HOW BRYAN WAS NOMINATED
How completely the great majority of the delegates had cast away their old allegiances was made evident when the Democratic convention first assembled on July 7th, in a vast structure in Chicago, styled the Coliseum, under whose spreading roof of glass and iron fifteen thousand human beings were crowded together in the heat of a summer sun. The National Committee was still controlled by the conservative element of the party; and this committee now presented to the convention the name of Senator Hill,2 of New York, as its selection for the temporary chairmanship. Both usage and etiquette required that their choice should be ratified by the delegates as a matter of ordinary courtesy. But not even for a temporary office would the majority accept an Eastern man who was also an opponent of free silver. A debate, remarkable for its bitterness, at once began: and in opposition to Mr. Hill, Senator John W. Daniel, of Virginia, an ardent silver advocate, was put in nomination, and was elected to the temporary chairmanship by the decisive vote of 556 to 349. A preliminary test of strength had now been made; and from this moment the silver men were exultantly aware of their supremacy. An eye-witness of the scene thus noted its significance: "The scepter of political power has passed from the strong, certain hands of the East to the feverish, headstrong mob of the West and South." During the debate, a delegate had casually spoken the name of President Cleveland. Many of the spectators at once rose to their feet and cheered; but it was an ominous circumstance that not a single delegate joined in the cheering, even those from New York remaining silent in their places. Mr. Altgeld,3 on the other hand, was greeted with yells of unrestrained delight.
Having won this victory, and having listened to an address by Senator Daniel, the convention adjourned until the following day. When it reassembled on the morning of July 8th, it was plain that the silver faction meant to use its power to the full. By a sweeping majority, the representation of each territory was augmented from two members to six. The delegation from Nebraska, which was pledged to support the gold standard, was unseated, and a contesting delegation of silver men, with Mr. William J. Bryan4 at its head, was admitted to the convention. Four gold delegates from Michigan were rejected, and four silver delegates were substituted in their place, thus giving to the silver faction, under the unit rule, the solid vote of Michigan. Having effected these changes, all of which greatly increased the strength of the majority, Senator S. M. White, of California, was made permanent President of the convention. . . .
Contrary to all usage, the platform as reported by the majority contained no word of approbation for President Cleveland. More than that, it condemned every important policy with which he had been identified. It was, indeed, precisely what those who wrote it meant that it should bea repudiation of him and of his administration. . . . The minority offered the following resolution as an amendment to the majority's report: "We commend the honesty, economy, courage and fidelity of the present Democratic administration. "
At once Senator Tillman5 leapt upon the platform. To him the minority report, with its praise of President Cleveland, was like a red rag to a bull. He fronted the multitude, dark and savage-featured, his face flushed, his hair unkempt, "the incarnation of the mob, vengeful and defiant. " There was a strange gleam in his one eye. When he began to speak, his fury rose to a fierce crescendo. He paced the platform like a madman, clenching his fists, hissing out his words, tossing his hands high above his head, and snapping his jaws together. So completely had passion mastered him, that much of what be said was unintelligible; but those who heard him gathered that he was denouncing Mr. Cleveland as "a tool of Wall Street," a tyrant, and one who richly deserved to be impeached and driven from his high office.
Oddly enough, the vehemence of Mr. Tillman defeated its own object. Intense as was the feeling of the multitude to which he spoke, such raving did not touch its sympathies. Tho applause was given to him by many, in his violence he had overshot the mark. Senator Hill, who spoke in behalf of the minority report, failed in another way to meet the mood of the vast audience. His face was ashen white and his manner glacial. Mr. Hill entirely lacked the oratorical temperament. Wholly unimpassioned at all times, the emotion of those about him seemed to make him colder and still more unbending. "I am a Democrat," he began, "but I am not a revolutionist." Then he proceeded with a discourse that was wholly argumentative, an appeal to reason, which, if pronounced before a purely deliberative body, might well have carried conviction in its words. It was, however, no deliberative body that he now addrest, but a surging mass of men frantic with excitement, upon whom mere argument was thrown away.
He might as well have spoken to a cyclone; and when he took his seat, he knew that he had failed. Mr. Vilas,6 of Wisconsin, and Mr. Russell,7 of Massachusetts, who followed and supported Mr. Hill, were no less ineffectual. Weakness of voice, an evident consciousness of coming defeat, and an unpopular cause, all combined to make their efforts unavailing.
Until now there had spoken no man to whom that riotous assembly would listen with respect. But at this moment there appeared upon the platform Mr. William Jennings Bryan, of Nebraska, who came forward to reply to the three preceding speakers. As he confronted the twenty thousand yelling, cursing, shouting men before him, they felt at once that indescribable, magnetic thrill which beasts and men alike experience in the presence of a master. Serene and self-possest, and with a smile upon his lips, he faced the roaring multitude with a splendid consciousness of power. Before a single word had been uttered by him, the pandemonium sank to an inarticulate murmur, and when he began to speak, even this was hushed to the profoundest silence. A mellow, penetrating voice that reached, apparently without the slightest effort, to the farthermost recesses of that enormous hall, gave utterance to a brief exordium:
"I should be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened, if this were a mere measuring of abilities; but this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of libertythe cause of humanity."
Mr. Bryan had in these three sentences already won his auditors. The repose and graceful dignity of his manner, the courteous reference to his opponents, and the perfect clearness and simplicity of his language, riveted the attention of every man and woman in the convention hall. As he continued, it was with increasing earnestness and power. He spoke briefly of the issue which was there to be determined. He held it to be an issue based upon a vital principlethe right of the majority to rule and to have its firm convictions embodied in the declaration of the party. . . .
He spoke with the utmost deliberation, so that every word was driven home to each hearer's consciousness, and yet with an ever-increasing force which found fit expression in the wonderful harmony and power of his voice. His sentences rang out, now with an accent of superb disdain, and now with the stirring challenge of a bugle call.
"We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them! . . .
"If they dare to come out into the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thornsyou shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!"
The scene enacted in the convention, as Mr, Bryan finished speaking, was indescribable. Throughout the latter part of his address a crash of applause had followed every sentence; but now the tumult was like that of a great sea thundering against the dykes. Twenty thousand men and women went mad with an irresistible enthusiasm. This orator had met their mood to the very full. He had found magic words for the feeling which they had been unable to express. And so he had played at will upon their very heart-strings, until the full tide of their emotion was let loose in one tempestuous roar of passion, which seemed to have no end. When order was partially restored, the substitute resolutions offered by Senator Hill were rejected with cries of derision as were two other amendments afterward, proposed by him; and then the free-silver platform was adopted by a vote of 628 to 301. Having taken this action, the delegates, exhausted by the day's exciting scenes, adjourned until the following afternoon.
Over night, the question of the candidate to be nominated was earnestly discust. It was evident that Mr. Bryan had suddenly leapt into a prominence which made him a formidable competitor for the highest honors. Before his address, no one had thought of him as a Presidential candidate. When the convention reassembled, and proceeded to the selection of a candidate, altho the first ballot showed Mr. Bland to have received 235 votes, Mr. Bryan came next with 119, the number necessary to a choice being 502. Thirteen other gentlemen received scattering votes. On the second and third ballots, both Mr. Bland's and Mr. Bryan's following was increased; but on the fourth, Mr. Bryan led with 280 to 241 for Mr. Bland. When the roll was called for the fifth time, Mr. Bryan lacked only 12 votes of a nomination, and at once 78 delegates changed their votes from other candidates to him, thereby making him the choice of the convention.
The action of the Chicago Convention was received in the West with immense enthusiasm, in the South with doubtful approbation, and in the East with anger and dismay. Over the offices of some Democratic newspapers flags were hoisted at half-mast. Many journals exprest strong disapproval. Not a few openly avowed their purpose of supporting the Republican candidates. The Western silver men were described by these papers as being really Populists who had stolen the name of Democrats. The gold delegates, returning from the scene of their defeat, set themselves to stimulate this feeling, where they did not take refuge in significant silence. "Are you still a Democrat?" an intimate friend asked of Senator Hill. "Yes," replied the Senator; "I am a Democrat still"; adding after a significant pause"very still."
Naturally, the Republicans rejoiced at these evidences of Democratic dissension. It appeared for a few days as tho a victory over Mr. Bryan might be won almost without a struggle. But very soon this view was seen to be erroneous, and Mr. McKinley's managers perceived with genuine alarm that the contest was to be one of the fiercest ever fought in American political history. For tho in New England and New York, Mr. Bryan was certain to lose many votes, this loss would be offset by the thousands of ballots which would be cast for him by the "Silver Republicans" and by the Populists in the Western States. . . .
But with astonishing energy Mr. Bryan planned and carried out four long journeys through the country, speaking at every place of importance in the doubtful States. On a single one of these progresses he traveled more than twelve thousand miles, and was everywhere received by enormous gatherings and with intense enthusiasm. The funds for his campaign were slender. All the financial interests of the country were arrayed against him. His managers had no great sums to lavish in subsidizing newspapers, in circulating documents, in hiring bands, and in decorating whole cities with political banners. Mr. Bryan, in fact, fought single-handed against the party of wealth; yet tho almost alone, he made his foes strain every nerve to compass his defeat. It was estimated that not less than 5,000,000 persons heard him speak, and among them there were few who showed him anything that savored of discourtesy. . . .
It would, indeed, have been very difficult for any fair-minded person, after hearing Mr. Bryan, to feel aught but a sincere personal respect for him. The tone of all his speeches was most admirable. He dealt with principles alone and not with persons. Altho showered with abuse by the Republican and Gold Democratic newspapers, he never condescended to reply in kind; and for his chief political adversary he had only words of courteous consideration.
Very different from this was the treatment accorded Mr. Bryan by his adversaries. They could find nothing in his private life to censure; but they circulated absurd and absolutely baseless stories, besides misrepresenting the whole tenor of his political teaching. They profest to believe that he had once been a strolling actor; they denounced him as an anarchist and an enemy of public order. Some phrases in the Democratic platform relating to the income tax decision were so garbled as to make it appear that Mr. Bryan desired to abolish or discredit the Supreme Court. Thousands of men, women and children were led to think of him as the incarnation of riot, revolution and ruin.
The whole vast machinery of commerce, of business and of finance was set in motion to create a general impression that Mr. Bryan's success would mean disaster to every section of the American people. As the month of November drew near, capitalists resorted to the very effective device of giving large orders to manufacturers, on condition that these orders should be executed only in case of Mr. McKinley's election. In this way notice was served upon the artizans that if they voted for Mr. Bryan they would be voting to deprive themselves of work. Agents of some of the great insurance companies of New York and New England, which held mortgages upon Western farms, intimated to the mortgagors that, if Mr. McKinley were elected, the mortgages would be extended for five years at a low rate of interest. At the end of the week preceding the election, many employers of labor, in paying off their workmen, gave them notice that they could not return to work in the event of Mr. Bryan's success. The city banks brought to bear upon their country correspondents such powerful pressure as they could readily exercise; and these correspondents transmitted that pressure to their depositors. In fact, the myriad influences which Mr. Hanna8 understood so well were all directed with astonishing effectiveness to the single end of defeating Mr. Bryan at any cost.
These means were doubtless more certain in their operation than the mere use of money; yet money, too, was spent with a profusion hitherto unknown even in American political campaigns. A member of the Republican Committee subsequently admitted that the campaign expenses of his party in 1896 amounted to not less than $25,000 a day from August 1st until the eve of the election. This money came from capitalists and business men in general, and even from fiduciary institutions. . . .
The election was unexpectedly decisive. Before midnight on November 3d, it was known that Mr. Bryan had been defeated and that he would receive in the Electoral College only 176 votes to 271 for Mr. McKinley. He had carried all the Southern States except West Virginia; and had also received the votes of Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, while California and Kentucky had each given him one electoral vote. But the solid opposition of the East, the Northwest and the Middle West had overborne his loyal following in the more thinly settled mining and agricultural States. Yet Mr. Bryan had given the Republican party a shock of extreme severity. The extent of its fright may be measured by the ferocity with which its newspaper organs referred to Mr. Bryan even after the election. . . .
Mr. Bryan set an example of dignity and generous feeling which his newspaper assailants might well have tried to emulate. No sooner was the result of the election a certainty than he telegraphed to his successful rival a message of cordial congratulation, to which Mr. McKinley at once replied in terms of equal courtesy and personal good will.
1 From Peck's "Twenty Years of the Republic." By permission of the publishers, Dodd, Mead & Company. Copyright, 1906.
2 David Bennett Hill had been elected Governor of New York in 1885, and again in 1888, and to the Senate in 1891. He died in 19l0.
3 John P. Altgeld, Governor of Illinois, who pardoned three of the Haymarket anarchists. He died in 1904.
4 Mr. Bryan at this time had served two terms in Congress, where he had gained reputation as an orator of unusual power. He was only 36 years old.
5 0f South Carolina.
6 William F. Vilas, then Senator from Wisconsin. He had previously been Postmaster-General and Secretary of the Interior.
7 William E. Russell, the rising hope of the young Democracy of that time, who had been three times elected Governor of Massachusetts. He died suddenly in Nova Scotia shortly after the adjournment of the Chicago convention.
8 Marcus A. Hanna, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee, and afterward Senator from Ohio. He was closely identified with McKinley's administration, and died in 1904.