The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923, April 23, 1909, Image 1

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The Commoner.
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Lincoln, Nebraska, April 23, 1909
VOL. 9, NO. 15
Whole Number 431
The Future of the Democratic Party
Written by William J. Bryan
(Printed in March number of Munsey's Maga
zine, copyrighted and reproduced by permission.)
The disappointment and exultation which nat
urally follow an election are apt to distort the
vision. Members of the successful party over
estimate their party's strength, and those who
belong to the defeated party are likely to feel
more or less despondent. The republicans, as a
matter of course, having elected their presiden
tial ticket in four successive campaigns, face the
future with confidence; while the democrats,
looking back over four defeats, can be forgiven
for feeling a bit disheartened.
jLivery intelligent estimate of the future must
begin with a survey of tie past, and possibly
that survey can be more accurately made after
election than during a campaign. When we
have answered the question, "What of the
past?" .we shall be better prepared to consider
the question, "What of the" future?"
The last sixteen years have witnessed one of
the greatest internal struggles through which
any party has ever passed. In 1892 the demo
cratic presidential candidate was elected; he re
ceived a large popular plurality, as well as a
majority in the electoral college, and the party
secured an overwhelming majority of the na
tional house of representatives. The tariff was
the paramount issue, the democratic party hav
ing taken an advanced position on that ques
tion. Although the money question entered into
the campaign to a slight extent, it was but little
discussed. . ,
No sooner had the result been announced than
an effort was made to secure legislation on the
money question. Before Mr. Cleveland was In
augurated, his representatives appeared before
congress and urged the passage ,of a bill re
pealing the purchasing clause of the Sherman
law. This effort was unsuccessful, but in Aug
ust congress met in extraordinary session to
consider the money question as presented in a
bill carrying the repeal into effect. The fight
over this divided the democratic party, and the
resultant bitterness of feeling left its members
in no mood for harmonious action upon the
tariff question, which came up for consideration
at the regular session. The panic of 1893 came
on, and in the congressional election of 1894
the republicans won a victory almost as sweep
ing as the democratic victory two years before.
The Presidential Campaign of 1800
Then came the democratic national convention
of 18 9 G, in which the two elements of the party
struggled for mastery. The question was fought
out at the primaries, tl.e issue not being over
candidates, but over the platform. The advo
cates of bimetallism secured about two-thirds
of the delegates to tho national convention, and
the money plank adopted by that convention
was practically a reiteration of tho position
taken by the democratic conventions in a ma
jority of the states. The gold wing of the party
bolted, and nominated a ticket which had the
support of tho democratic president and of
nearly all tho high officials connected with his
administration. Tho efforts of tho gold demo
crats, -however, were not directed toward the
election of their ticket, but in behalf of tho re
publican ticket.
The election returns showed that the demo
cratic ticket polled about a million more votes
than the party had polled four years before;
but the republican ticket polled something like
two million more votes than It had polled at
tho preceding election, and thus secured a pop
ular majority of some six hundred thousand, as
well as a majority in tho electoral college. In
the campaign of 1896 the democratic party made
its fight not only without the aid of many who
had been leaders in tho party, but in face of
the opposition of nearly all the prominent dem
ocratic newspapers of tho north. .
The Campnlgns of 1000 and 1004
In 1900 the convention was quite harmonious,
the only fight being over the money plank, and
that was not carried into the cpnvontion. In
the committee there was-, .r. 4cldsevote ' between
those who wanted to reiterate the silver plank
and those who were willing to reaffirm thbplat-"
form containing the silver plank, but who op
posed specific reference to the silver question.
In that year, however, the party was embar
rassed by the injection of a new issue Imper
ialism into the campaign. The republican
party had the advantage which follows tho suc
cessful conclusion of a war, while the demo
crats were charged with prolonging the insur
rection in the Philippine Islands by their in
sistence on a promise of ultimate independence
to tho Filipinos.
The prosperity argument used by the repub
licans was oven more potent. The country was
recovering from the panic of 1893, and the "full
dinner pail" argument was used among the
laboring men, while the "let well enough alone"
argument had weight with the farmers. A num
ber of the democratic leaders who had left in
189 G supported the party in 1900, and some
of the democratic newspapers returned. Tho
ticket was defeated, however, a little worse than
in 189G the republican plurality being about
nine hundred thousand.
In 1904 the reactionary element secured con
trol of tho democratic organization, mainly by
using the argument that radicalism had caused
two severe defeats and that conservatism would
insure victory. Success clubs were formed, and
"We must win".wa8 made the battle cry. New
York furnished the candidate a man of high
character, who possessed, as was conceded even
by the republican press, the confidence of the
business world.
In the campaign the democratic party had the
support of nearly every democrat of prominence,
and of all the democratic newspapers that bolted
in 1896; but tho republican victory surprised
even the republican leaders. Those at the head
of the republican organization did not estimate
their majorities high enough by half. When
the votes were counted it was found that the
republican ticket had a popular plurality of
about two and a half millions. This was mainly
due to a falling off of a million and a quarter
in the democratic vote; for the republican vote
was only a little more than four hundred thou
sand greater than that party's vote four yeaTs
As soon as the smoke of battle cleared, away
it became evident that the democratic party
would again be a reform party. Those who had
been willing to experiment with compromise and
concession returned to tho advocacy of progres
sive measures. In 1908 tho policy of tho party
was again tho Issuo at tho primaries, and at
Denver the progressive element of tho party
controlled tho convention, having between four
fifths and nine-tenths of tho total momborship.
Tho platform was clear-cut and aggressive.' The
party was apparently moro hnrmonious than it
had boon before In fourteen years; and yet,
when the polls closod, tho republican ticket waa
again found to bo successful, having n littlo
larger majority In tho electoral collego than it
had in 1900, Tho republican voto, however,
was about tho same as in 1904, while tho dem
ocratic voto increased by moro than a million;
tho democrats secured United States sonatora in
Oregon and Indiana, and substituted democratic
governors for republicans in Ohio, Indiana, Ne
braska and Colorado, besides re-electing demo
cratic governors in Minnesota and North Da
kota. Thero was also a gain in the democratic
representation in congress.
In tho campaign just closed, the republican
party had a fund of ono million six hundred
thousand dollars for its national campaign not
to speak of tho congressional fund, which has
not boon published while tho democratic na
tional committee collected only a littlo moro
than six hundred thousand. Tho republicans
had an army of government officials, national
and state, in tho contested states mon who
drow their salaries from tho public treasury and
who had a pecuniary reason for political act
ivity. Fully throe-fourths of the newspapers
in tho contested states were republican; Indeed,,
measured by circulation, tho newspaper onnoulitf
tlori .tc-the, democraticvparty outnumbered -lillH
support MjyposBlbiy sixto ono or eight io one.
juesiues ims, uio repuoucan party nau ino
suffoWf oTail oT tfiocorporrftiono known aa
trusts; and tho railroads, Insofar as thoy took
part in tho campaign, were on the side of tho
administration. Mr. Brown, a vice president of
tho Now York Central system, was quoted after
tho election as saying that ho had confirmed
purchases to tho amount of thirty-one millions
of dollars, which were made on orders given
before the election, contingent upon republican
Tho republican party also had tho advantage
of having its candidato considered conservative
in the east and radical in the Mississippi valley.
East of the Alleghanics he had the enthusiastic
support of those republicans who denounce
President Roosevelt, and in the west he had tho
support, equally enthusiastic, of tho republicans
who Indorse tho administration. And yot with
all of these advantages, tho republican ticket
camo within less than ono hundred thousand
votes of being defeated.
The Victory a Narrow Ono
Tho republican majority in the electoral col
lege was 159. To change a republican victory
into a democratic victory would have required
a change of eighty electoral votes from tho
republican column to tho democratic column, and
tho States of Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas,
West Virginia, Montana and Delaware would
havo furnished the electoral votes necessary.
Tho combined republican majorities in these
states were less than ono hundred and fifty
thousand; a change of seventy-five thousand
votes, therefore, properly distributed, would
havo changed the result of the election. A
change of only nine thousand votes in Missouri,
Indiana, Montana and Delaware would have
transferred thirty-nine electoral votes to tho
democratic column.
Can a party regard its future as dark when
it can marshal a voting force of six million men,
in tho face of such opposition as the democratic
party had to meet? Need democrats bo dis
couraged when they can make such a. showing?
Why the Democratic Future is Bright
But hope of future democratic success is to
be found in the economic conditions of tho coun
try, as well as in a survey of tho vote. The
president-elect can not possibly satisfy the ex
pectations of both elements of the republican
paTty. Ho held the reform republican vote
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