You can now listen to a debate between Taft and Bryan from the 1908 campaign

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Archeophone Records, a wonderfully adventurous Illinois-based label that specializes in exhuming long-forgotten but fascinating sound recordings of the past, has done historians of American politics an inestimable service by releasing "Debate '08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph," which contains all 22 of the speeches recorded by the two men for Edison in 1908. (You can order it by going to If you have the slightest interest in the way your great-grandparents lived, you'll find this CD hard to resist.

"Debate '08" comes with a well-written, profusely illustrated 79-page booklet that supplies the historical context for each of the speeches, in which Taft and Bryan wrangled over such then-hot topics as the annexation of the Philippine Islands and the right of labor unions to strike. Most of what they have to say is now of purely academic interest, though once in a while their comments make you sit up and take notice. It's startling, for instance, to hear Taft, who at the time was Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, state unapologetically that "Christianity and the spread of Christianity are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government," or to listen to Bryan, the Great Commoner, castigate the evils of American imperialism: "Instead of profit it has brought loss. Instead of strength it has brought weakness. Instead of glory it has brought humiliation. It has more than doubled our standing army, and there is talk of further increase." Plus ça change!

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