La Salle, IL Speech, 1896-10-24

Speech by William Jennings Bryan.

Speech by William Jennings Bryan
Saturday, October 24, 1896
Depot, La Salle, IL

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

"Two distinguished men have called me to account because of advice which I gave to railroad employes. In speaking of the attempt of the railroads to coerce their employes I said that in these hard times, when employment is so difficult to find, I did not want to advise laboring men to do anything which would lose them their employment, and added that they should wear Republican buttons if necessary, march in Republican parades if they were commanded to do so, and even contribute to the Republican campaign fund if that was required by their employers, but that they should vote according to their convictions on election day. Mr. Ingalls, the president of a railroad, in a speech at Cincinnati denounced me for advising employes to deceive their employers, and ex-President Harrison has charged me with teaching immorality in giving the advice which I have quoted.

Now, I desire to justify my position. The right to vote according to one's conscience is a law-given right. Coercion is a violation of law, and when I advise employes to vote as they please, even though they must wear Republican buttons and march in Republican parades, I am taking higher moral ground and giving more patriotic advice than those who countenance coercion and appeal to employes to vote the Republican ticket on election day merely because they have been compelled to wear Republican badges during the campaign.

When a man criticises me for advising employes to express their honest convictions at the ballot box, I ask what such people think of the Australian ballot. The Australian ballot is a secret ballot and we have adopted it in this country in order to protect American citizens in the right to vote according to conscience without being subjected to discharge or persecution. When Mr. Harrison and Mr. Ingalls condemn me for telling employes to vote as they please, they virtually condemn the Australian ballot; in fact, they condemn all secret ballots and tell the citizen he ought to announce in advance how he is going to vote.

There are some who can announce their position in advance, and when a citizen is in a position to act with independence I am glad to see him do so; but when an employer violates the rights of his employes by demanding that they march in parades or wear certain badges, the employe has a right to take advantage of the secret ballot. I am willing to let the public sit in judgment upon the advice which I have given to employees if Mr. Ingalls and Mr. Harrison are willing to submit their advice to the public."

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: 571
  • Date: October 24, 1896