William Jennings Bryan


William Jennings Bryan : biography

March 19, 1860 – July 26, 1925

Presidential election of 1908

Bryan giving a speech during his 1908 run for the presidency The 1908 election was Bryan’s third attempt at gaining the presidency. The Democrats nominated Bryan by a wide margin at the Democratic convention held in Denver and decided on John Kern, a politician from Indiana, as his running mate. Bryan ran against the Republicans, and Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-picked nominee William Howard Taft.

Bryan launched a special message to Congress, suggesting income and inheritance taxes, publicity on campaign contribution and opposing the use of the navy for the collection of private debts.Paxton Hibben, The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, incorporated, 1929), 266. He campaigned against corporate domination, urging that all corporation contributions be made public before election day, and that failure to cooperate be made a penal offense.Paxton Hibben, The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, incorporated, 1929), 279.

The GOP ran its campaign on the benefits of the Roosevelt administration, creation of a postal service, continuation of "Sound Currency", citizenship for Puerto Rico inhabitants, regulation on big business, and tariff revision in protectionist mode.usaelectionatlas.org election 1908

Bryan and the Democrats’ platform denounced the wrongs done by the Republican party: Congress spent too much money; Roosevelt hand picked Taft in undemocratic fashion; Republicans wanted centralization; Republicans favored monopolies. In response, Bryan unleashed the slogan, "Shall the People Rule?" In a time of peace and prosperity, and Republican trust-busting, Bryan fared poorly among the voters. He lost the electoral college 321 to 162, his worst defeat yet, and did not carry any of the states in the Northeast.

In his three presidential election bids, Bryan received a total of 493 electoral votes – the most of any candidate in American history who never won the presidency.

Chautauqua circuit: 1900–1912

For the next 25 years, Bryan was the most popular Chautauqua speaker, delivering thousands of paid speeches in towns across the land, even while serving as secretary of state. He mostly spoke about religion, but covered a wide variety of topics.Coletta, William Jennings Bryan vol 2 p. 2 His most popular lecture (and his personal favorite) was a lecture entitled "The Prince of Peace", which stressed that religion was the solid foundation of morality, and individual and group morality was the foundation for peace and equality. Another famous lecture from this period, "The Value of an Ideal", was a stirring call to public service.

In a 1905 speech, Bryan warned that "the Darwinian theory represents man reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate, the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak. If this is the law of our development then, if there is any logic that can bind the human mind, we shall turn backward to the beast in proportion as we substitute the law of love. I choose to believe that love rather than hatred is the law of development."

Bryan threw himself into the work of the Social Gospel. He served in organizations containing a large number of theological liberals—he sat on the temperance committee of the Federal Council of Churches and on the general committee of the short-lived Inter-church World Movement.

Bryan in 1908 In 1899 Bryan founded a weekly magazine, The Commoner, calling on Democrats to dissolve the trusts, regulate the railroads more tightly, and support the Progressive Movement.See for full text of annual compilation He regarded prohibition as a "local" issue and did not endorse it until 1910. In London in 1906, he presented a plan to the Inter-Parliamentary Peace Conference for arbitration of disputes that he hoped would avert warfare. He tentatively called for nationalization of the railroads, then backtracked and called only for more regulation. His party nominated Bourbon Democrat Alton B. Parker in 1904, who lost to Roosevelt. For two years following this defeat, Bryan would pursue his public speaking ventures on an international stage. From 1904 to 1906, Bryan traveled globally, preaching, sightseeing with his wife Mary, lecturing, and all while escaping the political upheaval in Washington. Bryan crusaded as well for the initiative and referendum, making a whistle-stop campaign tour of Arkansas in 1910.Steven L. Piott, Giving voters a voice: the origins of the initiative and referendum in America (2003) pp 126-32 Bryan’s speech to the students of Washington and Lee University began the Washington and Lee Mock Convention.