 1888 Mr. Harrison was elected President of the United States upon a platform which contained the following words:

'The Republican party is in favor of the use of both gold and silver as money and condemns the policy of the Democratic administration in its efforts to demonetize silver.'

The Republican candidate for the Presidency was elected upon that platform which condemns the previous administration on the ground that it had attempted to demonetize silver; the second administration of President Cleveland was, so far as the money question was concerned, infinitely worse than the first, and yet Mr. Harrison, who was elected on a platform denouncing Mr. Cleveland's former administration, is advocating the election of the Republican candidate who indorses the financial policy of Mr. Cleveland's second administration. (Applause.)

I call your attention to these things that you may understand that we who advocate bimetallism are advocating what others have advocated in the past; when we tell you that bimetallism is good for the country we are upon ground which has been trod before. The Republican convention only four years ago declared in its national platform that the American people from tradition and interest were in favor of bimetallism. What has changed? Not the traditions of the country, nor the interests of the people, nor the people themselves. The Republican party has changed and has deserted bimetallism; it has deserted the people and now seeks to fasten upon seventy millions of freemen the yoke of a foreign financial despotism.

Do you ask me what drug converts Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde? Let me suggest an explanation. I find it in Mr. Carlisle's speech of 1878. He said in that speech that the Secretary of the Treasury would coin as much money as the law would permit if his sympathies were with the 'struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country,' but he prophesied that instead of doing so he would coin as little money as the law would allow because his sympathies, instead of being with the people, were with the 'idle holders of idle capital.' Mr. Carlisle's criticism was addressed to Mr. Sherman, who was then Secretary of the Treasury, and he brings against Mr. Sherman as severe an indictment as one public man can bring against another. My friends, there is one sin which no public man confesses to. There is one sin so dark and deep that no public man has admitted himself guilty of it, and that is the sin which Mr. Carlisle laid at the door of Senator Sherman when he said that his sympathies were with the 'idle holders of idle capital' instead of with the 'struggling masses.' Mr. Carlisle was right in his explanation. I heard a sermon preached many years ago from the text: 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' That text has grown upon me. Let me know the heart of a man and I can judge what he will do, because the mind constructs reasons to defend what the heart wants to do. The sympathies come from the heart and the sympathies of public men control their conduct just as Mr. Carlisle suggested that the sympathies of Mr. Sherman would control his conduct. Mr. Carlisle said that because Mr. Sherman sympathized with the 'idle holders of idle capital' he would coin as little money as possible. Why? Because the 'idle holders of idle capital' always want money scarce so that money will be dear.

Society is divided on the money question. On the one side you find the capitalistic classes and on the other side you find the struggling masses. Do you think Carlisle spoke too highly of the struggling masses? No, he did not. When he said that they produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country he told the truth. In time of peace they do produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country and in time of war they are the only people who are willing to save their country. The 'idle holders of idle capital' insist upon making the laws in time of peace while the 'struggling masses' are despised and spit upon. But in time of war the 'idle holders of idle capital' appeal to the 'struggling masses' to offer their lives in defense of the honor of their country. In this campaign what pains me more than anything else is to find the common people, who are always the most law abiding people of the community, denounced as anarchists by those who override the law, defy the Government and dispute authority with Jehovah himself.

You ask me what has caused the change that has taken place in so many public men? I will tell you. It is not a change of head but a change of heart. It is a change of sympathies rather than a change of opinion. Have you not seen a person poor, and, when poor, in sympathy with those about him? And have you not seen that person suddenly rise to wealth and position and then forget those who used to be his friends? Have you not seen him ashamed of his relatives? Aye, have you not even seen such a one turn against his own mother? It is because the heart has changed, and that, too, explains the change in public men. They go from home as the representatives of the people but they sometimes mix in public life until they become weaned from home. I am often reminded of the story told of Ulysses and the lotus eaters. When the companions of Ulysses came to the land of the lotus and ate of the fruit of the tree, they forgot their home and native land. How many men have gone into public life, earnestly desiring the welfare of those who sent them, but have eaten of the deadly lotus until they have forgotten home and friends, and have turned against the people who gave them their start in life!

We can support bimetallism, I say, by appealing to authority and I could continue quotations until morning from the highest authorities in this land. But if it is not sufficient to prove our case by reason, by logic and by authorities, we can prove it by analogy. I have been taught to believe that He who was infinite in power, was also infinite in love. He never gave to mankind a need without giving the means of satisfying it. When He made food necessary to human existence, He gave the earth with its bounties, and there has always been enough to satisfy the hunger of man; when He made water necessary to human existence, He filled the earth with veins and planted the springs along the hillsides; when He allowed weariness to creep over the limbs of the toilers, He sent sleep, tired nature's sweet restorer, to renew their strength; when He gave to mankind a mind capable of development and a thirst for knowledge, He filled the universe with His wonders which may well we occupy the thoughts of man; and when He fitted man for society, placed him among his fellows and fashioned the channels of trade, he stored away in the secret places of the mountains the gold and silver suitable for money. Mankind found these precious metals, dragged them from their hiding places and for six thousand years they have come down to us side by side, ministering unto the wants of man.

I may he in error; if I am, I hope I may be led into the better way, but in my humble judgment, the man who would rob mankind of his food and leave his appetite; who would corrupt the springs front which he drinks and yet leave the necessity of water; who would rob him of his needed rest and yet allow weariness to come again; or condemn his mind to ignorance and gloom or superstition, is no more an enemy of his race than the man who, knowing what he does, but deaf to the entreaties of the poor and blind to the suffering he would cause, would strike out of existence one of the precious metals given by the Almighty Himself to meet the needs of man."

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: 555-561
  • Date: October 15, 1896