The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896 (1896)
by William Jennings Bryan
1639The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 18961896William Jennings Bryan

The object of "The First Battle" is to present an account of the leading events and issues of the most critical campaign in American history. The work contains an interesting description of the author's famous tour, including his most important speeches, together with the principal addresses and documents identified with the campaign of 1896; the whole embodying a faithful presentation of the rise and development of the silver movement. It also contains a review of the political situation and an analysis of the election returns. At our request the author has included a biographical sketch written by Mrs. Bryan.

The name and fame of the author may induce unscrupulous publishers to issue fraudulent imitations of "The First Battle". We desire to state that this book will appear under no other title than "The First Battle", copyrighted by William J. Bryan and bearing the imprint of W. B. Conkey Company.

—The Publishers.

Table of contents edit

Dedication edit

Dedicated to the Three Pioneers:
R. P. Bland, J. B. Weaver, and H. M. Teller.

Preface edit

(The preface in the original source appears in the author's hand-writing.)

The campaign of 1896 was a remarkable one whether we measure it by the magnitude of the issues involved or by the depth of interest aroused. I have been led to undertake the present work by a desire, felt by myself and expressed by others, to bare the more important incidents of the campaign put into permanent form for the convenience of those who here take part in the contest and for the use of those who share hereafter desire to review the struggle. The amount of work done by the advocates of free coinage is beyond computation and the number of those who took an active part in the contest is great for ennumeration. These facts, together with the difficulty of choosing between so many meritorious speeches, have compelled me to limit quotations to the addresses made and documents issued, by persons standing in an official or semi-official capacity, and to the principal speeches delivered by myself. I have added a brief history of the campaign, including a discussion of the election returns and the significance thereof. It has also been thought best to now rate the part taken by me in the silver question prior to the Chicago Convention, and at the request of the Publishers, I have included a biographical sketch written by Mrs. Bryan.

W. J. Bryan
Lincoln Neb.

Introduction edit

Hon. Richard P. Bland of Missouri, Gen. James B. Weaver of Iowa, and Hon. Henry M. Teller of Colorado, may, without injustice to others, be considered the foremost champions of bimetallism in their respective parties.

Mr. Bland, Democrat edit

Mr. Bland was first elected to the National House of Representatives in 1872, and served for twenty-two years. In the Forty-fourth Congress, as Chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining, he secured the passage through the House of a bill providing for the free and unlimited coinage of gold and silver at the ratio of 16 to 1. During the same Congress he was appointed a member of the commission which prepared the "Silver Commission Report". In the Forty-fifth Congress he introduced and secured the passage through the House of a bill similar to the one advocated in the preceding Congress, but the bill was amended in the Senate and was afterwards known as the Bland-Allison act, becoming a law over the President's veto. Some three hundred and eighty millions of standard silver dollars were coined under this act. Mr. Bland, during Mr. Cleveland's first administration, opposed the suspension of the Bland-Allison act and also endeavored to secure the passage of a free coinage bill. In the Fifty-first Congress he joined with the silver men in the Senate in an effort to secure a free coinage measure instead of the act of 1890, known as the Sherman act. In the Fifty-third Congress he led the fight against unconditional repeal and against the retirement of the greenbacks and Treasury notes with an issue of gold bonds. He was one of the Democrats who joined in the address, issued March 4, 1895, calling upon the silver Democrats to organize and take control of the Democratic party, and was largely instrumental also in securing a strong declaration in favor of free coinage at 16 to 1 in the Missouri State Convention, held at Pirtle Springs in 1895. In the Chicago Convention he received the second largest number of votes for the Presidential nomination, and during the campaign which followed was active in support of the nominees. His name is known among the students of the money question in every civilized nation, and his faithful and continuous labors in behalf of the restoration of bimetallism have given him a warm place in the hearts of his countrymen.

Mr. Weaver, Populist edit

Mr. Weaver was elected to Congress in 1878, and served in the Forty-sixth, Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Congresses. In January, 1880, he introduced the following resolution:

Resolved, That it is the sense of this House that all currency, whether metallic or paper, necessary for the use and convenience of the people, should be issued and its volume controlled by the Government and not by or through banking corporations, and when so issued should be a full legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private.

Resolved, That it is the judgement of this House that that portion of the interest-bearing debt of the United States which shall become redeemable in the year 1881, or prior thereto, being in amount $782,000,000, should not be refunded beyond the power of the Government to call in said obligations and pay them at any time, but should be paid as rapidly as possible and according to contract. To enable the Government to meet these obligations, the mints of the United States should be operated to their full capacity in the coinage of standard silver dollars and such other coinage as the business interests of the country may require.

After a thirteen weeks' struggle he secured consideration of this resolution, but it was defeated by a vote of 117 to 83.

He has, ever since his entrance into Congress, been a consistent and persistent advocate of the restoration of bimetallism. He was the candidate of the Greenback-Labor party for President in 1880, and received 307,740 votes. In 1892 he was the candidate of the Populist party for the Presidency and received 1,040,600 votes. His platform in 1892 was the first national platform to expressly declare for the ratio of 16 to 1. In 1894 he was nominated for Congress on a 16 to 1 platform in the Council Bluffs (Iowa) district by the Populists and Democrats. After the Democratic National Convention of 1896 had declared unequivocally for independent bimetallism, Mr. Weaver took an active part in securing co-operation between the silver forces, and, during the campaign, gave his entire time to the success of the cause. His speech in the St. Louis Convention, which will be found in a subsequent chapter, contains his defense of the position taken by him.

Mr. Teller, Silver Republican edit

Mr. Teller has served in the Senate and Cabinet for twenty years, and has been connected with the silver question since 1880. During that time he has done much in and out of Congress with tongue and pen to advance the cause of bimetallism. In 1892 he was instrumental in securing in the Republican National Convention a declaration in favor of bimetallism, and he was a conspicuous actor in the prolonged fight in the Senate against unconditional repeal. His standing in, and long connection with, the Republican party, together with his great ability and high character, made him the acknowledged leader of the silver Republicans. At St. Louis he was at the head of the revolt against the Republican platform, and his withdrawal from the party cost the Republican candidate thousands of votes. The silver Republicans favored his nomination for the Presidency, and his State voted for him on the first ballot in the Democratic Convention. After the nomination had been made he joined with other leading silver Republicans in an address supporting the Democratic ticket and during the campaign did yeoman service upon the stump.

In dedicating this book to these three pioneers, I desire to record my appreciation of the work which they have done, my esteem for them as public men and my gratitude to them for their many acts of kindness to me, both before and since my nomination.

In giving an account of my travels during the campaign I have not attempted to mention every place stopped at, nor have I, as a rule, given the names of presiding officers and reception committees. My time during waking hours was so fully occupied that I could not then make a memorandum of persons and events, and, since neither the newspapers nor my memory will supply a correct record, I have generally omitted the details of the meetings, except where I met some old time acquaintance or some prominent public man. I declined private entertainment as far as possible in order to avoid local and factional jealousies, and I have only referred to social courtesies extended where there seemed a special justification for so doing.

Space would not permit a reproduction of all the speeches delivered by me during the campaign, and those reproduced are not usually given in full. I have exercised the Congressional privilege of "revising the record", and have, to a large extent, eliminated repetition. The preparation has been confined to so short a time and the work has been done amidst such constant interruptions that I fear many errors of expression may be found which more care might have prevented.

An inspiration edit

 However the battle is ended,
    Though proudly the victor comes
 With fluttering flags and prancing nags
    And echoing roll of drums,
 Still truth proclaims this motto
    In letters of living light,—
 No question is ever settled
    Until it is settled right.

 Though the heel of the strong oppressor
    May grind the weak in the dust,
 And the voices of fame with one acclaim
    May call him great and just,
 Let those who applaud take warning,
    And keep this motto in sight,—
 No question is ever settled
    Until it is settled right.

 Let those who have failed take courage;
    Tho' the enemy seems to have won,
 Tho' his ranks are strong, if he be in the wrong
    The battle is not yet done;
 For, sure as the morning follows
    The darkest hour of the night,
 No question is ever settled
    Until it is settled right.

 O man bowed down with labor!
    O woman young, yet old!
 O heart oppressed in the toiler's breast
    And crushed by the power of gold!
 Keep on with your weary battle
    Against triumphant might;
 No question is ever settled
    Until it is settled right.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1896, before the cutoff of January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1925, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 98 years or less. This work may 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.


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