New York World
11 August 1896


The Crowd Liked Her Dununciation of Cleveland and Whitney

Every Reference to Wealth and Its Owners Received with Wild Delight.

Likened John Sherman to a Footpad and Evoked the Most Enthusiastic Applause.

Charmed by the seductive oratory of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease, the free silver mass-meeting at Cooper Union last night nursed itself into all the semblance of a Socialistic gathering. From the beginning to the end, from the first sentence of introduction until the Kansas woman had concluded in a sonorous period, Socialism predominated. Every mention of gold or wealth was greeted with shouts and jeers, and the names of Whitney and Cleveland, of Vanderbilt and Rothschild were hailed with hisses and cat-calls.

... As advertised, the meeting was under the guidance of the Social Reform Club, an organization that has the worthy object of bettering the fortunes of the worker. As advertised, the meeting was in the cause of free silver. But the predominance of the Socialists more than once overcame this, and the currency question was forgotten while the orators spoke at length upon Socialistic beliefs.

... It was very warm in the hall, and Mrs. Lease felt it. She was dressed in a light, lace-trimmed waist and black satin skirt, and her hair was neatly coiled. A winning smile was upon her face, and again and again she bowed to the plaudits of the crowd.

"I accept this splendid greeting from this splendid audience," she began, and the crowd howled appreciation of the compliment, "in evidence that there is no Mason and Dixon's line between the East and the West. I accept it as an evidence of the fact that the people of the East and West are battling for a common cause against a common foe. Not since the bleeding years of the war have party lines been so nearly obliterated, and the obedience to party leaders so refused as at the present time. The heart of the nation is aroused, and Principle and not Pelf is the watchword. The great heart of the nation beats response to patriotism, and the nation is safe."

At this point Mrs. Lease took the opportunity offered by the cheering to wipe a fugitive drop from her ear. Moistening her lips, she broadened out her confident smile and went on.

"We stand to-day at the beginning of one of those revolutionary periods that mark an advance of the race. We stand at a period that marks a reformation.

"All history is illustrated by the fact that new liberties cannot exist with old tyrannies. New ideals ever seek new manifestations. The ideals of Christ could not live under the tyrannies of the Roman government. The ideals of the founders of this Government could not exist under the tyrannies of royal rule."

Striding to the edge of the platform, Mrs. Lease stretched out her hand, clenched the fingers and then roared with masculine energy:

"The grand principles of Socialism and the brotherhood of man cannot live under old forms of tyranny--neither under the forms of Old-World tyranny nor of British gold."

The demonstration that followed this announcement was remarkable. Two thousand throats sent up a shout that showed the sentiment of the meeting, and it was at least two minutes before absolute quiet prevailed. When Mrs. Lease proceeded she spoke of the great prosperity this country had seen.

"Yet to-day," she cried, "our splendid theory of government is confronted by a great peril. We have become blind to evils that menace us. We are confronted with glutted markets and idle labor. It is a condition that makes it possible for a few men to become landlords of a proud city like this while God's poor are packed in the slums."

"Hooray!" yelled a man far back in the hall, "Hooray--ki---yi!"

The crowd took up the cry, and back and forth the cheers and yells and cat-calls rattled.

"Such a condition is not only a menace to Republican institutions, but a travesty upon the gospel of Jesus Christ..."

"Horray, horray!" yelled the man in the crowd again, and once more the hall resounded with the expression of the audience's temper.

"It makes it possible, too, " cried Mrs. Lease, shaking her shoulders fiercely, "for an American to pay $10,000,000 for the cast-off, disreputable rags of old world royalty, for the scion of a house that boasts the blood of a Jeffreys and a Marlborough. It is a disgrace to our nation.

"A condition by which the wealth accumulated by the common people is poured into lard tubs and oil wells, to enable Mr. Rockefeller to found a college and Mr. Whitney to buy a diamond tiara for his daughter is a disgrace to the country.

"Once we made it our boast that this nation was not founded upon any class distinction. But now we are not only buying diamonds for their wives and daughters and selling our children to titled debauchees, but we are setting aside our Constitution and establishing a gold standard to help the fortunes of our hereditary foe.

"To-day, a determined and systematic effort is being made by our financiers to perpetuate a gold standard. Every influence that moulds public opinion has been bought up, and the great dailies in the employ of the gold syndicate have fallen into line. The whole power of the government administration is being used to deceive the people. We hear sound money and honest dollar applied to the most dishonest money that ever cursed a nation or enslaved a people. What right has McKinley or Whitney to delegate our constitutional right to coin money to England or any other nation?"

Cooper Union Hall, New York City

"Hooray, hooray!" yelled the voice again. "Whitney's no Democrat!"

"Ha, hah! Ki-yi!" shrieked the crowd, with shouts of derisive laughter. Smiling in acknowledgement Mrs. Lease tried to attract the attention of a lemonade man. But the man passed onward with his bucket and she gulped in disappointment. In a swift aside she made known her need and an officious person in the front row hustled after the vendor. Then another officious one, all smiles and importance, handed up the drink, and all the meeting paused while Mrs. Lease moistened her throat.

"An organized effort is making to deceive the people. There are two great enemies of thought and progress, the aristocracy of royalty and the aristocracy of gold. Long ago, the aristocracy of royalty came to a common plane with the common people by the discovery of gunpowder, and the two met on a common field. Where is the respect of old for royalty? Even the English speak of their sovereign, Queen Victoria as being made not of common clay, but of common mud. The aristocracy of royalty is dying out.

"But here in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth. Far more dangerous to the race is it than the aristocracy of royalty. It is the aristocracy of gold that disintegrates society, destroys individuals and has ruined the proudest nations. It has called Rothschild's agent here to make the platform of the Republican party."

Here Mrs. Lease got down to train robbers and road agents, bandits, pirates, highwaymen and other non-political persons. When she was through with her James boys and Daltons she said that advancing civilization made the need of more civilized methods of robbery. Then as a gentle climax she called John Sherman a robber and likened all gold men to footpads.

"We have advanced scientifically, ethically and otherwise," she said, "but in finance we have followed the barbaric methods of our ancestors and the teachings of college-bred idiots who tell us that gold is the only desirable coin."

This bon mot was delivered fiercely, and was as fiercely applauded. "College-bred idiots" hit the crowd.

"By this" cried Mrs. Lease "we have arrived at a point when there is not enough money to carry on the business of the country. Go back with me a few years. When the war broke out the Government was compelled to beg for men and money. You responded nobly to that cry, but the men who had been crying 'on to Richmond!' refused to answer. They locked up their gold or sent it to Europe. They held their gold more sacred than your lives, your liberty, your wives and children, while the Government was compelled to mortgage itself to get that sneaking, cowardly yellow metal. And if war was to break out again to-morrow gold would disappear as suddenly again."

Mrs. Lease then took a shy at the "crime of '73." She told how the Government had made contracts on a bimetallic basis and then had changed it to a single standard. Lincoln, she declared, had called such acts as that a crime against posterity. Mentioning the bonded debt, Mrs. Lease called upon the reporters to hear her. During all the evening she made various flings at the press, but most of her speech was specially directed at the press seats. When she got down to the bonded debt she had the figures at her fingers' ends. When she rolled them off with the unction of a child who has mastered its a, b, cs, a man shouted:

"Make 'em take it down! Make 'em take it down!" He meant the reporters.

"Yes, yes," roared the crowd, "make 'em take it down!"

Mrs. Lease smiled happily and brushed away the perspiration ... and then she went at it again with the admonition that she might talk all night. Several persons arose hurriedly at this and went out, and an enthusiast on the platform said: "All right, go ahead."

Mrs. Lease was beginning on the debt again, when a woman in the third row cried out, "Let's wipe out the bonded debt." Just as appropriately she might have called: "Cut it bias," or "will it wash?" Mrs. Lease smiled a sickly smile at this evidence of womanly wisdom, and she was about to go on when the woman cried again: "Yes that's right. Wipe it off the slate."

"That's the sentiment," yelled a voice, and the crowd laughed.

"They say this question is so deep," said Mrs. Lease, when the woman had subsided, "that the common people are not fit to decide it. They say 'leave it to the financiers.' We have left it to them too long, and while we have been sinking into bankruptcy our financiers have been growing millionaires."

After a few other remarks about gold and Great Britain and robbery Mrs. Lease made a ball of her handkerchief, dabbed her face once or twice and sat down. Great applause followed.

During the meeting resolutions were read by Secretary Barr. The resolutions applauded the work of the Democratic and Populistic conventions.... They denounced also the application of the epithet 'anarchist' to them by the capitalists and agents of capital. The sudden affection for the laborer evinced by certain newspapers was also condemned as suspicious. Government ownership of telegraph and railroad lines was also advocated.

When the resolutions were read and put to vote many cried "No! no!" to them. At this a man in the back of the hall demanded a rising vote and almost precipitated a fight. He was subdued, however and the resolutions were declared adopted.

This page added by Michael Magidson, Vassar '99

© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College