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First Presidential Campaign.
Governor McKinley was formally apprised of his nomination for the presidency June 29 by the committee appointed by the convention. Governor McKinley received the committee on the veranda of his home. The streets about the house were filled with people, men, women and children, who listened with great interest to the proceedings. Senator Thurston, of Nebraska, speaking for the committee, informed the governor of the honor the convention had conferred upon him, and said:
"We respectfully request your acceptance of this nomination and your approval of the declaration of the principles adopted by the convention. We assure you that you are the unanimous choice of a united party, and your candidacy will be immediately accepted by the country as an absolute guarantee of the republican success.
"Your nomination has been made in obedience to popular demand, whose universality and spontaneity attest the affection and confidence of the plain people of the United States. By common consent you are their champion. Their mighty uprising in your behalf emphasizes the sincerity of their conversion to the cardinal principles of protection and reciprocity as best exemplified in that splendid congressional act which bears your name. * * *
"But your nomination means more than the indorsement of a protective tariff, of reciprocity, of sound money, and of honest finance, for all of which you have so steadfastly stood. It means an endorsement of your heroic youth, your faithful years of arduous public services, your sterling patriotism, your stalwart Americanism, your Christian character, and the purity, fidelity and simplicity of your private life. In all these things you are the typical American; for all of these things you are the chosen leader of the people. God give you strength so to bear the honor and meet the duties of that great office for which you are now nominated, and to which you will be elected, that your administration will enhance the dignity and power and glory of this republic and secure the safety, welfare and happiness of its liberty-loving people."
In his reply to Senator Thurston, Governor McKinley said:
"To be selected as their presidential candidate by a great party convention, representing so vast a number of the people of the United States, is a most distinguished honor, for which I would not conceal my high appreciation, although deeply sensible of the great responsibilities of the trust, and my inability to bear them without the generous and constant support of my fellow countrymen. Great as is the honor conferred, equally arduous and important is the duty imposed, and in accepting the one I assume the other, relying upon the patriotic devotion of the people to the best interests of our beloved country, and the sustaining care and aid of Him without whose support all we do is empty and vain.
"Should the people ratify the choice of the great convention for which you speak, my only aim will be to promote the public good, which in America is always the good of the greatest number, the honor of our country, and the welfare of the people."
He then discussed the questions to be settled by the election, and concluded as follows:
"The platform adopted by the republican national convention has received my careful consideration, and has my unqualified approval. It is a matter of gratification to me, as I am sure it must be to you and republicans everywhere, and to all our people, that the expressions of its declarations of principles are so direct, clear and emphatic. They are too plain and positive to leave any chance for doubt or question as to their purport and meaning. But you will not expect me to discuss its provisions at length, or in detail at this time. It will, however, be my duty and pleasure, at some future day, to make to you, and through you to the great party you represent, a more formal acceptance of the nomination tendered me.
"No one could be more profoundly grateful than I for the manifestation of public confidence of which you have so eloquently spoken. It shall be my aim to attest this appreciation by an unsparing devotion to what I esteem the best interests of the people, and in this work I ask the counsel and support of you, gentlemen, and of every other friend of the country. The generous expressions with which you, sir, convey the official notice of my nomination are highly appreciated, and as fully reciprocated, and I thank you, and your associates of the notification committee, and the great party and convention at whose instance you come, for the high and exceptional distinction bestowed upon me."
His letter of acceptance which followed some weeks later was a masterly document, and clearly indicated the study he had given to all the great questions then agitating the minds of the people.
Though not in accordance with the forms and ceremonies, the campaign was already opened. For months the people had been discussing the silver question, and 16 to 1 was heard on every side. The tariff had seemingly disappeared as an issue, and everybody was interested in the theory—not new, but freshly agitated—that all the people needed to insure prosperity was more money per capita.
Sentiment was rapidly crystallizing when the democratic national convention was held. The populists had already held their convention and nominated William Jennings Bryan, of Nebraska, on a platform demanding free coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to I, and other things too numerous to mention. The silver craze had spread through the rank and file of the democratic party so fully that it was seen that the national convention would be committed to the doctrine. Many of the eastern democrats protested against such action, and the forcing it upon the convention resulted in a split, the bolters taking the name of "Gold Democrats," and putting a national ticket in the field. The democratic national convention was held in Chicago, in the Coliseum. Mr. Bryan came to the convention as a delegate, and a pronounced champion of the silver theory. He was still" a democrat, and had not accepted the nomination tendered him by the populists. Neither had he been regarded as a prominent candidate for the presidency. He was young, and there were wheel-horses in the party to be rewarded. "Silver Dick," as the Hon. Richard P. Bland, of Missouri, was called, because of his long defense of silver in the house of representatives as a money metal, was one of the most formidable candidates, and Governor Horace Boies, who had succeeded in winning the republican state of Iowa for the democrats, also had a large following. But Mr. Bryan had already achieved fame as an orator, and during the convention he took the platform and made a most brilliant speech in favor of the free coinage of silver. The address so electrified the convention that delegation after delegation voted for Mr. Bryan when the balloting began, and before the roll call was finished it was seen that he was nominated.
Following the nomination of Mr. Bryan began a campaign the like of which had perhaps never been seen in any country. It was full of spectacular features, and there was more eloquence to the square inch than had ever been known before. Everybody turned speech-maker, and few places were regarded as too sacred, and few moments as improper, in which to discuss the momentous questions. On the streets, in railway cars, on steamboats, in hotels, stores, factories, and at the family board the great question was threshed out. The excitement was intense. On both sides the people believed a crisis had arrived. The republicans declared the election of Mr. Bryan meant repudiation of obligations, ruin and national dishonor. The democrats retorted that there could be no repudiation in sticking to the money of the constitution and the argument was so apparently conclusive that the republicans became alarmed. It was found that the silver belief was fully grounded—the people of the great West seemed impressed with the idea that more money would make times better, and more money could easily be coined. The government had practically ceased under the Cleveland administration to purchase silver bullion. The mines of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, and other sections, could produce the metal in abundance, and for the government to coin it into money would produce the supply of money necessary to relieve the stringency.
Such arguments appealed to those who felt the pinch of poverty, and the republicans found it necessary to send their best and most eloquent speakers into the field, in order to counteract the influence of the silver advocates. Printing presses throughout the land were set to work to print pamphlets and tracts to explode the democratic doctrine, and great discs of base metal were cast to show how much silver at the prevailing price would have to go into a dollar, to make it the equivalent of a gold dollar. The bullion value of the silver in a dollar was at that time about 50 cents, and the object lesson had its effect upon certain minds.
As indicative of the arguments used by the leading orators during the campaign, the following examples are given:
Congressman Joseph C. Sibley, of Pennsylvania, one of the prominent Eastern men who supported the doctrine of free coinage of silver, said in one of his speeches:
"Silver is the only stable standard of values, maintaining at all times its parity with every article of production except gold. The ounce of silver, degraded by infamous legislation from its normal mintage value of 1.2929 an ounce to about 60 cents, has kept its parity with the ton of pig iron, the pound of nails, and all the products of our iron mills. The ounce of silver has maintained its parity with the barrel of petroleum, with granite blocks, with kiln-burnt bricks. With lumber growing scarcer year by year it still keeps its parity. It is at parity with the ton of coal; with the mower, reaper, thresher, the grain drill, the hoe, and the spade. Silver at 1.2929 and beef at 7 cents per pound in the farmer's field has kept its parity, and the ounce of silver at 60 cents buys today beef at 2 cents per pound on foot. The pound of cotton and the ounce of silver have never lest their level. No surer has the sun indicated on the dial the hour of the day than has the ounce of silver shown the value of the pound of cotton. As surely as the moon has given high or low tide, just so surely has the ounce of silver given the high and low tide prices of wheat. The ounce of silver has main