The reminiscences of the campaign of 1896 form such a delightful chapter in memory's book that I am constrained to paraphrase a familiar line and say that it is better to have run and lost than never to have run at all.
I shall always carry with me grateful, as well as pleasant, recollections of the newspaper men with whom I was thrown. The first premonitory symptom of greatness about to be thrust upon me was noticed at the Clifton House shortly after my convention speech. Immediately after my return from the hall, a representative of a local paper asked me if I would have any objection to his sitting in my room. I replied, "No," and then innocently inquired why he wanted to sit there. He informed me that his paper had sent him over to report anything of interest. In a few minutes another representative of the press dropt in upon the same mission, and then another until my room was full.
I found that they were prepared to minutely report circumstances which to me seemed trivial. The angle of inclination was noted as I lay upon the bed. I was given credit for using a paper to protect the bedclothes from my feet; the rabbit's foot given me as I left the convention hall was reproduced in the papers; the bulletins announced that Mrs. Bryan preserved her composure during the nominating scene, and when I remarked that I was glad she had done so, the world was at once permitted to share my joy. When, on Saturday night, we tried to steal away and have a Sunday's rest without our whereabouts being known, I found that five carriages followed ours, and the omniprescent news-gatherers interviewed us as we alighted. But they were a gentlemanly and genial crowd, and I soon learned to save myself much trouble by telling them the exact moment of rising and retiring, and by reporting in advance the things to be done and, in review, the things which had been done. . . .
The total number of miles traveled [during the campaign], as shown by the schedules, was about 18,000. I have no way of ascertaining the exact number of speeches made, but an estimate of 600 is not far from correct. It is difficult to make an estimate of the number of persons addrest. Mr. Rose, of the Associated Press, thought about 5,000,000 the total number in attendance at my meetings, while Mr. Oulahan, of the United Associated Presses, places the number at 4,800,000. This, of course, includes men, women, and children.
After leaving home, on September 9th, when I started on my long trip, up to November 3d, I had spent every day, excepting Sunday, in campaigning. So far as my physical comfort was concerned the greatest anxiety was exprest as to the condition of my throat. I tried a cold compress, and a hot compress, and a cold gargle and a hot gargle, and cough drops and cough cures and cough killers in endless variety and profusion, and, finally abandoning all remedies, found my voice in better condition during the latter days, without treatment, than it was earlier in the campaign. In all this travel there was but little delay and no accident of any consequence to any member of the party.
As we learn by experience, my experience may be of value to those who may hereafter be engaged in a similar campaign. I soon found that it was necessary to stand upon the rear platform of the last car in order to avoid danger to those who crowded about the train. I also found that it was much easier to speak from the platform of the car than to go to a stand, no matter how close. Much valuable time was wasted by going even a short distance, because in passing through a crowd it was always necessary to do more or less of handshaking, and this occupied time. Moreover, to push one's way through a dense crowd is more fatiguing than talking. Speaking from the car also avoided the falling of platforms, a form of danger which, all through the campaign, I feared more than I feared breaking down from overwork. A platform, strong enough ordinarily, was in danger of being overtaxed when the crowd centered at one place in an endeavor to shake hands with the candidate.
The ratio of 16 to 1 was scrupulously adhered to during the campaign, and illustrated with infinite variety. At one place our carriage was drawn by sixteen white horses and one yellow horse; at any number of places we were greeted by sixteen young ladies drest in white and one drest in yellow, or by sixteen young men drest in white and one drest in yellow. But the ratio was most frequently represented in flowers, sixteen white chrysanthemums and one yellow one being the favorite combination. I was the recipient of lucky coins, lucky stones and pocket-pieces and badges and buttons. During the campaign I received gold-headed canes, plain canes, leather canes, thorn canes, and even a glass cane. Some were voted at church fairs, of a variety of denominations, some were taken from famous battle-fields, and one was made from the house in which Patrick Henry made his first speech. I received a silver Waterbury watch, presented by a Connecticut bimetallist (he thought it embarrassing for me to time myself with a gold watch while making a silver speech), two rings, one with a sixteen to one set and one made of a coin in circulation at the time of the first Christian emperor. I received four handsome live eagles, two from Telluride, Colo., and two from Burke, Idaho, and one stuffed eagle which had been killed in Nebraska. One of the prettiest souvenirs of the campaign was a watch-charm, emblematic of bimetallismbeautiful specimens of wire gold and wire silver being enclosed in crystal.
It is impossible to chronicle all the evidences of kindly feeling given during the campaign; in fact the good will manifested and the intense feeling shown imprest me more than any other feature of the campaign. When the result was announced my composure was more endangered by the sorrow exhibited by friends than it was during all the excitement of the struggle. Men broke down and cried as they exprest their regret, and there rises before me now the face of a laboring man, of Lincoln, who, after he dried his tears, held out his hand from which three fingers were missing, and said: "I did not shed a tear when those were taken off." People have often lightly said that they would die for a cause, but it may be asserted in all truthfulness that during the campaign just closed there were thousands of bimetallists who would have given their lives, had their lives been demanded, in order to secure success to the principles which they advocated. Surely, greater love hath no man than this. . . .
The following morning we returned to Lincoln on an early train. The Bryan Home Guards met us at the depot and escorted me to the city clerk's office, where I made the affidavit required of those who fail to register, and then they accompanied me to the polling-places, where I deposited my ballot. Just as I was about to vote, one of the strongest Republicans of the precinct, then acting as a challenger for his party, suggested that as a mark of respect to their townsman they take off their hats. The suggestion was adopted by all excepting one. I relate this incident because, altho the compliment was somewhat embarrassing at the time, I appreciated it, as it showed the personal good will which, as a rule, was manifested toward me in my home city by those who did not agree with me on political questions. The Home Guards took me to the door of my house, where I thanked them for the consideration which they had shown, and the sacrifices which they made during the campaign.
When necessity no longer spurred me to exertion, I began to feel the effects of long continued labor and sought rest in bed. As soon as the polls were closed the representatives of the press, drawn by friendliness and enterprise, assembled in the library below to analyze the returns, while Mrs. Bryan brought the more important bulletins to my roomher face betraying their purport before I received them from her hand. As the evening progressed the indications pointed more and more strongly to defeat, and by eleven o'clock I realized that, while the returns from the country might change the result, the success of my opponent was more than probable. Confidence resolved itself into doubt, and doubt, in turn, gave place to resignation. While the compassionless current sped hither and thither, carrying its message of gladness to foe and its message of sadness to friend, there vanished from my mind the vision of a President in the White House, perplexed by the cares of state, and, in the contemplation of the picture of a citizen by his fireside, free from official responsibility, I fell asleep.
1 From Bryan's "First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896." By permission of Mr. Bryan. Copyright, 1896.