By Jeremy C. Nagel
More than ever, it’s a nice, makes-your-day kind of uplift to get a random note or call from a Farm Bureau family member you don’t often hear from. I recently got just such a note from Maureen Gilna, a member of the Full of Fun Farmers Community Group in Shiawassee County.
“Someone gave me this quote last week,” Gilna wrote to me. “I just wanted to share it with you. Take care.”
It’s a passage from William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech, which propelled him toward a presidential nomination from the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago:
“You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. We reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
Curious to learn more, I hopped online to learn more about Jennings’ fine words. Turns out that “Cross of Gold” speech is a whopper by modern standards: 3,200 words and clocking in at almost 10 minutes in duration. The main theme was the then-hot debate over forsaking the gold standard for “bimetallism” — incorporating silver into the national definition of currency and monetary value.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle rarely turn down an opportunity to praise hardworking salt-of-the-earth types — the men and women whose toil and wit arguably generate the fundamental pool of wealth and value that underpins the rest of our economy.
Earlier in the speech there’s also praise of the farmer inside a larger paragraph in which Bryan eloquently levels the playing field of business, arguing that his rivals “have made too limited” their “definition of a businessman.”
It’s good stuff:
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 great metropolis. The merchant at the crossroads store is as much a businessman as the merchant of New York. The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of this 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 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.
Bryan was, by most accounts and from most any angle, a great man — a great American — an eloquent orator, a passionate statesman, a man of great faith and deep conviction. And like so many other notable figures from history, he only had nice things to say about agriculture.
Farm Gate wants to hear your favorite quotes about agriculture. Whenever you recall or stumble across one, share it with us in a quick email just like Maureen did!