What does this quote by William Jennings Bryan mean?
"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"
William Jennings Bryan, Cross of Gold Speech, 1896
What this quote means is that farms are the basis for American prosperity (in Bryan's eyes) and that the government should, therefore, enact policies that are more favorable to farmers. Specifically (though this is not stated in this part of the speech), the government should abandon the gold standard.
In this election, Bryan was proposing that the US go off the gold standard. This would have helped farmers because it would have made it easier for them to pay their debts. The Republicans favored staying on the gold standard. Bryan is saying that people should realize that the farms are the foundation of the US economy. If the cities disappeared, they could grow up again because the farms would supply the wealth to rebuild them. But if the farms disappear, the cities will die too.
William Jennings Bryan was a populist politician from Nebraska. In 1896, he delivered the "Cross of Gold Speech" at the Democratic National Convention, and this speech propelled him to great fame. He ran for President against William McKinley, a Republican, in 1896 but lost. This excerpt from his famous "Cross of Gold Speech" criticizes the eastern cities for supporting the gold standard at the expense of farmers.
During the 1896 election and beforehand, the gold standard, supported by eastern bankers and Republicans, was an electrifying issue. The government had repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893. This act had increased the amount of silver in circulation, but when it was repealed, it angered farmers. In his "Cross of Gold" speech, Bryan called for the coinage of silver to increase the amount of money in supply and to make it easier for farmers to pay off their debts. The gold standard, which the U.S. was on at the time, limited the amount of money in circulation. Bryan's stance was in support of "free silver" or "bimetallism," or using both gold and silver as legal currency. "Free silver" would help the farmers, and, as Bryan states in his speech, the cities' health depended on the productivity of farms. Without them, he believed the cities would not prosper. His speech was met with wild applause and enthusiasm, but he did not win his bid to be President.