Bryan, "Cross of Gold," in William Jennings Bryan, Speeches of William
Jennings Bryan, (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1909).
IN THE CHICAGO CONVENTION
Delivered on July 8, 1896, in closing the debate on the adoption of the platform. This
is sometimes called "The Cross of Gold" speech and sometimes "The Crown of
I WOULD be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen
to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities; but this is not a
contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a
righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in
defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty--the cause of humanity.
When this debate is concluded, a motion will be made to lay upon the table the
resolution offered in the commendation of the administration, and also the resolution
offered in condemnation of the administration. We object to bringing this question down to
the level of persons. The individual is but an atom; he is born, he acts, he dies; but
principles are eternal; and this has been a contest over a principle.
Never before in the history of this county has there been witnessed such a contest as
that through which we have just passed. Never before in the history of American politics
has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been, by the voters of a great party.
On the fourth of March, 1895, a few Democrats, most of them members of Congress, issued an
address to the Democrats of the nation, asserting that the money question was the
paramount issue of the hour; declaring that a majority of the Democratic party had the
right to control the action of the party on this paramount issue; and concluding with the
request that the believers in the free coinage of silver in the Democratic party should
organize, take charge of, and control the policy of the Democratic party. Three months
later, at Memphis, an organization was perfected, and the silver Democrats went forth
openly and courageously proclaiming their belief, and declaring that, if successful, they
would crystallize into a platform the declaration which they had made. Then began the
conflict. With a zeal approaching the zeal which inspired the crusaders who followed Peter
the Hermit, our silver Democrats went forth from victory unto victory until they are now
assembled, not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgment already rendered by
the plain people of this country. In this contest brother has been arrayed against
brother, father against son. The warmest ties of love, acquaintance and association have
been disregarded; old leaders have been cast aside when they have refused to give
expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up
to give direction to this cause of truth. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have
assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever imposed upon
representatives of the people.
We do not come as individuals. As individuals we might have been glad to compliment the
gentleman from New York (Senator Hill), but we know that the people for whom we speak
would never be willing to put him in a position where he could thwart the will of the
Democratic party. I say it was not a question of persons; it was a question of principle,
and it is not with gladness, my friends, that we find ourselves brought into conflict with
those who are now arrayed on the other side.
The gentleman who preceded me (ex-Governor Russell) spoke of the State of
Massachusetts; let me assure him that not one present in all this convention entertains
the least hostility to the people of the State of Massachusetts, but we stand here
representing people who are the equals, before the law, of the greatest citizens in the
State of Massachusetts. When you (turning to the gold delegates) come before us and tell
us that we are about to disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed
our business interests by your course.
We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its
application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer,
the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a
great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the
merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day--who
begins in the spring and toils all summer--and who by the application of brain and muscle
to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the
man who goes upon the board of trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go
down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring
forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade
are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the
money of the world. We come to speak for this broader class of business men.
Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but
the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the
desert to blossom as the rose--the pioneers away out there (pointing to the West), who
rear their children near to Natures heart, where they can mingle their voices with
the voices of the birds--out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education
of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the
ashes of their dead--these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our
party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak. We do not come as
aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense of our homes,
our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we
have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have
mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more.
We defy them.
The gentlemen from Wisconsin has said that he fears a Robespierre. My friends, in this
land of the free you need not fear that a tyrant will spring up from among the people.
What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand, as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of
They tell us that this platform was made to catch votes. We reply to them that changing
conditions make new issues; that the principles upon which Democracy rests are as
everlasting as the hills, but that they must be applied to new conditions as they arise.
Conditions have arisen, and we are here to meet these conditions. They tell us that the
income tax ought not to be brought in here; that it is a new idea. They criticize us for
our criticism of the Supreme Court of the United States. My friends, we have not
criticized; we have simply called attention to what you already know. If you want
criticisms, read the dissenting opinions of the court. There you will find criticisms.
They say that we passed an unconstitutional law; we deny it. The income tax law was not
unconstitutional when it was passed; it was not unconstitutional when it went before the
Supreme Court for the first time; it did not become unconstitutional until one of the
judges changed his mind, and we cannot be expected to know when a judge will change his
mind. The income tax is just. It simply intends to put the burdens of government justly
upon the backs of the people. I am in favor of an income tax. When I find a man who is not
willing to bear his share of the burdens of the government which protects him, I find a
man who is unworthy to enjoy the blessings of a government like ours.
They say that we are opposing national bank currency; it is true. If you will read what
Thomas Benton said, you will find he said that, in searching history, he could find but
one parallel to Andrew Jackson; that was Cicero, who destroyed the conspiracy of Cataline
and saved Rome. Benton said that Cicero only did for Rome what Jackson did for us when he
destroyed the bank conspiracy and saved America. We say in our platform that we believe
that the right to coin and issue money is a function of government. We believe it. We
believe that it is a part of sovereignty, and can no more with safety be delegated to
private individuals than we could afford to delegate to private individuals than we could
afford to delegate to private individuals the power to make penal statutes or levy taxes.
Mr. Jefferson, who was once regarded as good Democratic authority, seems to have differed
in opinion from the gentleman who has addrest us on the part of the minority. Those who
are opposed to the proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the
bank, and that the Government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with
Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a
function of government, and that the banks ought to go out of the governing business.
They complain about the plank which declares against life tenure in office. They have
tried to strain it to mean that which it does not mean. What we oppose by that plank is
the life tenure which is being built up in Washington, and which excludes from
participation in official benefits the humbler members of society.
Let me call your attention to two or three important things. The gentleman from New
York says that he will propose an amendment to the platform providing that the proposed
change in our monetary system shall not affect contracts already made. Let me remind you
that there is no intention of affecting those contracts which according to present laws
are made payable in gold; but if he means to say that we cannot change our monetary system
without protecting those who have loaned money before the change was made, I desire to ask
him where, in law or in morals, he can find justification for not protecting the debtors
when the act of 1873 was passed, if he now insists that we must protect the creditors.
He says he will also propose an amendment which will provide for the suspension of free
coinage if we fail to maintain the parity within a year. We reply that when we advocate a
policy which we believe will be successful, we are not compelled to raise a doubt as to
our own sincerity by suggesting what we shall do if we fail. I ask him, if he would apply
his logic to us, why he does not apply it to himself. He says he wants this country to try
to secure an international agreement. Why does he not tell us what he is going to do if he
fails to secure an international agreement? There is more reason for him to do that than
there is for us to provide against the failure to maintain the parity. Our opponents have
tried for twenty years to secure an international agreement, and those are waiting for it
most patiently who do not want it at all.
And now, my friends, let me come to the paramount issue. If they ask us why it is that
we say more on the money question than we say upon the tariff question, I reply that, if
protection has slain its thousands, the gold standard has slain its tens of thousands. If
they ask us why we do not embody in our platform all the things that we believe in, we
reply that when we have restored the money of the Constitution all other necessary reforms
will be possible; but that until this is done there is no other reform that can be
Why is it that within three months such a change has come over the country? Three
months ago, when it was confidently asserted that those who believe in the gold standard
would frame our platform and nominate our candidates, even the advocates of the gold
standard did not think that we could elect a President. And they had good reason for their
doubt, because there is scarcely a State here to-day asking for the gold standard which is
not in the absolute control of the Republican party. But note the change. Mr. McKinley was
nominated at St. Louis upon a platform which declared for the maintenance of the gold
standard until it can be changed into bimetalism by international agreement. Mr. McKinley
was the most popular man among the Republicans, and three months ago everybody in the
Republican party prophesied his election. How is it to-day? Why, the man who was once
pleased to think that he looked like Napoleon--that man shudders to-day when he remembers
that he was nominated on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. Not only that, but as
he listens he can hear with ever-increasing distinctness the sound of the waves as they
beat upon the lonely shores of St. Helena.
Why this change? Ah, my friends, is not the reason for the change evident to any one
who will look at the matter? No private character, however pure, no personal popularity,
however great, can protect from the avenging wrath of an indignant people a man who will
declare that he is in favor of fastening the gold standard upon this country, or who is
willing to surrender the right of self-government and place the legislative control of our
affairs in the hands of foreign potentates and powers.
We go forth confident that we shall win. Why? Because upon the paramount issue of this
campaign there is not a spot of ground upon which the enemy will dare to challenge battle.
If they tell us that the gold standard is a good thing, we shall point to their platform
and tell them that their platform pledges the party to get rid of the gold standard and
substitute bimetalism. If the gold standard is a good thing, why try to get rid of it? I
call your attention to the fact that some of the very people who are in this convention
to-day and who tell us that we ought to declare in favor of international
bimetalism--thereby declaring that the gold standard is wrong and that the principle of
bimetalism is better--these very people four months ago were open and avowed advocates of
the gold standard, and were then telling us that we could not legislate two metals
together, even with the aid of all the world. If the gold standard is a good thing, we
ought to declare in favor of its retention and not in favor of abandoning it; and if the
gold standard is a bad thing why should we wait until other nations are willing to help us
to let go? Here is the line of battle, and we care not upon which issue they force the
fight; we are prepared to meet them on either issue or on both. If they tell us that the
gold standard is the standard of civilization, we reply to them that this, the most
enlightened of all the nations of the earth, has never declared for a gold standard and
that both the great parties this year are declaring against it. If the gold standard is
the standard of civilization, why, my friends, should we not have it? If they come to meet
us on that issue we can present the history of our nation. More than that; we can tell
them that they will search the pages of history in vain to find a single instance where
the common people of any land have ever declared themselves in favor of the gold standard.
They can find where the holders of fixt investments have declared for a gold standard, but
not where the masses have.
Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between "the idle holders of
idle capital" and "the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the
taxes of the country"; and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which
side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of "the idle holders of idle
capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses"? That is the question
which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual
hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the
side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party.
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only
legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those
below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses
prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon
You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we
reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your
cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but
destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on
every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and
upon that issue we expect to carry every State in the Union. I shall not slander the
inhabitants of the fair State of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the State of New
York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that
this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again.
Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their
political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have
grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No,
my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what
lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetalism is good, but that we cannot have it
until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because
England has, we will restore bimetalism, and then let England have bimetalism because the
United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold
standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the
producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the
laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold
standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of
thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.