William Jennings Bryan
- For other persons of the same name, see William Bryan and William Jennings.
(March 19, 1860 â€“ July
26, 1925) was the Democratic Party
for President of the
in 1896, 1900 and 1908, a lawyer
, and the 41st United States Secretary of
under President Woodrow
. One of the most popular speakers in American history,
he was noted for a deep, commanding voice. Bryan was a devout
, a supporter of
, a critic of
banks and railroads, a leader of the silverite
movement in the 1890s, a leading
figure in the Democratic Party, a peace
advocate, a prohibitionist
, an opponent
, and one of the most
prominent leaders of populism
in the late
19th - and early 20th century. Because of his faith in the goodness
and rightness of the common people, he was called "The Great
In the intensely fought 1896
and 1900 elections
was defeated by William McKinley
but retained control of the Democratic
. For presidential candidates, Bryan invented the national
stumping tour. In his three presidential bids, he promoted Free Silver
in 1896, anti-imperialism
in 1900, and trust-busting
in 1908, calling on Democrats,
in cases where corporations are protected, to abandon states' rights
, to fight the trusts
and big banks, and embrace
. President Woodrow
Wilson appointed him Secretary of State in 1913,
but Wilson's handling of the Lusitania crisis in 1915 caused Bryan to resign in
He was a strong supporter of Prohibition
in the 1920s,
and energetically attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously
at the Scopes Trial
in 1925. Five days
after winning the case but getting bad press, he died in his
Background and early career: 1860â€“1896
The son of
Silas and Mariah Elizabeth Bryan, Bryan was born in the Little Egypt region of southern
Illinois on March 19,
Bryan's mother was born of English
heritage. Mary Bryan joined the Salem Baptists in 1872, so Bryan
attended Methodist services on Sunday morning, and in the
afternoon, Baptist services. At this point, William began spending
his Sunday afternoons at the Cumberland Presbyterian
. At age 14 in 1874, Bryan attended a revival
, was baptized, and joined the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In later life, Bryan said the day
of his baptism was the most important day in his life, but, at the
time it caused little change in his daily routine. He left the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church and joined the larger Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America
.His father Silas was
born of Scots-Irish
stock in St.Croix
. As a Jacksonian Democrat
, Silas won election
as a Democrat to the Illinois
. The year of Bryan's birth, his father lost his
seat, but shortly won election as a state circuit judge.
moved to a farm north of Salem in 1866, living in a ten-room house
that was the envy of Marion County.
A young Bryan
Until age ten, Bryan was home-schooled, finding in the Bible
support for his views that gambling
and sinful. To attend Whipple Academy, which was attached
to Illinois College, 14-year-old
Bryan was sent to Jacksonville in 1874.
Following high school, he entered Illinois College and studied
, graduating as valedictorian
in 1881. During his time at
Illinois College, Bryan was a member of the Sigma Pi literary
society, and later initiated the Nebraska Chapter of the Acacia Fraternity
. To study law at Union
Law College (which later became Northwestern
University School of Law), he moved to Chicago.
While preparing for the bar exam
, he taught
high school. While teaching, he eventually married pupil Mary
Elizabeth Baird in 1884. They settled in Salem, Illinois, a town
with a population of two thousand.
Mary became a lawyer and collaborated with him on all his speeches
and writings. He practiced law in Jacksonville (1883â€“87), then moved to the boom city of Lincoln,
In the Democratic landslide of 1890, Bryan was elected to Congress
and reelected by 140 votes in 1892. He ran for the Senate in 1894,
but was overwhelmed in the Republican landslide.
first years in Lincoln, he traveled to Valentine,
Nebraska on business where he met an aspiring young
cattleman named James Dahlman.
Over the next forty years they remained friends, with Dahlman
carrying Nebraska for Bryan twice while he was state Democratic
Party chairman. Even when Dahlman became closely associated with
Omaha's vice elements, including the breweries, as the city's
eight-term mayor, he and Bryan maintained a collegial
First campaign for the White House: 1896
In 1893, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act
resulted in the collapse of the silver market. Bryan stumped the
country for free silver in 1894-96, building a grass roots
reputation as a powerful champion of the cause.
At the 1896
Democratic National Convention
, Bryan lambasted Eastern monied
classes for supporting the gold
at the expense of the average worker. His "Cross of Gold" speech
made him a
sensational new face in the Democratic party.
Bryan/Sewall campaign poster
The Bourbon Democrats
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
remains the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in
Disappointed with the direction of their party, Gold Democrats
invited Cleveland to run as a third-party candidate, but he
declined this offer. Cleveland did, however, support John M. Palmer
, nominee of the Gold
Democrats, rather than Bryan.
In addition, Bryan formally received the nominations of the
the Silver Republican Party
Without crossing party lines, voters from any party could vote for
1896 the Populists rejected Bryan's Democratic running mate
Maine banker Arthur Sewall
and named as his running mate Georgia Representative
Thomas E. Watson
. People could vote for Bryan and
Sewell or for Bryan and Watson.
Bryan in 1896
The Republicans nominated William
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 so similar to
that of the Populists that he has often been mistaken for a
Populist, but he remained a staunch Democrat throughout the
Populist period." This is because, despite having used many of the
Populist ideas, Bryan kept all of his Democratic views while simply
adding the Populist views to gain their votes.
Bryan demanded Bimetallism
and "Free Silver
" at a ratio of 16:1. Most leading
Democratic newspapers rejected his candidacy. However, 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 madmanâ€”a religious fanatic
surrounded by anarchistsâ€”who would wreck the economy. 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 among
the German Americans
free silver. Bryan gave 500 speeches in 27 states. McKinley won by
a margin of 271 to 176 in the electoral college
War and peace: 1898â€“1900
Conservatives in 1900 ridiculed
Bryan's eclectic platform
Bryan volunteered for combat in the Spanish-American War in 1898
"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." Bryan became colonel of a Nebraska militia regiment; he
spent the war in Florida and never saw combat. After the war, Bryan
opposed the annexation of the Philippines (though he did support the Treaty of Paris that ended the
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, asking what gives the United States
the 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 be like the Imperialistic
British and other European countries.
Presidential election of 1900
He ran as an anti-imperialist, finding himself in alliance with
millionaires. Republicans mocked Bryan as indecisive, or a coward,
a point spoofed by the Bryan-like Cowardly
Wonderful Wizard of Oz
, published in spring 1900.
Bryan combined anti-imperialism with free silver, saying:
The nation is of age and it can do what it pleases; it
can spurn the traditions of the past; it can repudiate the
principles upon which the nation rests; it can employ force instead
of reason; it can substitute might for right; it can conquer weaker
people; it can exploit their lands, appropriate their property and
kill their people; but it cannot repeal the moral law or escape the
punishment decreed for the violation of human rights.
In a typical day he gave four hourlong speeches and shorter talks
that added up to six hours of speaking. At an average rate of 175
words a minute, he turned out 63,000 words, enough to fill 52
columns of a newspaper. In Wisconsin, he once made 12 speeches in
15 hours. Before Bryan held any political office there remained a
need for income; public speaking would not become any less of a
passion as it also became a source of income for Bryan and his
family. Bryan held an estate in Nebraska as well as a ranch in Texas, of which
both were paid for with earnings from publications of The
Commoner as well as speaking fees. Bryan's rates were
noted as $500.00 per speech in addition to a percentage of the
ticket sales profit. He held his base in the South, but lost part
of the West as McKinley retained the Northeast and Midwest and
rolled up a landslide. McKinley won the electoral college with a
count of 292 votes compared to Bryan's 155. This means that Bryan
actually lost more states than he had in 1896.
Presidential election of 1908
Bryan in 1908
The 1908 election was Bryanâ€™s third attempt at gaining the
presidency. The Democrats nominated Bryan by wide margin at the
Democratic convention held in Denver and decided on John Kern, a politician from Indiana, to be his
running mate. Bryan ran against the Republicans, and Theodore Rooseveltâ€™s hand-picked nominee
William Howard Taft.
The GOP ran its campaign on the benefits of the Roosevelt
administration, creation of a postal service, continuation of
â€śSound Currencyâ€ť, citizenship for Puerto
Rico inhabitants, regulation on big business, and tariff revision in protectionist mode.
Bryan and the Democratsâ€™ 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, â€śShall the People Rule?â€ť 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
Chautauqua circuit: 1900â€“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. 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.
Bryan giving a speech during his 1908
run for the presidency
In 1905 speech, Bryan warned: "The Darwinian theory represents man reaching his
present perfection by the operation of the law of hate â€” 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. Bryan served on 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
Interchurch World Movement.
Bryan founded a weekly magazine, The Commoner, calling on
Democrats to dissolve the trusts, regulate the railroads more
tightly and support the Progressive
Movement. 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.
1904-1906, Bryan travelled globally; spreading the Word of God,
sightseeing with his wife Mary, lecturing, and all while escaping
the political upheaval in Washington, D.C.
speech to the students of Washington and Lee University began the Washington &
Lee Mock Convention.
Secretary of State: 1913â€“1915
La Serena, Bryan's home built in
1913 at Miami, Florida
For supporting Woodrow Wilson for the
presidency in 1912, he was appointed as Secretary of State.
However, Wilson only nominally consulted Bryan and made all the
major foreign policy decisions. Bryan negotiated 28 treaties that
promised arbitration of disputes before war broke out between the
signatory countries and the United States. Bryan had made several
attempts to negotiate a treaty with Germany but ultimately was
never able to succeed. In the civil
war in Mexico in 1914, Bryan supported American military
Wilson's desire to enter the war in Europe brought him to odds with
Bryan and eventually led to Bryan's resignation in June 1915 over
Wilson's demands for "strict accountability for any infringement of
[American] rights, intentional or incidental."
Prohibition battles: 1916â€“1925
Despite their differences, Bryan campaigned as a private citizen
for Wilson's reelection in 1916. When war was declared in April
1917, Bryan wrote Wilson, "Believing it to be the duty of the
citizen to bear his part of the burden of war and his share of the
peril, I hereby tender my services to the Government. Please enroll
me as a private whenever I am needed and assign me to any work that
I can do." Wilson, however, did not allow 57-year-old Bryan to
rejoin the military and did not offer him any wartime role.
Bryan campaigned for the Constitutional amendments on prohibition and women's suffrage. Partly to avoid
Nebraska ethnics such as the German-Americans who were "wet" and opposed
to prohibition, Bryan moved to Coconut Grove in Miami, Florida. Bryan filled lucrative speaking
engagements, including playing the part of spokesman for George E. Merrick's new planned community Coral
Gables, addressing large crowds across a Venetian pool for
an annual salary of over $100,000. He was also extremely
active in Christian organizations. Bryan refused to support the
party's presidential nominee James M.
Cox in 1920, because he deemed Cox not
dry enough. As one biographer explains,
Bryan's national campaigning helped Congress pass the 18th
Amendment in 1918, which shut down all saloons as of 1920. But
while prohibition was in effect, Bryan did not work to secure
better enforcement. He opposed a highly controversial resolution at
the 1924 convention condemning the Ku Klux
Klan, expecting it would soon fold. Bryan disliked the KKK but
never publicly attacked it. For the nomination in 1924, he opposed
the wet Al Smith; Bryan's brother, Nebraska Governor Charles W. Bryan, was put on the ticket with John W. Davis as
candidate for vice
president to keep the Bryanites in line. Bryan was very close
to his younger brother Charles and endorsed him for the vice
Bryan was the chief proponent of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, the
precursor to our modern War on Drugs.
However, he argued for the act's passage more as an international
obligation than on moral grounds.
Fighting the theory of evolution: 1918â€“1925
Before World War I, Bryan believed moral progress could achieve
equality at home and, in the international field, peace between all
the world's nations.
Bryan opposed Darwinism for two reasons. First he believed that
what he considered a materialistic account of the descent of man
through evolution undermined the Bible.
Second, he saw neo-Darwinism or Social
Darwinism as a great evil force in the world promoting hatreds
and conflicts, especially the World War.
In his famous Chautauqua lecture, "The Prince of Peace," Bryan
warned the theory of evolution could undermine the foundations of
morality. However, he concluded, "While I do not accept the
Darwinian theory I shall not quarrel with you about it."
One book Bryan read at this time convinced him that neo-Darwinism
(emphasizing the struggle of the races) had undermined morality in
Germany. Bryan was heavily influenced by Vernon Kellogg's 1917 book, Headquarters
Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the
Headquarters of the German Army in Belgium and France, which
asserted (on the basis of a conversation with a reserve officer
named Professor von Flussen) that German intellectuals were social
Darwinists totally committed to might-makes-right.
Bryan also read The Science of Power (1918) by British
social theorist Benjamin Kidd, which
attributed the philosophy of Friedrich
Nietzsche to German nationalism, materialism, and militarism
which in turn was the outworking of the social Darwinian
In 1920, Bryan told the World
Brotherhood Congress the theory of evolution was "the most
paralyzing influence with which civilization has had to deal in the
last century" and that Nietzsche, in carrying the theory of
evolution to its logical conclusion, "promulgated a philosophy that
condemned democracy... denounced Christianity... denied the
existence of God, overturned all concepts of morality... and
endeavored to substitute the worship of the superhuman for the
worship of Jehovah."
By 1921, Bryan saw Darwinism as a major internal threat to the US.
The major study which seemed to convince Bryan of this was James H. Leuba's The Belief in God and
Immortality, a Psychological, Anthropological and Statistical
Study (1916). In this study, Leuba shows that during four
years of college a considerable number of college students lost
their faith. Bryan was horrified that the next generation of
American leaders might have the degraded sense of morality which he
believed had prevailed in Germany and caused the Great War. Bryan
then launched an anti-evolution campaign.
campaign kicked off in October 1921, when
Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia invited Bryan to deliver the James Sprunt Lectures. The heart of the
lectures was a lecture entitled "The Origin of Man", in which Bryan
asked, "what is the role of man in the universe and what is the
purpose of man?" For Bryan, the Bible was absolutely central to
answering this question, and moral responsibility and the spirit of
brotherhood could only rest on belief in God.
The Sprunt lectures were published as In His Image, and
sold over 100,000 copies, while "The Origin of Man" was published
separately as The Menace of the theory of evolution and
also sold very well.
Bryan was worried that the theory of evolution was making grounds
not only in the universities, but also within the church itself.
Many colleges were still church-affiliated at this point. The
developments of 19th century liberal theology, and higher criticism in particular, had left
the door open to the point where many clergymen were willing to
embrace the theory of evolution and claimed that it was not
contradictory with their being Christians. Determined to put an end
to this, Bryan, who had long served as a Presbyterian elder, decided to run for the position of
Moderator of the
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, which
was at the time embroiled in the Fundamentalist-Modernist
Controversy. (Under Presbyterian church
governance, clergy and laymen are equally represented in the
General Assembly, and the post of Moderator is open to any member
of General Assembly.) Bryan's main competition in the race was the
Rev. Charles F. Wishart, president of the College of
Wooster, who had loudly endorsed the teaching of the theory
of evolution in the college. Bryan lost to Wishart by a vote
of 451-427. Bryan then failed in a proposal to cut off funds to
schools where the theory of evolution was taught. Instead, the
General Assembly announced disapproval of materialistic (as opposed
to theistic) evolution.
According to author Ronald L. Numbers, Bryan was not nearly as much
of a fundamentalist as many
modern-day creationists, and is more
accurately described as a "day-age
- William Jennings Bryan, the much misunderstood leader of the
postâ€“World War I antievolution crusade, not only read the Mosaic
â€śdaysâ€ť as geological â€śagesâ€ť but allowed for the possibility of
organic evolutionâ€” so long as it did not impinge on the
supernatural origin of Adam and Eve.
Scopes trial: 1925
In addition to his unsuccessful advocacy of banning the teaching of
evolution in church-run universities, Bryan also actively lobbied
for state laws banning public schools from teaching evolution. The
legislatures of several southern states proved more receptive to
his anti-evolution message than the Presbyterian Church had, and
passed laws banning the teaching of evolution in public schools
after Bryan addressed them. A prominent example was the Butler Act of 1925, making it unlawful in
Tennessee to teach that mankind evolved from lower life
Bryan's participation in the highly publicized 1925 Scopes Trial served as a capstone to his
career. He was asked by William Bell
Riley to represent the World Christian
Fundamentals Association as counsel at the trial. During the
trial, Bryan took the stand and was questioned by defense lawyer
Clarence Darrow about his views on
the Bible. He was asked questions with no known answers, such as
the population of China 5000 years ago (which the Bible does not
address) and if the fish in the sea were drowned in the flood. The
questions were designed to force him to admit that he did not know,
or to guess wildly, or to add questionable explanations to things
of the Bible.
The national media reported the trial in great detail, with
Mencken using Bryan as a symbol of
Southern ignorance (despite his not being from the South) and
anti-intellectualism. In a more
humorous vein, satirist Richard
Armour stated in It All Started With Columbus that
Darrow had "made a monkey out of" Bryan due to Bryan's ignorance of
After the judge retroactively expunged all of Bryan's answers to
Darrow's questions, both sides closed without summation. The jury
quickly returned a guilty verdict with the defense's encouragement,
as their aim was to take the law itself to a higher court in order
to challenge its constitutionality. However, the state supreme
court reversed the verdict on a technicality and Scopes went
Biologist Stephen Jay Gould has
speculated that Bryan's anti-evolution views were a result of his
Populist idealism and suggests that Bryan's
fight was really against eugenics. However,
the biographers, especially Michael Kazin, reject that conclusion,
based on Bryan's failure during the trial or at any other time to
attack eugenics; Kazin notes that there is
a section on eugenics in Civic
Biology, which was the biology textbook Scopes was in trouble
Immediately after the trial, Bryan continued to edit and deliver
speeches, traveling hundreds of miles that week. On Sunday, July 26,
1925, he drove from Chattanooga to Dayton to attend a
church service, ate a meal and died (the result of diabetes and
fatigue) in his sleep that afternoon â€” just five days after the
Scopes trial ended. School Superintendent Walter White proposed
that Dayton should create a Christian college as a lasting memorial
to Bryan; fund raising was successful and Bryan College opened in 1930. Bryan is buried in
National Cemetery. His tombstone reads "He kept the Faith." He
was survived by among others, a daughter, Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen and her son (by artist
William Homer Leavitt) John
Bryan Leavitt and daughter Ruth Leavitt, as well as two children by
her second husband, Royal British
Engineers officer Reginald A. Owen.
Inherit the Wind, a
1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, is a
fictionalized account of the Scopes Trial written in response to
McCarthyism. A populist thrice-defeated
Presidential candidate from Nebraska named Matthew Harrison Brady
comes to a small town named Hillsboro in the Deep South to help
prosecute a young teacher for teaching Darwin to his
schoolchildren. He is opposed by a famous trial lawyer, Henry
Drummond, and chastised by a cynical newspaperman as the trial
assumes a national profile. Critics of the play charge that it
mischaracterizes Bryan and the trial.
Bryan also appears as a character in Douglas Moore's 1956 opera, The Ballad of
Baby Doe and is briefly mentioned in John Steinbeck's East of Eden. His death is referred to in
Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Bryan was also
mentioned on the May 23, 2007 episode of The Daily Show when fictional comedian
Geoffrey Foxworthington (an early 20th century parody of Jeff Foxworthy) quotes, "If your dream
is William Jennings Bryan, you might be a puzzlewit." In Robert A. Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice,
Bryan's unsuccessful or successful runs for the presidency are seen
as the 'splitting off' events of the alternate histories through
which the protagonists travel.
In political cartoons
The sheer volume of political propaganda cartoons featuring Bryan
is a testament to the amusement and fear he caused among
conservatives. Bryan campaigned tirelessly championing the ideas of
the farmers and workers, using his skills as a famed orator to
ultimately reshape the Democratic Party into a more progressive
one. These political cartoons attacked just about every facet of
Bryanâ€™s character and policy. They mocked his religious fervor, his
campaign slogans, and even his ability to unify parties for a
common cause. As Keen puts it, â€śThe art of propaganda is to create
a portrait that incarnates the idea of what we wish to destroy so
we will react rather than think, and automatically focus our
free-floating hostility, indistinct frustrations, and unnamed
fearsâ€ť. Bryan embodied these fears of the Republican Party of the
time, which is clearly evident in the lengths they went to deface
his character in these cartoons.
The most notable cartoons are of Bryan illustrated as a snake,
representing Populism, swallowing a donkey, symbolizing the
Democratic Party. Another notable Bryan cartoon is one where he is
standing atop a Bible, marketing the sales of a "crown of thorns"
and a "cross of gold" both referencing "The Cross of Gold" his most
popular speech. Other cartoons can analyze overall judgments of
Bryanâ€™s continuous failure to win the Presidential Election and
Bryan can be seen as some sort of puppet or smaller figure in
comparison to other presidential elect opponents.
Bryan had an unusually high number of nicknames given to him in his
lifetime; most of these were given by his loyal admirers in the
Democratic Party. In addition to his best-known nickname, "The
Great Commoner", he was also called "The Silver Knight of the West"
(due to his support of the free silver
issue) and the "Boy Orator of the Platte" (a
reference to his oratorical skills and his home near the Platte River in Nebraska). A derisive nickname
given by journalist H.L. Mencken, a prominent Bryan critic, was "The
Fundamentalist Pope", a reference to Bryan's devout religious
Kazin (2006) considers Bryan the first of the 20th century
"celebrity politicians" better known for their personalities and
communications skills than their political views. Shannon Jones
(2006) on a Socialist website claims Bryan never took a principled
stand against white supremacy in the
Southern United States.
Alan Wolfe has concluded that Bryan's
"legacy remains complicated". Form and content mix uneasily in
Bryan's politics. The content of his speeches leads in a direct
line to the progressive reforms adopted by 20th century Democrats.
But the form his actions took was a romantic invocation of the
American past, a populist insistence on the wisdom of ordinary
folk, and a faith-based insistence on sincerity and
In "They Also Ran", Irving Stone criticized Bryan as a person who
was egocentric and never admitted wrong. Stone mentioned how Bryan
lived a sheltered life and therefore could not feel the suffering
of the common man. He speculated that Bryan merely acted as a
champion of common men in order to get their votes. Stone mentioned
that none of Bryan's ideas were original and that he did not have
the brains to be an effective president. Stone personally believed
Bryan to be one of the nation's worst Secretaries of State. He also
feared that Bryan would have supported many radical religious
blue laws. Stone felt that Bryan had one
of the most undisciplined minds of the 19th century and that
McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft all made better presidents.
However, a number of prominent personalities have also defended
Bryan and his legacy. In 1962 the journalist Merle Miller interviewed former President
Harry Truman. When asked about Bryan,
Truman replied that he [Bryan] "was a great one â€” one of the
greatest". Truman also claimed that, in his opinion, "if it wasn't
for old Bill Bryan there wouldn't be any liberalism at all in the
country now. Bryan kept liberalism alive, he kept it going." In
1900 Truman, then aged 16, had served as a page to the Democratic National
Convention in Kansas City. There he
had heard Bryan give a speech to the convention's delegates and was
deeply impressed. In his biography of Truman, the historian
David McCullough wrote that in 1900
Truman and his father "declared themselves thorough 'Bryan
men'...Bryan remained an idol for Harry, as the voice of the common
man". Tom L. Johnson, the famed progressive mayor of
Ohio, referred to Bryan's campaign in 1896 as "the first
great struggle of the masses in our country against the privileged
classes". In a 1934 speech dedicating a memorial to Bryan,
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said "I think that we would
choose the word 'sincerity' as fitting him [Bryan] most of all...it
was that sincerity that served him so well in his life-long fight
against sham and privilege and wrong. It was that sincerity which
made him a force for good in his own generation and kept alive many
of the ancient faiths on which we are building today. We...can well
agree that he fought the good fight; that he finished the course;
and that he kept the faith."
Bryan was truly one of the greatest speakers of his time, and he
became a fixture of the Democratic party and a hero to the common
man. He is normally not credited enough for bringing the Democratic
party together to make it into the strongest it could be. Even
though he only advocated for the rights of white men, he still
could not stop his message from reaching all common people of the
nation. Starting with his Cross of
Gold speech, Bryan brought the populist party into the
Democratic, and with his common man message he would inevitably
draw the African-American and feminist vote into the party. Bryan
became the bridge that brought different factions into the party,
and paved for liberal democrats like Franklin D. Roosevelt with his New Deal legislation. He changed the tide of the
party, and arguably the party might not be a party of the common
people without him.
Bryan has been criticized and credited for many things throughout
his life. One action that earned Bryan credit and criticism is
â€śsavingâ€ť or turning the Democratic Party around; thus paving the
way for the party in the future. He achieved this by taking
populist view points and incorporated them into the already
established Democratic beliefs. He was highly criticized for doing
this by some, and was even accused of (and still is by some
scholars) not have any original thoughts; however ironically he had
the â€śoriginalâ€ť thought to take the already established views and
make them his own, ultimately â€śre-vampingâ€ť a dying party. Bryan
took ideas from the Populist Rebellion, such as the notions of
unlimited coinage of gold and silver, public ownership of the
railroad, and government control of debt and credit; and infused
them into the already established Democratic Party. He argued that
he was a â€ścommonâ€ť man and worked for the laborers, with a main goal
of protection of the majority from the oppression of the minority.
One minority that he at times he supported and at other times
ignored were the African Americans of the time. During his
presidential campaigns of 1896 and 1900 he said little if anything
about the â€ścruel and unequal treatment of black Americans, even
when it was a vital matter for his audiencesâ€ť. While he publicly
condemned lynchings and quietly courted African Americans in the
North, he at the same time defended his Southern allies who
supported â€śsuffrage qualificationsâ€ť that were designed to favor
whites over African Americans. Perhaps his reasoning for this
â€śfence hoppingâ€ť could be credited to the fact that most of his
supporters came from densely white populated areas, who held
negative views about African Americans. Despite Bryanâ€™s many
criticisms, he is credited with turning around an entire political
party, something that does not happen often.
County, Oklahoma was named after him.Bryan Memorial Hospital (now
Medical Center) of Lincoln, Nebraska, andBryan College located in Dayton, Tennessee, are also named for
William Jennings Bryan.The William Jennings Bryan House in Nebraska was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in
1963.The Bryan Home Museum is a by-appointment only museum at his
birthplace in Salem, Illinois.Salem is also home to Bryan Park and
a large statue of Bryan.The full name of Baseball
Hall of Famer Billy Herman was
William Jennings Bryan Herman.
In 1986, the United States
Postal Service issued a $2 postage
stamp in his honor, as part of the Great Americans series.
- Cherny, Robert W. A Righteous Cause: The Life of William
Jennings Bryan (1994).
- Coletta; Paolo E. William Jennings Bryan 3 vols.
(1964), the most detailed biography.
- Glad, Paul W. The Trumpet Soundeth: William Jennings Bryan
and His Democracy 1896-1912 (1966).
- Hibben; Paxton. The Peerless Leader, William Jennings
- Kazin, Michael. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings
- Koenig, Louis W. Bryan: A Political Biography of William
Jennings Bryan (1971).
- Levine, Lawrence W. Defender of the Faith: William Jennings
Bryan, The Last Decade, 1915-1925 (1965).
- Werner; M. R. Bryan (1929).
- Keen, Sam "Faces of the Enemy" (1986).
- Bensel, Richard Franklin (2008) Passion and Preferences: William
Jennings Bryan and the 1896 Democratic National Convention,
Cambridge University Press.
- Bensel, Richard Franklin. Passion and Preferences: William
Jennings Bryan and the 1896 Democratic Convention (2008)
- Analysis of the historiography.
- Argues that fundamentalists thought they had won Scopes trial
but death of Bryan shook their confidence.
- Puts Scopes in larger religious context.
- On Bryan's place in Democratic Party history and ideology.
- Jeffrey P. Moran, The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with
- Bryan, Williams Jennings; Mary j Baidje (2003) "Memoirs of
William Jennings Bryan" Kessinger p. 22-26.
- Asked when his family "dropped the 'O'" from his surname, he
responded there never had been one. Bryan Memoirs of William
Jennings Bryan; Kessinger p. 22-26.
- Folsom, B.W. No More Free Markets Or Free Beer: The
Progressive Era in Nebraska, 1900-1924 (Lexington Books,
- William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S.
Presidents, Gramercy 1997
- The Populists and Silver republicans were virtually defunct in
1900 and 1908 and he ran only on the Democratic ticket those
- Coletta, (1964), vol.1, pg.40
- Glad (1964)
- John G. Geer and Thomas R. Rochon, "William Jennings Bryan on
the Yellow Brick Road," The Journal of American Culture
Volume 16 Issue 4, (Jun 2004) Pages 59 - 63
- Hibben, Peerless Leader, 220
- Coletta 1:272
- usaelectionatlas.org election 1908
- Coletta, William Jennings Bryan vol 2 p. 2
- Hibben, Peerless Leader, p. 356
- Coletta 3:116
- George, Paul S. "Brokers, Binders & Builders: Greater
Miami's Boom of the Mid-1920s." Florida Historical Quarterly, vol.
59, no. 4. 1981. pp. 440-463.
- Coletta, William Jennings Bryan 3:162, 177, 184;
- Historical documents
- Coletta, William Jennings Bryan vol 3 ch 8
- Coletta, William Jennings Bryan vol 3 p. 200
- Bryan was especially influenced by pp 22-31 of Kellogg's book,
which is online
- Bryan, Memoirs 552-53
- Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy:
Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (1991) p 68
- Coletta 3:200
- Bryan, In His Image (1922) full text online
- The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism
to Intelligent Design, expanded edition, Ronald L.
Numbers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and
London, England, 2006, p. 13 ISBN 0-674-02339-0
- "It shall be unlawful..." to teach "...any theory that denies
the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and
to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of
animals." Section 1 of House Bill No. 185
- Kazin p.289. In a speech that Bryan was working on when he died
there is one sentence that says "scientific breeding" is
impossible. The speech did not use the word "eugenics" and the term
does not appear in his writings. Bryan, Memoirs p.
- Bryan and Grandson Hunt, The New York Times, Nov.
- John Bryan Leavitt, grandson of William Jennings Bryan, was
born to Ruth Bryan and her first husband Newport,
Rhode Island, artist William Homer Leavitt. The couple
later divorced, and William Jennings Bryan later adopted his
grandson, who shortened his name to simply John Bryan, dropping
'Leavitt.' He became an actor.
- Keen (1986), p, 26
- Quotations of William Jennings Bryan
- Oklahoma Historical Society. "Origin of County Names in Oklahoma",
Chronicles of Oklahoma 2:1 (March 1924) 75-82 (retrieved
August 18, 2006).
catalog # 2195.