Home > Uncategorized > William Jennings Bryan: What the world would have lost if Shakespeare had been killed as a soldier, Burns had fallen on the battlefield

William Jennings Bryan: What the world would have lost if Shakespeare had been killed as a soldier, Burns had fallen on the battlefield


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war


William Jennings Bryan
What America Might Do for Peace
Speech at Edinburgh in 1910

At a great public meeting in Music Hall, Edinburgh, held at the time of the World Missionary Conference, under the auspices of the Edinburgh Peace and Arbitration Society, with many distinguished persons on the platform, William J. Bryan, as reported in the Edinburgh papers, spoke as follows:

“Mr. Bryan, who was received with great enthusiasm, said that he was glad that his country was sufficiently prominent in the peace movement to make it appropriate for him to take part in that meeting. He was sure that whatever differences of opinion they might have at home on economic and political questions, there was a well-nigh universal sentiment in favor of peace. So he thought his right to speak for his country on that subject would not be challenged. Certainly the occasion of the meeting of the Missionary Conference was an opportune time for an expression upon the subject of peace. He believed that the resolution which they would adopt would have great weight. He was willing to carry it home to his own country and bring it to the attention of those in authority, and ask them to give consideration to the voice of Christendom, expressed at this time. He would be glad if those who represented other nations would bring the resolution to the attention of the authorities in their countries, that that meeting might not be without its actual immediate and practical result.

“He had faith in the triumph of the peace movement. (Applause.) All the great forces of the world were behind it. The very fact that the nations of the world were being gathered together in commerce and tied by bonds of trade gave an assurance of peace. They were no longer isolated. They could not but suffer if there was a trade disturbance. There were, however, other greater forces at the back of the movement. The first was the growth in education. The world moved forward intellectually, and it followed necessarily that as people were more intelligent they more and more clearly saw the absurdity of war and the folly of war. (Applause.)

“The intelligent man understood that they could not settle a question of right by force; they simply postponed it that it might be settled on the basis of justice. The intelligent man knew that a nation could not afford to get an advantage by force, for it would have to pay it back with interest after a while. (Applause.) And the intelligent man believed that the time would come when the world would regard the waging of battle between nations as a thing as ridiculous as the waging of battle between individuals looked to us now. (Applause.)

“Another of the great forces working for peace was the growth of popular government. Instead of government by the few, it was going to be more and more government by the many.

“They found now a larger consideration of the people’s interest in the question of war. Wars never brought blessings to the masses who paid the taxes but never enjoyed the benefits. The more the people had to do with government, the more sure was it that the government would have to consider the peace sentiment which was growing in the world. (Applause.) King Edward believed in peace, and his influence was ever on the side of peace, and the world in sorrow and mourning at his death proclaimed that even a king could be greater than his office by rendering a service to mankind. (Applause.) But when King Edward stood for peace he represented the sentiment of his people as well as his own. He (Mr. Bryan) was glad to testify to the interest taken in the cause of peace by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and from what he knew of those now in positions of responsibility he thought that he could say that they also shared the sentiment for which Sir Henry and their late lamented king stood. (Applause.) The growing demand of the people for a part in government was seen in the establishment of a Duma in Russia and a legislative body in Turkey and the commencement of an organization of representative government in China. All these steps towards more popular government were steps to wards peace.

“Over here they occasionally might read of the danger of war between America and Japan. He asked them not to be deceived by these newspaper reports. There was no danger at all. (Applause.) He had visited Japan and conversed with her public men, and he was satisfied that there was no desire for or expectation of such a war. Neither country asked anything unjust from the other. Neither would receive from the other any injustice. Neither could find a cause for war if it hunted for it. (Applause.) There were two reasons why they had war with big “scare lines ” – it gave some thing to attract attention in the newspapers and it gave excuse for building more ships. He never expected to see a war between two Christian nations. (Applause.)

“The moral development of the world meant peace. There was more of the sense of brotherhood to-day than ever there was before on earth. These three forces, intellectual, political and moral development of the world, all made for peace. The only trouble was that there were different ways of bringing it about. Some believed in bringing peace by large navies. Many people got discouraged because bigger battleships were being built, and asked why they did not stop. He had wondered him self, but he did not complain because they did not see immediate evidence of that movement. He knew that this movement was growing more rapidly than their navies were. (Applause.) Governments did not represent the highest ideals to be found in a nation; they represented rather the average of the national sentiment. Many people believed that the best way to bring peace was to make war so expensive that they could not afford to fight (Laughter.)

“He believed there was a better plan. It was that a nation should trust to the righteousness of its cause and in the wisdom of doing right. By submitting the questions in dispute to investigation, time would be given for the peace sentiment to work and war would be prevented. Man when he was mad talked about what he could do; when he was calm he talked about what he ought to do. (Applause.) Their wars were generally commenced when people were talking about what they could do, and when they were mad they could not tell whether they had been insulted or not. (Laughter.) They should have time to cool down. What nation could afford to stop the commerce of the world while it fought without telling the world why it fought? A nation owed it to its neighboring nations to come out into the light and let the world know what it was fighting for, and let public opinion get a chance of securing peace without bloodshed. He had faith in the Bible plan, and the nations that believed in peace should be willing to take God at His word and try the plan He had proposed. (Applause.)

“He would like to see his nation make the attempt. He would like to see America say to the world, We don’t intend to do injustice to anybody, and we don’t suspect anybody of an intention to do injustice to us. (Applause.) We are not going to burglarize the world, and we don’t therefore expect to equip ourselves with burglars’ tools. We are going to say that it is righteousness that exalteth a nation, and we will see what the influence is.’ He believed if America announced to the world that it would not build another battleship, that it was not going to encourage war, but that it was going to stand for peace, he did not think his nation would be in the least danger of attack or trouble from any source if it decided to submit its disputes to investigation. If the nations were tied together by such bonds or treaties, then war would be practically impossible. (Applause.) In emphasizing what the world would gain when slaughter ceased and the era of brotherhood began, Mr. Bryan asked what the world would have lost if Shakespeare had been killed as a soldier boy and Burns had fallen on the battlefield. They could imagine what the world would have gained if war had not consumed so many of their best and bravest.” (Applause.)

The resolution to which Mr. Bryan was speaking, and which was adopted by acclamation, declared that the nations should enter into treaties stipulating that the contracting parties would, in all cases before any declaration of war or commencement of hostilities, submit the question or questions in dispute to an impartial international tribunal for investigation and report.

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