William Jennings Bryan
An address delivered at a number of colleges beginning in 1907.
FAITH exerts a controlling influence over our lives. If it is argued that works are more important than faith, I reply that faith comes first, works afterwards. Until one believes, he does not act, and in accordance with his faith, so will be his deeds.
Abraham, called of God, went forth in faith to establish a race and a religion.
As a result of his faith a race has been produced not surpassed in its
achievements by any other race in history, and as a result of his faith
nearly four hundred millions of human beings are adherents of a monotheistic
religion. It was faith that led Columbus to discover America, and faith
again that conducted the early settlers to Jamestown, the Dutch to New
York and the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. Faith has led the pioneer across
deserts and through trackless forests, and faith has brought others in
his footsteps to lay in our land the foundations of a civilization the
highest that the world has known.
I might draw an illustration from the life of each one of you. You have
faith in education, and that faith is behind your study; you have faith
in this institution, and that faith brought you here; your parents and
friends have had faith in you and have helped you to your present position.
Without faith we are told it is impossible to please God, and I may add
that without faith it is impossible to meet the expectations of those who
are most interested in you. Let me present this subject under four heads:
First—You must have faith in yourselves. Not that you should carry confidence in yourselves to the point of displaying egotism, and yet, egotism is not the worst possible fault. My father was wont to say that if a man had the big head, you could whittle it down, but that if he had the little head, there was no hope for him. If you have the big head others will help you reduce it, but if you have the little head, they can not help you. You must believe that you can do things or you will not undertake them. Those who lack faith attempt nothing and therefore can not possibly succeed; those with great faith attempt the seemingly impossible and by attempting prove what man can do.
But you can not have faith in yourselves unless you are conscious that you are prepared for your work. If one is feeble in body, he can not have the confidence in his physical strength that the athlete has, and as physical strength is necessary one is justified in devoting to exercise and to the strengthening of the body such time as may be necessary.
Intellectual training is also necessary, and more necessary than it used
to be. When but few had the advantages of a college education, the lack
of such advantages was not so apparent. Now when so many of the lawyers,
physicians, journalists, and even business men, are college graduates,
one can not afford to enter any field without the best possible intellectual
preparation. When one comes into competition with his fellows, he soon
recognizes his own intellectual superiority or inferiority as compared
with others. In China they have a very interesting bird contest. The singing
lark is the most popular bird there, and as you go along the streets of
a Chinese city you see Chinamen out airing their birds. These singing larks
are entered in contests, and the contests are decided by the birds themselves.
If, for instance, a dozen are entered, they all begin to sing lustily,
but as they sing, one after another recognizes that it is outclassed and
gets down off of its perch, puts its head under its wing and will not sing
any more. At last there is just one bird left singing, and it sings with
an enthusiasm that shows that it recognizes its victory.. So it is in all
intellectual contests. Put twenty men in a room and let them discuss any
important question. At first all will take part in the discussion, but
as the discussion proceeds, one after another drops out until finally two
are left in debate, one on one side and one on the other. The rest are
content to have their ideas presented by those who can present them best.
If you are going to have faith, therefore, in yourselves, you must be prepared
to meet your competitors upon an equal plane, and if you are prepared,
they will be conscious of it as well as you.
A high purpose is also a necessary part of your preparation. You can not
afford to put a low purpose in competition with a high one. If you go out
to work from a purely selfish standpoint, you will be ashamed to stand
in the presence of those who have higher aims and nobler ambitions. Have
faith in yourselves, but to have faith you must be prepared for your work,
and this preparation must be moral and intellectual as well as physical.
Second—Have faith in mankind. The great fault of our scholarship is that
it is not sufficiently sympathetic. It holds itself aloof from the struggling
masses. It is too often cold and cynical. It is better to trust your fellowmen
and be occasionally deceived than to be distrustful and live alone. Mankind
deserves to be trusted. There is something good in every one, and that
good responds to sympathy. If you speak to the multitude and they do not
respond, do not despise them, but rather examine what you have said. If
you speak from your heart, you will speak to their hearts, and they can
tell very quickly whether you are interested in them or simply in yourself.
The heart of mankind is sound; the sense of justice is universal. Trust
it, appeal to it, do not violate it. People differ in race characteristics,
in national traditions, in language, in ideas of government, and in forms
of religion, but at heart they are very much alike. I fear the plutocracy
of wealth; I respect the plutocracy of learning; I thank God for the democracy
of the heart. You must love if you would be loved. “They loved Him because
He first loved them”—this is the verdict pronounced where men have unselfishly
labored for the welfare of the whole people. Link yourselves in sympathy
with your fellowmen; mingle with them; know them and you will trust them
and they will trust you. If you are stronger than others, bear heavier
loads; if you are more capable than others, show it by your willingness
to perform a larger service.
Third—If you are going to accomplish anything in this country, you must
have faith in our form of government, and there is every reason why you
should have faith in it. It is the best form of government ever conceived
by the mind of man, and it is spreading throughout the world. It is best,
not because it is perfect, but because it can be made as perfect as the
people deserve to have. It is a people’s government, and it reflects the
virtue and intelligence of the people. As the people make progress in virtue
and in intelligence, the government ought to approach more and more nearly
to perfection. It will never, of course, be entirely free from faults,
because it must be administered by human beings, and imperfection is to
be expected in the work of human hands.
Jefferson said a century ago that there were naturally two parties in every
country, one which drew to itself those who trusted the people, the other
which as naturally drew to itself those who distrusted the people. That
was true when Jefferson said it, and it is true today. In every country
there is a party which is seeking to enlarge the participation of the people
in government, and that party is the growing party. In every country there
is a party which is endeavoring to obstruct each step toward popular government,
and it is the dying party. In this country the tendency is constantly toward
more popular government, and every effort which has for its object the
bringing of the Government into closer touch with the people is sure of
Our form of government is good. Call it a democracy if you are a democrat,
or a republic if you are a republican, but help to make it a government
of the people, by the people and for the people. A democracy is wiser than
an aristocracy because a democracy can draw from the wisdom of the people,
and all of the people know more than any part of the people. A democracy
is stronger than a monarchy because, as the historian, Bancroft, has said:
“It dares to discard the implements of terror and build its citadel in
the hearts of men.” And a democracy is the most just form of government
because it is built upon the doctrine that men are created equal, that
governments are instituted to protect the inalienable rights of the people
and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
We know that a grain of wheat planted in the ground will, under the influence
of the sunshine and rain, send forth a blade, and then a stalk, and then
the full head, because there is behind the grain of wheat a force irresistible
and constantly at work. There is behind moral and political truth a force
equally irresistible and always operating, and just as we may expect the
harvest in due season, we may be sure of the triumph of these eternal forces
that make for man’s uplifting. Have faith in your form of government, for
it rests upon a growing idea, and if you will but attach yourself to that
idea, you will grow with it.
But the subject presents itself in another aspect. You must not only have
faith in yourselves, in humanity and in the form of government under which
we live, but if you would do a great work, you must have faith in God.
Do not call me a preacher, for I am but a layman; yet, I am not willing
that the minister shall monopolize the blessings of Christianity, and I
do not know of any moral precept binding upon the preacher behind the pulpit
that is not binding upon the Christian whose acceptance would not be helpful
to everyone. I am not speaking from the minister’s standpoint but from
the observation of every day life when I say that there is a wide difference
between the desire to live so that men will applaud you and the desire
to live so that God will be satisfied with you. Man needs the inner strength
that comes from faith in God and belief in His constant presence.
Man needs faith in God, therefore, to strengthen him in his hours of trial,
and he needs it to give him courage to do the work of life. How can one
fight for a principle unless he believes in the triumph of the right? How
can he believe in the triumph of the right if he does not believe that
God stands back of the truth and that God is able to bring victory to truth?
The man of faith, believing that every word spoken for truth will have
its influence and that no blow struck for righteousness is struck in vain,
fights on without asking whether he is to fall in the beginning of the
battle or to live to join in the shouts of triumph. He knows not whether
he is to live for the truth or to die for it, and if he has the faith he
ought to have, he is as ready to die for it as to live for it.
Faith will not only give you strength when you fight for righteousness,
but your faith will bring dismay to your enemies. There is power in the
presence of an honest man who does right because it is right and dares
to do the right in the face of all opposition. It is true today, and has
been true through all history that “One with God shall chase a thousand,
and two put ten thousand to flight.”
If your preparation is complete so that you are conscious of your ability
to do great things; if you have faith in your fellowmen and become a colaborer
with them in the raising of the general level of society; if you have faith
in our form of government arid seek to purge it of its imperfections so
as to make it more and more acceptable to our own people and to the oppressed
of other nations; and if, in addition, you have faith in God and in the
triumph of the right, no one can set limits to your achievements. This
is the greatest of all the ages in which to live. The railroads and the
telegraph wires have brought the corners of the earth close together, and
it is easier today for one to be helpful to the whole world than it was
a few centuries ago to be helpful to the inhabitants of a single valley.
This is the age of great opportunity and of great responsibility. Let your
faith be large, and let this large faith inspire you to perform a large
(NOTE: This address is not copyrighted and can be republished by anyone
desiring to do so.)