The St. Louis Convention

William Jennings Bryan, three time Presidential candidate

William Jennings Bryan

Holy, Holy, Holy
Delivered in the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis in 1904. Commonly called the “I Have Kept the Faith” speech. The occasion was the seconding of the nomination of Senator F. M. Cockrell for President.

TWO nights without sleep and a cold make it difficult for me to make myself heard. I trust that my voice will improve in a moment, but as I desire to speak to the delegates rather than to the galleries, I hope they at least will be able to hear.

Eight years ago a Democratic national convention placed in my hand the standard of the party and commissioned me as its candidate. Four years later that commission was renewed. I come tonight to this Democratic national convention to return the commission. You may dispute whether I have fought a good fight, you may dispute whether I have finished my course, but you cannot deny that I have kept the faith.

As your candidate I did all that I could to bring success to the party; as a private citizen I feel more interested in Democratic success to-day than I ever did when I was a candidate.

The reasons that made the election of a Democrat desirable were stronger in 1900 than in 1896, and the reasons that make the election of a Democrat desirable are stronger now than they were in 1900.

The gentleman who presented New York’s candidate dwelt upon the dangers of militarism, and he did not overstate those dangers. Let me quote the most remarkable passage ever found in a speech nominating a candidate for the presidency.

Governor Black, of New York, in presenting the name of Theodore Roosevelt to the Republican convention, used these words:

“The fate of nations is still decided by their wars. You may talk of orderly tribunals and learned referees; you may sing in your schools the gentle praises of the quiet life; you may strike from your books the last note of every martial anthem, and yet out in the smoke and thunder will always be the tramp of horses and the silent, rigid, upturned face. Men may prophesy and women pray, but peace will come here to abide forever on this earth only when the dreams of childhood are the accepted charts to guide the destinies of men.
“Events are numberless and mighty, and no man can tell which wire runs around the world. The nation basking to-day in the quiet and contentment of repose may still be on the deadly circuit and to-morrow writhing in the toils of war. This is the time when great figures must be kept in front. If the pressure is great the material to resist it must be granite and iron.”

This is a eulogy of war. This is a declaration that the hoped for, prayed for, era of perpetual peace will never come. This is an exalting of the doctrine of brute force; it darkens the hopes of the race.

This Republican president, a candidate for reelection, is presented as the embodiment of the warlike spirit as “the granite and iron” that represent modern militarism.

Do you, men of the East, desire to defeat the military idea? Friends of the South, are you anxious to defeat the military idea? Let me assure you that not one of you, North, East, or South, fears more than I do the triumph of that idea. If this is the doctrine that our nation is to stand for, it is retrogression, not progress. It is a lowering of the ideals of the nation. It is a turning backward to the age of violence. More than that, it is nothing less than a challenge to the Christian civilization of the world.

Some twenty-six hundred years ago a prophet foretold the coming of One who was to be called the Prince of Peace. Nearly two thousand years ago He came upon the earth, and the song that was sung at His birth was “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” For almost twenty centuries this doctrine of peace has been growing; it has been taking hold upon the hearts of men. For this doctrine of peace, millions have gladly given their lives; for this doctrine of peace, thousands have crossed oceans and labored in distant lands, ay, even among savage tribes. This doctrine of peace, the foundation of Christian civilization, has been the growing hope and inspiration of the world. And now, an ex-governor of the largest State in the union presents for the office of president of the greatest republic of all history, a man who is described as “granite and iron,” as one who represents, not the doctrine of peace and arbitration, but the doctrine that the destinies of nations must still be settled by their wars. Will you Democrats of New York present a graver indictment against President Roosevelt than that? Can you of the South present a more serious accusation? I do not ask concerning the character of the President. He may have every virtue; his life may be exemplary in every way; but if he shares the views of the man who placed him in nomination, if he believes with his sponsor that wars must settle the destinies of nations; that peace is but an idle, childish dream, that women may pray for it; that men may prophesy about it; but that all this talk of “orderly tribunals and learned referees” is but an empty sound—if he believes these things he is a dangerous man for our country and for the world. I believe he ought to be defeated; I believe he can be defeated; and if the Democratic party does what it ought to do, I believe he will be defeated.

How can he be defeated? As your candidate I tried to defeat the Republican party. I failed, you say? Yes, I failed. I received a million more votes than any Democrat had ever received before, and yet I failed. Why did I fail? Because some who had affiliated with the Democratic party thought my election would be injurious to the country, and they left the party and helped to elect my opponent. That is why I failed. I have no words of criticism for them. I have always believed, I believe tonight, I shall ever believe, I hope, that a man’s duty to his country is higher than his duty to his party. I hope that men of all parties will have the moral courage to leave their parties when they believe that to stay with their parties would injure their country. The success of our Government depends upon the independence and the moral courage. of its citizens.

But, my friends, if I, with six million and a half votes, failed to defeat the Republican party, can those who defeated me succeed in defeating the Republican party? If under the leadership of those who were loyal in 1896 we failed, shall we succeed under the leadership of those who were not loyal in 1896?

If we are going to have some other god besides this modern Mars, presented to us by Governor Black, what kind of a god is it to be? Must we choose between a god of war and a god of gold?

If there is anything that compares in hatefulness with militarism, it is plutocracy, and I insist that the Democratic party ought not to be compelled to choose between militarism on the one side and plutocracy on the other.

We have agreed upon a platform, after a session of sixteen hours. We entered the committee room at 8 last evening and left it at 12 today. But I never employed sixteen hours to better advantage in my life. I helped to bring the party together. The report was unanimous and we can go before the country with a united party.

How did we reach an agreement? The platform is not all that we of the West desired; it is not all that our Eastern Democrats desired. We had to consent to the omission of some things that we wanted in the platform. They had to consent to the omission of some things that they wanted in the platform. But by mutual concession we agreed upon a platform, and we will stand on that platform in this campaign.

But, my friends, we need more than a platform. We must nominate a ticket, and that is the work now before this convention. Had a majority of you come to this convention instructed for any man I not only would not ask you to disregard your instructions; I would not, if I could prevent it, permit you to disregard your instructions.

I believe in the right of the people to rule. I believe in the right of the people to instruct their delegates, and when a delegate is instructed, the instruction is binding upon him. But no candidate comes with a majority instructed for him. That means that you, the delegates, are left to select a candidate upon your own responsibility—and a grave responsibility it is, grave indeed is the responsibility resting upon the delegates assembled in this convention!

I have not come to ask anything of this convention. Nebraska asks nothing but to be permitted to fight the battles of democracy; that is all. Some of you call me a dictator. It is false. You know it is false. How have I tried to dictate! I have said that I thought certain things ought to be done. Have you not exercised the same privilege? Why have I not a right to suggest? Because I was your candidate, have I forfeited forever the right to make suggestions? Sirs, if that condition was attached to a nomination for the presidency, no man worthy to be president would ever accept a nomination, for the right of a man to have an opinion and to express it is more important and more sacred than the holding of any office however high.

I expressed my opinion in regard to the platform; I made my suggestions. Not all of them were adopted. I should like to have seen the Kansas City platform reaffirmed. I am not ashamed of that platform. I believe in it now, as I believed in it when I was running upon it as your candidate, but the delegates do not agree with me, and their will is supreme in the making of the platform. When they veto my suggestions, I must submit; there is no other court to which I can appeal.

Neither have I attempted to dictate in regard to candidates. I have not asked the Democrats of this nation to nominate any particular man. I have said and repeat that there are men in every State qualified for the presidency; I have said and repeat that out of the six and a half millions who voted for me in both campaigns, we ought to be able to find at least one man fit to be president. I have made these suggestions, but they are only suggestions. I am here to-night as a delegate from Nebraska. I have not confidence enough in my own judgment to tell you that I can pick out a man and say, “This man must be nominated or we shall lose.” I have, I think, a reasonable faith in my own opinions; at least I would rather stand by my opinion if I believe it right than to accept the opinion of any one else if I believe that opinion to be wrong.

But Nebraska is not here asking for the nomination of any particular man. We have a platform on which we all can stand. Now give us a ticket behind which all of us can stand. Go into any State you please for a candidate. I have not as much faith as some have in the value of locality. I have never believed much in nominating candidates from doubtful States on the theory that their personal popularity would elect them.

I have so much confidence in Democratic principles that I think a Democrat ought to vote for a good man from any other State rather than vote for a bad man from his own State. The State pride argument is often given too much weight. I have found that when people come with a candidate and tell us, first, that we must carry a certain State, and, second, that their man is the only one who can carry that State, they do not put up a bond to deliver the votes. And then, anyhow, a State which is so uncertain that only one Democrat in the nation can carry it, cannot be relied upon in a great crisis.

Select a candidate. If it is the wish of this convention that the standard shall be placed in the hand of the gentleman presented by California, a man who, though he has money, pleads the cause of the poor; the man who is best beloved, I think I can safely say, among laboring men, of all the candidates proposed; the man who more than any other represents opposition to the trusts—if you want to place the standard in his hand and make Mr. Hearst the candidate of this convention, Nebraska will be with you in the fight.

If you think that the gentleman from Wisconsin who, though faithful in both campaigns, was not with us on the money question—if you think that Mr. Wall, who agrees with the East on the gold question and with the West on other questions, would draw the party together, place the standard in his hand, and Nebraska will be with you and contribute her part.

If you prefer an Eastern man and can find some one who will give both elements of the party something to believe in, something to trust in, something to hope for, we are willing to join you in selecting him as the standard-bearer.

Not all of the available men have been mentioned. There is in the State of Pennsylvania a man whom I desire to suggest, and I do it without consulting his delegation and without the consent of the man himself. He is an Eastern man, who voted with us in both campaigns, although against us on the money question, but, I believe, he is in sympathy with the people; a man twice governor of a great State; a man who only two years ago when again a candidate, carried the State of Pennsylvania, outside of the two great cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg.

If you Eastern Democrats who insist that your objection to me is that I believe in free silver—if you are willing to take ex-Governor Pattison, a gold man, I am willing to let you have your way on that question, for I will trust his honesty on all questions. But I only mention these candidates by way of illustration.

I desire to second the nomination of a man whose name has already been presented, and I second his nomination, not because I can assert to you that he is more available than any other person who might be named, but because I love the man and because on the platform we have adopted there is no good reason why any Democrat in the East should vote against him. I desire to second the nomination of Senator Cockrell of Missouri.

He is the Nestor of the Senate; he is experienced in public affairs. He is known; he has a record, and can be measured by it. I would be willing to write my endorsement on his back and guarantee everything he did.

It is said that he comes from the South. What if he does? I do not share the feeling that some have that the Democratic party cannot take a candidate from the South. It is said he was in the Confederate army. What if he was? I do not share the belief of those who say that we cannot afford to nominate an ex-Confederate. That war, that cruel war, occurred forty years ago. Its issues are settled; its wounds are healed, and the participants are friends. We have another war on now, and those who know what the war between democracy and plutocracy means, will not ask where the candidate stood forty years ago; they will ask where he stands today—on which side he is fighting in the present conflict.

The great issue in this country today is “Democracy versus Plutocracy.” I have been accused of having but one idea—silver. A while back it was said that I had only one, but then it was tariff reform. But there is an issue greater than the silver issue, the tariff issue or the trust issue. It is the issue between the democracy and plutocracy—whether this is to be a government of the people, and administered by officers chosen by the people, and administered in behalf of the people, or a government by the moneyed element of the country in the interest of predatory wealth. This issue is growing.

I ask you to help us meet this issue. You tell me that the Republican candidate stands for militarism. Yes, but he also stands for plutocracy. You tell me that he delights in war. Yes, but there is another objection to him, and that is that he does not enforce the law against a big criminal as he does against a little criminal. The laws are being violated today, and those laws must be enforced. The government must be administered according to the maxim: “Equal rights to all and special privileges to none.”

We have had the debauchment of elections. It was stated the other day that into the little State of Delaware, two hundred and fifty-six thousand dollars were sent at one time just before the election of 1896. Some say that our party must have a great campaign fund and bid against the Republicans. Let me warn you that if the Democratic party is to save this nation, it must save it, not by purchase, but by principle. That is the only way to save it. Every time we resort to purchase, we encourage the spirit of barter. Under such a system the price will constantly increase, and the elections will go to the highest bidder. If the Democratic party is to save this country, it must appeal to the conscience of the country. It must point out the dangers to the Republic; and if the party will nominate a man, I care not from what part of the country he comes, who is not the candidate of a faction, who is not the candidate of an element, but the candidate of the party, the party will stand by him and will drive the Republican party from power.

You could, I believe, take a man from any Southern State—a man who would appeal to all Democrats who love democratic principles, and to those Republicans who begin to fear for their nation’s welfare, and he would poll a million more votes than the candidate of any faction whose selection would be regarded as a triumph of a part of the party over the rest of the party.

I simply submit these suggestions for your consideration. I am here to discharge a duty that I owe to the party. I knew before coming to this convention that a majority of the delegates would not agree with me in regard to the financial plank. I knew that there would be among the delegates many who voted against me when I sorely needed their help. I am not objecting to the majority against me, nor to the presence of those who left us in 1896 and have since returned, but I am here, not because I enjoy being in the minority, but because I owe a duty to the more than six million brave and loyal men who sacrificed for the ticket in recent campaigns. I came to get them as good a platform as I could; I have helped to get them a good platform. I came to help to get as good a candidate as possible, and I hope that he will be one who can draw the factions together; one who will give to us who believe in positive, aggressive, democratic reform, something to hope for, something to fight for—one who will also give to those who have differed from us on the money question something to hope for, something to fight for. And I close with an appeal from my heart to the hearts of those who hear me: Give us a pilot who will guide the Democratic ship away from the Scylla of militarism without wrecking her upon the Charybdis of commercialism.

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