In 1896, three years after the “Panic of 1893”, a man by the name of William Jennings Bryan delivered one of the most historical speeches to this day. In the late 1800’s a populist movement was happening and people were starting to take notice. Political corruption and big business practices hurt not only laborers, but also farmers. When farmers organized into alliances, and eventually into the Populist Party, they posed a challenge to the reigning two-party system.
During the 1896 elections the Populist Party had begun to grow and gain momentum, they had put a senator in office and taken over the Kansas state Legislature. The election of 1896 was known as the “battle of the standards” because it focused primarily on the gold versus silver standards of money. People wanted quick solutions to the economic crisis and the support of free silver coinage began to rise in 1894. During the Democratic Convention William Jennings Bryan delivered the “Cross of Gold” speech. This speech is considered one to the most well known political speeches.
This speech when reviewed with the historical context and Bryan’s political point of view creates a great description of what our nation was going through in the early to mid 1890’s and the importance and significance of the 1986 presidential election. In 1894, 20 Democratic state platforms called for a free coinage of silver despite President Cleveland’s opposition. Power from the party shifted to the south and its outlook reflected the views of southerners and Democrats became a sectional party, no longer a national party. As a result this left the Democrats without a leader and this is where Bryan got involved.
The republicans had defeated their silver platform and wanted the gold standard. Bryan wanted to lead the silver Democrats and felt that he could. He delivered the “Cross of Gold” speech and won the presidential nomination the next day. This speech is supposed to gain the approval from the Democratic Party and to get Bryan into the Presidential election. He was successful at both of these. Bryans main argument in his speech is that the gold standard will not help the nation as it struggles with unemployment and high interest rates and everything else the “Panic of 1893” created.
The nation needed to get out of this rut and needed to do it now. He believed that silver coinage was the way to accomplish this. When Bryan says “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. ” , he makes the point that by accepting the gold standard they would be “killing” the nation.
And that the gold standard would not bring the nation out of the depression they were in. It would make the nation fail. Another moving quote in this speech is “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. This shows that yes the great cities are in favor of the gold standard but they don’t understand what the rest of the nation is going through. They are dependent on the farms and agriculture of the U. S. and if the cities fail they can rebuild them and fix them, but if the farms fail there is nothing that can fix this. The farmers are in dire needs of help and the gold standard is not the solution, free silver is.
In this speech he also says “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 Nature’s 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. . . .” This quote has great significance in the way that he talks about how he is not saying anything bad about the people living on the east coast, who still look to England for ideas and beliefs(such as the gold standard).
He talks about the pioneers and all they have accomplished, and why they deserve to have a say in the political world just as much as the rest of the nation. He is trying to voice all their thoughts and views in this speech. Bryan fights for the people who are struggling to live and support their families and homes. He says that they must no longer beg or petition but rather defy what they (Republicans) are trying to do. Bryan later lost the presidential election to William McKinley, but the speech that he gave had greater significance than just getting the Democratic nomination for presidency. This created a dilemma for the populists because they did not think any party would endorse free silver, so now they were faced with a tough choice, nominate their own candidate or side with Bryan.
Bryan essentially split up the Populist Party because half of them thought they should side with the Democrats (Bryan), but the other half were purists and wanted to do it all by themselves, he did not win the election but he stopped the third party and changed the way the Democratic Party thinks. Without question, William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech was one of the most important and impactful speech in all of politics. It changed the ideals of the Democratic Party and maintained the traditional two-party system. Without the acts of Bryan would this nation even be afloat still? This speech is truly one of the greatest speeches I have ever heard/read is very meaningful as our nation is in another big recession and makes you look in the past and see how we have persevered and conquered problems in the past and provides hope we will overcome this recession.
Courtney from Study Moose
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