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THE POPULIST CONVENTION.
HE Populist National Convention met in St. Louis on the 22d of July, 1896. As in the case of the convention of the National Silver party, I am compelled to rely upon the newspaper reports, and, therefore, am unable to give the full names of all to whom I refer as taking part in the proceedings. Senator Marion Butler, of North Carolina, one of the recognized leaders of the Populist party, was elected temporary chairman, and, in taking the chair, said:
Mr. Butler's Speech.
Fellow Citizens: All history teaches that there come great crises in the affairs of men, and all history teaches that humanity is blest and raised to a high level or temporarily cursed, according as the men upon whose shoulders rest the responsibility are able to meet the crisis with wisdom and patriotism and to use it for the betterment of humanity. Two political parties have held national conventions this year. Both have had their say, made their promises, and put forward their leaders.
Another political party, young, but a growing giant in strength, has assembled to speak to the American people at this important and critical hour.
We are here because there is need for us to be here. The two parties that have already spoken have between them had charge of the machinery of a great representative government, in which kind of government there are the greatest possibilities for good and for evil-the kind of government where the prosperity of the people or their misery can be affected to the greatest degree. The two parties have between them had charge of your government for over twenty-five years, and during that time a great and prosperous people, a people laboring to carry out the injunction to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before, have performed their duty in the eyes of God and man, and have made this country blossom like a rose, as far as creating wealth was concerned, yet during this time of unexampled creation of wealth, of unexampled industry and economy on the part of the people, these two parties have succeeded in bringing this great nation to the verge of ruin.
Did they know better, or did they not know better? Were they honestly mistaken, or did they do it on purpose? In either event their leadership is a discredit to the existence of the party and the necessity of this organization is proven. Every candidate put before the American people since the war by both of these parties has been a man whose nomination and election has carried joy to the hearts of aggregated capital and combined greed. They have selected the men who have stood in touch with, and been the allied agents of,
the powers that have brought this country to the verge of bankruptcy, and these powers, which have destroyed every republic in the past, will destroy this one unless checked. My friends, these two great parties, under false leadership, have during this period succeeded in keeping from the people the greatest issue in American politics; they have managed to array the great masses of the American voters with frenzied zeal on two sides of great national campaigns, when the issue was a sham put up for the purpose of dividing the people. It made no difference which side won, the people lost.
Wall street in the United States and Lombard street in England won. While these things were going on the great American heart was wrapped in party prejudice. It was not until they had awakened from this condition and aroused themselves that they began to think upon these questions. Then it was that the great middle classes began to put their heads together for their common good; and when that small cloud appeared upon the horizon, the hearts of the people of the country went forth, and the light of this doctrine spread throughout the land. It was at that time that God raised up a Moses to lead us out of the land of darkness. It was then that Col. L. L. Polk came to the rescue, and with that foresight and wisdom that seem to have been prompted by Providence, he foresaw that unless sectional feeling engendered by the issues of the war could be allayed, no progress could be made. He foresaw that as long as the people were arrayed against each other by passion and prejudice, so long would the enemies of mankind combine to use the great weapon of sectional prejudices to the detriment of the people and destroy their prosperity and property. Then it was that that grand patriot left his home and gave his life to his country. Then it was that he went with a message to the north and to the east and to the west; then it was that he came back to the south with a message from our northern friends.
At this hour there stands at Raleigh an enduring monument; and the proudest inscription to be put on that monument will be, "Here lies the man who broke down Mason and Dixon's line."
My friends, the minute that all bitterness is laid aside and the hearts of the people beat as one, that very minute the American people begin to act for themselves. Then it was that the people who had been trodden into the dust and loaded with great burdens knew that their interests were the same as the people of the north and the east. That very moment they placed themselves upon the same platform of principles founded by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. In 1892 we went down to defeat, but our principles grew and flourished because they could not be trampled down. They were eternal; they were right, and from that hour to this they have continued to grow throughout this broad land.
A few weeks ago the great Republican party met in this city. The politicians again wanted to straddle the great issue that was before the people but the People's party had exposed the straddling treachery. The logic of events caused them to express themselves clearly upon the question of the day, and consequently they went over, bag and baggage, to the great money kings of Wall street and of Europe.
A few weeks after that there came another evidence of this great move
ment. The great Democratic party met in Chicago and was forced there to take a position, for they could not evade the issue longer; they were frightened; they were so alarmed, and some of them, no doubt, so conscience-stricken, that they formally decided to deliberately commit petty and grand larceny by stealing the People's party platform almost entire. They almost tried to get into our party. I am reminded of the old fellow who had his Bible stolen. He said: "Faith, and I hope it will cure the disease."
My friends, I hope it will cure the disease. My only surprise is that when they were stealing, they did not steal all the platform. If they had been frightened a little worse, I think they would. By the time this money question is settled and before, too, if we don't hurry up, the great transportation question that great question which stands side by side with the money question-will be upon you.
A delegate: "What will they do with the transportation question?"
My friends, the great transportation question with the great financial question, are the two questions that must be solved before you can ever destroy these trusts and combines. The Standard Oil Trust could not exist in this land if it were not for its co-partnership with the transportation companies of the United States. The old parties of trusts and combines must turn their eyes to the thing that produces trusts and combines. When they do that, then they will strike the tap root of all the evil that has afflicted them-the evils of finance and transportation.
My friends, by the time you get this great financial question settled, this transportation question will be a burning question—a question as demoralizing to the old parties and as potent in awakening the American people to their condition as the great financial question has been; and if it had been as strong in the hearts of the people, the Democratic party would have declared for it in its convention. The People's party came into existence to perform a great mission. There was a necessity for it, and it is going to stay here as long as there is any necessity for it.
As long as the American people need an organization that is true, and one that will stand by them under all circumstances and give them the rights to which they are entitled, this party will continue to exist. If the People's party were to go out of existence tomorrow, the next Democratic National Convention would repudiate the platform it recently adopted at Chicago, and Mr. Bryan would stand no more chance four years hence of being nominated by that party than Thomas Jefferson would if he were alive.
Now, my friends, we have done a good deal. No young party has ever accomplished so much in the same length of time as we have done. We have endured the bitterness of denunciation and the abuse and malignity of party feeling. Right here comes upon us the greatest responsibility that has ever rested upon any party. We have raised an issue so universal, so great, so important, that we have split both of the old parties in two. Now we have either to save that issue or to renounce what we have gained and lay it down in defeat. No greater responsibility ever rested upon any convention.
Fellow citizens, shall it ever be said-remember we are making history,
and prosperity or misery-shall it ever be said in the future that this great band of patriots who have had the nerve and the courage to leave the parties of a lifetime this great band of patriots who have broken every tie that bound us and our fathers and our grandfathers in political organization-shall it ever be said that, after we have forced this issue to the front, we at this trying and critical hour shall ourselves be controlled more by party prejudice than by patriotism?
The only way to build up this party is by appealing to the best element of the old parties and appealing to their patriotism by telling them that this issue is greater than party. That is the only way we have ever taken a single man out of the old parties who was worth having. And it is the only way we shall ever take any man out of them in the future who is worth having. In this solemn hour let us drop the bitter feelings that may have been engendered since we came here. Let us stop believing that in one small head all wisdom and patriotism are contained. I have seen since I have been here one set of patriots going to one extreme, almost, it seemed, with more enthusiasm and madness than with reason. I have seen another set of patriots equally honest, equally devoted to truth and right, equally desirous of seeing the greatest good done for the greatest number, going to the opposite extreme. I have seen one extreme impugn the motives of the other, and the other extreme return the compliment. I have even heard a few thoughtless men charge that Hanna was running one, and others charge that the Democracy was running the other, My friends, I have seen enough faith in the faces before me, and enough faith in the God above me, to believe that this convention will not turn itself into a Democratic annex. I have too much faith in its patriotism and in its sense to believe that it will turn itself into a Republican annex. There is your danger. There stands one danger and here stands another, and one is as big as the other. It has been a part of my experience that, whenever you see some good men going to one extreme and other good men going to the other extreme, the path of truth lies between them. At this hour we need a Benjamin Franklin to rise over this body as he did when the warring factions were framing our Constitution. This great patriot and Christian arose when the crisis had come, and, raising his hand, said: "Let us all follow in prayer."
A great stillness came over the meeting, they prayed, asking for inspiration and wisdom from on high, and from that hour on history tells us that that great convention ceased to wrangle, and became a deliberative body, and every man reasoned and had patience with his brother. It was that seeming grace that gave us our great Constitution. And if this convention today rises to the height of patriotism that is necessary to save this country, it must be controlled by the same feeling and with the same inspiration from on high.
At this point Delegate Doggett, of California, cried out, "Nominate a Populist, without any reference to what the other parties have done heretofore."
My friend, there, has an honest belief. I am mighty apt to hear from another man over here on the other side if I wait a little. Both think they are right. But if this party lives (and God grant that it shall never die) and rises to the mission that it was born to accomplish, it must at this critical hour have the patriotism, the unselfishness of party pride to do just what we have been
preaching for the last four years. If this convention won't follow its own teachings, it is unworthy to represent the people at home.
We have two extremes here, but it won't do to ruin this convention. We have to reason. What must we do? It is proper and right; it is fitting for a great party that had its birth on the broad cornfields and cottonfields of the South and the broad wheatfields of the West to have the wisdom and the patriotism to winnow the chaff from the wheat. What should we do? (A voice, "Nominate Bryan.")
My friends, we are told that whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad. I want to counsel our good and enthusiastic friends that every time they shout out here and interrupt, they are hurting our cause. This convention is not going to be ruled by any wild sentiment by either side, I believe. This convention has not been crushed by the other parties and it will not be stampeded by the moon. What is our duty? It is to indorse and approve what is right and condemn what is wrong. Any other course is not true Populism. The mission of the People's party has been to strike out what is wrong and to uphold what is right. And we have appealed to patriotism to rise above the party to do this and our appeal has brought forth two millions of patriots, and there are two million more patriots coming swooping into our camp. Listen, and I will tell you what you will find when you get home. I have been down on the old plantation at home where I was raised; I lived with a band of farmers representing all three political parties, and they were at the train and shook my hand when I left. The way those men felt is about the way the great American heart feels today. They said: "Butler, let us rise to that patriotic position that will make us have the confidence and respect of every honest man in the old parties."
If ever we gain another vote, we must gain it by being consistent now. One man who is a Populist said: "Butler, I will never go back to the Democratic party. I have no confidence in its leaders. I am willing to acknowledge what good they do, as far as they go, but no further." A Republican said to me: "I have been taught to hate the Democratic party. I have been taught to believe that the Republican party contained all the patriotism and unselfishness in the country, and at this hour I stand free and foot-loose, ready to obey the dictates of conscience and to lead in the way that will bring the best American victory to the American people." Now, my friends, if this is not Populism, if this is not the doctrine that you have taught in your home and in your township and in your county to build up the People's party, then your Populists are not like those in my section. The doctrine I am now preaching is the doctrine we built the party on, and I tell you today if you waver from your position of consistency, from this high patriotic position your party is built on, you talk no better than the old parties that you rose up to destroy.
There is not a man in this hall who, if he will go to his room tonight and get down on his knees, and pray to Almighty God to take all the préjudice and all the partisan feeling out of his heart, and ask His aid to do as a true Populist ought to do, but will rise saying: "It is my duty to stand by what I have taught in the past and let it lead where it may."
My friends, there is not a man in the People's party that loves it more