Primary tabs

226

Speech of Acceptance.

Delivered at the Democratic Convention at Springfield, April 27, 1892.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Convention:

I would be more than human if I were not moved by this expression of confidence on your part. As soldiers consider it an honor to be selected for hard fighting, so I appreciate the honor which you have conferred upon me, for I am aware that you are here to attend to serious business. You have surveyed the field and the peculiar character of the situation, and you are endeavoring to make such disposition of your forces, as in your judgment, will be the most advantageous in the coming campaign. Were it otherwise, there are hundreds of grand Democrats in this State who must needs have been selected before me. I see around me men who have been fighting the battles of Democracy for more than a quarter of a century; men who have won glory upon the field; men who have won renown in the councils of the State and of the Nation; men distinguished as jurists; men eminent in the varied walks of life; men whom we delight to honor. These men have not been overlooked by you; they are not relegated to the rear; you will assign them all to duty, you look to them with as much confidence, as much anxiety and as much hope as ever; and you believe and I believe that you will not be disappointed.

My fellow citizens, nearly thirty years ago, while standing upon the battle-field of Gettysburg, the great Lincoln said that the question involved in that battle was whether any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle that all men are created equal can long endure. In the campaign upon which we are entering, the underlying question will be whether popular government shall disappear from among the children of men; whether we shall have a republican government in fact, or whether, while preserving the forms of republicanism, we shall have the most obnoxious of all governments, an oligarchy, based upon corruption, and masquerading under the mantle of holiness; whether we shall continue to see the spectacle of the greatest office of the American Republic literally bought with corruption funds, and then having the incumbent of the office declare that divine Providence ordained it all.

Only a few years ago we saw the spectacle of a man with a reputation

227

for piety selected as the agent to assist in frying out the fat of the manufacturers, the agent to collect a large corruption fund to be used for the holy purpose of carrying elections, and after the election had been carried by methods that did not bear investigation — carried by a species of work for which men have repeatedly been sent to the penitentiary — the American people were told by the beneficiary of this great crime against free government, that it was the finger of the Almighty that had directed the result.

Now, I am not the keeper of the secrets of the Almighty, but I do want a little more reliable evidence than the mere statement of Benjamin Harrison that the Almighty was a partner with Dudley in debauching the voters of Indiana with "blocks of five." For upward of thirty years the party that was opposed to the Democratic party has directed the affairs of both State and Nation, and is responsible for all legislation, State and National, that went upon the statute books during that time. Being the legitimate descendant of the Know-nothing and the Federal parties, the Republican party has for thirty years been carrying out the principles of those old parties, and the American people are now reaping a harvest — a harvest of trusts, of monopolies and of illegal combinations; a harvest of debt, of mortgages, of stagnant industry and idle labor; a harvest of taxation and corruption; a harvest of tramps on one hand and millionaires on the other — millionaires made rich by governmental machinery; a harvest of farmers finding the mortgages on their farms growing larger, of mechanics who find it harder to pay for their homes, and of laborers who find it harder to get bread for their children; a harvest of laws which interfere with the most sacred rights of the individual.

At the beginning of this period we had almost the greatest commerce upon the earth, and the American flag was seen floating from American ships upon all the waters of the globe. After thirty years of monopolistic rule there is scarcely an American ship upon the seas, and the American flag is not to be found upon the ocean flying from the top of an American mast. And to pacify us we are to be entertained with a farce-comedy which they christen "Reciprocity." The reciprocity of nature, that grows out in God's sunlight — in the great garden of commerce — has been destroyed; and in its stead we are to have a little rear-parlor, swallow-tail reciprocity; not with the great nations of the earth, but with some obscure nations whom "Boss" Reed described as "people some of whom do wear shirts on Sundays."

Turning to the financial world, we find that instead of an even and steady spirit we have for years been in a continuous fever, continually on the brink of a panic. When we look to the condition of things

228

in our State we find that the same spirit has been shaping things toward the same end here. We find upon our statute books here a law which interferes with the most sacred right known to the parent, that is the right to educate his child according to the dictates of his conscience; a law creating a State inquisition over schools to which the State contributes nothing; a law which puts every parent at the mercy of a local school board, in the matter of educating his child; a law growing out of the aristocratic principle that the few have the right to legislate for the many. This law, while in harmony with the principles of the Republican party, is antagonistic to the principles of the Democratic party, and we demand that this law be wiped off the statute books, because it is undemocratic and tends to bring our public school system into disrepute. We glory in our common-school system; we glory in the fact that over a century ago Thomas Jefferson, while a member of the Legislature of Virginia, secured the enactment of laws, and the first law in that State, creating a common-school system, a system of free libraries, and laying the foundation of a university. He recognized the fact, as we do, that universal education of the masses is an absolute necessity to the permanence of democratic institutions.

We demand the enactment of a law which will secure to every child the rudiments of an education and fit it for citizenship without doing violence to democratic principles. It is announced, with seeming authority, that the Republican party of this State, at its convention to be held here next week, will declare in favor of the repeal of the law which they not only put on the statute books, but to maintain which, in its most offensive form, they have fought with bitterness. Gentlemen, such a declaration will do them no good. It will deceive nobody; it will be insincere and will be regarded as a mere vote-catching maneuver. The spirit which enacted the alien and sedition laws, the spirit which actuated the "Know-nothing" party, the spirit which is forever carping about the foreign-born citizen and trying to abridge his privileges, is too deeply seated in the party. The aristocratic and know-nothing principle has been circulating in its system so long that it will require more than one somersault to shake the poison out of its bones.

Now, gentlemen, the coming campaign is not to be a mere scramble for office. Were the getting of an office all that there is involved many of you would not be here — most of us would feel that the game was not worth the pursuit — but it is to be a contest between principles. It is to be an effort on our part to bring the American people back to the fundamental principles upon which our government is based, to make it truly republican and to arrest the course in which

229

have been drifting now for years toward oligarchical institutions, effort to point out the iniquities of the present tariff; to show the American laborer that instead of being protected he is being robbed; to show the American farmer that instead of his being benefited his prosperity is blighted. I believe if we go out to the people of this State; if we make it, as far as possible, a campaign of education; if we make these things as clear as we can, that there will be no doubt about the result. Democracy implies independence of thought, and where there is independence of thought there must be a divergence of views upon many questions, and it follows of necessity that in our great party there will exist different views concerning many minor questions, but if we are agreed upon the great question, the vital question of democracy as against oligarchy, then it behooves us to put aside differences of opinion upon minor questions and to unite in one great unbroken phalanx to restore popular government. At the beginning of a famous battle Lord Nelson ran up the inscription:

"England expects every man to do his duty," and the result was a great victory. Gentlemen, free institutions and popular government call to every lover of freedom to-day to do his duty, and if we all respond there will be a victory such as Lord Nelson never dreamed of.

Now, gentlemen, I am not known to your constituents as well as I ought to be. You will be asked about your candidate and you will have to answer questions. Tell your people that your candidate for Governor was reared on a farm in Ohio and was taught to work from daylight until dark, and to do the chores afterward. In 1864, when sixteen years old, he went into the Union army, and for some months carried a gun around in the swamps below Richmond. He did not bleed and did not die, but was there; always reported for duty, always on deck, never shirked and never ran away. Afterward he taught school, and for five years held forth in the little red school-house. Tell your people that he believes in the school-house. Afterwards he studied law, practiced law, was city attorney and State's attorney. Then he moved to the great city of your State, one of the wealthiest cities of the world; there practiced law, and for five years had the honor to preside over the Superior Court in that city, where it was his daily business to uphold and enforce the law.

In short, gentlemen, my life has been spent in enforcing and upholding the dignity and the majesty of the law. I do not believe that because I have been a little more fortunate than some who once toiled with me that therefore I should now put my heel upon their necks. It is true, I believe, that the man who toils with his hands should have justice done him; it is true that I have a profound sympathy with the

230

man who tries by honest labor to support his family and to educate his children, and it is true that I have endeavored in all my acts to see to it that the man who toils shall receive just what law and justice give him — neither more nor less. I made it a rule when acting in official capacities to know neither friend nor foe, to endeavor to do what the law required at my hands, to do what I believed to be my duty, and to do it fearlessly, promptly and thoroughly; and if I shall be elected to the high office for which you have nominated me here, I shall fix my eye upon the star of duty, and endeavor to steer straight toward it, and to vigorously and fearlessly enforce the law; for I believe that a State which hesitates about enforcing the law soon becomes pusillanimous and unworthy the respect of free men.

Let me say a word about our State institutions. For years the machine which has ruled this State has been creating new offices and new places for its henchmen. Boards and agencies and commissions without number have been created to provide places for worn out politicians, to enable them to live off the public. Many of these places are merely sinecures, are entirely unnecessary, and should be abolished. Then our great public institutions, that cost the State annually millions of dollars, have been utilized as homes for political mendicants. Their extravagance is burdening our people, while they are in many cases not meeting the high purpose for which they were created. They need a thorough overhauling; they need new blood, and I promise you that if elected Governor these institutions shall be run upon strictly business principles and the era of waste and extravagance brought to an end.

Share