William Jennings Bryan
An address delivered at the banquet given in Chicago on October 7, 1908, by the Chicago Association of Commerce, Mr. Taft and Mr. Bryan being guests.
I APPRECIATE the opportunity of being present on this occasion. I appreciate
the generous words of the chairman in presenting me to you. I think that
it is a good omen when we can lay aside partisan feeling on an occasion
like this, and, forgetting the things that separate us, remember the things
more numerous and more important that unite us in the bonds of a common
I think I can see signs of progress in politics. When I first began to run for president there were no occasions of this kind. I note a large charity, a broader liberality, and a more kindly feeling than has sometimes prevailed in the past. Here, the chairmen of the respective committees meet, willing, even in the heat of the campaign, to pause for a moment in the giving out of estimates. Here the treasurers suspend for a moment the investigation of the business connections of those who send in checks; and here “two distinguished citizens at large” meet, both uncertain as to which will be confined.
We shall carry away delightful recollections of this night, for, whatever
the election may show, we can remember one occasion when we were treated
with equal consideration.
I am glad to meet at this board one who has been honored by his party with
leadership in a great campaign. I am glad to testify to my appreciation
of his abilities and his virtues. If I am successful, the victory will
be the greater to have won over such; and, if I am defeated, the sorrow
will be less to have been defeated by such.
I esteem it an honor to be the guest of this association in this city. This is the city in which I studied for two years when I was preparing for the law. I am better acquainted with Chicago than with any other city, and no one residing within its borders has a larger faith in its future than I.
I am honored to be the guest of a commercial association, for I recognize the importance of commerce. Commerce is the second step in material progress. First comes production, and then exchange. Without exchange, production loses much of its value. Those who produce need commerce, and commerce cannot exist without production first.
Commerce is a great and growing force in the world. Commerce has contributed
enormously to the world’s progress and to mankind’s well-being. Every step
in the development of commerce is an upward step. Commerce is today extending
its influence throughout the world and binding people together as never
before. Compare the possibilities of today with the possibilities of a
few centuries ago, and who will measure the difference? Whenever an invention
of importance is heralded some one exclaims that it will deprive people
of employment, and sometimes the labor-saving machine is condemned because
it enables a few to do what it formerly required many to do in the same
length of time. But the labor-saving machine is rather a labor-multiplying
machine. When steam displaced the craft that moved by oars it did not decrease,
but multiplied, the number of those upon the sea. When the steam engine
took the place of the wagon it did not displace those who drove the wagons;
it increased the number of persons engaged in transportation. Twelve years
ago a statement was made and signed by the five men who stood at the head
of five great railway orders, and in that statement the world was told
that 800,000 men were engaged as employes in the railway service.
Every new invention, I repeat, has enlarged the demand for labor as it
has multiplied the efficiency of labor. I am not prepared to say that we
have yet recognized the duty of society to bear some of the burdens that
may fall temporarily on people displaced by improvements that bring a large
gain to society. I am not sure that we have yet recognized that when society
is the gainer society ought to compensate those who individually suffer
for society’s benefit. But whether we have found an accurate adjustment
or not, there is no doubt that society has largely gained.
One of the great improvements, one of the inventions that has made largely
for the development of commerce, is the corporate entity. The corporation
is a step in advance. It enables people to do things jointly that they
could not do alone. It relieves those who cooperate of the embarrassment
of partnership and it substitutes larger opportunities, and thus facilitates
the work of exchange. No one who has estimated with intelligence the usefulness
of the corporation will for one moment think of destroying the power that
the corporation gives for cooperative effort. (Applause.)
But every new step in advance brings new responsibilities. When the railroads
took the place of the turnpike, laws were necessary that were not necessary
on the highway. Society, recognizing that the railroad had become a necessity,
adjusted itself to the railroad, and then proceeded by legislation to correct
whatever abuses might arise in the management of the railroad. (Applause.)
And so society, accepting the corporation as an established fact, is proceeding
to enact such laws as may be necessary to make the corporation serve the
purpose for which it was created. I am sure that the members of this association,
organized for the promotion of the city’s interests, for the development
of the city’s commerce and for the advancement of the city’s good, recognize
that with the large power that corporate action gives, restriction is necessary.
There are many differences between the natural man and the corporate man.
There is a difference in the purpose of creation. God made man and placed
him upon His footstool to carry out a divine decree; man created the corporation
as a money making machine. When God made man He did not make the tallest
man much taller than the shortest; and He did not make the strongest man
much stronger than the weakest; but when the law creates the corporate
person that person may be an hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million
times stronger than the God-made man. When God made man He set a limit
to his existence, so that if he was a bad man he could not be bad long;
but when the corporation was created the limit on age was raised, and it
sometimes projects itself through generation after generation.
When God made man He gave to mankind a soul and warned him that in the next world he would be held accountable for the deeds done in the flesh; but when man created the corporation he could not endow that corporation with a soul, so that if it escapes punishment here it need not fear the hereafter. And this man-made giant has been put forth to compete with the God-made man. We must assume that man in creating the corporation had in view the welfare of society, and the people who create must retain the power to restrict and to control. We can never become so enthusiastic over the corporation, over its usefulness, over its possibilities, as to forget the God-made man who was here first and who still remains a factor to be considered.
I take it, then, that I can assume that all who are interested in commerce,
and interested in the corporation as a means of developing commerce, will
recognize the necessity of making competition between the natural man and
the fictitious person approximately equal so that the natural man may not
be trodden under foot.
Commerce is important. You can scarcely estimate its importance, and yet
commerce is dependent. In fact, my friends, the more complex society becomes
the more dependent we are. We sometimes speak of people being independently
rich. We do not mean that; we mean that they are dependently rich, for
the richer they are the more dependent they are. The more a man has the
more he must employ to secure this thing which he calls wealth. The larger
his annual income, the larger the number of people who labor that he may
have a part.
Commerce cannot live without agriculture. I dare not say on this subject
what I once said, for it is too near the election to hope to correct misrepresentations
that might be made. I once said, “Burn your cities and leave the farms,
and the cities will grow up again as by magic; but destroy the farms and
the grass will grow in the streets of your cities.” I said that once, but
I dare not say it again, for I found after the election that a dodger had
been circulated in a distant State which read like this: “Burn your cities.
W. J. Bryan.”
But while experience has taught me caution, while I find as others do that
advancing years bring conservatism in language, still I am yet young enough
to venture the assertion that the prairies of the Middle West are indispensable
to the City on the Lakes. Not only is commerce dependent upon the farmers
who in their fields convert God’s bounty into a nation’s wealth, but commerce
is dependent also upon those humble toilers who in the factory and on the
train are turning the wheels of our industrial progress.
While we gather here to enjoy the bounties that are spread we are much
like the people on the upper decks of a ship who ride peacefully along
through the waters because down in the hold, in the dark. there are men
with bodies bare and hands soiled with dirt, keeping the fires burning
while the ship moves on.
The manufacturer is as dependent upon the men whom he employs as they are
dependent upon him for employment. The clerks in the stores, who run back
and forth, who carry merchandise and keep the accounts, are as necessary
a part of commerce as those who preside and direct. The great lesson that
we must learn is that society cannot dispense with any of the elements
engaged in production.
We must learn the great truth, that we are linked together by indissoluble
bonds, bonds that we should not sever if we could, bonds which we could
not sever if we would. And we must learn that progress cannot be measured
by the progress of a few, but by the advancement of the mass. On occasions
like this, I deem it not inappropriate to remind you, as I desire to be
reminded, that we must work together if we work at all.
Upon what basis can we work? There is but one, and that is a basis that measures justly each individual’s share of the joint product. Every man who, by his brain or muscle, contributes to the sum total of this nation’s wealth must have a part of that wealth as his reward. He may be a captain of industry; he may be a general in command; but, my friends, there must be a reasonable relation between the pay of the general and the pay of the enlisted man, for the general needs the soldier as much as the soldier needs the general.
To my mind, the world’s greatest problem today is not to correctly solve
the questions about which my distinguished friend and I dispute. These
are surface indications of a larger problem. Go into different lands and
you will find people speaking many languages; you will find differences
in dress; you will find differences in tradition; you will find differences
in religion, and you will find differences in government, but there is
one problem that is universal; you encounter it everywhere; it has no latitude,
it has no longitude. It is not the problem of today or yesterday or tomorrow;
it is the problem that has existed since man’s race began, and will exist
while time endures. That problem is the adjustment of the rewards of society.
Upon the settlement of that problem aright depends the future of mankind.
Is there a Divine measure of rewards? I believe there is. What is that
measure? It is the divine measure; it is the law that God stamped upon
the world and impressed on man; it is the law by which society must be
governed, if governed aright; and this law is that every citizen shall
draw from society a reward proportionate to the service that he renders
to society. And in proportion as we approximate to the right solution of
that problem will we place progress upon a sure and permanent foundation.
I think it is well that we should gather here from all parts of this Union,
for better acquaintance will make us better friends. It is well that we
should meet together as the representatives of different parties for the
more we know of each other, the more we are convinced that, whatever our
differences may be, our impulses are the same and that patriotism is stronger
in all of us than the partisanship that separates us.
It would also be well if we could more frequently mingle together as the
representatives of different occupations, of different work, of different
elements of our industrial population. For I am satisfied that, if the
people could meet each other face to face, and know each other, heart knowing
heart, an impetus would be given to a larger brotherhood; and that, instead
of being actuated by that short-sighted selfishness that leads one to try
to lift himself upon the prostrate form of another, we would learn that
the broadest selfishness, the most farsighted self-interest, is embraced
in the commandment:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”