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26 June, 2013
Bryan or McKinley? The Present Duty of American Citizens.
VI. The Vital Issues of the Campaign.
by North American Review, The


The crucial issue of this Presidential campaign is, whether we shall keep or lose our present prosperity at home and our new gains and prestige abroad. We know what we now have. We know that a change of Administration would reverse our existing policies, both domestic and foreign, and overturn their results. The decisive question of the hour is whether the American people want such a change.

There are many broad differences between the policies and purposes of the two great parties, as now led. They touch the sanctity of the courts, the power inherent in nationality, the efficiency of a protective tariff, and various other subjects. But, while other matters are at stake and will be affected by the result, the battle this year is waged over two central and conclusive questions. First: Shall we maintain the existing gold standard, with business confidence and stability, or shall we change to the silver standard, with an immediate and inevitable financial convulsion? Second: Shall we fulfill the duties and responsibilities and preserve the advantages which have come to us with the expansion of our country, or shall we renounce the obligations of our victories and abandon all that we have gained?

Whatever other phases may be suggested, whatever sidelights may be thrown on the contest, the vital struggle turns on these two salient and overshadowing propositions. The paramount issue of a campaign is determined, not by the assertion of any candidate or convention, but by the obvious effect of the election and the relative importance of its results in their bearing on the welfare of the people. It is fixed, not by declarations, but by events and consequences. We measure issues by practical tests. We knew and felt the hard times from 1893 to 1897. We know and feel the good times since. Both conditions were and are visible, tangible and palpable. They are within the consciousness of every man. They have directly affected every man's interest and well-being.

We hear a great deal about Imperialism as a paramount issue, but who sees it or feels it as we see and feel hard times or good times? Whatever it is, it is already here, according to the phantom-fanciers; it has been here ever since our flag waved over the new possessions; with such Caesarism actually oppressing us, we ought to know it and groan under it. But, as a matter of fact, are there any real evils which men are suffering from it, and of which they are so conscious that, in order to escape these evils, they are ready for business panic and calamity? The supporters of President McKinley point to a real, living, unparalleled prosperity, and contend that the success of their opponents would blight it and bring disaster. The supporters of Mr. Bryan point to an imaginary "Imperialism," and contend that the success of their opponents would continue it. Would the continuance of this spectre, whatever it may be, have any such direct and vital bearing on the immediate interests, happiness and welfare of the people as a change from good times to hard times? Which, then, is the paramount issue?

If Mr. Bryan's election would produce the result of overturning our existing prosperity, this question manifestly transcends all others in importance. If any issue he represents involves that effect, it is plainly paramount, whether called so or not. No other question, significant as it may be, can approach in supreme consequence that of preserving the general well-being, content and success of the great body of the people. Now, our present prosperity can be wrecked and general disaster produced, either by the actual adoption of the silver standard or by such menace and fear of its adoption as would destroy confidence. Mr. Bryan was defeated in 1896 because the country realized that his election would bring in free silver and the silver standard, with its destruction of confidence, its unsettlement of values, its paralysis of enterprise and industry, and its universal losses. He holds to the same policy now, and, in the event of his election, what is to prevent the same result?

He publicly declares that the gold standard shall not remain, if he is able to get rid of it. If he is honest and sincere in the convictions he has expressed for years, he is bound to make warfare on the gold standard. The way for attack is just as clear now as it was in 1896, except for the currency law passed last winter. That is the only obstacle to the silver standard which did not exist when Mr. Bryan was running before. It is an effective barrier in the hands of an Administration that wants to make it such. But it is only a statutory enactment, capable of being amended by another Congress, or of being neutralized by an unfriendly Administration. A popular current strong enough to elect Mr. Bryan would inevitably elect a Bryan House of Representatives. It would carry States with Senatorial elections pending that would assure a close and doubtful Senate. A President aggressively for the free coinage of silver at sixteen to one and an uncertain and plastic Congress would make it an imminent danger. Even if Congress did nothing, a compliant Secretary of the Treasury, agreeing with Mr. Bryan and obedient to his directions, could pay coin obligations in silver and practically paralyze the statute. Law does not enforce itself. It is inert unless executed. A hostile and ineffective Administration makes it a dead letter.

But the deadly effect would be felt without waiting for direct action. The menace and fear of the silver standard, even before its accomplishment, would blight our prosperity. The election of Mr. Bryan would at once excite that alarm. He has publicly announced that he would summon the new Congress in extra session immediately on taking his seat. If he were elected in November, the country would know that, in four months, the Pandoras box of evils of a silver President and a dubious Congress would be opened. The uncertainty and apprehension thus created would destroy the general sense of confidence and security. Nobody would know what to count on. Confidence is the vital breath of trade and enterprise. Destroy confidence, and you undermine the foundation of mens dealings. Values would tumble, panic would come, and widespread disaster would follow.

And it must not be overlooked that the disaster would be greater now than it would have been in 1896. It is the characteristic of human nature, long associated with possible perils, to minimize them and lose its dread. Pompeii, familiar with the terrors of Vesuvius, ceased to fear until the fiery avalanche came. The submersion and destruction of Galveston from a tornado and a tidal wave had long been predicted, but years of escape had bred thoughtlessness of the danger. Johnstown grew and prospered and lived merrily under an overhanging reservoir, but at last the cataclysm overtook it. In 1896, the menace of the silver standard, with all its perils, was new and startled the country. The awakened sense of a great possible catastrophe put us on guard, and it was warded off. That escape, and continued familiarity with a threat which did not eventuate, have served to benumb and deaden the general sense of danger; but, in reality, the calamity of Mr. Bryans election, with the consequent financial convulsion and business distress, would be far severer now than it would have been in 1896.

The reason is that we have more to lose. We have farther to fall. We should be plunged to the same depths from a higher altitude. In 1896, we had already suffered four years of hard times and low prices. Widespread bankruptcy, universal depression and a general fall of values had brought us down toward the silver level. We should have dropped, but dropped from a low plane. On the other hand, if we fall now we shall fall from a loftier height with more disastrous results. Prices, values, securities, wages are all far higher than they were in 1896. They are on the recognized and accepted gold level, with the buoyancy of unprecedented prosperity, and a fall to the silver level would produce an immeasurable shock. The sudden realization of such a possibility through Mr. Bryans election would immediately shatter confidence, and cause the greatest financial convulsion the country has ever seen. Our markets are more closely connected with those of Europe than ever before. With our present splendid financial standing we have become a creditor nation The Powers of Europe are coming to us for large loans. The upheaval of our markets by the threat of the silver standard would convulse the Bourses of London, Paris and Berlin, which would react here, and the sweeping extent of the financial, business and industrial calamity would be beyond calculation.

In domestic affairs, therefore, the vital issue of the campaign is between the gold standard and the silver standard, between prosperity and panic. In the very nature of the case, because it directly touches the daily life and well-being of every man, woman and child in the country, this issue must overshadow all others in practical importance. When we pass to the questions which have grown out of the Spanish war and of the resulting territorial acquisitions, the attitudes of the two candidates are equally distinct, and the conclusion must be equally decisive. These questions are substantially concentrated in the discussion over the Philippines. President McKinley recognizes the duty of maintaining our sovereignty and giving the people of the islands self-government as fast as they are prepared for it. He follows Jefferson's course in Louisiana and Monroe's in Florida. Mr. Bryan, on the other hand, proposes to abandon our sovereignty, to set up a supreme government of Aguinaldo and his followers, to recognize its independence, and to maintain its independence and authority against domestic violence and foreign aggression by an American protectorate.

Here are two distinct, sharply defined plans of procedure. What they involve most, under limitations of space, be stated in few words. President McKinleys plan holds what we have gained; maintains our authority, which is recognized by all of the outside world and accepted by all of the Filipinos, except a small and diminishing band of insurgents whose insurrection will cease the moment he is re-elected; requires no additional but a decreasing force; and develops the inhabitants into self-rule. Mr. Bryans plan surrenders the only authority now existing in the islands; undertakes to establish the rule of Aguinaldo; precipitates a bloody conflict among the inharmonious tribes, which, while bowing to us, will not recognize each others dominance; leaves the islands open to foreign complications and aggression; and, after giving a free hand to the Filipinos, commits us to protect them against these inevitable dangers. Mr. Bryans idea, as indicated both in his earlier speech and in his recent letter of 11 acceptance, is to protect them by the Monroe doctrine. This shows an astonishing confusion of mind. The Monroe doctrine is a policy framed for the protection of this hemisphere and limited to the American half of the world. Europe recognizes and respects it, because it is confined to the two Americas. Un- dertake to extend it to Europe or Asia or Africa, and it would break down here. In assuming to apply it for the protection of the Philippines, Mr. Bryan would destroy its force for the protection of America.

Besides thus dealing the dealiest blow at the Monroe doctrine through its complete misconception and misapplication, his policy would equally approach the militarism and imperialism he professes to abhor. There is no imperialism in lawfully maintaining our rightful sovereignty, as we do in Alaska. There is no militarism in suppressing revolt against our authority, as we do in Arizona. But, in undertaking to set up the government of another power where we had expressly surrendered sovereignty and title, Mr. Bryans policy involves imperial prerogative. And in assuming responsibility for Aguinaldos administration, while abdicating all authority of our own, it would require a far larger force than is needed to maintain our existing rights, and would give an exhibit of militarism. His policy for the Philippines is as fatal as his policy of free silver.

CHARLES EMORY SMITH.

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