Cross of Gold Speech

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Populist Party Assignment
William Jennings Bryan, "Cross of Gold Speech" (1896)

William Jennings Bryan was a populist and the Populist Party and Democratic Party nominee for president in 1896.  At the 1896 Democratic National Convention Bryan spoke on behalf of those in the Democratic Party who favored the free coinage of silver.  (Such a policy was sometimes called bimetalism  the coinage of silver as well as gold).  His stirring speech helped him to capture the partyís nomination.  He lost the election, however, to Republican William McKinley who favored maintaining the gold standard.

As you read the speech carefully examine how Bryan portrays the gold standard and how he portrays the pro-silver  and therefore the Populist  cause.  Also notice how he depicts both urbanism and ruralism.

And now, my friends, let me come to the paramount issue.... The gold standard has slain tens of thousands....

There is scarcely a State here today asking for the gold standard which is not in the absolute control of the Republican party.... Mr. McKinley [Republican nominee for President] was nominated in St. Louis upon a platform which declared for the maintenance of the gold standard [in part, because the gold standard is the accepted international currency standard]....

No private character, however pure, no personal popularity, however great, can protect from the avenging wrath of an indigent people a man who will declare that he is in favor of fastening the gold standard upon this country, or who is willing to surrender the right of self-government and place the legislative control of our affairs in the hands of foreign potentates and powers....

[This is] a struggle between "the idle holders of idle capital" and "the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of this country:" and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of "the idle holders of idle capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses?"  That is the question the party must answer first.... The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the [pro-silver] platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party.  There are two ideas of government.  There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below.  The Democratic ideas, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies.  Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid and consent of any other nation on earth.... It is the issue of 1776 over again.  Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?  No my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people....  If [Republicans] say that bimetalism is good, but we cannot have it until other nations [adopt it]... we [Democrats and Populists] reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will [adopt] bimetalism, and then let England have bimetalism because the United States has it.  If they dare come out in 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... supported by... 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 thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

The Farmers' Grievances: The Rise of the Populist Movement 
Supplement: Bryan, "Cross of Gold"

What factors led to the rise of the Populist Party during the last decades of the 19th century?  What does agrarian discontent indicate about American culture during the late 19th century?

Populism, deflation, hayseed, the Grange, farmers' alliance, Ocala Demands, Populist Party (People's Party), Election of 1892, William Jennings Bryan, "Cross of Gold", free coinage (of silver), bimetalism, gold standard
  Homework Questions:
  1. What principles did the Democratic Party support during the last decades of the 19th century?  What principles did the Republican Party support?  What policies did each party promote?  What groups of people tended to vote Democratic? Republican? 
  2. What were the sources of agrarian discontent during the late 19th century?  In what sense was their discontent based on economic factors?  In what sense was their discontent as much the result of cultural changes in American society during the late 19th century as it was the result of economic concerns?

  3. What were the initial purposes of the Grange and the farmersí alliances of the late 19th century?  How did they evolve into a political movement?

  4. What role did blacks play in farmer alliances and in the emerging Populist movement?  How did whites in these organizations view blacks?

  5. How did the Populists fair in the election of 1892?  In what sense were election results disappointing to Populists?  In what sense were the Populists successful?

  6. In his "Cross of Gold" speech, how does Bryan (a Populist-Democrat) depict the Democratic party? What critique of his political opponents is implicit in Bryanís speech?
  7. In his "Cross of Gold" speech, how does Bryan characterize cities?  How does he characterize farming? What does this indicate about the cultural concerns of the Populist movement? 

  8. In the "Cross of Gold,"  what does Bryan mean when he says that "It is the issue of 1776 all over again."?

  9. In the "Cross of Gold," how does Bryan depict the gold and the gold standard?  How does he depict silver.

Populist Party Platform, 1892 (July 4, 1892)

The Populist Movement emerged from the farmer’s alliances of the 1870s and 1880s.  In the 1890s the Populist Party appeared to represent a viable third party  independent of the Democrats and Republicans.   A response to the growth of industrialism, the Populists opposed the "concentrated capital" of banks and big businesses and decried the many of the effects that industrialism was having on American society.  As you read, look carefully at the Populists analysis of the ills of American society and their proposed solutions.  In what sense do the Populists represent a reaction against many of the changes the United States underwent during the Gilded Age?


The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin.  Corruption dominates the ballot-box.... The people are demoralized;... public opinion silenced.... homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.  The urban workman are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages... and [we] are rapidly degenerating into European conditions.  The fruits of the toils of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind.... From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes  tramps and millionaires.

The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders....

Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonitized to add to the purchasing power of gold.... the supply of currency is purposely [limited] to fatten [creditors].... A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized... if not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization....

Controlling influences dominating both... parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them.  Neither do they now promise any substantial reform.... They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the alter of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires....

We seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the "plain people."

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedence in the history of the world; our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months, be exchanged for billions of dollars worth of commodities consumed in their production; the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class.  We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils....

We believe that the power of government  in other words, of the people  should be expanded... to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.

[We] will never cease to move forward until every wrong is righted and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country....



We declare, therefore 

First  That the union of the labor forces of the United States... shall be permanent and perpetual....

Second  Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery.... The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies identical....

Third  We believe the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads.... The government [should] enter upon the work of owning and managing all the railroads....


FINANCE  We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible issued by the general government....

 1. We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
 2. We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased....

 3. We demand a graduated income tax.

 4. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of  the people, and hence we believe that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the  necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered....

 5. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit  of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange....


TRANSPORTATION - Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people.  The telegraph and telephone... should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.


LAND  The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited.  All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.



1. Resolved, That we demand a free ballot, and a fair count in all elections... without Federal intervention, through the adoption by the states of the... secret ballot system.

2. Resolved, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.

3. Resolved, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.

4. Resolved, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system which opens our ports to [immigrants including] the pauper and the criminal classes of the world and crowds out our [American] wage-earners... and [we] demand the further restriction of undesirable immigration

5. Resolved, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor....

6. Resolved, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system as a menace to our liberties and we demand its abolition....

7. Resolved, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people... the initiative and referendum.

8. Resolved, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.

9. Resolved, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.
The "Cross of Gold": Bryan, Silver, and the Decline of the Populists
Supplement: Populist Party Platform 1892
Chapter 5
Supplement: Bryan, "Cross of Gold Speech" (Review)

What reforms did the Populists seek?  What factors contributed to the decline of the Populist movement? To what extent did the movement succeed?

Populist Party Platform, free coinage (of silver), bimetalism, gold standard, William Jennings Bryan, Populist-Democrat, Election of 1896, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz",

  Homework Questions:

  1. What demands do the Populists make in the Populist Party Platform?

  2. How do the Populists depict American society in the Populist Party Platform?  How do they depict government?  Big business? 

  3. For what economic reasons did Southern and Western ruralites favor the free coinage of silver?  For what non-economic reasons did they favor free coinage of silver? 

  4. What types of Americans favored the gold standard?  How did Populists view the gold standard and its supporters?

  5. How did Populists come to dominate the Democratic party in 1896? What impact did this have on the Democratic party? What impact did this have on the Populist party?

  6. What types of people voted for Bryan (Democratic-Populist) in the election of 1896?  What types of people voted for McKinley (Republican)?  What did Bryanís loss   indicate about the weaknesses of the Populist movement?

  7. What is an allegory?  In what sense is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," a Populist allegory?
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