The Trust Question

Performed by William Jennings Bryan
Recorded July 21, 1908

A trust may be defined as a corporation which controls so large a proportion of a given product as to be able to determine the price and conditions of sales. The evil of a monopoly is that it destroys competition and leaves the producer at the mercy of a corporation, which can then arbitrarily exact such profits as it pleases. There are certain results which naturally follow from the establishment of a private monopoly. First, the corporation raises the price of the finished product. Second, being the only purchaser of raw materials, it lowers the price of that material. Third, as it controls the opportunity for employment, it reduces the wages of those who are skilled in that particular business. And fourth, it puts out an inferior product. In these ways it can add to its profits, and man is as yet too weak to withstand the temptation that a monopoly constantly presents. In the nature of the case, but comparatively few of the population can profit by a monopoly, while the masses are the victims of monopoly. Monopolies are both corruptive and coercive. By large contributions to campaign funds, they purchase immunity from restraining legislation and from the enforcement of the law. And as they employ an army of laboring men, they can influence elections by threatening employees with starvation if they refuse to vote as directed. The trusts therefore are an evil and can be nothing else. They are hurtful from an economic standpoint, they are a corrupting element in politics, and they menace popular government.

The Denver platform declares that a private monopoly is indefensible and intolerable and demands the vigorous enforcement of the criminal law; together with additional legislation which will make a private monopoly impossible. It specifies three new remedies. First, a law preventing a duplication of directors among competing corporations. The duplication of directors being a familiar device by which a few men secure control of corporations engaged in the same line of business and destroy competition. Second, a licensed system which will bring under Federal supervision, corporations controlling 25 percent of the product in which they deal and prohibiting control of more that 50 percent. This licensed system will not interfere with the legitimate corporations, but will protect them from the corporations that are aspiring to a monopoly. The limit of 50 percent is suggested because a corporation which controls one half of the entire product, that is a corporation which supplies 40 millions of people is large enough to take advantage of every economy in production. To allow a corporation to control more than 50 percent is to permit it to take advantage of the public. The third new remedy is to compel licensed corporations to sell to all customers upon the same term after making due allowance for the cost of transportation. This will prevent a big corporation from underselling a small competitor in a limited territory while maintaining the price elsewhere. The extermination of monopoly does not mean the extermination of business. On the contrary, the extermination of monopoly means a revival of business – it means lower prices for the consumer, higher prices for the producer of raw material, higher quality in the product, better wages for the employee, and more people employed in production.