William Jennings Bryan


William Jennings Bryan : biography

March 19, 1860 – July 26, 1925

At the 1896 Democratic National Convention, Bryan lambasted Eastern moneyed classes for supporting the gold standard at the expense of the average worker. His "Cross of Gold" speech made him the sensational new face in the Democratic Party. That same year he became the first presidential candidate to campaign in a car (a donated Mueller) in Decatur, Illinois.Lewis, Mary Beth. "Ten Best First Facts", in Car and Driver, 1/88, p.92.

Bryan/Sewall campaign poster The Bourbon Democrats who supported incumbent conservative President Grover Cleveland were defeated, and the party’s agrarian and silver factions voted for Bryan, giving him the nomination of the Democratic Party. At the age of 36, Bryan became (and still remains) the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in American history.

Disappointed with the direction of their party, Gold Democrats invited Cleveland to run as a third-party candidate, but he declined. Cleveland did, however, support John M. Palmer, nominee of the Gold Democrats, rather than Bryan.William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Gramercy 1997

Bryan also formally received the nominations of the Populist Party and the Silver Republican Party. With the three nominations, voters from any party could vote for Bryan without crossing party lines.The Populists and Silver Republicans were virtually defunct in 1900 and he did not again run on any third party tickets. In 1896, the Populists rejected Bryan’s Democratic running mate, Maine banker Arthur Sewall, and named as his running mate Georgia Populist Thomas E. Watson. People could vote for Bryan and Sewall (on the Democratic or Silver Republican lines), or for Bryan and Watson (on the People’s Party line).

Bryan depicted as a Populist snake swallowing the Democratic Party; 1896 cartoon from the pro-GOP magazine Judge. The Republicans nominated William McKinley on a platform calling for prosperity for everyone through industrial growth, high tariffs, and "sound money" (gold). Republicans ridiculed Bryan as a Populist. However, "Bryan’s reform program was not based on the Populists–for example, the Populists Free Silver took Free Silver from Bryan’s Democrats, not vice versa–but he used the same crusading rhetoric against railroads, banks, insurance companies and businesses that has often been mistaken for Populism. Bryan remained a staunch Democrat throughout his career."Coletta, (1964), vol.1, pg.40

Bryan demanded Bimetallism and "Free Silver" at a ratio of 16:1. Most leading Democratic newspapers rejected his candidacy. Despite this rejection by the newspapers, Bryan won the Democratic vote.

Republicans discovered in August that Bryan was solidly ahead in the South and West, but far behind in the Northeast. He appeared to be ahead in the Midwest, so the Republicans concentrated their efforts there. They said Bryan was a madman, a religious fanatic surrounded by anarchists, who would wreck the economy.Glad (1964) By late September, the Republicans felt they were ahead in the decisive Midwest and began emphasizing that McKinley would bring prosperity to all Americans. McKinley scored solid gains among the middle classes, factory and railroad workers, prosperous farmers, and the German Americans who rejected free silver. Bryan gave 500 speeches in 27 states. McKinley won by a margin of 271 to 176 in the electoral college, but the popular vote was much closer and in some key states, McKinley’s margin of victory was narrow.

War and peace: 1898–1900

Bryan strongly supported the Spanish-American War in 1898. According to historian William Leuchtenburg, "few political figures exceeded the enthusiasm of William Jennings Bryan for the Spanish war."Woods, Thomas (2004-08-02) , The American Conservative Bryan argued that "universal peace cannot come until justice is enthroned throughout the world. Until the right has triumphed in every land and love reigns in every heart, government must, as a last resort, appeal to force." He volunteered for duty and became colonel of a Nebraska militia regiment. He contracted typhoid fever in Florida and stayed there to recuperate, never seeing combat. After the war, Bryan opposed the annexation of the Philippines (though he did support the Treaty of Paris that ended the war). Bryan gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1900 called "The Paralyzing Influence of Imperialism." In this speech he discusses his views against the annexation of the Philippines, questioning the United States’s right to overpower people of another country just for a military base. He mentions, at the beginning of the speech, that the United States should not try to emulate the imperialism of Great Britain and other European countries.