To American Workingmen

This speech, delivered by Nebraska Senator John M. Thurston on September 19, 1896, addresses an audience of workingmen and mechanics in Chicago, Illinois. In his address, Thurston argues that the "promise of something for nothing is false and dangerous to the people."


To American Workingmen

Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska on the Great Issues of the Day



"A Promise of Something for Nothing is False and Dangerous to the People"

To American Workingmen

An immense gathering of workingmen and mechanics opened the "lenting season" of the political campaign in Chicago on September 19, 1896. They gathered under a tent, with a covering capacity of twelve thousand persons, which was filled to its utmost limit, to listen to an address by United States Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska. Senator Thurston's words on that occasion were as follows:

I am glad to meet you here in this great commercial and Industrial center of the Nation. I am glad to meet you here in a city which stands as a grand monument to the energy and enterprise and business success of the American people, which testifies more eloquently than can words of man to the opportunities, advantages and possibilities which the people of this country enjoy in far greater measure than those of any other land.

The men who live in Chicago will remember that the city has more than doubled in population, in buildings erected, in manufactories established, and that it has at least quadrupled in business done, in men employed, in wages paid, since 1873. The men of Chicago will remember that this city was the greatest and the busiest hive of production and employment known to the world from 1873 to 1892. The workingmen of Chicago will remember that when its factories were open and its business enterprises booming, it offered the greatest inducements and advantages to human labor that human labor has ever had. And the farmers of Illinois will remember that prosperous Chicago, busy Chicago, manufacturing Chicago, meant more to them in the demand for, and the prices of, their products than all the foreign markets combined; and any policy or any legislation which will bring back to the city of Chicago the business and production and activity and prosperity of 1892 must be worthy of the support of the toilers and producers of your city and your State.

My countrymen, it is not my purpose to-night to attempt any oratorical effort. I shall not amuse you with anecdote; I have no time. The issues of this campaign are so important and the responsibilities upon us all so great, that we can well afford to devote ourselves to their careful and practical consideration. I shall endeavor to speak to you in the simplest and plainest language. I do not seek your applause, but I ask your careful attention. My sole ambition is to give you something to think over in the quiet of your own homes, by your firesides, in the presence of your wives and children, where the deliberate judgment of the American people should be made up.


This is not so much a political campaign as it is a business campaign. The American people are out of employment; more business means more employment; they are long on time and short on labor. This is the first Presidential campaign in a quarter of a century when the people have had leisure to reflect and think; and they are reflecting and thinking deeply, as they should. An idle man, a homeless man, a hungry man cares little for party.

In 1892 our people were so prosperous they thought it perfectly safe to try almost any sort of an experiment. But they cannot afford to experiment now. The issue in the country is between good times and bad times. Under the monetary and tariff legislation, which William McKinley helped to frame, we had good times. Under the present tariff legislation, which William J. Bryan helped to frame, and for which he voted in Congress, and under the fear of a debased currency and the financial revolution which William J. Bryan threatens, we are having bad times. You changed from good to bad by your votes, and you now have a chance to change again, either from bad to good or from bad to worse.

This is not an issue between Republicanism and Democracy. The Chicago convention was not the council chamber of the Democratic party. The nominee of that convention carries the regular banner, but it was wrested from true Democracy by Populism and the Commune. If true Democracy lives, its future historian will trace its title through the Indianapolis convention. If true Democracy dies, its monument will declare, "Assassinated at Chicago."


My countrymen, I come to you to-day inspired not only by the hope, but by the knowledge, of certain Republican victory.

Three weeks ago I was in my native State, Vermont. In every time of great public danger Vermont has responded to the call of duty. When Sumpter [sic] was fired upon, one of her great Democrats, Paul Dillingham, said: "There shall be no Democratic party in Vermont until the Union is saved." Her people are as patriotic in 1896 as in 1861, for, with a new menace to the integrity of the nation and the welfare of the people, her greatest living Democratic statesmen, ex-Minister Phelps, now says that it is the duty of every true Democrat to place country first and to maintain its financial honor, as against any party platform. When Vermont spoke she spoke not alone for her Republicans, but for her true Democracy as well.

In Maine I found the State afire with Republican enthusiasm, ready to stand, where Blaine stood, for sound money, protection and reciprocity. And what a mighty answer Maine has given to the Chicago platform.

Vermont and Maine are agricultural states. A large majority of the people are farmers, the descendants of men who have for generations battled with the sterility of the mountain sides, and won a frugal livelihood by incessant toil. Vermont and Maine are the beginning of the end. The same intelligent consideration of the present issues by the people of the country will produce the same result.

Not in Arkansas, or Alabama, or Georgia, where majorities are made, by those entrenched in power, to suit the necessities or the demands of party; not, perhaps, in those five silver States where a local interest for the time being prevents a fair consideration of the great national problem, but in every other State of the Union where the ballot box registers the conscience, the judgment and the patriotism of the electors, there will be the same glorious result.

I visited Massachusetts, rich in its memories of Plymouth, of Lexington, of Bunker Hill; Massachusetts, which gave first blood for independence and for the Union. And I found Massachusetts, without regard to party lines, almost unanimous for McKinley.

And then to New York, which Bryan calls the "enemy's country"; but which is not and will not be an enemy's country to any man who stands for the institutions, the welfare and the honor of the United States. And in New York I thought of grand John A. Dix, who said: "If any man hauls down the American flag, shoot him on the spot."

In times of peace we have no bullets for the political enemies of our country, but we have ballots; and New York, the great Empire State, the Gibraltar of true Democracy, will overwhelm the Popocratic aggregation by at least a quarter of a million majority.

And then through Maryland and Virginia and West Virginia, all sacred ground, drenched with the blood of two great armies. And then to Indiana, the state of Morton and Harrison. And, my countrymen, they are all for McKinley; yes, even old Virginia.

I understand that Mr. Bryan said, on his return to Nebraska from his last starring tour, that Illinois was safe for 50,000. I believe it. I have no doubt of it. Yes for 100,000, but not for that kind of a William.


I notice in the press reports a statement that Senators Gorman and Jones have determined to put an end to Mr. Bryan's present style of campaigning. I hope they will not do it. If he keeps on speaking for six weeks more the country will be unanimous-for McKinley. Watch for the majorities along his line of march. Curiosity is not conversion; and the multitudes who flock to the circus tent are not seized with any decided inclination to make any of the spangled performers the ruler of the nation. No man who appeals to class prejudice; who incites the populace to tear down those who have succeeded in life; no man who puts sectionalism above nationalism, can ever be elected President of the United States.

Dennis Kearney once held San Francisco in his power; heralded as a conqueror, he crossed the continent, greeted and cheered in every city by a vast concourse of excited and delighted men, who saw in him and his teachings the dawn of a new opportunity for American labor. But to-day no man cares whether he is living or dead, and his false doctrines are repudiated and reviled by even those who cheered him to the echo as he passed from sea to sea.

Populism has had its day. It had no higher mission than that of exciting the envy and jealousy and discontent of those whose lots are humbly cast. But it could not live. Our government is so truly of the people; its laws so just; its opportunities so free to all; its intelligence so great; its common sense so strong; that no sectional uprising and no class warfare can ever seriously threaten or disturb the permanency of its written constitution, its established laws, its glorious institutions, its progressive prosperity, or its majestic grandeur as the foremost Republic of the world.


My friends, political quacks have been offering cure-alls to the people since the world began. There is a subtle charm in every promise of something for nothing, of property without payment, of accumulation without toil, of bread without the sweat of the brow. It is impossible to realize what a charm there is in the word free when coupled with a party policy or a political promise. The policy of a tariff for revenue only would not have outlasted its first disastrous experiment and overthrow if it had not been for the term free trade. The policy of opening our mints to, and placing our National credit under, the silver product of the whole world, would not carry one precinct in the country if it were not for the specious suggestion of "free" silver. Something for nothing. The hope held out to those who toil that in some way, not explained or understood, they are to have a share in the vast stores of silver money when coinage and silver are free. Free to whom? Will it be free to any man in the State of Illinois; to any man who toils upon a farm or in a shop? Will it be free except to the owners of silver mines and the capitalists who can purchase silver bullion for coinage purposes? Will it be free except to those who can secure the cheap money with which to buy your grain or pay your wages? What is the free coinage of silver? The silver advocates say it is simply placing the stamp of Government upon the coin to attest to its weight and fineness. If this were all, we would not for a moment oppose their plans, for the coins would deceive no one, and would immediately go upon the market, as the bullion goes, at their commercial value. The bullion owners could not force the people of this country to accept such dollars, and such coinage would not be of any possible value to the mine owners. But this is not what they propose. They insist, and the Chicago platform declares, that they shall have the right to bring all the bullion of all the world, of all now coined and uncoined in other countries, of all now mined, and of all the vast stores yet undiscovered in the mountains, to our mints and have it coined at our expense and returned to them, with a law attached compelling the people of this country to accept all dollars thus coined as full legal tender for all debts, public and private, for all products sold, for all services rendered, for all labor done, at 200 cents on the dollar.

The man of the factory, the mill and the shop, cannot compel the mine owner to accept his labor at a double price. Why should the mine owners be given the right to compel the wage earners and producers of the country to accept their silver product at double its market value. [sic]

They insist that we should pass an Act of Congress compelling the laboring man to accept such dollars for his weekly wage. They demand that Congress shall mark up the value of their product 200 per cent. The iniquity of their scheme is this, that it authorizes the capitalists, the manufacturers and the employers of the country, to pay to labor and to the producer the cheapest dollars that can be secured when the time of payment comes.

I can take the dollars of my country, gold or silver or paper, and go into the four corners of the habitable globe; I can transact business with all peoples-civilized, semi-civilized and barbaric-without fear of discount, depreciation or discredit. I want the dollars of the United States to go around the world as the day goes: honored and respected by all mankind. I can take the dollars of my country into every gold standard nation of the earth, and I can buy as much in any home store of those countries as the most privileged citizen of the community can buy with the best dollar his government gives him for use. I can take the dollars of my country into every free silver coinage nation of the world-Mexico, China, Japan, South America, wherever you please-and I can buy twice as much as the home store as the most privileged citizen of the locality can buy with the best dollar his government gives him for use. I do not care to exchange my privilege with any man who is ready to give me two of his dollars for one of mine; I do not care to go across the line into Canada, as the Mexican comes across the line into the United States, with an apology for a fifty-cent dollar. I do not wish to see the Goddess of Liberty placed upon a depreciated coin. When we put the American eagle on a piece of metal, we ought to put him there with every tail feather rampant for the glory of his country. We cannot afford to Mexicanize American manhood, American muscle or American money.


It is contended by the advocates of free silver that this is an issue between the gold standard and bimetallism. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an issue between a monetary system, which will give us silver alone, and the existing monetary system which gives us a practical bimetallism. Every gold standard country of the world has in circulation, side by side, gold and silver and paper. The United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and all the great commercial, industrial and progressive nations, make gold the standard, and under it give to their people for their daily use gold and silver and paper, all equal in purchasing and debt-paying power, every dollar interchangeable with every other dollar.

In every free-silver coinage country gold has been driven out. It is not in use as money, and the only money in use in those countries is silver money, at its bullion value, and paper redeemable in silver. The poorest dollar of any gold-standard country can be exchanged for two of the best dollars of any free-silver country. I prefer to live in a country which can do business on equal terms with the great nations of the world, rather than to live in a country whose standard of money has already gone down to the half-way point, with the prospect of still further depreciation.

In the gold-standard countries of the world, with their joint use of gold and silver, there is more than five times as much money in circulation per capita as there is in the free-silver countries of the world. The United States, under the existing standard, has in circulation more than $22 per capita, while Mexico, the most advanced free-silver nation, has in circulation but $4.50 per capita, all in silver, worth at the present time about 53 cents on the dollar; no, not 53 cents, for its value has fallen two cents since the Chicago convention was held, and the people of Mexico are preparing for a still further fall in value after our November election.

THE "CRIME" OF 1873.

But they tell us that our congress, twenty-three years ago, committed a great crime. They call it the crime of 1873-a so-called crime, which was not discovered, the effects of which were not felt or known until more than nineteen years after its commission. What was the crime of 1873? It is alleged that silver was then demonetized. I ask every man in this audience, when he goes to his home to examine all the silver dollars in his possession, and unless he explores the hiding place of family keep sakes, unless he finds the dollar which grandma laid away after her first baby had used it for teeth-cutting purposes, he will not find one single dollar which bears a date prior to 1878. There is not to-day one silver dollar in actual circulation in the United States which bears date prior to 1873. The older men in this audience will attest to the fact that there was not in circulation from 1861 to 1873, or for that matter, until 1878, an American silver dollar. Every one of the 439,000,000 which have been given to the people for their use, has been given them since the so-called crime of 1873, and under legislation which pledges the faith of the government to maintain its integrity, and which guarantees that the silver dollar or the silver certificate which comes into the hand of labor, shall be as good, shall buy as much as the gold dollar laid away in the vaults of the capitalist. All this talk about gold being the rich man's money and silver the poor man's money does not and cannot apply in this country, but does apply and will apply in every free-coinage country in the world.

It is only under free coinage of silver that two dollars of unequal value and purchasing power can exist. Wherever dollars of unequal value do exist, the disadvantage is always to the poor man and the toiler, and all the gain is for the money-changer and the capitalist.


Will free coinage result in a depreciated dollar?

Mr. Bryan, at his Madison Square meeting, before all of the audience had left, declared that, in his belief, opening our mints to the free and unlimited coinage of the world's silver would immediately advance the price of silver from 68 cents per ounce, its present bullion value, to $1.29 an ounce, its coinage value, in gold.

Is there anything in history, or the experience of mankind, to justify such a belief? Can the American people afford to chance the business and prosperity of this county [sic] and of its seventy-five million people to the belief of any man, however distinguished, when that belief is in direct opposition to the accepted judgment of mankind? As Mr. Foraher has so well said, "Can we afford to make an experiment station of the White House?"

The free coinage of silver by other countries has never yet lifted its purchasing power above its bullion value. The stamp of government has never yet increased the value of the metal upon which it has been placed. Gold remains gold and silver remains silver. It will pass current among all peoples, not on account of the hat of any government, but on account of the intrinsic value of the coin itself.

But is Mr. Bryan sincere or honest in his alleged belief? He promises the East that silver will appreciate to $1.29 per ounce in gold, thereby to allay the fear of the inevitable contraction and financial panic which would result from a change to a depreciated currency; and in the Middle and Western States, Mr. Bryan and all his followers tell the people that the present gold dollar has appreciated in value until it is worth 200 cents, and the mission of his party is to restore the dollar of 100 cents. Put it as you please, let the present dollar be called a 100 cent dollar or a 200 cent dollar, his promise, and that of his party, is to reduce its present value one half.

He also promises the farmers of the West a double price for all their products, which he tells them will certainly result from the free coinage of silver; and which can only result because of the substitution of a dollar worth only half as much as the dollar now in use. One belief or the other must be a dishonest belief. If our farmers are to receive a double price for their products, it will be because the dollars they receive are worth half as much as those now in use. If free coinage of silver will lift the price of silver the wide world over to $1.29 an ounce in gold, then there is no cheapening of the dollar, no increase in the price of our products, no scaling down of our indebtedness, no settlement of debts at half price.

Will the opening of our mints to the free and unlimited coinage of the world's product of silver double the value of all the silver money of the world, and of all the silver bullion that can be produced from year to year? The proposition is preposterous on the face of it. That the law of the United States will double the value of four thousand millions of silver money now in use throughout the world, is absurd; and if the silver advocates are right in their theory that all our ills are because of the appreciation of money, what a frightful crime they are proposing against the people of the silver standard countries. For, if they are correct, the doubling of the value of the money of those counties will precipitate upon their unoffending people all of the depression, stagnation, and ills which they so loudly bewail in the United States. One thing is certain. When our mints are opened to the free and unlimited coinage of silver, the value of the silver bullion of all the world must rise to the gold standard of the great industrial and commercial countries, or the coin value of all our silver moneys must go down to the present value of the silver moneys of the free coinage countries. Which is it to do? Are we to lift Mexico, Japan, China, and South America to our standard, or are we to fall to theirs? The very hazard of the experiment is enough to paralyze all business, destroy all confidence, stop all enterprise, limit all manufacture, curtail all credits, raise all interest rates and make increased manufacture or investment an absolute impossibility.

When our mints are opened to the free and unlimited coinage of the world's silver, when Congress has passed a law making our silver a legal tender for all debts, public and private, when we have Mexicanized our dollars, the man who will then be working, the man who will then be receiving a salary, will not know until pay day the real value of the dollar he is to receive.

Such a law will authorize the savings banks of the country to pay their depositors in the cheapest money the banks can secure. It will authorize all other banks to pay their depositors in the same way. It will authorize the life insurance companies, when you and I are dead and gone, to pay to our widows and orphans the cheapest dollars that are in existence at the time. We have paid our premiums under the gold standard, looking to no profit, not as a matter of investment, but out of our abundant love for those most dear to us, that when we are gone they may be provided for and not left to the cold charity of the world. I wish to know that my widow and my children, after I am gone, will be paid the full amount of the policies on my life in dollars that are certain to be just as good in their hands as the dollars in which I have paid, from year to year, the premiums on the policies.


What is the free coinage of silver? There are many people in this country who actually believe that under free coinage our mint will be a sort of government threshing machine, that the mine owners will feed their bullion into the front end while the people stand around the other end of the machine and the dollars run out into their pockets. Such is not the case. Of all the bullion that will be brought to our mints not one dollar will go into the Treasury of the United States. We, the people, will pay all the expenses of running the machine, and the same men who feed the bullion into the one end will hold the bag into which the dollars fall at the other. You may open our mints to the free and unlimited coinage of silver until the mine owners of the world with the dollars we coin can build a pyramid whose apes reaches to the eternal stars, and when it is builded and completed, there is not one man in the United States who can take just one dollar from that pile unless he has 100 cents worth of labor, or the product of labor, to give in exchange. And whenever a man in this free country has an opportunity to exchange his labor or his products for money, he ought to insist upon receiving in payment the best dollar that the civilized world affords.


If there is benefit in free coinage, who will receive it? Is there a man in the State of Illinois who has a piece of silver bullion as large as my fist to present at our mint, to have coined at twice its real value? Not a man. Who are the men to benefit by free coinage? First, the silver mine owners of the United States. The silver mines of the United States are all, or nearly all, represented by mining stocks, a great proportion of which have been sold abroad. The silver mines of other countries, of British Columbia, Mexico, Australia and of South America, are owned by foreigners. This is not a question of protecting our own silver product. It is a question of putting the faith of this government under the silver product of the world, not for the benefit of our people, but for the benefit of the mine owners of all countries. Can we afford to do it? Can we afford to take the chances?

If we are to double the value of products by law, if that can be done; if the fiat of Congress can make a thing sell for twice its present price, then let us exercise this hitherto unknown power in favor of those products in which more of the people of our country are directly interested. If we can double the price of things by law, then let us apply this power to the egg crop of the United States. The value of our egg output is greater than that of the American silver output. Why not pass a law to put the stamp of government on every egg in the country, certifying "this is two eggs," and thereby double the income of every hen raiser. If we can double the value of things by law, then let us declare that a peck is a bushel, and we multiply the entire grain product of the country by four. But it can be stored in the same bins and elevators.

Let us declare by law that eight feet and a quarter is a rod, and double the size of every American farm; yea, in this time of rumors of war and threatened foreign complications, why not declare by law that six inches is a foot and make every man in the United States twelve feet tall. Would that give us army of giants?

History is not silent as to experiments of this kind. I find in chapter 21, of Macaulay's History of England, that in the time of 1663 the same ideas prevailed, a similar party existed as we find in the United States at the present time. Growing out of the attempted circulation side by side of clipped crowns and milled crowns, one of light weight, the other a full weight, piece of money, there arose a set of politicians, as Macaulay says, "Who were for a general and immediate recoinage, and who insisted that the new shillling [sic] should be worth only nine pence, or nine pence halfpenny. At the head of this party was William Lawndes, Secretary of the Treasury and member of Parliament for the borough of Seaford, a most respectable and industrious public servant, but much more versed in the details of his office than in the higher practice of political philosophy. He was not in the least aware that a piece of metal with the king's head on it was a commodity of which the price was governed by the same laws that govern the price of a piece of metal fashioned into a spoon or buckle, and that it was no more in the power of Parliament to make the kingdom richer by calling a crown a pound, than to make the kingdom larger by calling a furlong a mile. He seriously believed, incredible as it may seem, that if the ounce of silver was divided into seven shillings instead of five, foreign nations would sell us their wines and silks for a similar number of shillings. He had a considerable following, composed partly of dull men who really believed what he told them, and partly of shrewd men who were perfectly willing to be authorized by law to pay one hundred pounds with eighty pounds." Verily, my countrymen, history repeats itself.


The advocates of free coinage tell the farmers of Illinois that they will receive twice as much as they now get for their crops, in the new money. Does the Mexican farmer receive more for his products when paid in two Mexican dollars, than the American farmer who is paid in one American dollar? The Mexican farmer to-day stands ready to take my silver dollar for just as much of his wheat, or corn, or meat, as he will sell to the Mexican purchaser for two Mexican dollars. Yes, he prefers to take my dollar, for he knows that my dollar will be worth a dollar next week, next month, next year, and forever, while his two Mexican dollars have been steadily depreciating, and may not be worth one-half as much next year as they are now. Our surplus food products are sold in the Liverpool market for gold. Will that price paid there increase in value on its way back to the American farm? If our dollars are cheapened, and the gold dollar paid in Liverpool reaches the farmer in two dollars for which the gold is exchanged at our coast line, does the farmer get more than was paid in Liverpool? The proposition is absurd upon its face. The free silver people tell us that Great Britain now buys silver bullion at fifty cents on the dollar and coins it into money in India, thereby purchasing grain from the Indian farmer at half-price; and yet they propose to authorize Great Britain with her wealth can then buy the silver bullion at its bullion rate, bring it to our mints, coin it without charge, and pay it to our farmers at its coinage rate for their grain. No, no, my countrymen. The trouble with the American farmer is the loss of his home market. Ninety-three per cent of all that is raised on the American farm remains in this country. It is consumed by the American people. Its price depends upon two things, first the demand, and second, the ability of the people to pay. Four years ago our people were at work and ate as workingmen should eat. To-day the average waist measure of the American working man is six inches less than it was then; the American farmers used to fill that extra six-inches with their products-there is nothing to fill it now but wrinkles and regret. Four years ago one half the wages of two million men were expended in the purchase of food; two million dollars a day went directly from the wage-earners to the American farm and were invested in the farmer's products; to-day those two million men are idle, they have no wages, they live God knows how. They have no money with which to buy food. Put them at work again, and the money of our country will circulate; put them at work again, and it will reach the American farm; put them at work again and there will be an adequate demand for farm products; put them at work again and prices will adjust themselves fairly to the new demand and the ability of the people to buy.


But Mr. Bryan says that our money is now tied up, not in circulation. Why is it not in circulation? Capitalists never hoard money when they can safely invest it, or when there is a reasonable profit in having it employed in manufacture and business.

Mr. Bryan said, on one of his starring tours, that under free coinage if silver drove gold from the country and into retirement, then silver would speedily rise in value and become worth more than gold, and gold would flow in and chase silver out. And he made the most remarkable statement to the effect that when one kind of money is chasing the other money is in circulation. And yet this is the man whose wisdom has been compared to Solomon's and whose statesmanship to Abraham Lincoln's. Is there a man so dull as to believe that when a cheap money is chasing all-other kinds of money out of the country there will be more money in circulation than before?

Free silver will cut our revenues down one half, and thereby utterly destroy all protection to American labor, for the foreign importer can then buy silver at its bullion value and pay his duties with it at its coinage value. Then we would have free trade indeed. How long would it be until all the factories still running would shut down? Senator Stewart says that we cannot compete with the manufactures of silver countries, because they pay their labor in silver, while we pay ours in gold. If we can only compete by cutting our wages down to theirs we do not care to compete. Our markets are our own, we will keep them for ourselves; our labor is American, we will not make it Chinese or pay it in Chinese money.


But our farmers and householders are told that they can pay their mortgages at 50 cents on the dollar; yet the men who tell them so ask them to be honest and pay in the same kind of money they borrowed.

The silver advocates tell us we have been on a gold basis since 1873, and we admit it. Is there a mortgage in the State of Illinois which bears a date prior to 1873? Has not every dollar that has been borrowed by an Illinois farmer or by any Illinois man on note and mortgage been paid to him in gold or money equivalent to gold? Is it honest that he should pay in any other money than that he has borrowed? But when do the mortgages of the farmers and of the mechanics become due? The ordinary term of mortgages on real estate is from three to five years; very little money is borrowed for a longer term by small borrowers. Your time to pay is coming soon. This year, next year, the year after. Where will you get the new cheap money in which to pay? Is it possible that all the farmers of Illinois will be prepared when their mortgages become due to pay them off, principal and interest, even in money worth 50 cents on the dollar? The fact of it is, my countrymen, you do not expect to pay and you cannot pay your present mortgages when they become due. You will be prepared to pay the interest; you may be prepared to pay part of the principal, and your expectation and your hope is to renew, from time to time, at the same or at cheaper interest rates, and gradually, year by year, pay off until your entire indebtedness is canceled. But you are now asked to vote for a policy which will drive capital out of the country. When your mortgages become due if you are not ready to pay in full you cannot renew; certainly not at as favorable interest rates as you now have.

What will happen when your mortgages come due? When you have advised the world that the people of the United States are the enemies of the money loaners, ready to confiscate and repudiate and scale down. We know what happened in Nebraska when the Populists captured the Legislature, and those who had money to loan withdrew it from our State to be loaned in other places where greater security existed. Up to that time there had hardly been a farm mortgage foreclosure in our State. When our people's mortgages became due they renewed them readily, and almost always at a lower rate of interest. If that condition of things had remained there would have been no difficulty in the gradual payment of their entire indebtedness; but under populism and its menace in capital, when their mortgages came due, they could not renew; they could not borrow, and the records of the courts of our State were filled with mortgage foreclosure proceedings, and the farms and homes of thousands of men were sacrificed at mortgage sale and the owners left homeless and helpless, things which would never have happened if the people of my State had remained steadfast to the teachings of the Republican party, which always stands for honest dealing between all classes of people.

The man who only has one farm or one home with one mortgage on it, and no other security to give except upon the same property, is the one man who will be unable to take advantage of the cheaper dollars. They will be of no use to him; he cannot use them to pay off his mortgage unless he has some way to get enough of them at once to meet the demand for full payment. Your farms and your homes are worth much more than the mortgages upon them. If you are given time you can gradually pay up, and under a settled monetary standard you can almost certainly look forward to a reduction in interest rates every time you renew or make a partial payment. But if you array yourself against capital, money will seek other fields of investment; to borrow will become almost impossible, interest rates will go up, for capital always charges for every risk, and many a man will find that instead of saving his home under free silver he has lost it.

Mr. Bryan tells us that the farmers of the West have been robbed by the capitalists of the East, who have loaned them money. Certainly the farmers needed the money when they borrowed it; they have had the use of it; they have been able to accomplish more with it than they could have done without it; and they will be honest enough to pay it back in the same kind of money they borrowed. They will not destroy their credit for all time to come by attempting a fifty per cent repudiation now.


Mr. Bryan promises the farmers to double the price for wheat, which means to the laborer a double price for bread. He promises on all farm products twice as much as is now paid. If this comes to pass, will not the mechanics, the laborers, the railroad men and the salaried employes [sic] be compelled to pay twice as much for all they eat, drink and wear? And while the doubling of prices will bring to the farmer no real increase of wealth, because his money will then be, as the Mexican's is to-day, a [?] dollar, buying no more for him than a half dollar does under our present standard-yet, to the laboring men and to those who work for wages or salaries, the increase in price of all those things they need, cannot be met unless their wages and their salaries are doubled under the new standard.

Let the laboring men of this country ask their wives what the value of money is. They know; and they will tell you that the value of the dollar which comes into their hands is measured by the flour and the pork and the beef and the clothing and the fuel it will buy. Go home and tell your wives that Mr. Bryan has promised to double the price of everything that goes upon the table, that your children ear or wear, and your wives will ask you as to whether or not it is also guaranteed that your wages will be doubled at the same time. Then let each man tell his wife that his wages are to be paid to him in half price dollars. After you have told your wife these things, take the ballot from her hands and carry it to the polls. She cannot be carried away by appeals to her passions or her prejudices; she will have no trouble in seeing that the unlimited coinage of silver at twice its bullion value will hit the laboring man both ways, in the parlance of the street "coming and going." Your wife won't care whether you vote a Democratic or Popocratic or Republican ticket; she will ask you to vote a family ticket, a business ticket, and she will tell you to vote for the best dollar there is in the world. If it is a 200 cent dollar, all the better for labor, if it is a 200 cent dollar it will be worth 200 cents to your wife at the store.


Will the wages of men rise in proportion to the depreciation of the money standard? They never have, and there are many men in this audience who can attest to the fact. Did the wages of labor rise from 1861 to 1865 in proportion to the depreciation of money in which labor was paid? Our money depreciated in purchasing power to 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 and [?] cents. Calico rose from 8 to 37 cents. Were wages doubled and multiplied so that the laboring man was paid proportionately as much for his labor as before the depreciation of the monetary standard? Our statistics show that the wages of labor remained almost stationary during those years. It was not until after the war, it was not until our greenbacks began to appreciate, in fact it was not until we had returned to a fixed and certain standard of values that the wages of labor increased from year to year. In times of cheapening money, labor is the last thing to rise. How will the free coinage of silver by the mints of the United States bring prosperity to American labor? Will it open one door which is now shut against the employment of men? Will it reharness a mountain torrent to a single rolling water wheel? Will it relight the flame on any American forge, or set to singing again the merry music of the spindle? Tell me how? [sic] The people of this country have the right to demand and to know before they resort to experiment. Tell me how, you who pose as the champions of labor? The demand for labor comes in times of great business activity. Business activity never exists, and never can exist so long as there is any question or uncertainty or unstability [sic] in the monetary standard. Business and manufacturing can only be successfully carried on when capital is seeking investment; when interest sales are low; when renewals of loans can be definitely retired upon.

Almost all manufacturing is carried on with the aid of borrowed money. The manufactures must sell his goods on three, six, or nine months [sic] time. He cannot afford to manufacture unless he knows that the dollar at the time of payment is to be the dollar of to-day. Uncertainty or threatened depreciation is fatal to him. So with the man of business, he sells on time, and he cannot enlarge his business, or seek to extend his trade, unless he can figure definitely and certainly upon payment in dollars that will not shrink. The success of manufacture and of business also depends upon the ability to borrow money at the lowest possible interest rates. Capital never loans money at low interest rates unless it is certain of repayment in the same kind of money loaned. Every uncertainty, every risk, means an increase in the interest rate; and this is true as to every loan, whether a large or a small one, whether made to a manufacturer or to a farmer.

What labor in this country needs is employment, a chance to work. Holidays are no longer in demand-neither Congress nor the legislatures of the States are further petitioned for eight hour laws. You know, as I know, that whatever will increase the prosperity of the man who employs, labor, whatever will enlarge his plant or his business, will result in an increased demand for men; and whatever bankrupts the employer turns his employes [sic] to-day into the streets.

The capitalist and the employer, in times of uncertainty, can always afford to shut down, to reduce forces, to lessen their output. The laboring man is a now man; he needs employment to-day and to-morrow and wages every Saturday night. He cannot afford to wait while panics sweep over the land; he cannot afford to wait for a new adjustment of business conditions; a loss of time to him means poverty and distress. Shut the factories, the workingman starves; open the factories, and labor is independent and prosperous.


They tell us that the dollar has doubled in value under the gold standard. Those who talk of the appreciation of the values in the gold dollar forget that the value of money is most certainly tested by its interest rate, and by the price of human labor. Since 1873 the interest rate of the United States has steadily fallen. In 1873 the people of the West paid ten and twelve per cent for money. Since then, year by year as their loans have been renewed, their interest rate has gone down to eight, seven and even six per cent, and in many instances to five per cent. Measured in the price of labor, our present dollar is worth less than the dollar of 1873. For nineteen years after the so-called crime of 1873 the wages of human labor steadily advanced. For nineteen years this country went steadily onward until it actually overtook and passed all other nations in industrial progress. In those nineteen years the plain people of the United States built and paid for, with wages, more homes than were owned before that time by the laborers of the whole world. The silver agitation has done more to withdraw capital, to dwarf investments, to stop manufacturing, to paralyze business, to destroy the price of labor, to increase the interest rate of the country than can be atoned for by a decade of restored prosperity. And yet the men who have brought about these disasters still pose as champions of the people, still insist that the judgment of the business men of the country is to be set aside in favor of the greater intelligence of the entire political crop failure of the United States. Yes, the people are asked to set aside the leadership of those tried and patriotic statesmen, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas B. Reed, William B. Allison, Levi P. Morton and William McKinley, for the leadership of Tillman, and Altgeld and Pennoyer and Walte, and Coxey and Bryan. For what reason? Four years ago William J. Bryan made his campaign before the people of Nebraska on the issue of free trade [?] against protection. Four years ago he said to our people, give us free trade and new manufactories will be built,--but to-day the old manufactories stand closed, deserted and dismantled. He said, give us free trade and new doors will open to American labor; but the doors are shut. He said, give us free trade and wages will rise, but they fell. He said, give us free trade and business will boom, but it "busted." He said, give us free trade and there will be no more seventy cent wheat in Nebraska, and this is the only promise kept. There has been no more seventy cent wheat in Nebraska. He said, the prosperity of labor depends upon its opportunity to buy things cheaply. He now says, the prosperity of labor depends upon doubling the price of everything that labor buys. To-day he stands before the American people with the same old political prospectus. Every promise renewed, not a line of it changed, except that he has struck out after the word "free" the word "trade" and inserted in its stead the word "silver."


My countrymen. Just as a business proposition, just as a matter of American horse sense, in view of the utter and disastrous failure of the old promises, don't you think that you aught to demand a little collateral security before you accept the new ones?

To-day, the same man who insisted that free trade was the only thing essential to the improvement of the laboring man's condition, now says the tariff is not an issue. I know there are many good patriotic Democrats in the State of Illinois who insist that the Republican party must remain silent in this campaign upon the question of protection, but, my good Democratic friends, the Republican party cannot stultify its history or repudiate its platform. Under its protective policy this country came to its greatest measure of prosperity, and to new protective legislation this country looks for its return to prosperity. We desire the cooperation and support of every sound-money Democrat in the country. We concede that, however much of other differences there have been between us, the Democratic party of Illinois has always stood for constitutional government, for law and order, for the honest fulfillment of our obligations, and for a sound and stable currency. But if you are so wedded to your free trade theories that you prefer to vote to Bryan, free trade, free silver, panic, lawlessness and anarchy, instead of assisting the Republicans to save the country, much as we regret it, we must leave you to your choice.

There is just one thing which most certainly measures the prosperity of a nation and of a people. That country is truly prosperous, and no other is or can be, in which every man who desires to labor can find a place to labor every working day in the year, and a decent wage for the labor done. In 1892, under the last year of Republican legislation, there was not one sturdy man in all the United States, between the two oceans, who desired to work who did not have a place to labor every working day in the year, and who did not receive a fairly decent wage for his labor. Under the last protective tariff act of the Republican party, there were more factories built, more new enterprises started, more money paid for labor, more homes made comfortable and happy, more universal prosperity in all communities and among all classes, than in any other like period of the Republic's existence. The Republican party must insist, and does insist, that our revenues shall be sufficient to meet all government expenditures and provide for the gradual extinguishment of our bonded indebtedness. It does insist, and it must insist, that the labor which is to be done for the people of the United States shall be done by the people of the United States, under the stars and stripes. Under the legislation which gave us protection and reciprocity, our exports steadily increased, and the balance of trade was continually in our favor. Under the Wilson bill our exports have steadily decreased, and the balance of trade is continually against us. What is the trouble? Not lack of money, for we have as much money as in the years of our greatest enterprise and business success. What we do need is a restored confidence in our monetary system and increased opportunities for the use of capital. The other day a man spoke to me on the street, saying: "Sir, can you tell me where I can find a job?" I replied, --"My friend, have you seen a job running loose in the United States since the repeal of the McKinley Act? In 1892 our streets were full of American jobs looking for men, now our streets are full of men looking for jobs. When the Wilson bill was passed, the American jobs went across the water. They will never come back until there is displayed upon our sea coast the announcement that sound money, protection, reciprocity and William McKinley have been endorsed by the electors of the United States.

But, my countrymen, there are other issues upon which all loyal and patriotic men, without regard to previous political affiliations, can unite at the present time. In fact, this is, the only period since '61 when the true Democrat, could afford to vote the Republican ticket. The Chicago platform is so revolutionary in character so inimical to our constitution and theory of government, that the law-abiding people of the Union ought to array themselves against it. The platform is an appeal to all the most dangerous elements of society. It declares that the United States cannot cross a state line to enforce its laws, to maintain peace and order, to secure the free passage of its mail trains and to protect the people to their lives, their property and their homes. If I were the last man to speak I would avail myself of this opportunity to declare that this government has the power, and will exercise it under any and all administrations, to send its flag in all its glory into every corner, into every hamlet of the land to enforce obedience to the laws of the United States, and to shield the peaceful citizens of this country, their wives, their children and their homes from the violence and wickedness of the mob.


The Chicago platform is an insult to the decency, honesty and intelligence of the laboring classes of the grand army of workingmen in this country. It assumes that labor will cast its vote for whatever party promises it an opportunity of free riot, free lawlessness and free mob rule. In the name of labor I protest against so false an assumption. Labor is liberty-loving, law-abiding, society-respecting. Labor stands for the safety of the American fireside and the sanctity of the American home. I came from labor's ranks. The whole year of 1865 I drove the delivery wagon for the wholesale house of Matthew Graff and Company, on South Water street in this city. Yes, and I know of my own recollection that wages then of Chicago, in greenbacks worth 80 cents on the dollar, were not what they are to-day. I received $10 a week. Out of that I paid half for board and washing; I worked 14 hours a day and cared for my own team. At the end of the year I paid $15 for a ready made suit of clothes which you can buy now for $15.

The Chicago platform seems designed especially for the purpose of inviting the support of all men who seek to set up thy Commune in the United States. With a wicked misapplication of terms it declares against government by injunction, thereby insisting that the courts of our country shall be powerless to prevent, by precautionary measures, the commission of crime. The laboring people of this country in times to come will need the power of the Federal Judiciary to secure them in their rights, to fortify them in all honorable controversies with capital and corporation, far more than the money powers will need it for any purposes whatever.

The Chicago platform endorses the so called contempt-of-court bill, recently passed by the Senate; evidently intending to claim credit for the measure. Growing out of the proceedings in the Debs case there was seen the necessity for some modification of court procedure, in the manner of trial and punishment for contempt of court, when the acts constituting such contempt were not committed in the presence of the court. Several Senators, myself among the number, introduced bills for that purpose; they were all referred to the Judiciary Committee, and by the Judiciary Committee to a Sub-Committee [sic] . That Sub-Committee [sic] drew and reported the bill that passed the Senate, giving to every man charged with contempt of court committed outside of the presence of the court, the right to meet the witnesses face to face, the right of trial by jury and the right of appeal to the highest tribunal in the land. The Sub-Committee [sic] which drafted that bill was Senator Hill of New York, Senator Vilas of Wisconsin and myself. I make this statement that the country may understand that all of the men who prepared that bill are unalterably opposed to the Chicago platform. Two of them, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, are vigorously opposing the candidates of the Chicago convention; while the third is still in political exile, sadly considering the subject of predestination, and murmuring to himself, "I can, or I can't; I will, or I won't; I'll be damned if I do, I'll be damned if I don't."

No, no, my countrymen, the republican party [sic] has always been the true friend of the laboring people of this country, and to-day it stands pledged in its platform, and will, in good faith, keep its promise for the enactment of a law securing the arbitration of all differences and disputes between employer and employe [sic] by some just and impartial tribunal.

My fellow-citizens, there are other reasons yet why the loyal people of this country should stand together at this time. Senator Tillman of South Carolina, chairman of the committee on resolutions, who represents neither the old heroic South of Lee and Gordon and Buckner and Hampton, nor the new South of enterprise and energy and activity and increasing manufacture, stood up in the Chicago convention and proclaimed a new sectional issue, the South and the West against the North and the East. A new sectional issue between the North and the South! Why, God forbid! Illinois sent out the flower of her manhood to the Nation's battle held under Grant and Logan and Oglesby and Palmer to put an end to sectionalism between the North and the South forever. Illinois gave Lincoln to the restoration of the Union, that in his hallowed memory the hearts of all the people might grow together in close and lasting friendship. My father went out under Wisconsin's flag, and gave his life that there should be and should remain a united people. I have crossed the old Mason and Dixon's line. Two weeks ago I went from Washington to Richmond in four hours. It [took] some of you four years to make the same journey. I have clasped in right good fellowship the hands of the men who fought upon the other side. The heroes of that great war-south and north-- will never again enlist in another sectional strife.

It does not matter whether the American cradle is rocked to the music of Yankee Doodle or the lullaby of Dixie, if the flag of the Nation is displayed above it; and the American baby can be safely trusted to pull about the floor the rusty scabbard and the battered canteen, whether the inheritance be from blue or gray, if, from the breast of a true mother and the lips of a brave father, its little soul is filled with the glory of the American constellation. A new issue between the West and the East! why [sic] God forbid! I am a part of that mighty West. I know its brave, enterprising, pioneer people. I have seen them rescue the wilderness and convert it into a garden. They have been greatly aided by the assistance of the East, by the use of money which represents the accumulated savings of two centuries and a half of Eastern thrift. The great West cannot live and thrive without the cordial co operation and support of the strong East, and the East cannot live and grow and thrive as it ought and should without the cordial co operation, friendship and support of the mighty West. United, we are a nation powerful for the welfare of all sections; divided, we are at the beginning of the downfall of the Republic. Nebraska put one star in the azure of the flag, and Illinois put another, but when they took their place in the flag they were no longer the stars of Illinois and Nebraska, but the stars of the greatest nation of the earth, shining for the welfare and protection of every section and all the people. But the political bandits who robbed Democracy at Chicago, go about the country appealing to class prejudices and inciting the baser passions of men, urging those who have not to tear down those who have, as if prosperity could be made certain by the downfall of those who have won success.


My countrymen; any man who seeks to stir up sectionalism or incite class prejudice in this great land of liberty, equality and law, ought to be driven out of the country to the tune of the Rogue's March. Such men are not true friends of the laboring class. Not under the red flag, but under the stars and stripes are labor's victories to be won. Not by tearing down, but by building up, can the common people share in the blessings of American civilization. It is the same old appeal. Four years ago the same men said to you that the Republican party is the party of the manufacturer, making him rich at the expense of the men who toil, and, swept away by their appeals to prejudice, you, the people, with your strong arms pulled down the pillars of American manufacturing. You drove the American manufacturer from business; compelled him to hoard his capital, to retire from gainful pursuit, but when the American factory fell, who were those crushed in the dust beneath it? The thousands who can never rise until the American factory is up again. There is one master builder in the United States who can restore the American factories, who can open the doors, start the machinery. You know his name; you know for what he stands; you know his true Americanism, you know he is your friend, the friend of all that is honest and true and patriotic and worthy. Every mighty wheel that still goes round, every spindle that still sings, every chimney that yet roars, every whistle that continues to scream, voices his name; listen, and you will hear it wherever machinery moves; watch; and you will see it glow in every furnace flame; that name is the open sesame to American opportunity and American prosperity-it is the name of the next President of the United States, William McKinley.

My countrymen; let not your hearts be troubled. This is a Republican year. Not in the dog days, and the attendant atmosphere of hysteria and anarchy, is this great question to be decided; but in the cool, calm days of November, by the intelligent and faithful expression of the American conscience. July was for Bryan, November will be for McKinley.

In opposing the election of William J. Bryan, we are not governed in our action by the personality of the man, but we do object to the company he keeps and the platform upon which he stands. We do not object that William J. Bryan was born in 1860, but, oh! we do thank God that William McKinley was born eighteen years before. We do not object that William J. Bryan's father proved his patriotism in the time of the Nation's need by sitting at home and rocking the cradle of little Billy, but we do thank God that our William took into his boyish hands a musket and followed the flag, bareing [sic] his breast to the hell of battle that it might float serenely in the Union sky. As I recall the history of that great conflict one event stands prominently forth. When Sheridan, summoned by the rising roar of doubtful battle, rode madly down from Winchester and drew nigh to the shattered and retreating columns of his army, the first man he met to know was a young lieutenant, engaged in the heroic task of rallying and reforming the Union lines ready for the coming of the master, whose presence and genius alone could wrest victory from defeat. That young lieutenant was a private in 1861, a major in 1865. The years that others gave to educational pursuits, he gave to his country. His commission bears the same signature as does the Emancipation Proclamation. That same man, now an experienced statesman, tried and true, is once more rallying and reforming the Union lines for the decisive victory of 1896. He is the friend of the people. The defender of our institutions, the advocate of everything American. He is to be the next President of the United States; his name is William McKinley.

On the 29th of April last I was in Montpelier, Vermont, the place that gave me birth, and when the State Convention there assembled had declared for McKinley, I hastened to the wire and sent this message:
"HON. WM. MCKINLEY, Canton Ohio.

My native State [sic] , Vermont, my boyhood State [sic] , Wisconsin, my own Nebraska, are all for you. Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen!"

My countrymen; on election night I shall be at the wire listening to the voice of the country. On that night I shall be at the wire listening to the voice of the country. On that night I shall pen another message to the same man, straight from my heart:
"HON. WM. MCKINLEY, Canton, Ohio.

My native State, Vermont, my boyhood State, Wisconsin, my own Nebraska, are all for you."

I wish to add, I hope to add, I shall add: "Yes, and so are Illinois and the Union."

About this Document

  • Source: To American Workingmen, Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska on the Great Issues of the Day: His Address to Workingmen and Mechanics of Chicago and the Nation, Delivered in Chicago on September 19th 1896 : "a promise of something for nothing is false and dangerous to the people."
  • Author: John M. Thurston
  • Publisher: s.l.
  • Published: s.n.
  • Date: September 19, 1896