Boston, MA Speech 3, 1896-09-25

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Friday, September 25, 1896 at 8:50pm
Music Hall, Boston , MA

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

"Mr. Chairman: I esteem it a great privilege to be permitted to speak in this city, and to present a cause in which I believe, among the people who have been reported to be hostile to it, and I am glad to present that cause to those who are about to furnish an evidence of their devotion which is not often called for.

I never had an opportunity to address those who kept the pass at Thermopylae. But I am permitted to speak to those who are going to keep the pass here.

In ordinary times it would not be necessary for those who believe as we do to resort to extraordinary measures. But, my friends, we are passing through an unusual campaign. We are in the midst of an unusual struggle, and we have to meet an enemy that does not always scruple at the means employed.

I have known something of the advocates of the gold standard. We went through this contest in our State before other States did. I got acquainted with the genus 'gold bug' out there.

I have great respect for Republicans. I have great respect for any man who has an opinion, believes in a thing, stands by it, and tells people what he believes in. I have great respect for any man of convictions, I care not how widely he may differ from me. As I desire to think as I please, I concede the right to every one to think as he pleases, and when I find a man espousing a cause in which he believes, he cannot express himself so emphatically as to take from me the respect which I always feel toward an honest opponent.

But there is one thing which I do not like, and there is one thing which I do not hesitate to express my dislike for, and that is for a man who has a belief and dares not take the public into his confidence.

I respect the advocate of a gold standard who says he is for a gold standard and will try to secure a gold standard. I cannot say so much for the man who says he is for bimetallism and works for the gold standard quietly.

I am willing to meet in the open field any opponent who stands for a principle and a candidate. I am willing to meet in the open field a party which adopts a platform, nominates candidates upon the platform, and then tries to elect candidates on that platform.

I cannot say so much for those who, having been defeated in a fair convention, try to steal the name "Democrat" from those who are entitled to it, and then put up a ticket which they do not expect to vote for.

A man who says he is for honest money and nominates a ticket for the purpose of electing another, does not commence at the right place to prove his honesty.

I have had something to do with gold standard Democrats. I have seen them in Nebraska, I have seen them beaten at the primaries and beaten in convention, and then I have seen them resort to every sort of deception in order to elect a Republican, and therefore I am prepared for all sorts of underhand schemes. I am prepared for all sorts of work in the dark; and when we have to deal with men who, instead of fighting an open fight, are always seeking to derive some underhand advantage, we have to take every precaution. We cannot fight them as we would others.

I am glad to speak in this State. It did not require much persuasion to obtain my promise to come. When my colleague in Congress, who was opposed to me at every step on this money question, became a convert to free silver, all differences between us on that subject disappeared, and we stood together, and when he came to Chicago representing at least a part of the Democracy of Massachusetts—at that time a part—and took his stand, I made up my mind that if George Fred Williams could fight for free coinage against all the hostile influences of the Bay State, I could come and hold up his hands while he did battle.

No part of this country is so far from my home that I cannot reach it if one word or act of mine can give encouragement to a warrior like George Fred Williams.

I know something of the embarrassment which surrounds one when he takes a position opposed by his friends and acquaintances. I know something of the bitterness which is aroused by the independence that is shown on such occasions; but, my friends, it has been the history of every cause that some had to stand forth and take the abuse as they blazed the way where multitudes followed after.

I heard some one say that when one person saw a thing he was a fanatic; when a number were able to see the same thing, he became an enthusiast; and when everybody saw it he became a hero.

Two months ago George Fred Williams was a fanatic. He is now an enthusiast. The time will come when his name will be written among the heroes.

An audience in this city once hissed Wendell Phillips, but they did not hiss him always, and, my friends, I come to impress upon you tonight a truth which Wendell Phillips presented more eloquently than I can. I am going to quote the words of Wendell Phillips to you, because Wendell Phillips pointed out the very dangers which confront us now.

The Democratic platform has declared in favor of bimetallism and against the gold standard. It has also declared against the issue of paper money by national banks.

The gold standard and national bank currency go together. The gold standard allows a few financiers to control the legal tender money, and the national bank system allows a few banks to control the paper money; and when you have them together the volume of your currency is held in the hands of a few, who can expand it or contract it at will; and by so doing enrich themselves while they spread disaster among those who are subject to their control.

Let me read to you what Wendell Phillips said in regard to the control of the currency:

'In other words, it was the currency which, rightly arranged, opened a nation's well springs, found work for willing hands to do, and filled them with a just return, while honest capital, daily larger and more secure, ministered to a glad prosperity. Or it was currency, wickedly and selfishly juggled, that made merchants bankrupt and starved labor into discontent and slavery, while capital added house to house and field to field, and gathered into its miserly hands all the wealth left in a ruined land.'

'The first question, therefore, in an industrial nation is, where ought control of the currency to rest? In whose hands can this almost omnipotent power be trusted? Every writer of political economy, from Aristotle to Adam Smith, allows that a change in the currency alters the price of every ounce and yard of merchandise and every foot of land. Whom can we trust with this despotism? At present the banks and the money kings wield this power. They own the yardstick, and can make it longer or shorter, as they please. They own every pound weight, and can make it heavier or lighter as they choose. This explains the riddle, so mysterious to common people, that those who trade in money always grow rich, even while those who trade in other things go into bankruptcy.'

That is the language of Wendell Phillips, and Wendell Phillips, who uttered those words, will live in history when your financiers are forgotten and their money is scattered to the winds.

Some of your people are afraid that the masses are not competent to govern themselves. Some of the people who speak here through your press and through pamphlets seem to be very much afraid that you have among you an unthinking class, and that that unthinking class is lawless in disposition and not be trusted to exercise wisely the right to vote. Let me read you what Phillips said on that subject. Speaking of this contest he said:

'It began when Congress declared all men equal: it will never end until it is settled that the people are the source of all power and safely to be trusted with its exercise over every interest and in every direction. On the one side stand the Tories and the cowards, those who hate the people and those who honestly doubt their capacity and discretion; on the other side we see the men who still believe in the Declaration of Independence and are resolved that this shall be, as Lincoln said, a "government of the people, by the people and for the people."'

And then he added:

'I believe in the people, in universal suffrage as fitted to secure the best results that human nature leaves possible. If corruption seems rolling over us like a flood, it is not the corruption of the humbler classes—it is millionaires, who steal banks, mills and railways; it is the defaulters, who live in palaces and make way with millions; it is money kings, who buy up Congress; it is the demagogues and editors in purple and fine linen, who bid $50,000 for the Presidency itself.'

My friends, Wendell Phillips believed in the people. The advocates of the gold standard are not willing to submit their cause to the people and fight an open fight on that issue.

Emerson, whom the people of Massachusetts will have as much reason to remember as they will have to remember any of their financiers, also spoke on this subject. He expressed his ideas as to the capacity of the people for self-government. Let me read to you what he said:

'I will have never a noble, no lineage counted great; Fishers and choppers and ploughmen shall constitute a State.'

He was not afraid to trust the affairs of government in the hands of those who contribute with brain and muscle to the nation's wealth.

If your financiers were to rewrite that poem, how do you suppose they would write it? I think about this way:

'We will have dukes, lords and nobles, with lineage counted great; Bankers and brokers and bosses shall constitute a State.'

My friends, no question was ever settled in this country until it was settled by the great mass of the people. Financiers never settled a question. Politicians never settled a question. Bosses never settled a question. The voters themselves are the only ones who can settle or who will settle any great question.

And for the first time this money question has been submitted to the vote of the American people. Heretofore the two great parties have adopted platforms very similar, and where they did not get their platforms exactly alike they corrected the mistake by getting their candidates exactly alike.

The same influences have controlled both party conventions, and have nominated men who thought the same on platforms substantially alike.

They tried it this year. They went to St. Louis and they wrote a platform. Your newspapers had declared that gold was the money of civilization. Your newspapers had declared that we had outgrown silver; your newspapers had declared that there could not be two yardsticks; your newspapers had declared that bimetallism was simply the trick of the man who owed money and wanted to pay a debt in cheap dollars, that it was simply the device of the mine owner wanted to raise the value of his silver bullion, and that it was the doctrine of the demagogue who advocated it to get votes.

These were the people who were behind the gold standard, and representatives of those who thought this way went down to St. Louis. They had their own way. They could have written any platform they wanted to. What kind of a platform did they write? Is there anything in the Republican platform about gold being the only money fit for civilized people to use? Nothing of that kind. Is there anything there condemning the two-yardstick idea? Not a word. Is there anything there condemning any man as a demagogue who believes in bimetallism? Not a word of it. Is there any slander upon 'debtors who want bimetallism in order to pay their debts easily?' Not a word about that. Is there anything about the mine owner who wants bimetallism to raise the value of his bullion? Not a word about that.

What did the platform say? Why, it pledged the Republican party to get rid of the gold standard and substitute bimetallism. That is what it did. The Republican platform pledges the Republican party to substitute the double standard for the single gold standard. When? When other nations will let us. If the gold standard is a good thing, then why ought we to try to get rid of it? If it is a bad thing, then why should we keep it?

The Republican party cannot defend a gold standard as a thing to be desired. Why? Because when it promises to get rid of it and substitute something else, it cannot very consistently say that the thing it is trying to get rid of is better than the thing it is trying to get.

Now, why was that platform written that way? Was it because those men who wrote it are going to try to secure international bimetallism? No. International bimetallism is a fraud, and those know it best who talk about it the most. The Republican platform declares in favor of the maintenance of the gold standard until—that is a long word, my friends—until what? Until the American people desire a change? No. They desire a change now, because the platform pledges the Republican party to try to get the change. How long? Until the people need a change? No. The platform covers that ground, because unless we need it, the Republican party wouldn't try to get it.

How long are we to maintain a gold standard? For a year? It doesn't say that. For four years? It doesn't say that. According to that platform, although we want to get rid of a gold standard, although we are anxious to substitute bimetallism, we must maintain the gold standard forever, if foreign nations insist on our doing it.

That is what the platform says. Now, I have not misquoted that platform. That is the platform. If you doubt it, take it and read it.

Now, they went to Chicago and a part of the Democratic convention tried to get a plank just like it. The minority plank in the Chicago platform declared against free coinage because it would interfere with the securing of international bimetallism, toward which all efforts should be directed.

Now, is there any difference between those two platforms? Both of them hold out international bimetallism as the desirable thing, and one of them promises to maintain the gold standard until we can get it, and the other opposes independent free coinage for fear it will prevent us getting it—just enough variance to show that they were two witnesses with testimony furnished from the same source. Read Greenleaf on Evidence and you will find that it takes away from the weight of testimony to have two witnesses testifying in exactly the same language. There must be a little variance in order to take away the appearance of having it manufactured.

And so these two platforms had just enough of variance to take away the appearance—and prove the fact—that they were both written by the same people.

Now, another thing about that Chicago convention that amused me very much. The people elected delegates to the Chicago convention, and they not only elected them but they instructed them, and nearly two-thirds of the delegates in that convention, whose seats were not contested, were elected and instructed all the way from the primaries up to the national convention. It was known in advance that a decided majority of the delegates to that convention were instructed for free coinage at 16 to 1, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation. And yet, in spite of that, in spite of that known desire, purpose and determination on the part of the majority, the Democratic National Committee refused to recognise the voice of the people and attempted to choose a presiding officer in opposition to the wishes of a majority of the delegates there.

I am not speaking of the person whom they selected, because he was as free from objection as any one opposed to free coinage, but I am speaking of the fact that the machinery of the party did as it always does when the gold standard men run it. It assumed to be greater than the people from whom the machine derived its power.

Now, what was the result? Why, men came down there with the open and avowed purpose of changing the vote on the silver question in spite of the instructions which bound the delegates. Think of a man calling himself a Democrat and then boasting that he is able to make men violate the instructions under which they came and betray the people who sent them there.

There has been some talk about the Monroe doctrine. For years, for decades, it has been the policy of this country, reiterated by its Presidents, to oppose any extension of the influence of monarchial institutions on the western hemisphere.

The time came when the President asserted that doctrine, and what was the result? Gold began to slip away. And then what did we find out in Wall Street? We found that the financiers who insisted upon running this country in time of peace raised up their hands and begged the country not to go to war, not to enforce its own policy, not to stand by its own rights, not to have a dignity that would be respected, for fear our gold would go away.

Do you tell me that we cannot have a financial policy of our own! I tell you that until we do we cannot have a foreign policy without the consent of the other nations. If we must have a financial system which we do not want, because other nations want us to have it; if we must do our business upon gold alone, and then put it in the power of opposing nations to rob us of our gold at any moment, I want to ask you, my friends, whether we are an independent nation or whether we have again become the subject of a foreign power?

This question is more than a political question; it is more than an economic question. This question is a great moral question. It is a question of right or wrong, a question of justice or injustice, and your financiers will have to study morality before they can preach much finance in this campaign.

Your poet Whittier used these words:

  • 'Tell us not of banks and tariffs,
  • Cease your paltry peddler cries;
  • Shall the good State sink her honor
  • That your gambling stocks may rise?'

There are persons among you who estimate a nation's greatness and prosperity by the fluctuations of the stocks in which they gamble.

He said again:

  • 'Is the dollar only real,
  • God and Truth and Right a dream?
  • Weighed against your lying ledgers,
  • Must our manhood kick the beam?
  • O, my God, for that free spirit
  • Which of old in Boston town
  • Smote the Province House with terror,
  • Struck the crest of Andros down!
  • For another strong-voiced Adams
  • In the city streets to cry,
  • "Up for God end Massachusetts!
  • Set your feet on Mammon's lie!"
  • Perish banks and perish traffic,
  • Spin your cotton's latest pound,
  • But, In Heaven's name, keep your honor,
  • Keep the heart of the Bay State sound.'

My friends, this is a question upon which civilization itself may turn. We are fighting a battle between the creators of wealth and the money changers, and we are fighting that battle in the sight of all the world. Never in the history of this nation has a campaign attracted so much attention abroad. Why? Prince Bismarck tells the story. He says that the American people are freer by far to legislate on this subject, and because our opportunity is greater our responsibility is greater also. It is true of nations as it is true of individuals—much will be required of those to whom much has been given.

Then there are some who said they did not like that plank which expressed a preference for an income tax. How tender some of these consciences have become! Why, when we were passing that income tax bill there were persons who said it was unconstitutional, and when we pointed to the fact that the supreme court had already declared time and again that the income tax was constitutional, these opponents of the income tax still insisted that the court might reverse itself.

What right had they to attack the decisions of the supreme court? Why, the attorneys who went before that court and asked the court to reverse its decision showed the court or tried to show the court, that those decisions were wrong. Out on these anarchists who dare to go before the court and try to overturn its decisions!

And those decisions which they tried to overturn were rendered by a full court and by unanimous opinion. The decision which, we think, may possibly be reversed by a future court, was rendered by a majority of one, and that one majority was made by a judge who changed his mind within two months. My friends, it has been more than two months since that decision was rendered, and how do we know but that he has got back on our side again?

They have a new judge on the bench. How can we tell until another case gets to him what his opinion is? They are very tender about a judgment they like—much more so than they are about a decision that they don't like.

Of all these men who are criticising there is not one of them who tells you that he lives under a government which protects him and yet that he wants to shirk his share of the taxes—not one of them!

Ah, my friends, because these men know that an income tax is just, they know that they are not doing their duty when they refuse to pay it, but they skulk around in the dark and call people hard names rather than expose their own unwillingness to support their government.

But now I must go. I want you to take this question, I want you to study it and have your own opinion. They tell you they want agitation stopped. I tell you that agitation will never stop until this gold standard is wiped out of existence in this country."

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: 494-503
  • Date: September 25, 1896