From…The 42nd Parallel (Dos Passos Writing W.J. Bryan)


It was in the Chicago Convention in ’96 that the prizewinning boy orator, the minister’s son whose lips had never touched liquor, let out his silver voice so that it filled the gigantic hall, filled the ears of the plain people:

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the convention:

I would be presumptuous indeed to present myself against the distinguished gentleman to whom you have listened, if this were a mere measuring of abilities; but this is not a contests between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.

I come to speak to you in defence of a cause as holy as the cause of Liberty…

a youngish bigmouthed man in a white tie

barnstormer, exhorter, evangelist,

his voice charmed the mortgageridden farmers of the great plains, rang through weatherboarded schoolhouses in the Missouri Valley, was sweet in the ears of small storekeepers hungry for easy credit, melted men’s innards like the song of a thrush or a mockin’ in the gray quiet before sunup, or a sudden soar in winter wheat or a bugler playing taps and the flag flying;

silver tongue of the plain people;

…the man who is employed for wages is as much a businessman as his employer;

the attorney in a country town is as much a businessman as the corporation counsel in a giant metropolis;

the merchant in a crossroads store is as much a businessman as the merchant of New York;

William Jennings Bryan

the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in the spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the board of trade and bets upon the price of grain;

the miners who go down a thousand feet in the earth or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hidingplaces the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade, are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a back room corner the money of the world.

The hired man and the country attorney sat up and listened,

this was big talk for the farmer who’d mortgaged his crop to buy fertilizer, big talk for the smalltown hardware man, groceryman, feed and corn merchant, undertaker, truckgardener…

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them:

You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

They roared their lungs out (crown of thorns and cross of gold)

carried him round the hall on their shoulders, hugged him, loved him, named their children after him, nominated him for President,

boy orator of the Platte, silver tongue of the plain people.

But McArthur and Forrest, two Scotchmen in the Rand, had invented the cyanide process for extracting gold from ore, South Africa flooded the gold market; there was no need for a prophet of silver.

The silver tongue chanted on out of the big mouth, chanting Pacifism, Prohibition, Fundamentalism,

nibbling radishes on the lecture platform, drinking grapejuice and water, gorging big cornbelt meals;

Bryan grew gray in the hot air Chautauqua tents, in the applause, the handshakes, the backpattings, the cigarsmoky air of committeerooms at Democratic conventions, a silver tongue in a big mouth.

John Dos Passos reading to his wife, Katy.

In Dayton he dreamed of turning the trick again, of setting back the clocks for the plain people, branding, flaying, making a big joke of Darwinism and the unbelieving outlook of city folks, scientists, foreigners with beards and monkey morals.

In Florida he’d spoken every day at noon on a float under an awning selling lots for Coral Gables…he had to speak, to feel the drawling voices hush, feel the tense approving ears, the gust of handclaps.

Why not campaign again through the length and breadth to set up again the tottering word for the plain people who wanted the plain word of God?

(crown of thorns and cross of gold)

the plain prosperous comfortable word of God

the plain prosperous comfortable midamerican folks?

He was a big eater. It was hot. A stroke killed him.

Three days later down in Florida the company delivered the electric horse he’d ordered to exercise on when he’d seen the electric horse the President exercised on in the White House.

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

(Note: the formatting was all messed up, so this isn’t exactly how it appears in the book. I did my best.)

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