Bryan-Thurston Second 1894 Debate (Omaha World Herald)

This article from the October 19, 1894 edition of the Omaha World Herald 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.

[The full text of last evening's debate will be printed in Sunday's World-Herald.]

The Coliseum is a hall of tremendous proportions, but not large enough to accommodate the vast throng which Omaha can pour out to hear a debate between William J. Bryan and John M. Thurston on the questions of the hour. For two hours and a half a vast crowd rolled in a continual stream last night through the doors of the huge structure until the aisles were packed, the outermost corners jammed and hundreds turned away, hopeless of getting within to hear and witness the battle of the champions of free trade and protection.

The cars began to fill up at 5:30 o'clock, when the doors were thrown open, and many waited patiently until 8 for the privilege of listening to the debate. They had avoided the rush, the jam which pressed up at either end of the hall, at any rate.

Without extending from the north and south entrances back into the street, was a struggling mass of humanity, pushing and shoving to gain entrance to the doors. Within 15,000 men and women found a place, to at least stand.

Signal for Applause.

Upon the stage were seated many of the leaders of the state, in politics, journalism and business. As the speakers took their places the pent-up enthusiasm of the audience broke out into uproarious cheers. The cheers were one of the incidents of the evening, sweeping over the length of the hall life a whirlwind and vanishing as quickly. Mr. C.J. Smyth president for Mr. Bryan and Mr. J.C. Wharton for Mr. Thurston. Both of the speakers were somewhat hoarse. Mr. Thurston noticeably so, making it difficult for those in the rear to hear.


Makes the Opening Argument in Favor of His Party.

The introduction of Mr. Thurston was the occasion for an outburst of applause and waving of hats. Cries of "down" to those in aisles prevented any speaking for a few minutes. Mr. Thurston, who had the opening hour and closing twenty minutes, said he was present to speak by invitation and would direct his remarks to the tariff, confining himself chiefly to this subject. He said:

Four Eras of Tariff.

"The American people would never have any difficulty in settling their political questions if well read in American history. There have been four eras of tariff and protection. Prior to 1789 this country was flooded by British goods. The first great act passed by the American congress was signed by George Washington. It was a protection measure and prosperity followed its enactment.

"In 1816, after a generation of prosperity, came an era of terrible distress for a period of eight years, pictured by Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and others. Jackson was chiefly instrumental in securing a tariff and prosperity. In 1833 came a free trade era and renewed distress. The reaction brought William Henry Harrison to the presidential chair. The years of American protection brought enlightened homes and abundant work for all. Under free trade only one industry flourished, and that was the free soup house industry which we have today. [Cheers.]

"In 1892 was the culmination of American prosperity. Every factory and workshop of the country was running in full blast and all could find work at decent wages. Business had reached the grand aggregate of $50,000,000,000 and foreign commerce that of $2,000,000,000. We surpassed Great Britain in manufacturing. [Cheers.] Our trade balances reached $202,000,000, contributed by foreign nations to us.

"Labor received in 1892 the highest pay given since the world began. [Cheers.]

Sentiment Flopped.

"But in November, 1892, the busy, and consequently unthinking, people turned form the policy of protection to free trade. I had presented to me coming on this platform a badge (referring to one he wore) by the Irishmen for the reason that I stood for James G. Blaine. [Cheers.] When I read the words of Blane, uttered before his spirit passed away, it seemed that the spirit of prophecy had not left mankind."

Mr. Thurston then read an extract from Blaine prophesying the evils of free trade to substantiate his point that after 1892 free trade laws brought business distress and trouble.

"Hill," said Mr. Thurston," three days ago said our business paralysis had come because our people had coined too many silver dollars. Flower said so also. Cleveland, not long ago, called congress together to stop the coinage of silver. My eloquent friend will soon tell you that the distress is owing to the failure of the mints to coin our silver. There may be doubt how far the prophesies of old have been fulfilled, but none can deny that Blaine's prophecy has come true since the democratic party came into power in the United States. [Cheers.]

"While Wilson was being banqueted McKinley was receiving ovations. If I am ever banqueted, or lauded for what I do, let it be by the people of the United States. [Applause.]

"Wilson, in responding to his toast, supposing himself to be in parliament [laughter], declared the protectionists have erected barriers while 'we have been tearing them down.' For what? That the wages of labor on Saturday night may be poured into the laps of British women, while our mothers and sisters go hungry. It is a poor compliment to offer cheap breeches to the America n when the patch and the hole are already there.

An Underlying Principle.

"The principle that underlies protection is not cheap things, but providing American labor work. Mr. Gompers declares that there are 3,000,000 men out of employment; Bradstreet says 108,000. This means that 30 per cent of the former producers are no longer making anything; that business has gone 33 per cent to the bad and wages fallen 20 per cent. Men are not clamoring for less hours of labor, but for work. These men are becoming objects of charity and you must support them at the public expense; or you can once more open the factories, making them wealth-producers, and take care of them in this way. Free trade opens the door of the poor house; protection that of the factory. [Cheers.]

"There is one other thing to speak of. The eloquent gentleman who will follow me has said that the first great act he aided in passing in congress was the act that related to the American ballot box. I pledge myself to aid in legislation which will insure to every American citizens a free ballot and fair count. The repeal of the federal election law was not only meant to disfranchise the negro, but the white republican and populists [laughter] who carried the Georgia election." He said he was one of the sons of Abraham Lincoln, to whom allusion had made at Lincoln, and stood upon the platform that put a flag on every American school house. [Applause.]


Chairman Smyth's Remarks on Bryan Vociferously Cheered.

Mr. C.J. Smyth introduced Mr. W.J. Bryan, amid a deafening roar of cheers, as Nebraska's next senator. For some minutes Mr. Bryan waited helpless to make his voice heard as the roar of thousands of cheering voices rent the air and rolled up against the flour walls. When the ovation had subsided Mr. Bryan began by saying he agreed with Mr. Thurston that this was not a personal manifestation, but a desire of the people to hear the great issues of the day discussed. He defended with vigor the federal election law, as it was a question whether one's liberties could be secured better by one's own neighbors in charge of elections than when a foreign hired servant comes in to question their votes.

"When in 1890," he said, "the republican party placed the McKinley bill on the country, it sought by the federal law to continue by force what it could not do by ballots. I am glad of what I did. In the course of nature I'll live longer than Mr. Thurston, and I'll meet him anywhere on this question. [Crys of "You can do it."]

"Does the Australian ballot make the votes more sacred? ["Yes, yes."]

Who gave it to you? [Cries of "Republicans," "Democrats," "Populists," "Yes" and "No."]

"A populist legislature and a democratic governor. [Applause.] These two parties gave you the Australian ballot, yet you are told that they did this to destroy the sacredness of the ballot.

"There is another question I want to refer to–that of arbitration, and I am glad it its put in the democratic platform. [Cheers.] Every generation finds that new laws must be made to meet new conditions. With the great improvement of machinery we find the employer and employe separated and that it is impossible to keep the two in close touch. Conflicts between them, we find, are becoming more numerous. The laboring men secured the Australian ballot and will insist upon arbitration also before an impartial tribunal. Arbitration should be carried out by corporations and their employes. Mr. Thurston was silent on this in the platform he drew up.

The Tariff Issue.

"Now as to tariff legislation: I desire to bring such proof that no person can go away and believe in the McKinley bill. Let me read you what Reed said at Anarbor, Mich., yesterday. He said 'if the republicans were successful their return to power does not necessarily indicate that is means the re-enactment of the McKinley law. Conditions had changed and there are many modifications needed. Nothing would be done until 1896 in tariff legislation, probably, in order to allow business to revive.' Yet this McKinley bill is the law Mr. Thurston stands for in his platform.

"The history of the tariff has been given you have been told of the prosperous times under protection. In 1873 you saw the tramp visiting your doorways, yet we are told high tariff was always a period of good times. [Cheers.] Prophesy is not always safe. They sometimes find they have not been anointed. [Laughter.] Daniel Webster once opened his mouth and taught the people, saying that the ink of the signature of the president to the bill under discussion would not be dry before times would be disastrous. And my friend will tell you that in the period following this bill of 1846 farm wages fell. Let me read you what Blaine said in 'Twenty Years in Congress' of the period of 1846-52. 'The principles embodied in the law seemed to meet general approval,' said he, 'and in 1856 a protective tariff was not even hinted at in the election of the three parties. The act was well received by the people and generally concurred in by the republicans.' [Cheers.]

Courage Failed Them.

"In 1846 the republican party nominated its first president, yet in 1856 it had not the courage, or could not see the disaster calling for it, to declare against free trade. After eleven years, Mr. Blaine say, they passed a bill to make the tariff lower, and the republicans joined in the measure.

"Not until 1892 did the democrats have full control of the government or could it be responsible for the laws. After thirty-two years it was defeated on the issue of levying a tariff to tax one man for the benefit of another. [Applause.] When defeated in 1890 they said give us time; in 1892 they said the people are satisfied, having given it a trial. We took the testimony of 8,000,000 of people, and they said, after two years' trial, they did no want it. [Applause.] In two years this law, which was laded so, has a record of 1,200 strikes and lockouts. Mr. Harrison gave some pathetic testimony on this point. 'I but sometimes regret that capital is not always just, but sometimes takes too large a share of the profits.' It is the republican theory to let labor scramble for the crumbs which fall from the rich man's table, like Lazarus picking up the crumbs at Dives' table."

The citation of figures sustaining this position was followed by cries of "Give it to them."

Not the Real Cause.

"My friend has spoken of the balance of trade. I ask him to tell you why he singled out the one year of 1892, when in 1889 it was only $2,000,000, and in 1893 $18,000,0000 against you. The balance in 1892 was what he said because of the short crop failure of Europe, making a shipment of grain far greater than the whole balance against us.

"He should have placed the balance of trade for 1892 where it belongs–due to Almighty God. [Loud Cheers.] You have been told of Mr. Wilson's speech. The Englishman who thought he was getting the benefit of the bill is mistaken. The law is creating industries all over the United States. In Andrews, Ind., tin mills are starting up. I have a letter here stating that a twelve-stamp mill is being erected today. After election I would advise my friend to take a run down there and revive his drooping spirits. [Great applause.] Forty new mills have been started up, seventy-three enlargements in the last three months, all reported in this single Wool Growers' Journal. [Holding it up and reading.] And a mill is not enlarged to employ the same number of men as were employed under the McKinley law." [Laughter and applause.]

The speaker than cited case after case of mills starting up.

Illustration in Point.

"The Empire cordage mills of Champaign, Ill. (We put binding twine on the free list.) closed its mills recently. [Applause by republicans.] Let me get through. And new machinery will be put in and the building overhauled. [Tremendous applause and laughter.] Yet we put binding twine on the free list. [Cheers.]

"The soup houses will not have to be opened in these places I have mentioned. They are running full time. The Georgia woolen mills [reading] have been shut down 'for repairs to its dam.' [Laughter.] I am afraid a good many republican mills, after election, will have to be closed for the same purpose. [Cheers.]

"The last democratic platform declared against taxing one man for the benefit of another. I am willing to stand on that. The principle of the bounty is identical with that of protection. Senator Manderson has said so and, being a republican, it can't be false. [Laughter.]

"I have here a piece of goods quoted at 66 bents in New York, on which the tariff, under the McKinley law, was 98 cents. The Wilson bill, unlike the McKinley bill, only taxed it 25 cents. The Wilson bill doesn't say let him who steals steal no more, but let him steal less than he did. [Laughter.] It says this much: Let him who steals a great deal steal less than he did. [Cheers.]

The Sugar Scale.

"I am surprised that no reference was made to the sugar schedule. I want to admit that the sugar trust got more from the democratic party than it ought, but, after it got that, it tried to return to the McKinley bill because it gave them more. [Applause.]

"Mr. Havemeyer said on examination he gave his money to both parties indiscriminately. I want to denounce it for trying to buy votes and I want my friend to join with me in denouncing every trust that for thirty years has bought republican legislation. [Cheers.] If you want real reform join with me in denouncing class legislation. It has resulted in the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few. It is stated that 9 per cent of the people own seven-tenths of the wealth of the nation.

"If my friend goes down to the senate will he stand with Reed, who, speaking to Massachusetts, said: 'You can allow the omnivorous west to run you or not just as you wish.'" [Laughter.]

Mr. Bryan closed with an appeal to unshackle the American workingman from the trammels of the tariff.

Ladies waved their handkerchiefs, men leaped to their feet, stood on chairs and shouted themselves hoarse at the close of the speech.


Devotes Himself to Campaign Hits Rather Than Arguments.

Mr. Thurston was reintroduced for a twenty-minute speech by Mr. Wharton as the "next United States Senator." After the cheering had subsided he said the workingmen are not beggars. More questions had been asked him than he had time to answer. Would not Mr. Bryan feel lonesome if he went to Washington and found McKinley as president. [Applause.] Since the democrats have come into power, who in Omaha has had work? As the audience continued leaving Mr. Thurston said that while he had difficulty in making himself heard he had supposed an Omaha audience was willing to listen to republican doctrine. He supposed the leaving was a part of the general retreat. [Applause.]

The platform of the republican party is the only one he wished to stand on. Was Bryan standing on his platform for principles or votes in supporting Boyd, Holcomb and others? The tariff on sugar talks for itself, that's why he didn't talk about it.

He would legislate, if he went to the senate, so that an American sheep can look a man in the face. John Bright says 80 per cent of English labor lives in hovels. [Cheers.] He would carry out arbitration as far as it could be done. This was not going to be a fool year. You can't fool the people more than once in a generation. [Cheers.]

The closing of Mr. Thurston's speech was the signal for a general rush of the crowd for the doors. In half an hour the big hall stood again deserted.

Colorado Bid Bryan Godspeed.

Two of the most enthusiastic of the admirers of Mr. Bryan at the Coliseum last night were Colonel R.E. Goodell and John H. Poole of Denver, Colo. They were found at the Paxton discussing the speeches and the crowd. Colonel Goodell said: "We came all the way from Denver to hear Mr. Bryan and it was worth our while. We don't exactly claim Mr. Bryan, he belongs to Nebraska of course, but we do take just as intense n interest in him and his candidacy for the United States senate, and he has just as many admirers in Colorado as he has in this state. Out there we appreciate the fight he has made for silver and that he has made it for principle. Of course it would benefit us, but Colorado is prosperous today and becoming more so every day. We know that Mr. Bryan's fight has had nothing directly to do with Colorado, but has been for the good of the whole country and we want to see him go to the senate where he can continue the fight. He would do so in a hurry if Colorado had the vote on the question, for out there we place him in the front rank of our statesmen." Colonel Goodell and Mr. Poole asked a number of questions and wanted to know all about Nebraska politics. Mr. Poole is a prominent Elk and at present E.R. of the Denver lodge. He will remain in the city a day or two, as will also Colonel Goodell, to renew old acquaintanceship.

Notes on the Debate.

Twelve hundred tickets were given to democrats from out of the city.

Sarpy county came in a body, 300 strong, to the Bryan-Thurston debate.

Delegations were present from Chadron, Pawnee City and other distant points.

In the jam at the doors some women were carried clear off their feet. The front doors were not thrown open until nearly 8 o'clock. It is safe to say the rush for seats has never been equaled. Had it not been for the large detail of policemen many would have been seriously injured.

About this Document

  • Source: Omaha World-Herald
  • Citation: 1-2
  • Date: October 19, 1894