William Jennings Bryan, three time Presidential candidate

William Jennings Bryan

Holy, Holy, Holy
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 citizenship.

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.”

Return to William Jennings Bryan Home