Chicago, IL Speech 2, 1896-10-28

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Wednesday, October 28, 1896 at 12:00pm
Battery D Armory, Chicago, IL

Source: The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896, 1896; MEETS THE BUSINESS MEN., The Democratic Nominee Addresses Eleven Large Audiences., Omaha World-Herald (Morning Edition), Thursday, October 29, 1896


"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am glad that this meeting is presided over by one who until this time has been a Republican and by one who has been a soldier, (applause) because in this double character of ex-Republican and ex-soldier, he illustrates the depth to which society is stirred by the issues now before us. As an ex-Republican, he stands as a representative of that large and increasing number of our citizens who are willing to break asunder party ties and leave party associates in order to make their party affiliations suit their convictions; (cheers) and as a former soldier he stands as the representative of those, who, having willingly offered their services to make this nation one, are willing to engage in this great contest which is to determine whether the nation which they helped to save shall remain an independent nation or become a province of a foreign empire. (Cheers.)

I am glad to talk to business men. I have said that those who so often assume to be the only business men sometimes make a great mistake in supposing that the prosperity of a nation rests upon them. I am going to talk today to business men, and I want to say to you that in pleading the cause of the farmer and the laborer I am trying to lay a substantial foundation upon which the business of this country can be done. (Cheers.) If you engage in merchandise and in the exchange of wealth, and suppose that the prosperity of the producer depends upon you, you deceive yourselves. Wealth must be created before it can be distributed. Those who create wealth could live although you should go out of business, but you cannot live if the producers of wealth go out of business." (Cheers.)


"I believe that that policy is best for this country which brings prosperity first to those who toil; give them first the inspiration to work and then protect them in the enjoyment of their rightful share of the proceeds of their toil, and their prosperity will find its way up to the other class of society which rests upon them. (Cheers.)

I challenge you to find in the pages of recorded history a single instance where prosperity came from the upper crust of society; it always comes from the masses the foundation of society. I desire to talk to you who are business men for another reason. I believe that many of you are being tyrannized over by financial influences. My friends, you need not point back to times of war to find heroes. The year 1896 has developed heroes in this nation. I know business men who have been summoned before their bankers and told that their notes would not be extended if they insisted on talking for free silver; I know one man who was called into the bank and told that he would have to look elsewhere for accommodation if he did not stop talking for free silver, and that man replied that he realized that the banker had him in his power; that if the banker had a mind to, he could call for the payment of his notes, close up his store and wipe out all the accumulation of years of industry, but he added: 'I believe that humanity is involved in this question, and I shall continue to oppose the gold standard. You can take my property if you like, but you cannot have my soul.' It requires heroism for a man to stand in the presence of a financial despot and bid him do his worst. I believe that the mercantile classes have suffered as much as any other class of people by a government by banks, and when I preach to the common people deliverance from the money changer, I preach to the business men deliverance from the tyranny of the bank. I assert that the man who loans you money has no right to control your vote, and that the man who, because he loans you money, attempts to rob you of your citizenship should be made to feel the contempt of an injured and indignant people. I know it is not polite to say anything against these financiers who think so well of themselves. But if they do not want to have hard things said about them, let them cease to be despots and learn to be just.

I ask you business men to think over this proposition from now until election day: If the gold standard is a good thing, why is it that those who advocate it resort to deception? Are you compelled to resort to deception when you are selling something whose qualities are good? Are you compelled to resort to deception when you are selling goods upon their merits? Now, when you are selling something which has merits, you present its merits, and when you see a man resort to deception, it is a confession that the thing which he advocates is not able to stand upon its own merits.

I assert that the platform adopted by the Republican party this year is a fraud. I assert that it was intended as a fraud, (cheers) and that the men who wrote it, so wrote it as to deceive the people and to secure an advantage by deception which they could not obtain otherwise. (Cheers.) If you desire my proof, I will read you a few editorials. I am going to speak of a distinguished editor of your city, for whom, as an individual, I have the highest respect, and I believe that he entertains for me the same kindly feeling that I entertain for him, but he believes that my election would be dangerous to the country, and I believe that his action on the money question has been hostile to the best interests of our people. I shall cite him and his words as an evidence of the attempt of the Republican party to deceive the American people.

If you will read the Times-Herald of June 17, you will find these words in the dispatch from St. Louis:

'It is only a matter of simple justice to Mr. Kohlsaat for me to report what everybody in St. Louis who is familiar with the facts is saying tonight, that the credit of having secured the adoption of this straight and unmistakable money plank by the Republican National Convention is due more to him than to anyone else.'

There in his own paper he has published a statement from his own correspondent that he, more than anyone else, is responsible for the money plank adopted by the St. Louis convention. Now what does this plank say:

'We are therefore opposed to the free coinage of silver except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the world, which we pledge ourselves to promote; and until such agreement can be obtained, the existing gold standard must be preserved.

Now note the words. The platform declares that until the leading commercial nations of the world will join in bimetallism, the gold standard must be preserved, and the platform contains this promise, 'which we pledge ourselves to promote.'

Now there is the declaration that we must maintain the gold standard until we can get international bimetallism, but that the Republican party is pledged to promote international bimetallism. Now what else do we find in that paper? The correspondent, speaking of the platform, says:

'The qualifying words used by the committee pledging the party to endeavor to promote an international agreement, are intended to strengthen the platform from the political point of view without in any way weakening it as a frank and fearless declaration for the gold standard. As it is and has been, the Republican policy to promote international bimetallism, and as such bimetallism is earnestly desired by almost everyone in the country of both parties, nothing is lost and something is gained by giving the western Republicans a ray of hope in the future.'

Now, my friends, if you will look in the 6th of June issue of the same paper—only a few days before—you will find this editorial:

'Any reference to an international agreement is shifty and futile. It deceives nobody, because everyone knows, first, that there is not the slightest possibility of an international agreement at any ratio; and, second, that if such an agreement were formally entered into, no government could be bound to abide by it a day longer than its own industrial and commercial interests would appear to warrant.'

In the paper owned by the man who wrote the platform you find a declaration only ten days before the convention that any reference to an international agreement is shifty and futile; that it deceives nobody because every one knows that there is not the slightest possibility of international agreement at any ratio. Within ten days after that editorial appears in the Times-Herald, the editor writes a plank which pledges the Republican party to every effort to promote international bimetallism, and then the same paper reports in its dispatches from St. Louis that this pledge is put in there to give a ray of hope to the Republicans of the West.

Now, my friends, I want you to remember that that phrase pledging the Republican party to promote bimetallism was meant as a sop to the Republicans of the West, and that it was not the intention that the Republican party would put forth any effort to change the gold standard. I have asserted in the past, and I reassert that if the gold standard has been a blessing to the American people, we ought to maintain the gold standard; but when a man tells you that the gold standard is good, I want you to tell him that its blessings have been so mysteriously concealed from the American people that no party has ever dared to declare that the gold standard is good. Now, some of the newspapers tell you that I appeal to prejudice; that I try to stir up discontent. I want to present a plain and simple proposition which you can put before your intelligent friends, and it is this: If the gold standard has merits, no party would be pledging itself to get rid of it, and if it has no merits, no party ought to pledge itself to maintain it.

Now, why is it that Republicans in speaking of their financial policy always talk about 'sound money' instead of the gold standard? I asked the question last night, I have asked it time and again. Go into their parades, look upon their banners; you do not find 'gold;' you always find 'sound money.' My friends, we want sound money; we are advocating a sounder money than the gold standard can give. But when we talk about sound money we tell you what we mean by it and how we are going to get it. When they talk about sound money they leave you to guess what they mean. Another thing, if a man comes to you with a business proposition, you expect him to be able to point out to you the advantages; you ask him the details, and if he tells you that he does not know just how it is going to work you do not have any confidence in his plan, or if he tells you that his plan has great merits but says: 'I am not going to tell you anything about it until you invest your money in the plan,' you would not pay any attention to that sort of a man, and yet I want you to understand that in this campaign the Republican party is not elaborating any financial policy.

It is opposing us but it is not proposing anything. Now, if the Republican party knows what is best, why doesn't it tell the American people? If the Republican party has a plan which will relieve our present condition, why doesn't the Republican party submit that plan to the American people for their verdict? And if they have no plan, if they do not know what is best, what presumption it is for them to ask you to trust them first and let them find out afterward what is best!

I say that we are advocating a sounder financial system than they, because when you go to construct anything, whether it be a house or a financial system, you must have a foundation for it to rest upon, and our opponents are trying to construct a commercial fabric resting upon gold when they cannot find the gold to serve as the foundation for the fabric.

Ask them how much gold there is in the country, and they will tell you the Treasury reports show over $600,000,000. Ask them where it is; they tell you so much in the national bank vaults; so much in the Treasury at Washington; so much in the State banks and trust companies. They will figure up something more than half of the estimated amount in the country, and then if you ask them where the rest is, they will reply: 'That is the invisible supply of gold in the country.' My friends, you cannot build a house upon an invisible foundation. Go to your bankers and ask them where the gold is; they tell you that silver agitation has scared it out, that gold has gone into hiding because somebody has raised the question as to whether there is enough gold to furnish a foundation.

The very minute you question the quantity of gold, gold becomes scared and proves you are right by getting out of sight. I have illustrated it in this way: No man would want to stand with a rope around his neck and the other end of the rope held by some unknown hand off in the distance. You might tell that man not to be agitated, but the heart would still flutter.

My friends, such is our condition. Here is a great financial system resting upon a handful of gold, and people in a foreign land have a string to the gold, and you never know when they are going to pull the foundation out from under your fabric and let your entire commercial structure collapse. Tell the people not to be agitated! My friends, you cannot calm the sea by a word; as hopeless is it to attempt to calm troubled society by telling the people to be quiet when they know that catastrophe stands just in front of them all the time. I want to ask you to note this proposition. When we talk about wanting more money they tell us that there is plenty of money in the country.

The moment you begin to argue that there should be more, they will silence you by pointing out the amount of money in the banks waiting to be loaned; then if you say, 'All right, if we have enough money in this country, now let's have a financial system of our own,' they say, 'Oh, no; we cannot do that, because if we do that then we cannot borrow from abroad.' Why do we want to borrow if we have enough?

Now, my friends, here are two propositions. You cannot escape both of them. If we have enough money now, we do not want any money to come from abroad, because then we would have too much—and nobody wants too much money. If we need money from abroad, it is conclusive proof that we have not enough money now in this country, and if we have not enough now, I assert that it is better to have the additional supply come out of our mountains, and be our own money, instead of borrowing it from abroad and then paying it back in larger dollars with interest added.

Now, my friends, just one other suggestion on this line. The Republican platform pledges the Republican party to use every effort to promote international bimetallism. How is it going to promote it? By making it profitable for foreign creditors to object to it. How can they promote international bimetallism by making it profitable to foreign financiers to refuse our petition? I promise you to promote international bimetallism and I promise to do it in a more sensible way than by making it profitable to refuse our petition. You ask me what our plan is. I will tell you. We have tried their plan for twenty years and we are further off now than we were when we commenced to try. I propose a different plan. They have said to foreign creditors that if they, the creditors, would object to bimetallism, then our people will join with them in making the mortgages more valuable and the notes more valuable, and the dollars larger. I propose a different plan. I propose that the United States shall say that the mints of this country shall be open to the free and unlimited coinage of silver, on equal terms with gold at the present ratio, and that the money coined, gold and silver, shall be alike, a legal tender for all debts, public and private. And then I propose that we shall say to our foreign creditors that we intend to pay our coin obligations in either gold or silver. I propose that we shall say to them: 'Gentlemen, if you conspire to make that silver dollar worth less than the gold dollar, we shall pay you in that silver dollar.' You say that that is repudiation. I deny it. They bought our bonds only a short time ago and they made a difference between coin bonds and gold bonds, charging for the risk they took, and now let them have the risk which they charged for.

Do you say that they have a right to charge us more because of the risk they took, and that we have not the right to exercise the option which they calculated on? That idea comes simply from those who think society should be careful to guard the interests of the creditor, and neglect every right that a debtor has. I noticed that some of our critics are very much excited because the Chicago platform says that we pledge ourselves to secure such legislation as will, for the future, prevent contracts for a particular kind of money. We are not going to let them, in the future, make contracts which are against public policy. We do not intend that they shall demonetize by private contract that which this government makes money by law. You say that we have no right to interfere with private contracts? I ask one of you to enter into a contract to collect twenty per cent interest and see whether the Government has a right to interfere? Upon what theory is the usury law based? It is based upon the theory that the man who borrows money needs to be protected from the avarice of men who loan money.

That is the basis of all usury law, and when a man tells me that we have no right to protect the money of the United States from the conspiracy of those who would degrade it, I tell him we have as much right to prevent gold contracts or silver contracts as we have to prevent one individual from agreeing to pay another more than a certain amount of interest. Talk about freedom of contract! Why, there can only be freedom of contract between people who stand upon an equal footing. When one is under duress it is not freedom of contract; it is freedom to extort and protection to the extorters.

Now, I want to suggest two principles for you to apply in the discussion of the money question. I want you to understand, first, that the value of the dollar depends upon the number of dollars; that you can make money dear by making money scarce, and lest somebody should accuse me of plagiarism after I am gone, when I cannot answer the charge, I want to admit now, that when I say that the Government can make money dear by making it scarce, I am not using my own language, but only quoting what Mr. McKinley said in 1891.

He condemned Mr. Cleveland's administration, because he had attempted to degrade silver; had attempted to contract the currency and thus make money dearer by making it scarcer—money the master, all things else the servant. Those are the emphatic words of the man who day before yesterday said that Mr. Cleveland had been carrying out the Republican idea, and declared that if elected he would carry out Mr. Cleveland's idea.

Now, my friends, if the value of a dollar depends on the number of dollars; if making money scarce makes it dear, then remember that the people who own money profit by dear money, and that men are apt to like that which is good for them. And if the laws are made by men who want money dear, they will make money scarce in order to make it dear. If the people want a sufficient volume of money to do business with, they must secure that money through those who believe in more money rather than less money.

The other principle is this: Apply the law of supply and demand to silver. Increase the demand for silver and you raise its price. You decreased the price by closing the mints; you can raise the price by opening the mints. Now, here is our proposition. It can be stated in a very few words. We believe in reversing the legislation which has driven gold and silver apart. We believe that hostile legislation has raised the purchasing power of an ounce of gold by increasing the demand for gold, and that legislation has decreased the price of silver bullion by lessening the demand for silver bullion, and we believe that we can undo what the law has done. We believe that the opening of our mints will restore the demand, and that when this nation stands ready to take and utilize in its currency every ounce of silver presented at our mints at $1.29 an ounce, then we shall raise the value of silver bullion throughout the world, until one ounce of silver anywhere will buy $1.29 in gold.

Do you say, as some have said, that, if we raise the value of silver bullion to the value of gold, then a silver dollar will be as hard to get as the gold dollar is now? No, my friends, you ignore another great principle. When you restore silver and make silver dollars competitors with gold, then you take the strain off of gold and lessen the demand for gold; and lessening the demand lessens price. It will be easier to buy either a silver dollar or a gold dollar with the products of labor when you can buy either, than it is now when you have only one. But I must not dwell longer on this. I want to call your attention to another point. My friends, our opponents have been defeated in their efforts to convince the people that the gold standard ought to be maintained. They are seeking to do now what they have always sought to do—win the battle on another issue and, having won the battle, carry the gold standard a little farther. They are telling you that my election would be a menace to peace and order. They tell you that I stand for lawlessness. I want to say to you, my friends, that I stand not only for the enforcement of every law, but I stand for arbitration as a means of adjusting difficulties by peaceable means. Our opponents believe in allowing the railroads to engage in a controversy with the labor organizations, and then call out the standing army to preserve order. I believe in compelling them to submit their difficulties to a board of arbitration and thus adjust peaceably what our opponents would adjust by force. You business men have been told that an era of lawlessness will prevail if I am elected. I want to tell you that until we find some means of adjusting the difficulties which arise between labor and capital, some system that compels both to go before impartial tribunals, you can expect increasing disorder instead of increasing quiet. I believe in the court of justice.

If one man differs from another I do not ask them to go out and settle it by fighting it out. I tell them to submit their case to a court, and let the court decide, and then let the Government enforce the decree of that impartial tribunal. And so, my friends, conditions have so changed that it is necessary now to extend the principles of the court of justice to boards of arbitration and let them sit in judgment upon the disputes that arise between the carriers of our interstate commerce and the employes of the railroads. I believe in arbitration; and, my friends, the best evidence that the principle of arbitration is just is to be found in the fact that not a Republican speaker has dared to stand before an American audience and condemn that plank in favor of arbitration. But without trying to condemn it, they go up and down this land preserving a discreet silence as to arbitration. How can you expect the Republican party to favor arbitration if it secures its hold upon the Government through the very men who defy arbitration and oppose it?"


"They tell you that I will not enforce the law. My friends, the fear of these people is not that I will refuse to enforce the law; their fear is that I will enforce the law. They know that I entertain old fashioned ideas upon this subject, and that according to my ideas the big criminals should wear striped clothes as well as the little criminals. I want to say to you that I believe in enforcing the law against all classes of society, and those who believe in that policy are better friends of the Government than those who would make scapegoats of little criminals and then let the big ones run at large to run the Government itself. (Applause.) The very men who would suffer most from the enforcement of law are the ones who seem to be most troubled. They are not afraid that I will encourage lawlessness, but they know that, if I am elected, the trusts will not select the Attorney General who will administer the law." (Wild cheering.)

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: 582-589
  • Date: October 28, 1896