Bryan-Thurston Second 1894 Debate (Nebraska State Journal)

This article from the October 19, 1894 edition of the Nebraska State Journal summarizes the second debate between Republican candidate John M. Thurston and Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan during the 1894 Nebraska Senate campaign. The article also presents each man's speech, in full, as well as their rebuttal statements.

OMAHA, Neb., Oct. 18–[Special.]–The second and last debate between John M. Thurston and Congressman Bryan occurred at the Coliseum tonight, and was listened to by 15,000 people holding tickets and hundreds of others who got within hearing of the speakers' voices. The doors were thrown open at 6 o'clock. The jam at the doors continued until 8, when the debate began, there was not a vacant seat in the building and everywhere people were standing up, while hundreds could not gain admittance. It was one of the largest political audiences that has ever assembled in the west.

At a few moments before 8 o'clock the great audience broke forth in a burst of terrific cheering when John M. Thurston was escorted to the platform. This was repeated a moment latter when Congressman Bryan entered. The crowd changed its manner instantly when E. Rosewater crept hesitatingly upon the platform. Hisses came from every part of the house. This demonstration continued as long as Mr. Rosewater was in sight.

Thurston Opens the Discussion.

J.C. Wharton introduced Mr. Thurston, who opened and closed the debate. The audience went wild when he stepped forth, and silence was not restored until the police seated a large body of people along the aisles. Mr. Thurston was compelled to ask indulgence for the worn condition of his voice. The audience to him, he said, was like unto which had never been seen in this part of the country, a fact not testifying to personal popularity of either principal, but rather an evidence of interest in the principles of the republican and democratic parties. His opponent the day before had reserved the tariff question for this time. All the side issues having been cleared away, that subject would be taken up, not with an effort at oratory, however. He desired only to say something that would be considered by the fireside. It matters not that so many American firesides are cheerless: that is the place to do the thinking. Protection insists that American labor shall have an opportunity to exist.

Eras of Free Trade and Protection.

Four great eras of free trade and protection were taken up. The result of flooding the country with cheap manufactured goods of Great Britain has been attested by great men–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a long list. In 1816, after an era of prosperity, came a free trade law, and for eight years the country felt the distress which always follows. Another period of free trade followed in 1833, which awakened the masses, ending in the election of the first whig president. Every year for free trade brought a period of distress and every year of protection brought prosperity. In 1892 every factory was running an every man could find labor; 200,000 more tons of steel bars were produced than at any time in the history of the country. In that year foreign commerce reached over $2,000,000,000. There were sent abroad more things than during any other year. Foreign countries contributed #202,000,000 as a trade balance. In 1892 human toil in America received the highest remuneration ever bestowed, but in 1892 the election ushered in a different state of affairs and in the senate there was no longer a majority to which the people could look with confidence.

Blaine's Prophecy Fulfilled.

The speaker paused to allude to a badge presented to him by the Irishmen of Omaha and South Omaha, mentioning the names of James G. Blaine and James A. Garfield, each being received with great applause. Continuing, the speaker read the now famous prophecy of Blaine. David B. Hill, Governor Flower and Grover Cleveland were quoted as saying that the coinage of silver dollars caused the present depression and Bryan said it was caused by not opening up American mints to the world. These two theories came from the same political party, but they cannot both be true. No man dare stand before an American audience today and say that the prophecy of James G. Blaine has not come true. A mention here of the name of McKinley brought forth a storm of applause.

Passing to Congressman Wilson and his English banquet he speaker said if he were to ever be banqueted his desire was that it be by his fellow countrymen. Quotations from speeches delivered at the English banquet were produced. Wilson was tearing down American industries that fires might be lighted in Yorkshire. Today ships are dotting the ocean, bringing foreign goods to American shores, cheaper, it is said, to benefit whom but the richer classes. It is poor consolation to see cheap things when they are without money. It is not a question of cheap things, but a question of giving employment to people at living wages. Two million men are idle, according to authorities. This means that 30 per cent of the men are not making anything; that one out of four trains are no longer carrying their products, that one out of four men are out of work, one out of five section men have been discharged, one out of five in every railroad shop have been let out. Relief in the Ballot.

"Your vote," said the speaker, "must settle how you shall take care of them. Free trade opens the door of the poor house; protection opens the door of the American workshop. The gentleman who follows has just returned from congress, and in a recent speech he boasted that he had voted to wipe out every law which stood between prosperity and every fireside in America."

The speaker declared with fervor that the infamous repeal of the federal election law was intended for the purpose of enabling the counting in of Georgia and other states where the American school house and factory was a curiosity. "The banners are still upheld in the land which bespeak slavery and free trade. God hasten the day when it will be liberty and protection. 'God bless Abraham Lincoln, but save us from the children of Abraham.' A sentiment expressed by Bryan. The speaker said he was one of the sons, a son of a father who died under Lincoln, and the sons would go on until the country was redeemed.

Bryan Heartily Cheered.

"The conquering and unconquered" were the words of Chairman Smyth in introducing Congressman Bryan. He received applause lasting fully a moment. Like Thurston he did not attribute the magnificent audience to personal admiration. He said he intended at first to reply to a tariff speech, but there was one other subject which his friend saw fit to mention, the federal election laws. He said he voted for their repeal, as did every democrat and every pop. He declared the repeal was for the purity of the ballot, to prevent the disfranchisement of citizens. This was the case, as shown by the actions of hired emissaries who could go from one state to another and make elections what they desired. It was not because congress did not want sacred elections; it was to preserve local self-government. A sacred ballot, the Australian law, was given this state by a populist legislature and a democratic governor, yet the opposition wants it understood that it was to corrupt. Arbitration was a new law needed to meet changed conditions. With the great aggregation of wealth today it is impossible for the employer to feel for and know his employers. Conflicts spring up and sentiment is aroused. The laboring men secured the Australian ballot law, and they are asking and will secure an arbitration law. Conditions make arbitration necessary. The republican platform mentions this, but it is not in the platform which Thurston said he would write. Which will he stand on?

Falls Back on the Tariff.

Mr. Bryan took up the tariff question and proposed to show that never would the country return to the McKinley plan. Tom Reed of Maine was quoted to show that that statesman was opposed to the re-enactment of the McKinley law, owing to the changed conditions, which made necessary some alterations in that law. Reed says the people need not be afraid of the republican party; it would not re-enact it. How lonesome Mr. Thurston would feel when he goes down to Washington, meets Mr. Reed and finds that to be the case. No wave of trouble across the peaceful breast in protection days was the testimony, but evidence shows that in 1873 tramps were at every door. Alluding to the prophesy of Blaine, the speaker said it might be that prophets could be found who were not anointed. As one of his kind of prophets, the speaker quoted Webster on the tariff bill of 1846, who spoke when the spirit of prophecy came upon him. Past periods of protection were touched on and figures given to show that wages and property full in value. In 1846 farm wages rose, and fell again between 1880 and 1890.

No Tariff for Protection.

The verdict of eight million witnesses was that they did not want tariff for protection. The people, after testing the McKinley law for two years, rejected both it and the party which believes in taxing one man for the benefit of another. One reason why the bill was rejected was because twelve hundred strikes and lockouts occurred from a reduction of wages. Mr. Bryan rung the changes on President Harrison's letter as he did in joint debates two years ago with Judge Field, repeating several times the expression that capital sometimes takes too large a share of profits. He asked whether Thurston intentionally deceived by quoting the large balance of trade in 1892 in favor of America. That year overlapped its predecessor and successor, while the balance of trade in 1894 being thirty-nine millions and in 1893 eighteen millions. The balance of trade in 1892 was accounted for a crop failure abroad, which caused a large export trade in grain alone. Thurston applied the credit to the republican party and denied credit to Almighty God.

Gives Wilson Credit.

The speaker turned the English banquet to Wilson to his credit, alleging that Wilson had told the lords that the bill was not made for them and they must not expect to reap benefits.

Mr. Bryan played a trick on the audience. He read from a commercial paper of ninety-six woolen mills starting up and commencing anew under a prospect of free trade. When he came to a sentence which said one plant had closed recently, his voice dropped and for a moment he appeared nonplussed. It was not what he wanted, a mill closing under free trade. The audience shouted and laughed. Then Mr. Bryan used the same argument advanced by Judge Field in their famous joint debates. He turned in and roasted a republican audience that saw only delight in the closing of a mill, but immediately he finished the reading, showing that the mill had closed to be overhauled and have some big additions made and a forty-horse power engine put in.

Continuing he said the democrats put binding twine on the free list and it was said that industries would be driven out and the first evidence is an addition of a forty horse power engine. The protective tariff allows one man to say of another, "hold him so he can't hit me and I will take his money." The Wilson bill says: "Let him who stole steal no more, but let him who stole steal much less."

Not a Happy Hit.

When Mr. Bryan said a law that gives more for the same money in effect gives more wages for the same work a wail of derision went up from the crowd. The speaker said the people were slaves to the extent of their contributions and earnings to enrich others.

Of the sugar trust he declared it was to be denounced for attempting to buy both parties in congress and for buying its way through the republican party for the past thirty years.

The speaker characterized as an insult his opponent's allusion to Texas as a place where the young were suckled at the muzzle of a six shooter and that that state was striving to strike down the industries of the north. Yet the republicans were willing to give free wool to Massachusetts. He asked if his opponent would stand for the east or do something for the great, ominverous [?]

A plea for the American workingwest.

[?]man and the request that the burden on his strong shoulders might be lightened closed Mr. Bryan's speech.

A disgraceful occurrence came at the close of Mr. Bryan's speech in the simultaneous and apparently prearranged withdrawal of a large number of auditors. The noise and confusion was so great that Mr. Thurston was delayed for several moments. Even Chairman Smyth was obliged to plead for fair treatment.

Thurston's Closing.

Mr. Thurston at the close was accorded an ovation not equaled in either of the debates. He said his opponent exercises precocity and asks more questions than he could answer in a week. Would he be lonesome with Tom Reed? Well, would not his opponent and all his ilk, when they god down to Washington in 1896, with William McKinley in the White House. Where is one man out of employment in Omaha who has seen one dollar since the McKinley party went out of power?

Again the crowd stamped like horses over the board floors toward the doors. Mr. Thurston was with difficulty heard. He said he supposed even the democrats of Omaha could not listen for twenty minutes to republican doctrine, but the retreat to the doors of the hall was only a part of the general retreat going on all over the country.

Used to Good Advantage.

The balance of the twenty minutes was used to good advantage. The speaker bombarded his opponent unmercifully, each onslaught being the signal for cheering. He said in substance:

"I am asked if when I go down to Washington will I stand for Tom Reed and the east or the great omniverous west. When the star of Nebraska was added to the azure it became one of the stars of the American people. I will stand for the American people. The republican platform is the only one I care to stand upon.

"Is my opponent for free silver from principle or as a vote getter. If he is from principle why don't he support D. Clem Deaver for congress? If he is for vote-getting you can explain why he turned down D. Clem Deaver, a free silver advocate, and supports James E. Boyd, that solid money man. Was it from principle that he tied the democratic party in a brown paper parcel and delivered it over without even taking a receipt! Was it from principle he indorsed every populist e state ticket who had not smelled powder and turned down every one who had? If it was why did he indorse that reform democrat and turn down that old-time leader par excellence of the populist party, John H. Powers?

"He asks me if, when I got to Washington, will I stand for Nebraska, and he asks why I did not talk on the sugar tariff. Great God, it talks for itself. If I go to Washington I will stand for legislation that will make the prairies of Nebraska produce sugar which we buy of the sugar trust.

Will Stand Up for Nebraska.

"If I go to Washington I will stand for legislation that will give Nebraska farmers enough money for their wheat to support binding twine factories in our midst. I will stand for legislation that will enable an American sheep to look a man in the face. I will stand for legislation ill put up bars on the Texas border to the greaser's cattle instead of putting down prices of American cattle.

"He speaks of times under the Wilson bill and says Wilson told the Englishmen that the bill was for the Untied States. But the Englishman arose and said: 'You are a blasted American fool if you think you are legislating for your own people.' He speaks of the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer. Where is it worse than in England? He speaks of domination of capital and of arbitration. I am with him on that so far as is possible under the constitution, but I would so legislate that labor will be its own arbitrator and be enabled to get its own prices. He mentioned cheap tin. Four years ago he promised laborers of South Omaha cheap dinner pails, but now they have no dinner. You give cheap dinner pails and soup. We give full dinner pails and no soup. Americans can be fooled only once in a generation. Abraham Lincoln said: 'You can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all of the time,' and this isn't going to be a fool year."

This closed the debate and a rush followed to the stage, where a general handshaking occurred. Mr. Thurston's voice was even worse than it was in Lincoln, but those who heard both debates aver that in his closing speech he used it to much better advantage than Bryan did in Lincoln.

About this Document

  • Source: Nebraska State Journal
  • Citation: 1-2
  • Date: October 19, 1896