Detroit, MI Speech 2, 1896-10-17

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Saturday, October 17, 1896
Auditorium, Detroit, MI

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

"The money question is the paramount issue of the hour, but before going into a discussion of that question I want to call your attention to some of the things which have been said by our opponents in regard to other planks of our platform. Having been defeated in the discussion of the main issue our opponents now seek to drag in other questions in order to cover up their retreat. The so-called sound money Democrats say that their consciences will not permit them to endorse the other planks of the platform. I want these individuals to remember that this agitation of other questions is a post mortem agitation. When our platform was presented to the Democratic National Convention, the minority declared in their report that the money question was the paramount question. Let me read:

'Upon the financial question, which engages at this time the chief share of public attention, the views of the majority differ so fundamentally from what the minority regard as vital as Democratic doctrine as to demand a distinct statement of what they hold to as the only just and true expression of Democratic faith upon this paramount issue.'

If the money question was the paramount issue then, what has taken place since then to make the money question take second place? Will they bring in other issues which they did not think of then? If you will read the discussion in the Chicago convention you will find that the gold standard advocates did not then think that our platform attacked our form of government or endangered the safety of the nation. More than that, they had time to reflect before assembling at Indianapolis, and yet they there adopted a platform making money again the paramount issue. I submit, then, that within three weeks of election is too late to discover that the nation is in danger.'

There is a fish, which, it is said, effects its escape by so clouding the water that it cannot be seen, and in this campaign the gold Democrat is engaged in clouding the water, while he gets over into the Republican ranks. There is nothing in the Chicago platform that suggests lawlessness or threatens the safety of society. There is nothing in the platform that interferes with the right of any man to life, liberty or property. There is nothing in that platform that menaces the welfare of the man who expects to earn his living. The only people whose interests are menaced by that platform are the people who expect to live on what other people are earning. They say that we criticise the Supreme Court. I want you to read the Democratic platform on that subject and then read what others have said, and see whether we do not fall below, rather than go beyond, what is proper in such a matter. What we said of the Supreme Court is weak, compared with the emphatic language used by Abraham Lincoln. Lest you should think Abraham Lincoln old-fashioned, let me read the language of a living Republican. Lest you should think that Abraham Lincoln's not being a member of the Supreme Court should have no weight, let me read you the language of a Justice of the Supreme Court, who ought to know what is due to the court. Let me read you these words:

'While I have no doubt that Congress will find some means of surmounting the present crisis, my fear is that, in some moment of national peril, this decision will rise up to frustrate its will and paralyze its arm. I hope it may not prove the first step towards the submergence of the liberty of the people in a sordid despotism of wealth. As I cannot escape the conviction that the decision of the court in this great case is fraught with immeasurable danger to the future of the country, and that it approaches the proportions of a national calamity, I feel it a duty to enter my protest against it.'

What anarchist used those words? Those are the words of Justice Brown, of your own State. If Justice Brown, who sat upon the Supreme bench and took part in the consideration of that very case, could express the fear that that decision might be the first step toward the submergence of our liberty in despotism of wealth, may not we, as private citizens, honestly entertain the same fear? If Justice Brown thought that that decision was fraught with immeasurable danger to the future of the country, may we not also think so? If Justice Brown felt so deeply upon the subject that he spoke of the decision as approaching the proportions of a national calamity, may we not speak of it in the same language? Judges are human beings, and if you find a judge who thinks he is not human you will find him the most human of all beings. Judges have their weaknesses and judges have made mistakes. My friends, no good will come to the American people from an attempt to shield any public servant from the honest criticism of the people whom he serves. So when our opponents tell us that we are reflecting upon the Supreme Court, we can plant ourselves upon the precedent set forth in history and answer the charges of all our critics. But we shall not stop here. When did this spasm of virtue take possession of the Republican party? Ex-President Harrison seems to be deeply touched by our language in regard to the Supreme Court. And yet ex-President Harrison was a member of the Republican party when that party reduced the number of judges on the Supreme bench in order to prevent Andrew Johnson from appointing any judges, and then, when he went out of office, increased the number of judges in order to give another Republican President a chance to appoint new judges. I only refer to these things to show you how shallow, how baseless and how hypocritical is the criticism of the Democratic platform on that point.

Well, they say that there is another plank that they think is dangerous. And what plank is it? It is the plank that declares against government by injunction and approves of a bill which passed the Senate, giving a trial by jury in certain contempt cases. Do you say that that plank is wrong? Then, my friends, if our plank is wrong the bill which we approved is also wrong, and yet when that bill was before the Senate the opposition was so small that they did not even call the roll upon its passage. That is the bill which we endorse; that is the policy set forth in our platform. We demand that this bill shall be passed, and that in these contempt cases a man charged with contempt shall be given a trial by jury instead of a trial before the judge. But, my friends, proof that that plank in the platform is sound is to be found in the fact that whenever a man goes to attack it he does it by indirection instead of openly opposing the plank. If a man thinks that he has a good case, he states the case. If he fears the merits of the case, he tries to win the same by underhand means. Our opponents dare not condemn that plank, because the right of trial by jury is too dear to the American people to permit any man to go before the public and condemn a bill which provides such a trial.

Now, there is another plank which they object to. They say that the Democratic party is opposed to the enforcement of law. I have heard men stand before the public and accuse the Democratic party of being in league with lawlessness and of being unworthy to be trusted with the enforcement of law. My friends, if the platform adopted at Chicago is endorsed by the people, I shall be the one to occupy the executive position and to carry out that platform. I challenge our opponents to find in any act or utterance of mine a justification of the charge that, if elected, I will not enforce the laws of the United States. There is nothing in that platform that declares against the enforcement of the laws of the United States. Our platform simply declares against invasion of a State in matters of local concern, and in that we stand upon the Constitution, and no man should be President and swear to support the Constitution unless he is prepared to support it all. I repeat, therefore, what I have said time and again, that I, who stand upon that platform, I, who am to be elected if the platform is ratified at the polls, intend to and will enforce every law of the United States. But the trouble is, my friends, that they do not fear a failure to enforce the law. What they fear is that I will have an Attorney General, if I am elected, who will enforce the law against the big violators. Show me a man who has profited by violating the law, and I will show you a man who will tell you that he is afraid I will not enforce the law. In this campaign I have arrayed against me all of the big law breakers in the United States. This country is not in danger from the small law breakers; they are generally punished. It is the men who think that they are greater than the Government who menace our institutions. It is the coal trust that is afraid that I won't enforce the law, and the sugar trust and the Standard Oil trust and all this brood of trusts that have violated the law and trampled upon individual rights with impunity. They know that the success of the Chicago platform means that their preying upon the public will forever cease. I repeat what I have said before, that, if elected, I shall use all the authority of the executive to enforce the laws which now exist against every trust in this country. But I shall not stop there. If the laws now in existence are not sufficient, I will recommend laws which are sufficient, and if the Supreme Court decides that the Federal Constitution prohibits the passage or enforcement of any law interfering with a trust, I will recommend an amendment to the Constitution which will permit the American people to live in spite of trusts. And more than that, if I have a Supreme judge to appoint and there are two men presented, one opposed to trusts and the other in favor of them, I will appoint the judge who is opposed to trusts."

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: 562-565
  • Date: October 17, 1896