Picture of William Jennings Bryan

Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination

September 09, 1896

Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 9, 1896.

Hon. Stephen M. White and others, members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention:

Gentlemen: I accept the nomination tendered by you on behalf of the Democratic party, and in so doing desire to assure you that I fully appreciate the high honor which such a nomination confers and the grave responsibilities which accompany an election to the Presidency of the United States. So deeply am I impressed with the magnitude of the power invested by the Constitution in the Chief Executive of the nation, and with the enormous influence which he can wield for the benefit or injury of the people, that I wish to enter the office, if elected, free from every personal desire except the desire to prove worthy the confidence of my country. Human judgment is fallible enough when unbiased by selfish considerations, and in order that I may not be tempted to use the patronage of the office to advance any personal ambition, I hereby announce, with all the emphasis which words can express, my fixed determination not under any circumstances to be a candidate for re-election if this campaign results in my election.

I have carefully considered the platform adopted by the Democratic National Convention, and unqualifiedly indorse each plank thereof.

Our institutions rest upon the proposition that all men, being created equal, are entitled to equal consideration at the hands of the Government. Because all men are created equal it follows that no citizen has a natural right to injure any other citizen. The main purpose of government being to protect all citizens in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, this purpose must lead the government, first, to avoid acts of affirmative injustice, and second, to restrain each citizen from trespassing upon the rights of any other citizen.

A democratic form of government is conducive to the highest civilization because it opens before each individual the greatest opportunities for development and stimulates to the highest endeavor by insuring to each the full enjoyment of all the rewards of toil except such contribution as is necessary to support the government which protects him. Democracy is indifferent to pedigree; it deals with the individual rather than with his ancestors. Democracy ignores differences in wealth. Neither riches nor poverty can be invoked in behalf of or against any citizen. Democracy known no creed, recognizing the right of each individual to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. It welcomes all to a common brotherhood, and guarantees equal treatment to all, no matter in which church or through what forms they commune with the creator.

Having discussed portions of the platform at the time of its adoption and again when your letter of notification was formally delivered, it will not be necessary at this time to touch upon all the subjects embraced in the party's declaration.


Honest differences of opinion have ever existed and ever will exist as to the most effective means of securing domestic tranquility, but no citizen fails to recognize at all times and under all circumstances the absolute necessity for the prompt and vigorous enforcement of the law and the preservation of the public peace. In a government like ours law is but the crystalization of the will of the people; without it the citizen is neither secure in the enjoyment of life and liberty, nor protected in the pursuit of happiness. Without obedience to law government is impossible. The Democratic party is pledged to defend the Constitution, and enforce the laws of the United States, and it is also pledged to respect and preserve the dual scheme of government instituted by the founders of the Republic. The name, United States, was happily chosen. It combines the idea of national strength with the idea of local self-government and suggests "an indissoluble union of indestructible States." Our Revolutionary fathers, fearing the tendencies toward centralization as well as the dangers of disintegration, guarded against both, and national safety as well as domestic security is to be found in the careful observance of the limitations which they impose. It will be noticed that, while the United States guarantees to every State a republican form of government and is empowered to protect each State against invasion, it is not authorized to interfere in the domestic affairs of any State except upon application of the legislature of the State, or upon the application of the executive when the legislature cannot be convened.

This provision rests upon the sound theory that the people of the State, acting through their legally chosen representatives, because of their more intimate acquaintance with local conditions are better qualified than the President to judge of the necessity for Federal assistance. Those who framed our Constitution wisely determined to make as broad an application of the principles of local self-government as circumstances would permit, and we cannot dispute the correctness of the position taken by them without expressing a distrust of the people themselves.


Since governments exist for the protection of the rights of the people and not for their spoliation, no expenditure of public money can be justified unless that expenditure is necessary for the honest, economical and efficient administration of the Government. In determining what appropriations are necessary, the interest of those who pay the taxes should be consulted rather than the wishes of those who receive or disburse public moneys.


An increase in the bonded debt of the United States at this time is entirely without excuse. The issue of the interest bearing bonds within the last few years has been defended on the ground that they were necessary to secure gold with which to redeem United States notes and Treasury notes, but this necessity has been imaginary rather than real. Instead of exercising the legal right vested in the United States to redeem its coin in either gold or silver, the executive branch of the Government has followed a precedent established by a former administration and surrendered the option to the holder of the obligations. This administrative policy leaves the government at the mercy of those who find a pecuniary profit in bond issues. The fact that the dealers in money and securities have been able to deplete or protect the Treasury, according to their changing whims, shows how dangerous it is to permit them to exercise a controlling influence over the Treasury Department. The Government of the United States, when administered in the interests of all the people, is able to establish and enforce its financial policy not only without the aid of syndicates, but in spite of any opposition which syndicates may present. To assert that the Government is dependent upon the good will or assistance of any portion of the people other than a constitutional majority is to assert that we have a government in form but without vital force.


The position taken by the platform against the issue of paper money by national banks is supported by the highest Democratic authority as well as demanded by the interests of the people. The present attempt of the national banks to force the retirement of United States notes and Treasury notes in order to secure a basis for a larger issue of their own notes illustrates the danger which arises from permitting them to issue their paper as a circulating medium. The national bank note, being redeemable in lawful money, has never been better than the United States note, which stands behind it, and yet the banks persistently demand that these United States notes, which draw no interest, shall give place to interest-bearing bonds in order that the banks may collect the interest which the people now save. To empower national banks to issue circulating notes is to grant a valuable privilege to a favored class, surrender to private corporations the control over the volume of paper money, and build up a class which will claim a vested interest in the nation's financial policy. Our United States notes, commonly known as greenbacks, being redeemable in either gold or silver at the option of the government and not at the option of the holder, are safer and cheaper for the people than national bank notes based upon interest-bearing bonds.


A dignified but firm maintenance of the foreign policy first set forth by President Monroe, and reiterated by the Presidents who have succeeded him, instead of arousing hostility abroad is the best guarantee of amicable relations with other nations.

It is better for all concerned that the United States should resist any extension of European authority in the Western hemisphere rather than invite the continued irritation which would necessarily result from any attempt to increase the influence of monarchical institutions in that portion of the Americas which has been dedicated to republican governments.


No nation can afford to be unjust to its defenders. The care of those who have suffered injury in the military and naval service of the country is a sacred duty. A nation which, like the United States, relies upon voluntary service rather than upon a large standing army, adds to its own security when it makes generous provisions for those who have risked their lives in its defense and for those who are dependent upon them.


Labor creates capital. Until wealth is produced by the application of brain and muscle to the resources of this country there is nothing to divide among the non-producing classes of society. Since the producers of wealth create the nation's prosperity in time of peace, and defend the nation's flag in time of peril, their interests ought at all times to be considered by those who stand in official positions. The Democratic party has ever found its voting strength among those who are proud to be known as the common people, and it pledges itself to propose and enact such legislation as is necessary to protect the masses in the free exercise of every political right and in their enjoyment of their just share of the rewards of their labor.


I desire to give special emphasis to the plank which recommends such legislation as is necessary to secure the arbitration of differences between employers engaged in interstate commerce and their employees. Arbitration is not a new idea—it is simply an extension of the court of justice. The laboring men of the country have expressed a desire for arbitration and the railroads cannot reasonably object to the decisions rendered by an impartial tribunal. Society has an interest even greater than the interest of employer or employee, and has a right to protect itself by courts of arbitration against the growing inconvenience and embarrassment occasioned by disputes between those who own the great arteries of commerce on the one hand and the laborers who operate them on the other.


While the Democratic party welcomes to the country those who come with love for our institutions and with the determination and ability to contribute to the strength and greatness of our nation, it. is opposed to the dumping of the criminal classes upon our shores and to the importation of either pauper or contract labor to compete with American labor.


The recent abuses which have grown out of injunction proceedings have been so emphatically condemned by public opinion that the Senate bill providing for trial by jury in certain contest cases will meet with general approval.


The Democratic party is opposed to trusts. It will be recreant to its duty to the people if it recognizes either the moral or the legal right of these great aggregations of wealth to stifle competition, bankrupt rivals, and then prey upon society. Corporations are the creatures of law, and they must not be permitted to pass from under the control of the power which created; they are permitted to exist on the theory that they advance the public weal and they must not be allowed to use their powers for the public injury.


The right of the United States Government to regulate interstate commerce cannot be questioned, and the necessity for the vigorous exercise of that right is becoming more and more imperative. The interests of the whole people require such an enlargement of the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission as will enable it to prevent discrimination between persons and places and protect patrons from unreasonable charges.


The government cannot afford to discriminate between its debtors, and must therefore prosecute its legal claims against the Pacific railroads. Such a policy is necessary for the protection of the rights of patrons as well as for the interests of the Government.


The people of the United States, happy in the enjoyment of the blessings of free government, feel a generous sympathy toward all who are endeavoring to secure like blessings for themselves. This sympathy, while respecting all treaty obligations, is especially active and earnest when excited by the struggles of neighboring peoples, who, like the Cubans, are near enough to observe the workings of a government which derives all its authority from the consent of the governed.


That the American people are not in favor of life tenure in the Government service is evident from the fact that they, as a rule, make frequent changes in their official representatives when those representatives are chosen by ballot. A permanent office-holding class is not in harmony with our institutions. A fixed term in appointive offices, except where the Federal Constitution now provides otherwise, would open the public service to a larger number of citizens without impairing its efficiency.


The territorial form of government is temporary in its nature and should give way as soon as the territory is sufficiently advanced to take its place among the States. New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arizona are entitled to statehood, and their admission is demanded by the material and political interests. The demand of the platform that officials appointed to administer the government of the Territories, the District of Columbia, and Alaska should be bona fide residents of the Territories or District is entirely in keeping with the Democratic theory of home rule. I am also heartily in sympathy with the declaration that all public lands should be reserved for the establishment of free homes for American citizens.


The policy of improving the great waterways of the country is justified by the national character of those waterways and the enormous tonnage borne upon them. Experience has demonstrated that continuing appropriations are in the end more economical than single appropriations separated by long intervals.


It is not necessary to discuss the tariff question at this time. Whatever may be the individual view of citizens as to the relative merits of protection and tariff reform, all must recognize that until the money question is fully and finally settled the American people will not consent to the consideration of any other important question. Taxation presents a problem which in some form is continually present, and a postponement of definite action upon it involves no sacrifice of personal opinion or political principles, but the crisis presented by financial conditions cannot be postponed. Tremendous results will follow the action taken by the United States on the money question, and delay is impossible. The people of this nation, sitting as a high court, must render judgment in the cause which greed is prosecuting against humanity. The decision will either give hope and inspiration to those who toil or "shut the doors of mercy on mankind." In the presence of this overshadowing issue differences upon minor questions must be laid aside in order that there may be united action among those who are determined that progress toward an universal gold standard shall be stayed and the gold and silver coinage of the Constitution restored.

W. J. Bryan.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention, 1896.

William Jennings Bryan, Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363224

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