The purpose of a political convention, traditionally, is to select a party’s candidates.  This year that’s all been done, due to a long process and lots of media attention.  Instead of a meeting to make a decision, the conventions are carefully scripted presentations, meant to persuade those outside the hall, who, thanks to the television coverage, can usually see what’s happening on the stage more clearly than those inside.

Things were different in 1876, when Robert Ingersoll gave his famous speech nominating James G. Blaine for the Republican candidate for the presidency.  In those days the people outside the hall had to wait to read the speeches in the newspaper.  Ingersoll’s rhetoric was for the attendees alone.

In matters other than technology, however, there were similarities between 1876 and our present state of affairs.  The national debt was worrying everyone.  It had quadrupled during the Civil War; it stood at $2.18 billion and was showing no signs of dropping.  In addition, a panic in 1873, propelled in large part by shady dealings among Wall Street financiers, had induced a recession that was far from over.  Wars, deficit and recession: things we are familiar with today. Ingersoll’s speech suggests a different approach to these issues from that which current leaders offer.  What the Republicans want, he argues, is this:

They demand a man who will sacredly preserve the financial honor of the United States; one who knows enough to know that the national debt must be paid through the prosperity of this people; one who knows enough to know that all the financial theories in the world cannot redeem a single dollar; one who knows enough to know that all the money must be made, not by law, but by labor; one who knows enough to know that the people of the United States have the industry to make the money, and the honor to pay it over just as fast as they make it.

Later on he adds:

This money has to be dug out of the earth. You cannot make it by passing resolutions in a political convention.

The idea that money could be created without gold and silver to back it up was unthinkable in 1876.  Wealth, whether of the country or the individual, could only come through work.  Ingersoll becomes quite poetic as he expand on this.  His balanced phrases can be set into lines like a poem:

The Republicans of the United States demand a man
who knows that prosperity and resumption,
when they come, must come together;
that when they come,
they will come hand in hand
through the golden harvest fields;
hand in hand by the whirling spindles
and the turning wheels;
hand in hand past the open furnace doors;
hand in hand by the flaming forges;
hand in hand by the chimneys filled with eager fire,
greeted and grasped by the countless sons of toil.

Such fine language, though highly praised and long remembered, did not win Blaine the nomination, which went to Rutherford B. Hayes.  Hayes then won the election through promises to the South to remove from southern soil the Federal troops that were attempting to enforce northern standards, an issue Ingersoll had not addressed.   Government requires more than rhetoric.

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