William Jennings Bryan
August 8, 1900
Acceptance Speech for the Democratic nomination for President.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Notification Committee:
I shall, at an early day, and in a more formal manner accept the nomination which you tender, and I shall at that time discuss the various questions covered by the Democratic platform. It may not be out of place, however, to submit a few observations at this time upon the general character of the contest before us and upon the question which is declared to be of paramount importance in this campaign.
When I say that the contest of 1900 is a contest between Democracy on the one hand and plutocracy on the other I do not mean to say that all our opponents have deliberately chosen to give to organized wealth a predominating influence in the affairs of the Government, but I do assert that on the important issues of the day the Republican party is dominated by those influences which constantly tend to substitute the worship of Mammon for the protection of the rights of man.
For a time, Republican leaders were inclined to deny to opponents the right to criticize the Philippine policy of the administration, but upon investigation they found that both Lincoln and Clay asserted and exercised the right to criticize a President during the progress of the Mexican war.
Instead of meeting the issue boldly and submitting a clear and positive plan for dealing with the Philippine question, the Republican convention adopted a platform — the larger part of which was devoted to boasting and self-congratulation.
…If it is right for the United States to hold the Philippine Islands permanently and imitate European empires in the government of colonies, the Republican party ought to state its position and defend it, but it must expect the subject races to protest against such a policy and to resist to the extent of their ability.
The Filipinos do not need any encouragement from Americans now living. Our whole history has been an encouragement, not only to the Filipinos, but to all who are denied a voice in their own government. If the Republicans are prepared to censure all who have used language calculated to make the Filipinos hate foreign domination, let them condemn the speech of Patrick Henry. When he uttered that passionate appeal, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he expressed a sentiment which still echoes in the hearts of men. Let them censure Jefferson; of all the statesmen of history, none have used words so offensive to those who would hold their fellows in political bondage. Let them censure Washington, who declared that the colonists must choose between liberty and slavery. Or, if the statute of limitations has run out against the sins of Henry and Jefferson and Washington, let them censure Lincoln, whose Gettysburg speech will be quoted in defense of popular government when the present advocates of force and conquest are forgotten.
Those who would have this nation enter upon a career of empire must consider not only the effect of imperialism on the Filipinos, but they must also calculate its effects upon our own nation. We cannot repudiate the principle of self-government in the Philippines without weakening that principle here. …
The Republican platform assumes that the Philippine Islands will be retained under American sovereignty, and we have a right to demand of the Republican leaders a discussion of the future status of the Filipino. Is he to be a citizen or a subject? Are we to bring into the body politic eight or ten million Asiatics so different from us in race and history that amalgamation is impossible? Are they to share with us in making the laws and shaping the destiny of this nation?
…If the Filipino is not to be a citizen, shall we make him a subject? … The Filipino cannot be a subject without endangering our form of government. A republic can have no subjects. A subject is possible only in a government resting upon force; he is unknown in a government derived without consent and taxation without representation.
What is our title to the Philippine Islands? Do we hold them by treaty or by conquest? Did we buy them, or did we take them? Did we purchase the people? If not, how did we secure title to them? Were they thrown in with the land? Will the Republicans say that inanimate earth has value but that when that earth is molded by the divine hand and stamped with the likeness of the Creator it becomes a fixture and passes with the soil? If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, it is impossible to secure title to people, either by force or by purchase.
We could extinguish Spain’s title by treaty, but if we hold title, we must hold it by some method consistent with our ideas of government.
When we made allies of the Filipinos and armed them to fight against Spain, we disputed Spain’s title. If we buy Spain’s title we are not innocent purchasers.
There can be no doubt that we accepted and utilized the services of the Filipinos, and that when we did so we had full knowledge that they were fighting for their own independence, and I submit that history furnishes no example of turpitude baser than ours if we now substitute our yoke for the Spanish yoke.
Let us consider briefly the reasons which have been given in support of an imperialistic policy. Some say that it is our duty to hold the Philippine islands. But duty is not an argument; it is a conclusion. To ascertain what our duty is, in any emergency, we must apply well settled and generally accepted principles. It is our duty to avoid stealing, no matter whether the thing to be stolen is of great or little value. It is our duty to avoid killing a human being, no matter where the human being lives or to what race or class he belongs.
…Some argue that American rule in the Philippine islands will result in the better education of the Filipinos. Be not deceived. If we expect to maintain a colonial policy, we shall not find it to our advantage to educate the people. The educated Filipinos are now in revolt against us, and the most ignorant ones have made the least resistance to our domination. If we are to govern them without their consent and give them no voice in determining the taxes which they must pay, we dare not educate them, lest they learn to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and mock us for our inconsistency.
The principal arguments, however, advanced by those who enter upon a defense of imperialism are:
First — That we must improve the present opportunity to become a world power and enter into international politics.
Second — That our commercial interests in the Philippine islands and in the Orient make it necessary for us to hold the islands permanently.
Third — That the spread of the Christian religion will be facilitated by a colonial policy.
Fourth — That there is no honorable retreat from the position which the nation has taken.
The first argument is addressed to the nation’s pride and the second to the nation’s pocket-book. The third is intended for the church member and the fourth for the partisan. It is sufficient answer to the first argument to say that for more than a century this nation has been a world power. For ten decades it has been the most potent influence in the world. Not only has it been a world power, but it has done more to affect the politics of the human race than all the other nations of the world combined. … The growth of the principle of self-government, planted on American soil, has bee the overshadowing political fact of the nineteenth century. It has made this nation conspicuous among the nations and given it a place in history such as no other nation has ever enjoyed. Nothing has been able to check the onward march of this idea.
I am not willing that this nation shall cast aside the omnipotent weapons of truth to seize again the weapons of physical warfare. I would not exchange the glory of this republic for the glory of all the empires that have risen and fallen since time began.
[The second] is the commercial argument.
…It is not necessary to own people in order to trade with them. We carry on trade today with every part of the world, and our commerce has expanded more rapidly than the commerce of any European empire. We do not own Japan or China, but we trade with their people. We have not absorbed the republics of Central and South America, but we trade with them. It has not been necessary to have any political connection with Canada or the nations of Europe in order to trade with them. Trade cannot be permanently profitable unless it is voluntary. … A harbor and coaling station in the Philippines would answer every trade and military necessity and such a concession could have been secured at any time without difficulty. … When trade is secured by force, the cost of securing it and retaining it must be taken out of the profits and the profits are never large enough to cover the expense. Such a system would never be defended but for the fact that the expense is borne by all the people, while the profits are enjoyed by a few.
…The pecuniary argument, though more effective with certain classes, is not likely to be used so often or presented with so much enthusiasm as the religious argument. If what has been termed the “gun-powder gospel” were urged against the Filipinos only, it would be a sufficient answer to say that a majority of the Filipinos are now members of one branch of the Christian church; but the principle involved is one of much wider application and challenges serious consideration. … If true Christianity consists in carrying out in our daily lives the teachings of Christ, who will say that we are commanded to civilize with dynamite and proselyte with the sword? … Imperialism finds no warrant in the Bible. The command “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” has no Gatling gun attachment. When Jesus visited a village of Samaria and the people refused to receive him, some of the disciples suggested that fire should be called down from Heaven to avenge the insult; but the Master rebuked them and said: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Suppose he had said: “We will thrash them until they understand who we are,” how different would have been the history of Christianity!
Compare, if you will, the swaggering, bullying, brutal doctrine of imperialism with the golden rule and the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love, not force, was the weapon of the Nazarene; sacrifice for others, not the exploitation of them, was His method of reaching the human heart.
…The [fourth] argument made by some that it was unfortunate for the nation that it had anything to do with the Philippine islands, but that the naval victory at Manila made the permanent acquisition of those islands necessary, is also unsound.
We won a naval victory at Santiago, but that did not compel us to hold Cuba. The shedding of American blood in the Philippine islands does not make it imperative that we should retain possession forever; American blood was shed at San Juan Hill and El Cagey, and yet the President has promised the Cubans independence. The fact that the American flag floats over Manila does not compel us to exercise perpetual sovereignty over the islands. … Better a thousand times that our flag in the Orient give way to a flag representing the idea of self-government than that flag of this republic should become the flag of an empire!
…When our opponents are unable to defend their position by argument they fall back upon the assertion that it is destiny, and insist that we must submit to it no matter how much it violates our moral precepts and our principles of government. This is a complacent philosophy. It obliterates the distinction between right and wrong and makes individuals and nations the helpless victims of circumstance.
Destiny is the subterfuge of the invertebrate, who, lacking the courage to oppose error, seeks some plausible excuse for supporting it. Washington said that the destiny of the republican form of government was deeply, if not finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the American people. How different Washington’s definition of destiny from the Republican definition!
I can conceive of a national destiny surpassing the glories of the present and the past — a destiny which meets the responsibility of today and measures up to the possibilities of the future.
Behold a republic, resting securely upon the foundation stones quarried by revolutionary patriots from the mountain of eternal truth — a republic applying in practice and proclaiming to the world the self-evident propositions that all men are created equal; that they are endowed with inalienable rights; that governments are instituted among men to secure these rights, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Behold a republic in which civil and religion liberty stimulate all to earnest endeavor and in which the law restrains every hand uplifted for a neighbor’s injury — a republic in which every citizen is a sovereign, but in which no one cares to wear a crown.
Behold a republic standing erect while empires all around are bowed beneath the weight of their own armaments — a republic whose flag is loved while other flags are only feared.
Behold a republic increasing in population, in wealth, in strength and in influence, solving the problems of civilization and hastening the coming of an universal brotherhood — a republic which shakes thrones and dissolves aristocracies by its silent example and gives light and inspiration to those who sit in darkness.
Behold a republic gradually but surely becoming the supreme moral factor in the world’s progress and the accepted arbiter of the world’s disputes — a republic whose history, like the path of the just, “is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day!”