First Speech Against Unconditional Repeal

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First Speech Against Unconditional Repeal
by William Jennings Bryan


Speech before the U. S. House of Representatives, February 9, 1893.

Mr. Speaker: We oppose the consideration of this bill because we oppose the bill, and we oppose the cloture which is asked in order to secure its passage, because the Democratic party dare not go before the people and tell them they refused cloture for free coinage—which is consistent with the history of the party; for the tariff bills which we promised to pass, and for the bill for the election of United States Senators by the people, and only yielded to it at the dictation of the moneyed institutions of this country and those who want to appreciate the value of a dollar.

I call attention to the fact that there is not in this bill a single line or sentence which is not opposed to the whole history of the Democratic party. We have opposed the principle of the national bank on all occasions, and yet you give them by this bill an increased currency of $15,000,000. You have pledged the party to reduce the taxation upon the people, and yet, before you attempt to lighten this burden, you seek to take off one-half million of dollars annually from the national banks of the country; and even after declaring in your national platform that the Sherman act was a “cowardly makeshift,” you attempt to take away the “makeshift” before you give us the real thing for which the makeshift was substituted.

What is a makeshift? It is a temporary expedient. And yet you tell us you will take away our temporary expedient before you give us the permanent good. You tell a man who is fighting with a club that it is a miserable makeshift and that he ought to have a repeating rifle; and yet you tell him to throw away his club and wait until his enemy gives him the rifle. We do not like the present law. It did not come from us. The Sherman law is the child of the opponents of free coinage. But they have given it to us, and we will hold it as a hostage until they return to us our own child, “the gold and silver coinage of the Constitution.” They kidnaped it twenty years ago, and we shall hold their child, ugly and deformed as it is, until they bring ours back or give us something better than the makeshift which we now have.

Mr. Speaker, consider the effect of this bill. It means that by suspending the purchase of silver we will throw 54,000,000 ounces on the market annually and reduce the price of silver bullion. It means that we will widen the difference between the coinage and bullion value of silver, and raise a greater obstacle in the way of bimetallism. It means to increase by billions of dollars the debts of our people. It means a reduction in the price of our wheat and our cotton. You have garbled the platform of the Democratic party. You have taken up one clause of it and refuse to give us a fulfillment of the other and more important clause, which demands that gold and silver shall be coined on equal terms without charge for mintage.

Mr. Speaker, this cannot be done. A man who murders another shortens by a few brief years the life of a human being; but he who votes to increase the burden of debts upon the people of the United States assumes a graver responsibility. If we who represent them consent to rob our people, the cotton-growers of the South and the wheat-growers of the West, we will be criminals whose guilt cannot be measured by words, for we will bring distress and disaster to our people. In many cases such a vote would simply be a summons to the sheriff to take possession of their property.

Source: William J. Bryan, The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896 (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1896), pp. 76–77.

Notes[edit]

Commenting on this speech (see Chapter 2), Bryan writes:

On February 9th, 1893, the House having under consideration the following resolution: “Resolved, That immediately upon the adoption of this resolution the House proceed to consider H. R. 10143, ‘A bill to increase the circulation of national banks and for other purposes,’ and if such bill shall not be disposed of on said day, then the consideration thereof shall be continued during the next legislative day.” I made my first speech against unconditional repeal.

This was the first effort made to secure unconditional repeal, and there was coupled with it a proposition to allow banks to issue notes up to the par value of their bonds and to reduce the tax on circulation. It is significant that in recent years the effort to degrade silver has gone hand in hand with the effort to increase the control of national banks over the issue of paper money.

See also[edit]

Related speeches by Bryan


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1925, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.