The Omnivorous West
William Jennings Bryan
Delivered in Congress on April 10, 1894, the occasion of and reasons for its delivery being stated in the speech.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What I desire to say is not in connection with this bill. I have been trying for several days to get an opportunity to present a matter of personal interest; and I ask unanimous consent that I may be allowed a few moments just now to present this matter.
THE CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Nebraska asks unanimous consent, in addressing
the committee, that he be permitted to go out of the rule and not confine
himself strictly to the matter under debate. Is there objection? (After
a pause): The Chair hears none.
MR. BRYAN. Mr. Chairman, the matter is this: On last Saturday there appeared in the Times of this city a letter given to the public by the gentleman from Maine
[Mr. REED] in which he criticized the use I had made, at Denver and other
places, of a speech, or a portion of a speech, made by him at Boston on
the 25th of last October. I do not want the House to feel that I have done
the gentleman any injustice, and I desire to have placed in the RECORD
the portion of the speech which I quoted and the criticism. The gentleman
says in the letter (which I will ask the Clerk to read in a few moments):
“You will notice that the member of Congress in question, instead of quoting the paragraph in question here in Washington, where it could be met, went 2,000 miles west to air it.”
The reason the matter was not presented before Congress in the tariff debate was that the speech did not come to my notice until nearly a month after the bill had passed the House. I did not conceive that it was any injustice to a member of this House, especially to so prominent a member as the gentleman from Maine, to quote in any part of the country a speech made under the circumstances at Boston, at a banquet given by the Massachusetts Republican Club. But since I came back I have kept the clipping in my desk, and sought an opportunity to present it in the RECORD, not in order that it might be met, because it cannot be met, but that the whole public might be able to see what a distinguished member said in a speech made to fit one part of the country, and how strangely it sounds in another part of the country. The gentleman said in the letter:
“It was first started by a member of Congress in a speech in Denver. I
was somewhat surprised when I read it, for, of course, separated from the
context, it conveys an entirely incorrect idea.”
I will ask the Clerk to read the only part of that speech that I could find touching upon the tariff question, and if there is any other part that throws any light upon the part read, I shall be very glad to have it put into the RECORD. The speech from which I quoted was reported, as I supposed in full in the Boston Herald of October 26, 1893, and in the Boston Journal (a Republican paper), of same date, it was reported in identically the same language. Not only does it give the words, but gives the expressions of “applause,” “laughter,” and “great applause,” etc., with which the speech was punctured by the audience. I ask that the extract be read.
The Clerk read as follows:
“This is only one of its phases and one of its forms. If you people in Massachusetts desire to retain the system under which for thirty years you have been prosperous and great, you have got to show it by your votes on election day, and by no uncertain sign. [Applause.]
“And let me tell you right here that there is no State so deeply interested
as the State of Massachusetts. [Applause.] If it were not for its condition,
I should say, “Let these men try it. Let us have the lesson of free trade
burned into the quick; and then let us have peace.” [Applause.] But when
Massachusetts sits around to mourn her destroyed factories, her ruined
industries, her ruined machine shops, she sits around to mourn for eternity;
for if they are once destroyed the omnivorous West will do the manufacturing
for the country. [Applause.] You have the start; you have the power; you
have the prestige. You can keep it or you can throw it away: and the only
way in which you can keep it is by making the voice of the majority of
your people to be heard, and to be heard across the country. [Applause.]
“The Democratic party to-day is ruled by the South. I do not care anything
about the geography of their position—when I say ‘the South.’ I mean by
men who have no conception whatever of a Northern industrial city [applause],
who have no idea of Lowell or Lawrence. That wealth which is diffused from
one end of our great towns to another, they do not understand; and if you
who do understand it—and some of you are dependent for your livelihood
upon it—neglect your duty you must not be surprised if these men carry
out their ideas. Truth is mighty, but so is ignorance.”
MR. BRYAN. Mr. Chairman, in this letter the gentleman says, “The passage occurring in a short extemporaneous speech, with no point elaborated.” I hardly think that it can be said that because a speech was extemporaneous, therefore one should not quote from it. Sometimes an extemporaneous speech will present a man’s real thought better than a prepared speech, and I think that those who read the speech made by the gentleman in Boston will perhaps agree that if he had ever thought it would be reported or read in the West it might have been somewhat modified.
But, extemporaneous as it was, it probably expressed the real sentiment
and the real belief of the gentleman who made it. To show that the gist
of it was not much changed upon reflection, let me read what the letter
says. The letter, I presume, was not extemporaneous. In the letter he says:
“I pointed out to them that the legislation tendered them was foolish; that the low duties of the Wilson bill would destroy their manufactures in common with others, and that when they were once destroyed they would be rebuilt under re-established protection nearer the market and nearer the materials, as cheaply as in New England.”
Now, of course, that letter is not extemporaneous. It is a calm statement of a supposed condition that, under equal circumstances, the “omnivorous West” would do the manufacturing for the country; that if we could once take away the advantage which New England has in the system now existing, and start upon an equal footing, the manufactures of New England would be re-established in the “omnivorous West.” A little farther on he says:
“As I said to Massachusetts I say to all other parts of the country, that enlightened selfishness teaches the doctrine of ‘live and let live.’
I ask those who desire to pursue the subject to read that speech and see
whether they can find in it anywhere the idea of “live and let live.” No,
sir. It is an appeal to sectionalism. “You have the start; you have the
power; you have the prestige; you can keep it or you can throw it away.”
In other words, if you keep it you can have the advantage of the “omnivorous
West,” but if you do not make your voice heard across the country you will
lose the artificial advantage given you by law, and when it comes to natural
advantages the “omnivorous West” will get ahead of you.
In another place the gentleman says:
“Of course such a free list would be very attractive to New England if she acted from pure selfishness.”
If you read the portion of the speech devoted to the tariff question you
will imagine that pure selfishness is the only thing that can be appealed
to in Massachusetts, because it is the only thing the gentleman appeals
to there. He calls up the “ignorance” of the South—Massachusetts must beware
of that. He calls up the great “omnivorous West”—Massachusetts must be
careful about that. In this speech he says that “no State is so deeply
interested (in protection) as Massachusetts.” Now, sir, that sounds strange
in the West. We have been told out there that every State is just as much
interested in protection as Massachusetts is.
We have been told that protection is just as important to the West as it
is to the East, but here is a gentleman who is acknowledged the leader
of the Republican party, not only in this House, but in the Nation, a gentleman
who may go some day to the “omnivorous West,” and ask its support for the
Presidency, says that if it were not for the condition of Massachusetts
he would be willing to have free trade. But for that—not the condition
of the country, but the condition of Massachusetts—he would be willing
to say, “Let these men try it. Let us have the lesson of free trade burned
into the quick, and then let us have peace,” but for Massachusetts’ sake
he will not have it.
But the strange thing about the explanation—which may require more explanation than the original speech—is what the gentleman from Maine, looking back, supposes he had said. I have quoted the portion of the letter in which he says that he “pointed out to them that the legislation tendered them was foolish; that the low duties of the Wilson bill would destroy their manufactures,” etc. Now, Mr. Chairman, it is a strange thing that that speech not only did not contain a mention of the Wilson bill, not only did not warn them against the “bribe” of free raw material, but the speech was made more than a month before the Wilson bill was reported by the majority of the committee to the minority; it was made at a time when there was no Wilson bill, and when the Democrats did not know what the schedule would be.
Now, is it not strange that in a prepared criticism, which not only attempts
to explain the speech, but even criticizes me for using it—is it not strange,
that in that prepared letter, the gentleman should have thought that he
spoke of a bill which was not in existence until a month after the speech
Now, Mr. Chairman, I will ask the Clerk to read the letter which I send
to the desk.
The Clerk read as follows:
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, UNITED STATES,
D. C., April 6, 1894.
“My DEAR SIR: Your favor received. I have noticed the paragraph you sent
me making its way over the West. It was first started by a member of Congress
in a speech in Denver. I was somewhat surprised when I read it, for, of
course, separated from the context, it conveys an entirely incorrect idea.
The passage occurred in a short extemporaneous speech, with no point elaborated.
It was when the attempt was being made to secure the aid of New England
by sacrificing the interests of the West under guise of giving New England
free raw material by removing the duty on coal, iron, and wool.
“Of course such a free list would be very attractive to New England, if
she acted from pure selfishness. But I took occasion in a few words of
incomplete statement, but which the audience I addressed perfectly understood,
to point out how short sighted it was for New England to accept the bribe.
Already many Massachusetts manufacturers had legitimately gone West, and
more must do so, the coarser going first. Under these circumstances, perfectly
understood by my audience, some short-sighted men were trying, by the promise
of free coal, free iron ore, and free wool, to persuade New England that
she could monopolize the manufacturing.
“I pointed out to them that the legislation tendered them was foolish:
that the low duties of the Wilson bill would destroy their manufactures,
in common with others, and that when they were once destroyed, they would
be rebuilt under re-established protection, nearer the market and nearer
the materials, as cheaply as in New England. In short, if New England men
helped ruin the country, the ruin would be first and most complete for
them on their unkindly soil. Such, in my judgment, would be the fact, and
this ruin the country cannot afford, no matter where the destroyed manufactures
are. An idle factory goes to pieces in five years, and to destroy expensive
plants and to throw away all the capital involved would mean that the United
States, and, most of all, New England, would have to halt in its progress
until all these vast sums were re-earned and reinvested.
“Manufacturers are now steadily and legitimately advancing westward and southward under the present system, and doing so as fast as is consistent with solid material growth. Massachusetts men and other men are already transferring a part of their capital, and in due time, without shock, the Western and Southern manufactories will do their full share of the manufacturing business of the country. The manufacturing of coarse cotton cloths has already gone from New England to the South.
“The mighty and ‘omnivorous’ West is truly great in all that will make riches and consumable wealth, and if this destruction called the Wilson bill can be stayed all parts of the country will prosper and capital and labor will not be wasted.
“As I said to Massachusetts I say to all other parts of the country, that
enlightened selfishness teaches the doctrine of ‘live and let live.’”
“You will notice that the member of Congress in question, instead of quoting
the paragraph in question here in Washington, where it could be met, went
2,000 miles west to air it. I am surprised that any man East or West should
deem it worth while to credit me with opposition to the Wilson bill because
it would build up manufactures in the West, when everybody knows it will
destroy all manufactures.
“It is the desire and expectation of protectionists that the West and South
will follow or even surpass the example of New England in developing manufacturing
industries, as they are now fast doing. The Wilson bill will bring the
South and West into competition in manufacturing, with wages much lower
than their wages, instead of into competition with the higher wages of
New England, as now.
truly yours, T. B. REED.
“C. L. VAUGHAN, Esq., Hutchinson, Kans.”
MR. GROSVENOR. I rise to a parliamentary inquiry.
THE CHAIRMAN. The gentleman will state it.
MR. GROSVENOR. Is this debate upon the Wilson bill or upon the Hill substitute?
THE CHAIRMAN. The Chair will state to the gentleman, if he was not present at the time, that the Chair recognized the gentleman from Georgia [Mr. LIVINGSTON] in his own right for an hour, under the rules; that after speaking for fifteen or eighteen minutes the gentleman from Georgia yielded the remainder of his time to the gentleman from Nebraska [Mr. BRYAN]. The gentleman from Nebraska yielded a few minutes to the gentleman from Iowa [Mr. GEAR] and the gentleman from Iowa [Mr. DOLLIVER]; and when the gentleman himself took the floor he asked unanimous consent—in violation of the rule, as the Chair stated—to speak to this matter. There was no objection, and the Chair so stated. The gentleman is in order.
MR. GROSVENOR. Then it is “this matter” that is under discussion.
THE CHAIRMAN. It does not make any difference what the “matter” is; the gentleman has the consent of the committee to speak.
MR. BOUTELLE. That is what we want to know—what is the matter?
A MEMBER (on the Democratic side). You will find out.
MR. BRYAN. Mr. Chairman, this is put in the RECORD because I would not have the House and the people to whom that letter was addressed by the gentleman (for it was given to the public) think that I have done anything wrong or done any injustice to the gentleman from Maine. I thought it wise to put both the speech from which I quoted and the letter which explains the speech in the RECORD for these reasons, in order that those who read the letter may have the means of knowing whether I was guilty of taking a sentence out of its proper connection, and thereby making it convey an erroneous idea; and also that they may know that I had not spoken of this speech 2,000 miles away, and was unwilling to speak of it here “where it could be met.”
I wanted the matter put in the RECORD “where it could be met,” for fear
that some Western Republican might take up the line of argument which the
gentleman followed in Massachusetts and address the people on the same
line of selfishness. I was afraid that some protectionist out there might
appeal to his people, and using the gentleman as authority say, “We have
not the start, we have not the power, and we have not the prestige; but
if we can once wipe out the tariff we will get the start, and get the power,
and get the prestige.” For fear they might do that, I wanted to bring the
matter forward here where the gentleman could explain it, so that no protectionist
in the West would have an excuse for misunderstanding him or for applying
to the Western country the argument which has been and is applied to the
We have told them out there that the real purpose of protection is to give
the East an advantage; but we never before found the leader of the Republican
party willing to say that no State in the Union was “so deeply interested
as Massachusetts” in maintaining protection. We have told them that if
it were not for the great “combines” which have been built up and which
have enabled trusts to drive out new industries, and then under the protection
of a tariff recoup themselves out of the pockets of the people, there might
be great industries built up in the “omnivorous West”; but we never had
a great Republican so nearly tell us before; and I wanted this put in the
RECORD so that if there is an explanation of it the people of the West
may have it; and if there is no explanation, then let them know that the
people who go before them and advocate protection on the ground that it
is for the whole country, go down to Massachusetts, and, raising up the
“ignorance” of the South and the “omnivorous West,” plead for special privileges
for their own industries.