Minneapolis, MN Speech 3, 1896-10-12

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Monday, October 12, 1896 at 10:00pm
Lyceum Theater, Minneapolis, MN

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

"Ladies: I believe this is the first political campaign in which a presidential candidate has addressed his remarks to an audience composed entirely of ladies and discussed an economic question before those who do not vote upon it, and yet I offer no apology. On the contrary, I deem it not only a great privilege but a great honor. My experience teaches me that the mother and the wife are important members of the family. In fact, if I could only have one I would rather have the wife on my side in the beginning of the campaign than the husband. I will tell you why: if I have the wife I am almost sure to have the husband before the campaign is over, and if I only have the husband I am never sure of keeping him.

Another thing: Some of the best arguments which have been advanced on this subject have been advanced by the women. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and it is certainly true that the best arguments arise from our own experiences. The women have been learning from experience what the gold standard means. A lady who was canvassing in Nebraska gave utterance the other day to one of the best things which this campaign has thus far produced. She called at our house to secure some literature on the silver question to circulate as she went from place to place, and while there remarked that she had a brother who was a gold man without any gold. She said that she could understand how a man could be a gold man if he had the gold, but that she could only pity a gold man without any gold.

And yet, this is the condition in which a large majority of gold men find themselves—they are gold men without any gold. When you find a gold man without the gold, you find one whom you can convert. He has simply been misled. While the gold standard is a good thing for a few, it is a bad thing for the great majority of the American people. Our cause grows from day to day, and the reason for the growth is found in the fact that the arguments in behalf of bimetallism appeal to the heads of those who think and to the hearts of those who feel, while the gold standard appeals only to the heartless. The wives and mothers are taking a deeper interest than usual in this campaign because they are becoming acquainted with the effects of the gold standard. They know that instead of being a just measure of deferred payments, the gold standard has become a measure of deferred hope—and hope deferred maketh the heart sick.

The money question is not too deep to be understood by the American people. The great questions of state are, after all, simple in their last analysis. Every great political question is first a great economic question, and every great economic question is in reality a great moral question. Questions are not settled until the right and wrong of the questions are determined. Questions are not settled by a discussion of the details; they are not settled until the people grasp the fundamental principles, and when these principles are fully comprehended, then the people settle the question and they settle it for a generation. The people are studying the money question, studying it as they have not studied it before; aye, studying it as they have been studying no economic question before in your lifetime or mine; and studying means understanding. To study we must commence at the foundation and reason upward.

I remember hearing a sermon preached once, in the course of which the preacher illustrated the difficulty which people sometimes encounter in the study of a great question, He said that if one attempted to draw a tree through a narrow gate by taking hold of one of the branches, he would find that the other branches would spread out so that he could not get the tree through the gate; but that if he would take the stem or trunk of the tree and pull that through first; then he would have no difficulty. I often think of that illustration. A study of the details without a knowledge of the principles involved is only confusing, but a study of principles makes the details plain. I was out in the West about a year ago, and I noticed their great systems of irrigation, and as I watched those canals wending their way through the valleys, this thought came to me: Upon what principle is irrigation based? And then it occurred to me that the principle was a very simple one, namely, that water runs down hill. Now the person who does not understand that water runs down hill can never make a success of irrigation; but when a person understands that water runs down hill, then all he has to do is to dig a ditch with a slight fall and he can carry water anywhere. So in the study of the money question. If you fail to understand the fundamental principles, you study in vain.

Now what is the first great principle? It is that the value of the dollar depends upon the number of dollars. Dollars can be made dear or cheap by changing the quantity of them. This is a simple proposition, it is fundamental and when you understand it you understand the most important thing about the money question. When you understand that the value of a dollar depends upon the number of dollars, then you not only understand what a change in the volume of money means, but you understand who is benefited by it, and why those who are benefited by it desire it. Let me illustrate the principle. Let us suppose ourselves walled in here with just enough wheat within the enclosure to last us a year; and let us suppose that, taking the supply and demand into consideration, wheat is worth a dollar a bushel. Now suppose the wheat to be gathered into two great piles and that one man owns one pile—or to suit the illustration to this audience, suppose that one woman owns one pile and that another woman owns the other pile; and suppose that the owner of one pile should read in the morning paper that the other pile had been destroyed by fire. Now instead of the people having both piles for the year's supply, all would have to be fed from one pile, and what would be the result? Every bushel of wheat in the unburned pile would rise in value. Why? Because the demand for wheat would remain the same and the supply of wheat would be reduced one-half. Now what is the second thing you learn? That the woman who owns the pile not burned will profit by the rise in wheat. And what is the third? She would be glad that it was the other pile of wheat that burned instead of hers. Now that is a simple illustration. Let me apply it to the silver question. According to statistics we have about four billions of silver money in the world and about four billions of gold money. Suppose we destroy the silver pile and make the gold pile do the work of both, what is the result? The demand for money would remain the same, and the supply of standard money would be reduced one-half. The result must be a rise in the value of each dollar. When wheat rises in value a bushel of wheat buys more money; when money rises in value a dollar in money buys more wheat. What is the second result? The people who own the money, or who own contracts payable in dollars, profit by the rise. And third? They are glad that they make the profit. Now is that an unfair application of the illustration? What I illustrate by argument I can enforce by authority. Senator Sherman stated in 1869 that a contraction of the currency would bring disaster, bankruptcy, etc., to all the people except the capitalists out of debt, the salaried officer and the annuitant. These are exempt from the evil effects of a rising dollar, because, standing in the position of those who own money or money contracts and having no debts, they profit when their property—money—increases in value. If I tell you that the owner of land profits, when his land rises in value, you believe use. If I tell you that the owner of any kind of property profits when that property rises in value, you believe me. When I tell you that the owner of money profits when money rises in value, you cannot refuse to believe me.

Mr. Blaine spoke on the same subject in 1878, and said that the destruction of silver as money and the establishment of gold as the sole unit of value would have a ruinous effect on all forms of property except those investments which yield a fixed return in money. These, he said, would be enormously enhanced in value, and would be given a disproportionate and unfair advantage over every other species of property.

Others have spoken along the same line. In 1891 the present Republican candidate for the Presidency, speaking at Toledo, Ohio, condemned Mr. Cleveland for his efforts to degrade silver and to contract the currency. He said in that denunciation that Mr. Cleveland was making money dearer by making it scarcer; that he was making money the master—all things else the servant. My friends, these principles have long been understood, and it is only recently that our opponents have been compelled to repudiate history and reject the teachings of experience in order to defend a system which has nothing to commend it except the misery which has followed wherever it has been tried.

The gold standard means dearer money; dearer money means cheaper property; cheaper property means harder times; harder times means more people out of work; more people out of work means more people destitute; more people destitute means more people desperate; more people desperate means more crime.

My friends, you are charitable; you willingly give of your abundance to help those who are in distress, but remember that the poor people of this country are not now asking charity of you so much as they are demanding justice.

It has been said that woman is the conscience of the human race, and I endorse the proposition. I believe that women can grasp the great principles of justice and can detect right from wrong probably with more clearness and with more distinctness than men, because they are not surrounded by so many of the influences, personal and political, which may prevent a real understanding of the issues involved. I therefore appeal to you, who are interested in your sons and daughters, to look well before you throw your influence on the side of the gold standard, which means more wealth to the few, but more poverty and misery for the many.

And remember this, you cannot live for yourselves alone; nor can you control the destinies of those whom you leave. If you could provide against all future contingencies; if you could leave your money to your children and be sure that, to the remotest generation, it would protect them from want and misery, you might feel indifferent; but you cannot do this. You cannot guard them after you are gone and you cannot make your wealth stay with them. Even if you leave it to them it may injure rather than aid them. You can only leave them one thing which is sure to be a blessing, namely, a good government. Leave them a government which, instead of giving favors to a few at the expense of the many, will protect every citizen in the enjoyment of life, of liberty and in the pursuit of happiness, and you leave your children the richest possible heritage.

The cities have not felt the pinch of the gold standard as quickly as the country has, and when you, mothers and wives, are enjoying the comforts of life—if you have still escaped—I beg you to give one moment's thought to the mothers and wives throughout this land whose lot has been made harder and whose life has been made darker by the gold standard. You may read its history and you will find that the gold standard never brought a ray of hope to those who sat in darkness; never gave inspiration and hope to those who are disheartened. According to Mr. Carlisle, when he spoke in 1878, the consummation of the scheme to destroy one-half the money of the world would ultimately entail upon the human race more misery than has been wrought by all the wars, pestilences and famines that have ever occurred in the history of the world. I believe that he was right. Enter, if you will, into the homes of the land and see how the living expenses have been cut down because other expenses could not be cut down. See how prices have fallen while debts, taxes and other fixed charges have refused to fall. Go into the home where the mortgage is being foreclosed—where the husband and wife started out with the laudable ambition to own a home, paid down what they had saved with the expectation of being able to pay the balance, but which the gold standard, with its rising dollar and its falling prices, has made it impossible to pay. Multiply this case by the number of such cases and then remember, my friends, that all that these families have lost has been gained by those who hold fixed investments, who trade in money and profit by the adversities of the people.

The gold standard has been tried in this country for twenty years and yet no party has ever declared it to be good. It has been tried in Germany, and Prince Bismarck tells you in a recent letter that he is in favor of bimetallism. If the gold standard has been a blessing to Germany, why does Prince Bismarck desire to go back to bimetallism? Prince Bismarck speaks for the great mass of the people. Only a little more than a year ago they passed through the Reichstag a resolution declaring in favor of the restoration of bimetallism, but the Berlin Chamber of Commerce declared against it. So it is everywhere. If you will take from the gold standard the support of the monied classes it cannot stand for a day in any nation which now has it. The gold standard has never been supported by the masses; it has never received the endorsement of the creators of wealth. It has been fastened upon the people by the drones of society, not by the bees who make the honey.

Let me suggest a way in which you can detect truth from error in this case. What do our opponents talk about? The gold standard? Oh, no. They talk about sound money. Now you know human nature, and you know that a man never uses an ambiguous phrase when a clear one will express the meaning, if he desires to have the meaning expressed. You do not use ambiguous phrases when you talk to your friends. You do not use language in a double sense when you desire to be understood. It is only when you are evading questions and dodging issues that you use language which can be construed in any way. When you find advocates of the gold standard using the phrase 'sound money' instead of the gold standard, you may rest assured that they use the phrase because it sounds better than the gold standard. You hear them talking about honest money; why do they not tell us what they mean by honest money? We desire honest money and we believe that we are advocating a dollar more nearly honest than the gold dollar under a gold standard. We say that we want the free coinage of silver, the unlimited coinage of silver, coinage at 16 to 1 and coinage immediately, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation. We tell you what we want, why we want it and how we expect to secure it, and I believe that those who have confidence enough in the people to elaborate their plans before the people, have more claim upon the confidence of the people than those who expect the people to trust them, but who will not themselves trust the people.

Sometimes our opponents say that, even if demonetization is wrong, it is unwise to go back to bimetallism. It is not simply a question of going back. We have not reached the end of the gold standard yet; we have simply commenced; we are just getting a good start in the direction of the gold standard. We are not upon a gold standard level, we are on a decline. If you say that it is wrong to take from gold some of its purchasing power, I reply that the question is not whether we shall leave gold purchasing the same that it does now. The question is whether we will take out of the gold some of its purchasing power or go on crowding into gold more and more purchasing power. If you say that it is not fair to pay back a dollar which will buy less than the dollar borrowed, I reply that if you are advocating the gold standard you are advocating a system which makes every man who borrows money pay back a larger dollar than he borrowed. If you demand exact equity you must be willing to do equity.

I repeat that we are on a declining plane; that we are going down, and that under the gold standard gold will be made dearer still, for every nation that goes to the gold standard will increase the demand for gold, and every new demand for gold will raise the purchasing power of an ounce of gold and depress prices. The result will be that when nation after nation has joined in this crusade for gold, we shall simply compel all mankind to bid for that metal, and the one who offers the most of the products of his toil will secure the metal until some one bids more than he. Under the gold standard, joined in by all the nations, the moment a little gold goes out of the country commerce will be at a standstill, and you must either issue bonds and bring gold back or lower prices and bring it back in that way, and the moment it comes back there will be a struggle among other nations to get it from us again. The gold standard simply means that commerce will always be agitated and the few who hold the money of the world will be able to loan it first to one nation and then to another, and thus gather in all the fruits of those who toil, while the masses of the people will be hewers of wood and haulers of water receiving each year less consideration and enjoying less of comfort than they did the year before.

Do you think that this condition can last? No, my friends, no condition of bondage was ever permanent. The taskmaster has always thought that his supremacy would be safe if he could only stop the complaint of those who served under him, but you cannot stop the complaint until you take away the cause of complaint. The taskmaster is never wise enough to see that agitation will exist while there is cause for dissatisfaction. Do you tell me that the gold standard can be made permanent? I must change my opinion of the Almighty's love before I can believe that he intended the great majority of the human race to toil while a few grow fat by despoiling them. Do you tell me that civilization must result in driving the extremes of society farther apart? No, it cannot be so. When we talk about the common people—and by them we mean the great mass of people who do not assume a superiority over others —we are called demagogues, and yet, my friends, the common people have given to the world all that it has of good. The common people have brought to society all that is valuable. Every reform has come up from the people, it has never come down from the well-to-do of society.

If you ask me why, I point to a wiser than any human teacher. When the Nazarene gave to His disciples the parable of the sower, and spoke of the seed that fell where the thorns sprang up and choked it, He explained that He meant that the cares of this word and the deceitfulness of riches choked the truth. It has always been so. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches have always choked the truth. The truth has not come from those who did not suffer, it has not come from those who were above want; the great movements for the benefit of society have come from those who needed to have society improved and their needs have been the stimulus to their actions.

Do not despise these people who complain of their condition. The Bible tells us that when Christ preached, those who devoured widows' houses would have turned Him away, but that the common people heard Him gladly. And yet, my friends, it is the common people who today are accused of being incapable of self-government. I assert that the common people of this nation are the only ones who will defend [d]emocratic institutions. It is the common people who appreciate our form of government; it is the common people who produce the wealth of the nation in time of peace, and it is the common people, and they alone, who in time of war are willing to offer their lives in their nation's defense. Do not ignore them; do not doubt their capacity for self-government; do not question their good intent; do not say that they have no cause for complaint when they ask for relief. Our opponents declare that we are opposed to the enforcement of law. We who stand upon the Chicago platform and who declare in favor of arbitration instead of force are the lovers of peace and order. We believe that the principles of justice administered in our courts can also be administered by boards of arbitration, and we believe that those who have a just cause ought to be willing to submit that cause to impartial arbitrators and abide the result. It is only error that shuns the court and seeks to substitute might for right.

I only came to speak to you for a moment, but the presence of so many and the interest manifested by you have caused me to talk longer than I intended. I beg you to realize that we are passing through a crisis in human affairs. This is no small contest. We have arrayed on either side the great forces of society. Against us are those influences which are considered strong and potential—money, the corporations and the high positions in politics and society, but on our side I believe, my friends, is simple justice. We are opposed to the trusts. We want our sons to be permitted to enter life with an even chance without becoming favorites of some great monopoly. We want our children and our children's children to have a right to their place in the race of life without fear of being crowded out by those great aggregations of wealth which are trampling upon the rights of individuals. We want this nation to be what our forefathers intended it to be. Jefferson was a better Republican than any Republican who stands upon the Republican platform and desires to transfer into the hands of foreign nations the right to legislate over matters of domestic importance. And, my friends, Lincoln was a better Democrat than any Democrat who has left the Democratic party in this campaign to cast in his lot with our opponents. And why? Because upon the fundamental principles Jefferson and Lincoln stood together. They believed in the people; they believed in our form of government, and they believed that this form of government was intended to be perpetuated for the benefit of all the people and not for the benefit of a few alone. We have a great fight on hand now to determine whether the people have a right to govern themselves, and it is not strange that in this fight we see men who voted for Lincoln taking the place of men who have been Democrats until this campaign.

I am not here to tell you upon which side your influence should be cast, but I do appeal to you to recognize the crisis through which we are passing, to recognize the issues at stake, to recognize the tremendous consequences which may follow, and then to throw your influence upon the side that you think is right. I am willing to trust the judgment of the American people; I am willing to trust the conscience of the people because they have always been sufficient in the past and I have no doubt that in this great crisis, whether it is settled now or hereafter, the judgment and the conscience of our people will be sufficient to guide us aright, to make our government better, to make our people happier, and to bring to all the people that joy and prosperity which the gold standard has confined to so small a portion.

I thank you again and again for the honor that you did me in inviting me to address you and for the courtesy which you have shown me."

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: 547-554
  • Date: October 12, 1896