Knowlesville, NY Speech, 1896-08-26

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Friday, August 28, 1896 at 1:10pm
Slawson's Grove, Knowlesville, NY

Source: The Evening News, Saturday, August 29, 1896; AMONG NEW YORK’S FARMERS, W. J. Bryan Addresses Them on the Money Question at a Monster Picnic, Omaha World-Herald (Morning Edition), Saturday, August 29, 1896

"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: My voice is so husky that you will have to help me speak by being perfectly quiet. I shall make myself heard to as many as possible and in a moment I hope my voice will be clear enough to reach the outskirts of the crowd.

This is a very unusual spectacle. I have seen immense audiences in the cities where a great many people live in a small territory, but this is the largest audience that I have ever seen assembled in the midst of an agricultural country. I am glad to notice here the mothers and wives as well as the sons and husbands, because, my friends, our cause is the cause in which the whole family is interested. (Great applause.) If we are entitled to succeed in this campaign it is because the principles which we represent and the policies for which we stand will be for the benefit of the husbands and wives, the parents and children and all the people of our beloved land.

I am glad that at this meeting we are having as the presiding officer a man who until this year has voted the Republican ticket. I am glad because some of the newspapers parade before the public the names of preeminent Democrats who are going to desert their ticket, and I am glad that for every Democratic deserter we are to have accessions from the Republican party more than enough to make up the difference." (Applause.)


"Politics is a practical question and it is so simply because it can be comprehended by our people. Neither my time nor my physical strength will permit an extended discussion of the issues of the campaign. But I desire to suggest some thoughts which may help you in your study of the issues and in your determination of the part which you should take."

(Mr. Bryan reads an extract from Mr. Carlisle's speech of 1878.)

"John G. Carlisle divided society into two classes. On the one side he put the idle holders of idle capital; on the other he put the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country. (Applause.) If that division existed then, it exists today. More than that, John G. Carlisle said that a public officer sworn to do his duty would be controlled in his official conduct by his sympathies, and if his sympathies were with the idle holders of idle capital he would coin as little money as possible, whereas, if his sympathies were with the struggling masses he would coin as much as the law would permit." (Applause.)


"I believe he spoke the truth when he said that society was divided into those two classes upon any question involving money. I believe he was right when he said that if a man's sympathies were with the struggling masses he would favor a larger amount of money than he would if his sympathies were with the idle holders of idle money.

My friends, the issue today is between the idle holders of idle money and the struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country. (Applause.) And when this is understood, when men find out about the money question, you will find out if there is a man in your community whose interests, whose sympathies are with the idle holders of idle money, he will be in favor of a gold standard, and not daring to say so, he will talk about 'honest money' and 'a sound dollar.' (Applause.)

But if his sympathies are with those who produce the nation's wealth, he will be for the gold and silver coinage of the constitution, no matter how many times you call him anarchist. They tell us that many prominent financiers are going to leave the Democratic party because it declares for the restoration of silver. We shall not go into court to secure an order to prevent their going. (Loud laughter and applause.) The Democratic party has been weighed down by these millstones long enough. It is glad to be rid of those who want to use the party organization for private gain and their country for public plunder. (Applause.)

Now, my friends, this is a question that you have a right to have an opinion upon, and if I could ask but one thing of the American people, it would be this, that the struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country—to use the words of Mr. Carlisle—I say my wish would be that these people would be as independent and as willing to make their ballot represent all they mean as the financiers, the trusts and syndicates are willing to make their ballot represent what they want and what they need. (Applause.)

Let me read a little from Mr. Carlisle's speech.

(A voice: "Why do you read from Carlisle's speech?")

Because no man has presented a more forcible argument in favor of bimetallism than Mr. Carlisle has." (Great applause and cheering.)


"Let me read now what he says of that bill: 'But it will certainly offer some relief. To reverse the grinding process that has been going on for some years.'

Away back, some eighteen years ago he spoke of this as the grinding process, and my friends, it does not lighten the effects of the grinding process to call it a temporary embarrassment. (Applause.)

He understood the laws of finance. He understood what would be the effect of adding this money to the circulation, and my friends, if he stated the truth then, that truth has not changed since then, nor can it be changed, though everyone who spoke for it has turned his back upon it. (Applause.) Truth lives, it is the one thing that will not die.

I quote these words to you to show that by the increase of the volume of money we expect the constant appreciation of money and the constant depreciation of property.

There is a difference between the owner of money and the owner and producer of property. Let me illustrate. Suppose a man in this community—a young man—finds a young woman who is willing to trust her future to his strong right arm, and they start out to build a home."


"Not having enough money, they take what they have saved together and they buy a farm, paying $1,000 down and giving a mortgage for the other thousand. And what is the result? Suppose money rises in value. Suppose you take a notion you want a good dollar, a high priced dollar, a dollar that keeps getting high priced every day. Suppose that you have a dollar that gets to be twice as good as it was when the man gave the mortgage. It means that each dollar will buy twice as much, that it will take twice as much of the products of the farm to buy the dollar and pay his debts as it did before.

What is the result? Why the result is that while it requires twice as much of the products of the farm to pay the interest and twice as much to pay the taxes and twice as much to pay the debt, the man finds out that he not able to pay that debt as he agreed to do. What then, do you say? Extend the mortgage. Why, they tell him that the land has gone down in value now and that the farm is not worth enough to be good security for the $1,000. Then what? There is one thing. He can turn the farm over to the man that holds the mortgage. That he can always do. What is the result? He and his wife have lost $1,000 they invested in the farm."


"They have lost the labor they put forth in trying to pay the mortgage and then they lose the farm and start out in life again. How about the other man who sold him the farm and got the $1,000 down? If he loaned that $1,000 he got security for $1,000 and has the $1,000 within his reach and he gets back his farm.

I ask you if there is any difference between the holder of capital and the owner of property in the appreciation of the dollar. The man with the money is twice as well off as he was before and the man who tried to own property loses all he has and has to begin again. You find the man who holds the notes meeting in convention and declaring that the gold standard is the best system that was ever invented. But how about those people who have lost their home? Will they meet to indorse the system for destroying them?

My friends, this is a practical question that confronts the farmers of the United States, and not of the United States alone, but the farmers of Ireland, the farmers of England and the farmers of Germany and the farmers of every nation in the world that has the gold standard today. I assert that the gold standard could not live for one day in any nation under the sun without the aid of the money owners and the money changers to keep it in existence. I assert that the gold standard has never received the indorsement of any class of people except those who prosper most as society is destroyed by a rising dollar.

Upon the action of the United States may depend the action of other nations. Every nation that goes to the gold standard increases the demand for gold, and every increase in the demand for gold raises the purchasing power of an ounce of gold and lowers the purchasing power of wheat and corn and other products of the farm."


"Now I want to say to you that my denunciation of the gold standard is sustained by even this which you can see. Let me give you a proof. If a man tells you the gold standard is a good thing, you ask him why it is that no party in the history of the United States has ever declared for a gold standard in its platform. Is it not strange if the gold standard is a good thing that no party has ever seen fit to say so in a platform? And yet that is true. It is true no national party has ever indorsed a gold standard, and yet there are people who favor it.

Why don't they have the courage to write a platform and risk an issue before the people? But, no, they don't do that. They go to St. Louis and write and adopt a platform which says that the Republican party pledges itself to secure bimetallism, which, of course, is a denunciation of a gold standard. (Laughter and applause.) If the gold standard is good, why should we try to get rid of it, my friends? Why did not the Republican party pledge itself to help keep a gold standard?"


"But no, it pledged itself to get rid of the gold standard just as soon as other nations will help us. (Laughter and applause.) That is not my language my friends. That is the language of the Republican platform, and that is the construction placed upon it by the candidate who runs upon it in its acceptance. He says in his letter that the American people cannot enter upon bimetallism without the concurrent action of other nations. Does he say we shall maintain a gold standard for one year? No. For four years? No. But the conclusion is that we must maintain it forever if other nations say we must. (Applause.)

It is not a question of politics, my friends. Whole parties are divided on this issue. It rises above the question of politics. They have declared against the right of the people of the United States to govern themselves. They have declared that while we want to get rid of the gold standard we must keep the thing we don't want until aliens shall bring us the relief which we should achieve for ourselves. (Applause.)

I know not what view you may take of it, my friends, but in my humble judgment, the American people are the only people who have any right to say what the Americans have done for legislation. They have driven down the price of your products. They have increased the burden of your debts. They have foreclosed your mortgages. They are degrading and lowering the standard of civilization by driving people who want to work out upon the streets and the idleness breeds crime and crime menaces the safety of every citizen of the land." (Applause.)

(A voice: "How about free trade?")


"My friends, it is not more taxes the people want but more money to pay taxes with. (Great applause.) If there is not a farmer here with enough taxes to pay I beg him to go to his county treasurer and pay enough to satisfy his conscience and not try to tax all the rest of the people. (Applause.)

But I care not how men may differ upon the subject of taxation. The subject of taxation is ever present with us. We can change our tariff system any time, but we have reached a crisis in our monetary affairs and we have got to decide whether the American people will run our finances or turn our government over to syndicates to take care of us.

This question is of much importance to those who are seeking to raise the value of gold by legislation and should it not be important to those who for twenty years have suffered from this financial legislation? I met a farmer over in Illinois. He was a schoolmate of mine in college, a graduate from college. He is a man of exemplary habits, honest, frugal and industrious. He had his three children with him in the room and the tears rolled down his cheeks as he told me that if conditions remained as they were it was the saddest thing he had to contemplate that he could not give to those children the education and advantages he wanted to."


"That home is multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands in this land. You tell me it is just to have a system of legislation that takes away from the parent the possibility of educating his children as he would, and compensates for it by giving money undeserved into the hands of those who by machination corner the money market and spend the money by buying foreign titles for their daughters. (Loud and continued applause.)

My friends, civilization is wrapped up in the solution of the money question. It is the main question involved in this campaign. The right of self-government and the existence of republican institutions is involved in it. If foreign nations can force a financial policy upon the American nation they will want to enforce their system of government, a system which brings distress to the people, a system which is a monarchal system and which maintains itself by standing armies. And now when we speak out against unjust legislation they say we are disturbers of the public peace and menaces to the law."


"Do you mean to say that the farmers gathered here and the laborers who are congregated in our cities are enemies to our country? They have earned the epithets of our opponents, not because they menace law and order, not because they are going to inaugurate injustice because they say: 'Thou shalt not steal' shall apply to the corporations as well as the burglar and highwayman. It is because they declare that this country was not instituted in order that its instrumentalities should be monopolized by those who sue the government for their own ends and put it in distress. (Applause.)

But I cannot talk longer. (Cries of "go on, go on.") No, I have to go back to speak at another town tonight. I would like to talk to an audience like this, until I could say many more things which, in my judgment, are worthy of your consideration. I shall have done all I hoped if I have impressed upon you the importance of studying the money question. If somebody cries 'fire' and you don't know where the fire is you may seemed little concerned, but if a man tells you your house is on fire you become interested."


"The promulgation of the gold standard is an attack upon your homes and your firesides, and you have as much right to resist it as to resist an army marching to take your children captive and burn the roof over your head. (Applause.) I have simply told you what I believe. I have spoke the sentiments that lie deep in my heart. I used to be indifferent to the money question.

Until six years ago I thought anybody was a crank who talked about money, but when I got to study the money question I found it overshadowed all questions, that it was deeper and greater and higher than all other questions which we had to deal with, and when I read in the address of Mr. Carlisle that the consumption of this scheme meant more misery to the human race than our worse pestilence that ever occurred in the history of the world, I began to realize the importance of the money question.

I believe Mr. Carlisle spoke the truth and it is because I believe that the gold standard has made more misery for the human race than wars and pestilence and famines, more misery than human mind can conceive or human tongue can tell, it is because I believe that prophecy, that is, ever since I became convinced of it, that I have cried out against the conspiracy and I shall cry out against it as long as God gives me the voice to speak." (Applause and cheers.)

About this Document

  • Source: The Evening News
  • Published: Lincoln, NE
  • Citation: 2
  • Date: August 28, 1896