Jacksonville, IL Speech 1, 1896-10-26

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Monday, October 26, 1896
Illinois College Chapel, Jacksonville, IL

Source: The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896, 1896

"Mr. President and Students: A man who forgets his mother loses the respect of all good people, and so a man who leaves college and forgets his Alma Mater can hardly expect to stand high in public esteem. It always gives me great pleasure to come back to Illinois College, because I remember the days which I spent—two years in Whipple Academy and four years in college—as among not only the most pleasant days of my life, but as among the most profitable days of my life.

I am always pleased to speak to college students, but it gives me special pleasure to speak to the students of this college. While a man in public life must expect to have his motives questioned and his purpose misunderstood, yet I hope that you will believe me when I tell you that my study of economic questions has been with the single desire to find out what solution is best for the majority of the people.

We have differences of opinion and it is proper that there should be charity shown toward each other, because none of us, you know, are infallible. We are all apt to make mistakes, but I believe that those who most desire to ascertain the truth and labor hardest to find out what is best will come nearest to arriving at a just conclusion. No one who desires to know the truth ever objects to hearing from one who differs from him. Truth does not grow in seclusion; it comes from the clash of ideas, from the comparison of views. Error is the only thing that fears discussion. Truth has a power within by which it propagates itself; and, after all, there is nothing omnipotent but truth. While we differ here as young men upon the various questions which arise, I know that you will agree with me when I say that in the long run that that policy is going to be adopted which proves to be the best, and that those who attach themselves to a righteous cause are sure to triumph at last. I never speak to young men without feeling that I ought to impress upon them a lesson which has been impressed upon me, namely, that when a man believes that he is right, he can afford to stand alone, and that he can afford to called anything—because a man's character is not determined by what people call him.

I remember that it was here, as a young man, that I began the study of political economy, and it was under that great leader whom we had in this college for so many years, Dr. Sturtevant, that I first became interested in the great public question of that day. I remember his teachings as I listened to him, at that time, and for many years I could find no better arguments in the discussion of the question then before the public than his book presented. And when another great question came before the people and began to engage public thought, I wondered whether he had covered that question in his book, and whether his great mind had applied itself to the fundamental principles which underlie the question which now so arouses the thoughts of people.

When I began to examine I found that in that book—I do not know whether you use it now or not, but you did when I was in college—'Economics, or the Science of Wealth,' I found, I say, that in that book he had stated the great fundamental principle which underlies the money question. Now, in this campaign we are trying to find out what is the best kind of money. Some say that one kind of standard will give the best kind of dollar; others say that another kind of standard will give the best kind of dollar. You must have something by which you can judge those standards, and I think that Professor Sturtevant has suggested the means by which you can arrive at the truth on this subject. You will find that he says: 'This function of money, becomes very important in the case of time contracts. If one contracts to pay one hundred bushels of wheat in twelve months, the next harvest may be a very bad one, and he may therefore be under the necessity of paying one hundred bushels when a bushel is worth twice as much as when the contract was made. This makes the transaction inequitable, and such a liability will make men averse to all time contracts and throw a great impediment in the way of the working of the natural law of exchange.'

The doctor recognizes that when a man has made a contract he ought to be paid in the same quantity or value that the contract had when it was made; and he goes on to argue that if you attempt to make contracts in any kind of commodity, the fluctuations in value will make the contract inequitable, and then he turns to gold and silver and says: 'In the two metals, gold and silver, we have substances which possess to a degree quite wonderful the essential quality of money—universal desirableness. They sustain such a relation to human taste and use that they have been universally desired all along the world's history, from the earliest antiquity of which we have any authentic record. Nor is there any reason to suppose that in the future, however distant, they are to be supplanted from that place in human regard which they have always occupied.'

And a little further along he says, 'Gold and silver, considered as a standard of value, are an ocean flowing around the whole economic world, and very large additions at two or three points are immediately distributed to every part, like water which is poured into the ocean from a single river, and can have no appreciable effect on its level.' I was glad, when I began to study the money question, to find that Dr. Sturtevant recognized that the great thing desirable in a dollar is stability, and I can find no better illustration than the one I first read you, where he speaks of its being inequitable to compel a man to deliver one hundred bushels of wheat when wheat has doubled in value.

You know the whole contention in this contest in which we are engaged is as to which kind of standard gives you the best dollar. There are some people who talk about honest dollars, without exactly defining what they mean by that, so that you have to take their conclusions instead of being able to form your own conclusions. We believe that gold and silver used together give a more stable dollar, a more equitable currency, a more just standard than could be obtained from the use of one, with the other eliminated from use; and the very argument which Dr. Sturtevant makes there, that a short crop of wheat will make wheat rise in value, applies to money, because if there is a short crop of money, money rises in value.

Now, the crops are determined usually by the weather and by various things which man may not control, but the volume of money is determined by law, which man does control. And so, if you by law make your crop of money short, you raise the value of the dollar; and if you raise the value of the dollar you produce the same injustice to the man who owes a dollar, that Mr. Sturtevant calls attention to in the case of wheat that doubles in value.

I want you young men to realize that, when you have received great advantages, great responsibilities go with those advantages. You have no right, as citizens in a land like this, to keep in darkness upon any public question; nor have you a right to listen to any persuasions except the persuasions which come from your conscience and your judgment. I appreciate the advantage of living in a country like this. You may have had people tell you that my ideas are antagonistic to our form of government and to law and order. But I want you to believe me when I say that there is not a person in this country who love our institutions more than I do, or who feels a deeper interest in their preservation.

And what young man has more reason to prize our institutions than I have? In what other country is it possible for a young man to accomplish as much as he can accomplish in this country? In what other country is it possible for a young man, with nothing to commend him except his interest in a cause, to be selected by those who believe with him to carry out their ideas? I so much prize the advantages of a country like this that I want to keep this government as our forefathers intended it. I want it to rest securely upon the foundations which they laid, so that it will guarantee equal rights to all citizens, and give special privileges to no citizen. I want it to be still possible for the child of the humblest citizen in this land to aspire to any office to which his abilities, his ideas, his labors and his integrity fit him.

And it is because I realize, as I think I do, some of the influences which in society are tending to close the door of opportunity to young men, that I have felt the indignation that I have expressed against the great aggregations of wealth, which have in many instances trampled upon the rights of weaker members of society, and have attempted to drive out competition, and then prey upon society after it has been rendered helpless and lies at their mercy.

But, my friends, I am here to greet you, rather than to talk to you. I have digressed somewhat from my purpose because I have so little chance to have my side of the question at issue heard in many of our institutions of learning that I felt that I ought not to neglect an opportunity to say a word in defense of the cause for which I stand. I sometimes read in the papers that nearly all of the professors in the various colleges are against me, but I shall teach what I believe in, though not a college professor or business man or man prominent in society is willing to stand with me. I know that all the great reforms of society have come up from the common people—not down from those who are well-to-do or who are so surrounded that they do not know the needs of the people.

I remember that the Bible tells us that, when a young man was inquiring what he ought to do and was told to sell what he had and give to the poor, 'he went away grieved for he had great possessions.' Great possessions sometimes so monopolize a person's thoughts, so occupy his time that he is not able to consider the needs of society which are felt and realized by those who suffer. I want you, in the study of all questions, not to take somebody else's views but to try and find out for yourselves what is best for the people. And be sure that the policies which you advocate are such as will lift up those about you as well as yourselves. The Bible says that he who would be chiefest among you must be the servant of all; and if I can leave with you but one thought to be remembered as you go from college to undertake the duties of life I want to leave this thought: The only greatness that there is in this world lies in service. When history writes an account of your lives and records the debts due to you, that person will be the greatest in history—will be the chiefest among all—who has been the servant of all. The more you accomplish for others, the more you accomplish for yourselves.

I shall always remember the days spent in Illinois College. As an institution must suffer from the wrongful acts of any one who has been educated within its walls and from any disgrace which comes to an alumnus, so the college is entitled to share in all the honors and good fortune that may come to those whom the college has helped to start in life."

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: 573-577
  • Date: October 26, 1896