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ILLIAM BOURKE COCKRAN, an American orator of prominence,
was born in County Sligo, Ireland, February 28, 1854, and educated in France. He came to the United States in 1871, and, after engaging in teaching for a few years, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1876. He established himself in New York city, and in 1881, while delegate to the State Democratic Convention at Syracuse, made his reputation as an able political orator. In 1884 he was the spokesman of Tammany Hall at the National Democratic Convention. After sitting one term in Congress as a Democratic Representative, 1887–1888, he declined a re-election in the latter year, but was, however, re-elected by a large majority in 1890, and in the Fifty-second Congress introduced and secured the passage of a bill to encourage American shipping. In 1892 he spoke again in behalt of Tammany Hall in the Democratic National Convention of that year, and was again returned to Congress in the autumn. While in Congress during its next session he advocated the repeal of the purchasing clause of the Sherman Silver Law and opposed the Carlisle Currency Bill. In 1896 he ardently espoused the cause of the single gold standard, delivering a number of eloquent speeches during the campaign of that season, and by his position, regarding the currency, directly opposing Tammany Hall and the bulk of the Democratic party. He has more recently been identified with the anti-imperialist movement, and in March, 1900, he delivered an able and eloquent address at a meeting of the anti-imperialist league in Faneuil Hall.
REPLY TO WILLIAM J. BYRAN
FROM SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE MADISON SQUARE GARDEN,
NEW YORK, AUGUST 18, 1896
WILL venture to say here now that if the face of Providence should be averted from this land and such a
calamity as Mr. Bryan's election were permitted to overtake it, the man who would suffer most by that event would be the false prophet, who, having torn down the temple of credit and of industry, would himself be torn to pieces by a people whose prosperity he had ruined.
But let us follow Mr. Bryan's argument a little. Let us see what he means to do, according to the light which he himself has kindled for us.
We see that he can't enrich one man without impoverishing another. Government never can be generous and just, at the same time, because if it be generous to one it must be oppressive to another. Mr. Bryan does not pretend that by any power given him from heaven he can find anything of value on the surface of this earth that is without an owner, and therefore he can't honestly bestow it upon a favorite. But his financial scheme contemplates an increase in the price of certain commodities. (Cry of “Except gold.”) I don't think that anything Mr. Bryan can do with reference to gold will ever affect it.
But, my friends, we are coming now pretty close to the woodpile behind which the traditional African is concealed; we are approaching the very crux of this discussion. Mr. Bryan proposes to increase the price of commodities. If he means anything, he means that, although I am not sure that he means anything. Now, if everything in the world or in this country, including labor, be increased in value to-morrow in like proportion, not one of us would be affected in any degree. If that were the whole of Mr. Bryan's scheme, he would never have received a Populist nomination to give him importance in the eyes of the community. If that were all that the Chicago platform meant, he would not be supporting it, and I would not be taking the trouble to oppose it. If everything in the world were increased ten per cent. in value, why we should pay ten per cent. more for what we should buy, and get ten per cent. more for what we should sell, and we would all be in the same place which we occupy now.
It is fair to assume that such a lame and impotent conclusion is not the object which this revolutionary movement contemplates.
What, then, is the object of those whom Mr. Bryan leads? It is to increase the price of commodities and allow labor to shift for itself. If the price of commodities be increased and the price of labor left stationary, it must be plain to the most limited intelligence that a reduction in the rate of wages is accomplished. If, instead of a dollar which is equal to one hundred cents, with the purchasing power of one hundred cents anywhere in the world, the laborer is to be paid in dollars worth fifty cents each, he can only buy half as much with a day's wages as he can buy now, and the rate of his wages would be diminished one-half. If the value of this Populist scheme is to be tested for himself by any laboring man in this country, let him ask Mr. Bryan and his Populist friends the simple, common, everyday question, “In your scheme of beneficence where do I come in?” Mr. Bryan himself has a glimmering idea of where the laborer will come in, or, rather, of where he will be left out.
There is one paragraph in his speech of acceptance, which, whether it was the result of an unconscious stumbling into candor, or whether it was a contribution to truth exacted by logic in the stress of discussion, I am unable to say. But it sheds a flood of light upon the whole purpose underlying this Populist agitation,
“Wage earners,” Mr. Bryan says, “know that while a gold standard raises the purchasing power of the dollar, it also makes it more difficult to obtain possession of the dollar; they know that employment is less permanent, loss of work more probable and re-employment less certain.”
This clearly is a statement that a cheaper dollar would give the laborer steadier employment and a better chance to get roemployment after he had been discharged. Now, if that means anything to a sane man, it means that if the
laborer is willing to have his wages reduced he will get more work.
This statement is not original with Mr. Bryan. There never was an employer of labor who meant to make a cut in wages that did not say the same thing. I have never yet heard of anybody who attempted to cut down the rate of wages, and who told his men that he did it because he liked to do it. On the contrary, such an employer would tell his men :
I cannot employ you more than half the time," and Mr. Bryan says exactly the same thing when he proposes that the laboring masses of this community accept their wage in a dollar of reduced purchasing power, so that employment will become more certain and the chance of re-employment more frequent. If it were true that a reduction in the rate of wages would increase the chances of employment, I would not blame Mr. Bryan for telling the truth, because, however unpalatable the truth may be, I believe that any man who assumes to address his fellow citizens should never shrink from stating the whole truth, no matter what may be the consequences to himself.
But, as a matter of fact, a diminution in the rate of wages does not indicate an increase but a decrease in the field of employment. If this audience has done me the honor to follow me while I explained the principle on which wages were fixed, it must be clear that the more abundant the product, the higher the wages. You cannot have high wages unless there is an extensive production in every department of industry, and that is why I claim that the rate of wages is the one infallible test of a country's condition. An abundant production of commodities is obviously impossible unless ·labor be widely employed, and an active demand for labor
necessarily involves a high rate of wages. High wages, then, is the necessary fruit of abundant production, and abundance necessarily means prosperity. Mr. Bryan, on the other hand, would have you believe that prosperity is advanced by cheapening the rate of wages. But a fall in the rate of wages always comes from a restricted production, because a reduction in the volume of products necessarily causes a narrower demand for labor. When, after the panic of 1873, the price of labor fell to ninety cents, it was harder to obtain employment than when the rate of wages was two dollars a day.
The difference between the Populist who seeks to cut down the rate of wages and the Democrat who seeks to maintain it is, that the Democrat believes that high wages and prosperity are inseparable and interdependent, while the Populist thinks lower wages would diminish the cost of agricultural production, and he thinks he can carry this election by tempting the farmer to make war upon his own workingmen.
Well, but the Populist tells us, and Mr. Bryan leads the van in saying, that the creditor is a public enemy who should be deprived of the rights which he now enjoys under the laws of this country. Mr. Bryan says there will be two kinds of metallic money in existence when his system of coinage shall have been established, and if there be a difference of value between them he argues that the debtor should have the option as to the metal in which he should pay his debt; that is to say, he should be permitted by the law to commit an act of dishonesty. In order that you should understand just how a change in the standard of value would enable men to cheat each other you must consider the function which money plays in measuring debtor