William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois. He was educated at Illinois College in Jacksonville and Union Law School in Chicago. Bryan practiced law in Jacksonville for several years, but in 1887 moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he hoped to launch a political career.
From Our Nation (Spooner, 1877)
William Jennings Bryan was elected to Congress twice, 1890 and 1892. His influence grew rapidly, due largely to his strong advocacy of free silver, opposition to high protective tariffs and oratorical skills. In 1894, Bryan worked to unite the Democrats and Populists in Nebraska, but later lost a bid for a Senate seat. Out of politics, Bryan became the editor of the Omaha World-Herald and traveled widely as a lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit.Popular perception notwithstanding, Bryan`s nomination at the Democratic convention in 1896 was not a spontaneous event fueled by his "cross of gold" speech. The gathering was electrified by his performance, but Bryan`s handlers had long been at work securing votes from the delegates. His advocacy of free silver later brought him the Populist Party`s nomination.During the campaign, Bryan became the first candidate to unabashedly seek voter support. He traveled thousands of miles by train and delivered hundreds of speeches, stopping even in the smallest of towns. His oratorical prowess earned him the nickname "boy orator of the Platte," but his detractors liked to point out that the Platte River was only six inches deep and a mile wide at the mouth.Bryan`s limited message was instrumental in his loss to William McKinley, an event that ushered in another era of Republican leadership. Under Bryan`s influence, the Democratic party underwent a dramatic change. The earlier Jacksonian legacy was one dedicated to limited government, but the party from 1896 onward promoted a more expansive role.In 1898, William Jennings Bryan volunteered to serve with a Nebraska regiment in the Spanish-American War. He would later become a vocal critic of that conflict and the wave of imperialism it unleashed.William Jennings Bryan was nominated by the Democrats for a second time in 1900. He insisted upon campaigning again on the silver issue, which had passed its prime and cost him the support of many eastern party members. Anti-imperialism emerged as the Democrats` leading cause, but the topic resonated poorly with the electorate.In 1901, Bryan founded the Commoner, a weekly newspaper, which he published for 12 years. He also maintained a busy public speaking schedule, which helped to ensure his popularity in Democratic circles despite his two losses.In 1908, William Jennings Bryan was nominated for a third time, but lost to Republican William Howard Taft.Recognizing that his presidential desires would never be fulfilled, Bryan helped instead to engineer the nomination of Woodrow Wilson in 1912. He was rewarded by an appointment to secretary of state. Bryan`s most notable contribution was the negotiation of arbitration treaties with 30 nations that provided for a "cooling off" period as a way to avoid war.Bryan was a staunch supporter of neutrality at the outbreak of World War I. He later resigned his office in protest over Wilson`s actions following the sinking of the Lusitania.William Jennings Bryan remained active in a variety of causes, including peace, women`s suffrage, prohibition, and Christian Fundamentalism. In 1925, he served as an associate counsel in the trial of John Scopes, a Tennessee instructor accused of teaching evolution in a public school. Bryan took the stand and underwent a withering cross-examination by Clarence Darrow. Bryan`s side won the case, but he became the subject of widespread ridicule. He died less than a week later.William Jennings Bryan was not a deep or original thinker, but a sincerely dedicated public servant. He was one of the most prominent figures of his day, but his political appeal was too limited to allow him to become a successful presidential candidate. Many of the goals he failed to achieve – women`s suffrage, a graduated federal income tax, prohibition, and the popular election of U.S. senators – would later be enacted into law.
Notes from the Original Manuscript
This manuscript has been reproduced exactly as it was written between 1910 and 1941. The style of writing may seem difficult to understand in places, but I decided to leave it in the interest of letting "Uncle Will's" personality live on. Any notes I have added to the text will be appear in italics. The "-Ed." symbol refers to the author, William H. Bryan --Karen Wunderlich Stezowski 1996
I. The Bryans and Their Names
II. Tracing William Bryan and Sarah Bringer from Ireland
III. Bibliography and Genealogical Comment
IV. Bibliography from Original Manuscript
V. Bryan Family Coat of Arms
VI. Genealogy of William Jennings Bryan
As researched by William Holmes Bryan in the 1930's.
I. The Bryans and Their Names
The name of BRYAN by some authority is said to have been derived from one Bryan, king of Munster and all Ireland in the year 927 A.D., while others claim that it was taken from the baptismal name BRIEN and originally used in Britany, and still others say that it was of Norman derivation. It is found in ancient records in the various forms of Brian, Brien, Briane, Bryene, Bryon, Briand, Briant, Bryant, Bryen, and Bryan, of which Bryant is said to have been adopted at a comparatively recent date by one branch of the family in England and the form Bryan became generally accepted by a separate line.
Families of this name were to be found at early dates in all parts of England and Ireland and were, for the most part, of the landed gentry and nobility of Great Britain.
Among the earliest records of the name in England were those of Wyde Bryan of Devenshire in 1273, Alieia and Alcelot Brien or Bryan of Cambridgeshire about the same time, Thomas and Alan filius (son of) Brian of Yorkshire during the same period, William Brian of Seversetshire in 1327, and Sir Guy Bryan of Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1350, of whom the last died in 1390, leaving at least three sons, Sir Guy, Philip, and William, as well as possibly others.
In the fifteenth century one William Bryan was living in the county of Lincoln and he is said to have been the father of Thomas who married a Miss Cenny and had issue by her of Thomas and John, of whom the first married Margaret Reed and was the father by her of William, Robert, and Alice, of whom the first had issue by is wife Themasin Fineham of Robert, Themasin, and Anne, of whom the first married Elenor Bendish and had issue by her of Thomas, William, John, Andrew, Anne, Elenor, Dorothy, and Richard, of whom the first had issue by his wife Sarah Norton of Robert, John, William, and Martha of whom the first was married in the early seventeenth century to Martha Camock and probably had issue by her.
It is not definitely known from which of the many illustrious lines of the family in England the first emigrants of the name to America were descended, but it is generally believed that all of the Bryans were of common ancestry at a remote period.
Among the first of the name to come to America were numerous Virginia emigrants, whose records are most incomplete. Among those were Robert of New Norfolk County in 1637, Nicholas or Nick of Isle of Wight County in 1637, Edward of James City County in 1646, Thomas of James City County in 1648, Teague or Tiege in 1649, Henry in 1650, Richard in 1652, and Jenathan and Thomas of York County in 1653.
One of the first emigrants of the name to New England was John Bryan of Taunton, Mass., before 1637 who died the following jyar and probably left only one son named John.
About 1639 one Alexander Bryan, who is said to have been the son of one Thomas Bryan of Buckinghamshire, England, emigrated to America and settled in Milford, Conn. By his wife Anna Baldwin he is believed to have been the father of Richard, Susanna, and Jeanna. The son, Richard, is believed to have married Mary Wilmot, and to have been the father by her of Alexander, Mary, Hannah, and Sarah. By his second wife, Elizabeth (nee Powell) Hellingworth, he had further issue of Elizabeth and Joseph, and possibly others as well.
One Thaddeus Bryan is said to have been living at Lynn, Mass., in 1675, but no further records have been found concerning him or his immediate family, and descendants if any.
About 1699 one Joseph Bryan is said to have come from England, possibly from Herefordshire, to South Carolina. By his wife Janet Cochran, he was the father of Hugh, Hannah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Jonathan. The first son Hugh was the father of Joseph, Nancy, and Mary, and the youngest son Jonathan is said to have been the father of Hugh, Honatha, John (died young), Joseph, Mary, Josiah, William, John, James, Elizabeth, Hannah, Ann, and Sarah. (Family names of their wives not given.)
One Morgan Bryan who is said to have come from Ireland, and to have been the son of William and Sarah (nee Bringer) Bryan, made his home in Chester County, Penn. before 1719. He was married in that year to Martha Strode. In 1730, he is said to have moved to Winchester, Virginia, where he died in 1733, leaving eleven children-Joseph, Samuel, James, Morgan, John, Elenor, Mary, William, Thomas, Sarah, and Rebecca. (One of these sons or his son may be the father of great grandfather James Bryan of this history--Ed.)
The descendants of these and possibly other branches of the family in America have spread to practically every state of the Union and have aided as such in the growth of the country as their ancestors aided in the founding of the nation. They have been noted for their energy, industry, integrity, piety, perseverance, fortitude, patience, loyalty, and courage.
Among these of the Bryans who fought in the War of the Revolution were lieutenant Andrew Bryan of Maryland, Lieutenant James Bryan of Georgia, and various others from the New England Colonies.
Thomas, William, Guy, Robert, Richard, Alexander, John, Samuel, Joseph, James, and Hugh are some of the Christian names most highly favored by the family for its male members.
A few of the members of the family who have distinguished themselves in America in more recent times are: Charles Page Bryan of Illinois, diplomat, 1856-1925 William Jennings Bryan of Illinois, political leader, 1860-1925 and Elmer Burritt Bryan of Ohio, noted educator an college president, born in 1865. (These notes were written sometime between 1932 and 1941.)
The above report of the Bryans and their name was taken from the document from the Media Research Bureau of Washington, D.C., of 1110 F. Street, of which the above is a copy and included in this history of the James Bryan branch of the family. The Media Research Bureau furnish only the names of families of Bryan who are the first born of the males and even these have in some cased have no definite records. The safest way is probably best stated as to time and place when one is associating names and families for genealogical connections. James Bryan, Sr., may have been the direct descendant of any one of the male members of the recorded members of the Bryans herein mentioned and not of the first born. So time and place and accounting or human nature to cling together or to remain near each other in the unsettled country about them is a rational way to associate one member of a family with another. Where one family of the Bryan name wanders away from a family of the same name it may be due to existing friendly relations thru marriage or otherwise or yielding to the thought of "greener pastures" elsewhere.-Ed.
II. Tracing William Bryan and Sarah Bringer from Ireland
One William Bryan and wife Sarah (nee Bringer) Bryan came from Ireland to America and settled in Chester County, Penn. shortly before 1700, bringing his family with him. One of his sons was named Morgan who was born about 1695 or a year or two earlier, no doubt in Ireland before his father William came to America. (Chester Co. Pa., is just south of Philadelphia.--Ed.)
It is not known how many brothers and sisters young Morgan had at that time or how many more were born to his family after arriving here.
It is said that young Morgan Bryan met and married one Martha Strode in the year 1719. In the year 1730 he and his wife and family moved to Winchester, Virginia, where he died in 1763, age about 68 or 70 years, leaving a large family, namely: Joseph, Samuel, James, Morgan, John, Elener, Mary, William, Thomas, Sarah, and Rebecca.
It is not known which one of these sons is the direct ancestor o James Bryan, Sr., the ancestor of the Bryan family in this history, but evidently one o them was. Winchester, Va., is but a short distance from the Maryland line and not far from Cumberland, Md., the district in which James Bryan, Sr. and several of his brothers resided with their families, as this history states on another page. Less than a week's travel in that day would have brought a family from Winchester to Cumberland. Another week's travel (a few hours, now.--Ed.), would have brought a traveler from Cumberland to Uniontown, Pa., where a large settlement existed and in the region where coal was being mined and blast furnaces were running, the demand for workmen being great. In this district James Bryan, Sr., lived after migrating from the Cumberland district.
We are assuming that one of Morgan Bryan's sons was the father of James Bryan, Sr. This son we mention should have been born, say, about 1730 and died about 1810, age 80 years, allowing for a fair span of life.
This son of Morgan Bryan, whose Christian name is not known, married into one of several well known families of that period and became the father by his wife of several sons and daughters, of which one son was James, born about 1770 and died about 1848, age 76 years. It is known that he was the father by his wife (name unknown) of six or more children, - Nathaniel, James, Sarah, Thomas, Rachel, Samuel, and probably others.
III. Bibliography and Genealogical Comment
Facts herein relating to the members of the James Bryan, Sr., branch of the family have been obtained by William Holmes Bryan thru his personal research and collaboration with various members of the Bryan family. William's father, James Hamilton Bryan, some thirty or more years of age, gave him all the information he could then remember concerning the children of James Bryan, Sr., his grandfather, and the same was written in a book for future use.
Additional information was obtained from members of the second, third and fourth generations, and even the fifth, some of which was handed down from one generation to the other, Persons not of the Bryan family were also consulted.
To the great-grandchildren of James Bryan Sr., or grandchildren of James Bryan II, father of John, Daniel, and James, a questionnaire was sent to be filled in and returned. In some cases the surviving member of their family answered the questions and returned the document. Some questionnaires were not returned, some few were returned lacking in information, and the writer had to make many personal visits to the persons in question or write them again for more complete acts. Obscured information had to be cleared up by associations of facts or they had to be dealt with for what they were worth.
Gravestones and family Bible records wee sources of information concerning ages and deaths and places of burial, and pointed also to places of residence.
Associating the James Bryan branch of the family with that of Morgan Bryan, previously mentioned in the report of the Media Research Bureau of Washington, D.C., which is an introduction to part of this history, should be read without conclusions. The reader will note that only one male child, usually the first born, is carried down from one generation to the next, and other sons are not mentioned. Also surnames of the male members of the first Bryan are handed down from on generation to another, and mean very little to members of the family of the present day, unless either associated facts furnish acceptable data. The writer is inclined to place some value in the fact that it is quite possible for Morgan Bryan or one of his brothers, living in or near Winchester, Va., or near Cumberland, Maryland, to have been the grandfather of great-grandfather Bryan, the first. And also the line of descent of William J. Bryan's family, and many other families of the same name.
Members of the Bryan family can do any amount of research work they wish and add much more to this history. Daniel Boone married a Bryan, Washington employed a Bryan to lay a road, a Bryan was Judge of the U.S. District Court at Philadelphia, in 1776. A Bryan is president of Washington and Lee University, so the field has not as yet been scratched as to Who's Who of the Bryan Family and its branches. Respectfully submitted. WHB.
The above data have been compiled chiefly from the following sources:
Bardaley--"English and Welsh Surnames", 1901
"Collectiana Tepegraphica et Genealogica", 1836
Marshall--"The Genealogist", vol. VI, 1882
Greer--"Early Virginia Immigrants", 1912
Savage--"Genealogical Dictionary of New England", 1861
Baldwin--"Baldwin's Genealogy", 1889 and "The Descendants of Alexander Bryan", 1889
Bulloch--"Bellinger, DeVeaux, and other Families or families", 1895
Hayward--"The Genealogy of the Pendarvis-Beden Family", 1905
J.D. Bryan--"The Boone-Bryan History", 1813
Heitman--"Officers of the Continental Army", 1914
"The Americana", 1932
Bryan Family Coat of Arms
One of the most ancient and frequently recurrent of the numerous coats-of-arms of the British family of Bryan is described as follows:
ARMS - "Or, three piles conjoined in base azure."
CREST - "On a chapeau gules turned up ermine, a hunting horn sable garnished or."
(Arms taken from Burke's "General Armory," 1884.)
Monetary standards and the United States Edit
In January 1791, at the request of Congress, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton issued a report on the currency. At the time, there was no mint in the United States foreign coins were used. Hamilton proposed a monetary system based on bimetallism, in which the new currency would be equal to a given amount of gold, or a larger amount of silver at the time a given weight of gold was worth about 15 times as much as the same amount of silver. Although Hamilton understood that adjustment might be needed from time to time as precious metal prices fluctuated, he believed that if the nation's unit of value were defined only by one of the two precious metals used for coins, the other would descend to the status of mere merchandise, unusable as a store of value. He also proposed the establishment of a mint, at which citizens could present gold or silver, and receive it back, struck into money.  On April 2, 1792, Congress passed the Mint Act of 1792. This legislation defined a unit of value for the new nation, to be known as a dollar. The new unit of currency was defined to be equal to 24.75 grains (1.604 g) of gold, or alternatively, 371.25 grains (24.057 g) of silver, establishing a ratio of value between gold and silver of 15:1. The legislation also established the Mint of the United States. 
In the early 19th century, the economic disruption caused by the Napoleonic Wars caused United States gold coins to be worth more as bullion than as money, and they vanished from circulation. Governmental response to this shortage was hampered by the fact that officials did not clearly understand what had happened.  In 1830, Treasury Secretary Samuel D. Ingham proposed adjusting the ratio between gold and silver in US currency to 15.8:1, which had for some time been the ratio in Europe.  It was not until 1834 that Congress acted, changing the gold/silver ratio to 16.002:1. This was close enough to the market value to make it uneconomic to export either US gold or silver coins.  When silver prices rose relative to gold as a reaction to the California Gold Rush, silver coinage was worth more than face value, and rapidly flowed overseas for melting. Despite vocal opposition led by Tennessee Representative (and future president) Andrew Johnson, the precious metal content of smaller silver coins was reduced in 1853.  Silver was now undervalued at the Mint accordingly little was presented for striking into money. 
The Coinage Act of 1873 eliminated the standard silver dollar. It also repealed the statutory provisions allowing silver bullion to be presented to the Mint and returned in the form of circulating money. In passing the Coinage Act, Congress eliminated bimetallism.  During the economic chaos of the Panic of 1873, the price of silver dropped significantly, but the Mint would accept none for striking into legal tender. Silver producers complained, and many Americans came to believe that only through bimetallism could the nation achieve and maintain prosperity. They called for the return to pre-1873 laws, which would require the Mint to take all the silver offered it and return it, struck into silver dollars.  This would inflate the money supply, and, adherents argued, increase the nation's prosperity. Critics contended that the inflation which would follow the introduction of such a policy would harm workers, whose wages would not rise as fast as prices would, and the operation of Gresham's law would drive gold from circulation, effectively placing the United States on a silver standard. 
Early attempts toward free silver Edit
To advocates of what became known as free silver, the 1873 act became known as the "Crime of '73". Pro-silver forces, with congressional leaders such as Missouri Representative Richard P. Bland, sought the passage of bills to allow depositors of silver bullion to receive it back in the form of coin. Such bills, sponsored by Bland, passed the House of Representatives in 1876 and 1877, but both times failed in the Senate. A third attempt in early 1878 again passed the House, and eventually both houses after being amended in the Senate. The bill, as modified by amendments sponsored by Iowa Senator William B. Allison, did not reverse the 1873 provisions, but required the Treasury to purchase a minimum of $2 million of silver bullion per month the profit, or seignorage from monetizing the silver was to be used to purchase more silver bullion. The silver would be struck into dollar coins, to be circulated or else stored and used as backing for silver certificates. The Bland–Allison Act was vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, but was enacted by Congress over his veto on February 28, 1878. 
Implementation of the Bland–Allison Act did not end calls for free silver. The 1880s saw a steep decline in the prices of grain and other agricultural commodities. Silver advocates argued that this dropoff, which caused the price of grain to fall below its cost of production, was caused by the failure of the government to adequately increase the money supply, which had remained steady on a per capita basis. Advocates of the gold standard attributed the decline to advances in production and transportation. The late 19th century saw divergent views in economics as the laissez-faire orthodoxy was questioned by younger economists, and both sides found ample support for their views from theorists. 
In 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act greatly increased government purchases of silver. The government pledged to stand behind the silver dollars and treasury notes issued under the act by redeeming them in gold. Pursuant to this promise, government gold reserves dwindled over the following three years.  Although the economic Panic of 1893 had a number of causes, President Grover Cleveland believed the inflation caused by Sherman's act to be a major factor, and called a special session of Congress to repeal it. Congress did so, but the debates showed bitter divides in both major parties between silver and gold factions. Cleveland tried to replenish the Treasury through issuance of bonds which could only be purchased with gold, with little effect but to increase the public debt, as the gold continued to be withdrawn in redemption for paper and silver currency. Many in the public saw the bonds as benefiting bankers, not the nation. The bankers did not want loans repaid in an inflated currency—the gold standard was deflationary, and as creditors, they preferred to be paid in such a currency, whereas debtors preferred to repay in inflated currency. 
The effects of the depression which began in 1893, and which continued through 1896, ruined many Americans. Contemporary estimates were an unemployment rate as high as 25%. The task of relieving the jobless fell to churches and other charities, as well as to labor unions.  Farmers went bankrupt their farms were sold to pay their debts. Some of the impoverished died of disease or starvation others killed themselves. 
Bryan seeks the nomination Edit
Among those who spoke against the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan. Known as an orator even then, Bryan had not always favored free silver out of conviction, stating in 1892 that he was for it because the people of Nebraska were for it.  By 1893, his views on silver had evolved, and on the floor of the House of Representatives, he delivered a riveting three-hour address against repeal of the Silver Purchase Act.  In his conclusion, Bryan reached back in history:
When a crisis like the present arose and the national bank of his day sought to control the politics of the nation, God raised up an Andrew Jackson, who had the courage to grapple with that great enemy, and by overthrowing it, he made himself the idol of the people and reinstated the Democratic party in public confidence. What will the decision be today? The Democratic party has won the greatest success in its history. Standing upon this victory-crowned summit, will it turn its face to the rising or the setting sun? Will it choose blessings or cursings—life or death—which? Which? 
Despite the repeal of the act, economic conditions failed to improve. The year 1894 saw considerable labor unrest. President Cleveland sent federal troops to Illinois to end the Pullman strike—workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company, which made railroad cars, had struck after wages were cut. Railway employees had refused to handle Pullman cars in sympathy with the strikers this action threatened to paralyze the nation's rail lines. The President's move was opposed by the Democratic Governor of Illinois, John Altgeld. Angered by Cleveland's actions in the labor dispute, and by his uncompromising stand against silver, Altgeld began to organize Democrats against Cleveland's renomination in 1896. Although Altgeld and his adherents urged voters to distinguish between Cleveland and his party, the Democrats lost 113 seats in the House in the 1894 midterm elections, the greatest loss by a majority party in congressional history. The Republicans gained control of the House, as well as the Senate, which until 1913 was elected by the state legislatures rather than by the popular vote.  Among those defeated for Senate was Bryan in Nebraska. 
Bryan had long planned to run for president. Although he would only be 36 years old in 1896—one year above the constitutional minimum—he believed the silver question could carry him not only to the nomination, but to the presidency.  He traveled widely, speaking to audiences across the nation. His speeches impressed many even some of his opponents later conceded that Bryan was the most compelling speaker they had ever heard. Bryan's speeches evolved over time in December 1894, in a speech in Congress, he first used a phrase from which would come the conclusion to his most famous address: as originally stated, it was "I will not help to crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."  
A myth has arisen that Bryan was an unknown prior to 1896. This was not the case Bryan was well known as an orator on the tariff and silver questions. Albert Shaw, editor of The Review of Reviews, stated that after Bryan's nomination, many easterners professed not to have heard of him but: "If, indeed, they had not heard of Mr. Bryan before, they had failed to follow closely the course of American politics in the past eight years. As a Democratic member of the Ways and Means Committee through two Congresses, Mr. Bryan was by all odds the ablest and strongest orator on the Democratic side of the House. His subsequent canvass [campaign] for the United States senatorship in Nebraska was noteworthy and conspicuous on many accounts." 
In the aftermath of the 1894 election, the silver forces, led by Altgeld and others, began an attempt to take over the machinery of the Democratic Party. Historian Stanley Jones, in his study of the 1896 election, suggests that western Democrats would have opposed Cleveland even if the party had held its congressional majority in 1894 with the disastrous defeat, they believed the party would be wiped out in the West if it did not support silver.  Bryan biographer Paulo E. Coletta wrote, "during this year [July 1894–June 1895] of calamities, disintegration and revolution, each crisis aided Bryan because it caused division within his party and permitted him to contest for its mastery as it slipped from Cleveland's fingers." 
In early 1896, with the economy still poor, there was widespread discontent with the two existing major political parties. Some people, for the most part Democrats, joined the far-left Populist Party. Many Republicans in the western states, dismayed by the strong allegiance of eastern Republicans to the gold standard, considered forming their own party. When the Republicans in June 1896 nominated former Ohio Governor William McKinley for president and passed at his request a platform strongly supporting "sound money" (the gold standard unless modified by international agreement), a number of "Silver Republicans" walked out of the convention.  The leader of those who left was Colorado Senator Henry M. Teller he was immediately spoken of as a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination. 
Bryan believed that he could, if nominated, unite the disaffected behind a strong silver campaign.  However, part of his strategy was to remain inconspicuous until the last possible moment at the convention. He sent letters to national convention delegates, urging them to support silver, and enclosing copies of his photograph, writings, and speeches. Jones points out that though Bryan's speaking engagements were not deemed political by the standards of 1896, by modern measurements he was far more active in campaigning for the nomination than most of the better-known candidates. 
Historian James A. Barnes, in his historical journal article pointing out myths that have arisen about Bryan's candidacy and campaign, stated that Bryan's efforts bore fruit even before the convention:
By April, 1896, many individuals were quietly working for Bryan's nomination. Circulars were being distributed in Illinois, and admirers in Nebraska, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and other states were urging his selection among their friends. It was not in any concerted or open action, however, that Bryan had his strength it was in the friendly predisposition of the mass of the delegates that he had hopes. 
Selection of delegates Edit
The 1896 Democratic National Convention followed events unique in post-Civil War American history. One after another, state conventions to elect delegates to the national convention in Chicago repudiated an incumbent elected president of their party, who had not declared whether he would be a candidate for renomination. According to Barnes:
The people of the South and the West had for years been convinced of the enormity of the "crime of 1873", and they had long since come to regard silver as the sword that would cut the Gordian knot of privilege. Consciousness of grievances of years and not of months was reflected in the decisive action of the state Democratic conventions in the spring and early summer of 1896. 
Many state conventions elected delegates pledged to support bimetallism in the party platform. Gold Democrats were successful in a few states in the Northeast, but had little luck elsewhere. Speakers in some states cursed Cleveland the South Carolina convention denounced him. Cleveland issued a statement urging Democratic voters to support gold—the next convention to be held, in Illinois, unanimously supported silver the keynote speaker prayed for divine forgiveness for Cleveland's 1892 nomination. Gold and silver factions in some states, such as Bryan's Nebraska, sent rival delegations to the convention. 
The 1896 Democratic convention opened at the Chicago Coliseum on July 7, 1896. Much activity took place in advance of the formal opening as the silver and (vastly outnumbered) gold forces prepared their strategies.  Silver forces were supported by the Democratic National Bimetallic Committee, the umbrella group formed in 1895 to support silver Democrats in their insurgency against Cleveland. Gold Democrats looked to the President for leadership, but Cleveland, trusting few in his party, did not involve himself further in the gold efforts, but spent the week of the convention fishing off the New Jersey coast. 
The Bimetallic Committee carefully planned to take control of every aspect of the convention, eliminating any threat that the minority gold faction could take power. It made no secret of these preparations. This takeover was considered far more important than was the choice of presidential candidate, and the committee decided to take no position on who should win the race for the nomination, reasoning that the victor, no matter who he was, would be a silver man.  Well aware of the overwhelming forces against them, many gold delegates were inclined to concede the platform battle. 
Bryan arrived quietly and took rooms at a modest hotel the Nebraskan later calculated that he spent less than $100 while in Chicago.  He arrived convinced that he would win the nomination. He had already begun work on a speech.  On the evening of July 5, Bryan was visited by a delegation of Coloradans, seeking his support for Senator Teller. They went away apologetically, not having known Bryan sought the nomination. 
Candidates for the nomination Edit
Despite the desire of silver delegates to nominate a candidate who shared their beliefs, and although several states instructed their delegates to vote for a specific candidate, there was no overwhelming favorite for the nomination going into the convention. With a two-thirds vote of the delegates needed to nominate, almost every silver delegate would have to vote for the same candidate to assure success, though any organized support from gold delegates would greatly damage a silver candidate's chances. 
The only gold man who put together any sort of campaign for the Democratic nomination was Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle, but he withdrew in April, stating that he was more concerned about the platform of the party than who would lead it. However, as late as June, the gold forces, which still controlled the Democratic National Committee (DNC), continued to believe that the nominee could be pro-gold. Cleveland friend and former Postmaster General Donald M. Dickinson wrote to the President in June 1896 hoping that the delegates would recognize "common sense" and be frightened at the thought of nominating a radical. 
One of the leaders of the silver movement was Illinois Governor Altgeld a native of Germany, he was constitutionally barred from the presidency by his foreign birth.  Going into the convention, the two leading candidates for the nomination were former Congressman Bland, who had originated the Bland-Allison Act, and former Iowa Governor Horace Boies, with Bland considered the frontrunner. These were the only two candidates to put together organizations to try to secure delegate votes, though both efforts were cash-starved. Both men had electoral problems: Bland at age 61 was seen by some as a man whose time had passed Boies was a former Republican who had once decried bimetallism. There were a large number of potential candidates seen as having less support these included Vice President Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Senator Joseph C. Blackburn of Kentucky, Senator Teller, and Bryan. 
Silver advocates take control Edit
Although Bryan had decided on a strategy to gain the nomination—to give a speech which would make him the logical candidate in the eyes of delegates—he faced obstacles along the way. For one thing, he began the 1896 convention without any official status—the Democratic National Committee, which made the initial determination of which delegations would be seated, had chosen the pro-gold Nebraskans to represent their state.  Bryan had been waiting outside the committee room when his rivals were seated by a 27–23 vote contemporary accounts state he was "somewhat surprised" at the result.  The DNC's action could be reversed, but not until the convention's credentials committee reported.  However, Barnes deemed the actions by the committee immaterial to the outcome due to the silver strength in the convention:
Anyone who doubts the power the silverites were ready to unleash in a disciplined and irresistible attack needs only to read the results of the election of temporary chairman. The gold men, though they possessed the machinery of the party, had neither the power nor the strength to challenge their opponents. They could only beg them to spare the party the humiliation of broken traditions and the overthrowing of established control. Nevertheless, Senator John W. Daniel of Virginia was by an overwhelming vote elected temporary chairman, and a Committee on Credentials was appointed that seated Bryan and his contesting Nebraska delegation. 
From the money plank of the Democratic platform 
Good luck favored Bryan—he was considered for various convention roles by the silverites, but each time was not selected. The temporary chairmanship, for example, would have permitted him to deliver the keynote address. However, Bryan, lacking a seat at the start of the convention, could not be elected temporary chairman. Bryan considered this no loss at all the focus of the convention was on the party platform and the debate which would precede its adoption. The platform would symbolize the repudiation of Cleveland and his policies after the insurgents' long struggle, and Bryan was determined to close the debate on the platform. Bryan, once seated, was Nebraska's representative to the Committee on Resolutions (generally called the "platform committee"), which allocated 80 minutes to each side in the debate and selected Bryan as one of the speakers. South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman was to be the other pro-silver speaker, and originally wished to close the debate. However, the senator wanted 50 minutes to speak, too long for a closing address, and at Bryan's request agreed to open the debate instead. Accordingly, Bryan became the final speaker on the platform.  
Delegates, as they waited for the committees to complete their work, spent much of the first two days listening to various orators. Of these, only Senator Blackburn, a silver supporter, sparked much reaction, and that only momentary. Delegates called for better-known speakers, such as Altgeld or Bryan, but were granted neither then the Illinois governor declined, and the Nebraskan, once seated, spent much of his time away from the convention floor at the platform committee meeting at the Palmer House. 
The debate on the platform opened at the start of the third day of the convention, July 9, 1896. The session was supposed to begin at 10:00 a.m., but as delegates, slowed by the long commute from the hotels to the Coliseum and fatigue from the first two days, did not arrive on time, proceedings did not begin until 10:45. Nevertheless, large crowds gathered outside the public entrances the galleries were quickly packed. Once the convention came to order, Arkansas Senator James K. Jones, chair of the Committee on Resolutions, read the proposed platform to cheers by many delegates the reading of the pro-gold minority report attracted less applause. 
"Pitchfork Ben" Tillman lived up to his nickname with an incendiary address which began with a reference to his home state's role in beginning the Civil War.  Although Tillman endorsed silver, his address was so laced with sectionalism that most silver delegates remained silent for fear of being seen as supporting him.  Tillman's speech, scheduled to be the only one in support of silver except Bryan's, was so badly received that Senator Jones, who had not planned to speak, gave a brief address asserting that silver was a national issue. 
Senator David B. Hill of New York, a gold supporter, was next. As Hill moved to the podium, a reporter friend passed Bryan a note urging him to make a patriotic speech without hint of sectionalism Bryan responded, "You will not be disappointed."  Hill gave a calm speech defending the gold position, and swayed few delegates.  He was followed by two other gold men, Senator William Vilas of Wisconsin and former Massachusetts Governor William E. Russell. Vilas gave a lengthy defense of the Cleveland administration's policies, so long that Russell, fearing that Vilas' speech would cut into his time, asked that the time given to the gold proponents be extended by ten minutes. Bryan consented, on condition that his own time was extended by the same amount this was agreed to. "And I needed it for the speech I was to make." Bryan later wrote, "This was another unexpected bit of good fortune. I had never had such an opportunity before in my life and never expect to have again." 
Vilas quickly lost his audience, which did not want to hear Cleveland defended. Russell's address was inaudible to most of the Coliseum he was ill and died just over a week later. As the gold men spoke, Bryan ate a sandwich to settle his stomach he was often nervous before major speeches. Another reporter approached him and asked him who he thought would win the nomination. "Strictly confidential, not to be quoted for publication: I will be." 
Bryan addresses the convention Edit
As Russell concluded, to strong applause from gold delegates,  there was a buzz of anticipation as Bryan ascended to the podium. There was loud cheering as Bryan stood there, waiting for his audience to calm.  Bryan's lecture tours had left him a well-known spokesman for silver. As yet, no one at the convention had effectively spoken for that cause, which was paramount to the delegates.  According to political scientist Richard F. Bensel in his study of the 1896 Democratic convention, "Although the silver men knew they would win this fight, they nonetheless needed someone to tell them—and the gold men—why they must enshrine silver at the heart of the platform."  Bensel noted, "The pump was more than primed, it was ready to explode."  Bryan would say little that he had not said before—the text is similar to that of a speech he had given the previous week at Crete, Nebraska  —but he would give the convention its voice. 
I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities but this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity. 
Bryan's opening claimed no personal prestige for himself—but nevertheless placed him as the spokesman for silver.  According to Bensel, the self-deprecation helped disarm the delegates. As Bryan was not deemed a major contender for the nomination, even delegates committed to a candidate could cheer him without seeming to betray their allegiance.  Bryan then recounted the history of the silver movement the audience, which had loudly demonstrated its approval of his opening statements, quieted.  Throughout the speech, Bryan had the delegates in the palm of his hand they cheered on cue. The Nebraskan later described the audience as like a trained choir.  As he concluded his historical recitation, he reminded the silver delegates that they had come to crown their victory, "not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgment already rendered by the plain people of this country". 
Bryan continued with language evoking the Civil War, telling his audience that "in this contest brother has been arrayed against brother, father against son."  By then, as he spoke in a sincere tone, his voice sounded clearly and loudly through the hall.  He denied, however that the contest was personal he bore no ill-will towards those who supported the gold standard. However, he stated, facing towards the gold delegates, "when you come before us and tell us that we are about to disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your course."  The gold men, during the address, paid close attention and showed their appreciation for Bryan's oratory.  Bryan then defended the right of silver supporters to make their argument against opposition from gold men, who were associated with financial interests, especially in the East. Although his statements nominally responded to a point made by Russell, Bryan had thought of the argument the previous evening, and had not used it in earlier speeches. He always regarded it as the best point he made during the speech, and only the ending caused more reaction from his listeners:
We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.  
Through this passage, Bryan maintained the contrast between the common man and the city-dwelling elite. It was clear to listeners as he worked his way through the comparisons that he would refer to the farmer, and when he did, the hall exploded with sound. His sympathetic comparison contrasted the hardworking farmer with the city businessman, whom Bryan cast as a gambler. The galleries were filled with white as spectators waved handkerchiefs, and it was several minutes before he could continue.  The police in the convention hall, not sharing the enthusiasm for silver, were described by the press (some of whose members were caught up in the frenzy) as standing as if they thought the audience was about to turn on them.  When Bryan resumed, his comparison of miner with miser again electrified the audience the uproar prevented him from continuing for several minutes. One farmer in the gallery had been about to leave rather than listen to Bryan, whom he deemed a Populist he had been persuaded to stay. At Bryan's words, he threw his hat into the air, slapped the empty seat in front of him with his coat, and shouted, "My God! My God! My God!"   
Bryan, having established the right of silver supporters to petition, explained why that petition was not to be denied:
It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest we are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer we entreat no more we petition no more. We defy them! 
With this call to action, Bryan abandoned any hint at compromise, and adopted the techniques of the radical, polarizing orator, finding no common ground between silver and gold forces. He then defended the remainder of the platform, though only speaking in general terms. He mocked McKinley, said by some to resemble Napoleon, noting that he was nominated on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  The lengthy passage as he discussed the platform and the Republicans helped calm the audience, ensuring he would be heard as he reached his peroration. But Bryan first wished to tie the silver question to a greater cause:  
Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight upon the side of "the idle holders of idle capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses"? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party. 
He faced in the direction of the gold-dominated state delegations:
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them. 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. 
This statement attracted great cheering, and Bryan turned to rhetorically demolish the compromise position on bimetallism—that it should only be accomplished through international agreement:
It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost.  
Now, Bryan was ready to conclude the speech, and according to his biographer, Michael Kazin, step "into the headlines of American history". 
Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." 
As Bryan spoke his final sentence, recalling the Crucifixion of Jesus, he placed his hands to his temples, fingers extended with the final words, he extended his arms to his sides straight out to his body and held that pose for about five seconds as if offering himself as sacrifice for the cause, as the audience watched in dead silence. He then lowered them, descended from the podium, and began to head back to his seat as the stillness held. 
Convention events Edit
Bryan later described the silence as "really painful" and momentarily thought he had failed.  As he moved towards his seat, the Coliseum burst into pandemonium. Delegates threw hats, coats, and handkerchiefs into the air.  Others took up the standards with the state names on them with each delegation, and planted them by Nebraska's.  Two alert police officers had joined Bryan as he left the podium, anticipating the crush. The policemen were swept away by the flood of delegates, who raised Bryan to their shoulders and carried him around the floor. The Washington Post newspaper recorded, "bedlam broke loose, delirium reigned supreme." 
It took about 25 minutes to restore order, and according to Bensel, "somewhere in the mass demonstration that was convulsing the convention hall, the transfer of sentiment from silver as a policy to Bryan as a presidential candidate took place".  Newspaper accounts of the convention leave little doubt but that, had a vote been taken at that moment (as many were shouting to do), Bryan would have been nominated.  Bryan was urged by Senator Jones to allow it, but refused, stating that if his boom would not last overnight, it would never last until November.  He soon retired from the convention, returning to his hotel to await the outcome.  The convention passed the platform in Bryan's absence and recessed. 
The balloting began the following morning, July 10, with a two-thirds vote necessary to nominate. Bryan, who remained at his hotel, sent word to the Nebraska delegation to make no deals on his behalf. He stood second out of fourteen candidates in the first ballot, behind Bland.   On the second ballot, Bryan still stood second, but had gained as other candidates had fallen away. The third ballot saw Bland still in the lead, but Bryan took the lead on the fourth ballot. According to Jones, it was clear that Bland could not win, and that Bryan could not be stopped. On the fifth ballot, the Illinois delegation, led by Governor Altgeld, switched its votes from Bland to Bryan. Other delegations, seeing that Bryan would be nominated, also switched, securing the victory. Nevertheless, he won the nomination without the votes of the gold delegates, most of whom either left the convention or refused to vote. 
Press reaction Edit
Most contemporary press accounts attributed Bryan's nomination to his eloquence, though in the case of Republican and other gold-favoring newspapers, they considered it his demagoguery.  The pro-silver Cleveland Plain Dealer called Bryan's speech "an eloquent, stirring, and manly appeal".  The Chicago Tribune reported that Bryan had lit the spark "which touched off the trail of gun-powder".  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined that with the speech, Bryan "just about immortalized himself". 
According to the New York World, "Lunacy having dictated the platform, it was perhaps natural that hysteria should evolve the candidate."  The New York Times disparaged Bryan as "the gifted blatherskite from Nebraska".  The only paper to predict, after Bryan gave his speech, that he would not be nominated was The Wall Street Journal, which stated, "Bryan has had his day". The Akron Journal and Republican, no friend to Bryan, opined that "never probably has a national convention been swayed or influenced by a single speech as was the national Democratic convention". 
The Pullman Company offered Bryan a private car for his trip home he declined, not wishing to accept corporate favors. As he traveled by rail to Lincoln, he saw farmers and others standing by the tracks, hoping for a glimpse of the new Democratic nominee.  He received many letters from supporters, expressing their faith in him in stark terms. One Indiana voter wrote, "God has sent you amongst our people to save the poor from starvation, and we no [sic] you will save us."  A farmer in Iowa, in a letter to Bryan, stated, "You are the first big man that i [sic] ever wrote to." 
When McKinley heard that Bryan was likely to be the nominee, he called the report "rot" and hung up the phone.  The Republican nominee was slow to realize the surge of support for Bryan after the nomination, stating his view that the silver sentiment would be gone in a month. When McKinley and his advisers, such as industrialist and future senator Mark Hanna, realized that the views were more than transitory, they began intensive fundraising from corporations and the wealthy. The money went for speakers, pamphlets, and other means of conveying their "sound money" campaign to the voter. With far less money than McKinley, Bryan embarked on a nationwide campaign tour by train on a then-unprecedented scale. McKinley on the other hand, opted for a front porch campaign. Both men spoke to hundreds of thousands of people from their chosen venues. 
Bryan's nomination divided the party. The dissidents nominated their own ticket the split in the vote would contribute to Bryan's defeat.  However, Bryan did gain the support of the Populists, as well as a convention of Silver Republicans.  Bryan spoke on silver throughout the campaign he rarely addressed other issues.  Bryan won the South and most of the West, but McKinley's victories in the more populous Northeast and Midwest carried him to the presidency.  The Democratic candidate failed to gain a majority of the labor vote McKinley won in working-class areas as well as wealthy precincts.  Although McKinley outpolled him by 600,000 votes, Bryan received more votes than any previous presidential candidate. 
After McKinley's inauguration, increases in gold availability from new discoveries and improved refining methods led to a considerable increase in the money supply. Even so, in 1900, Congress passed the Gold Standard Act, formally placing the United States on that standard. Although Bryan ran again on a silver platform in the 1900 presidential election, the issue failed to produce the same resonance with the voters. McKinley won more easily than in 1896, making inroads in the silver West. 
Bryan's speech is considered one of the most powerful political addresses in American history.  Stanley Jones, however, suggested that even if Bryan had never delivered it, he would still have been nominated. Jones deemed the Democrats likely to nominate a candidate who would appeal to the Populist Party, and Bryan had been elected to Congress with Populist support.  According to rhetorical historian William Harpine in his study of the rhetoric of the 1896 campaign, "Bryan's speech cast a net for the true believers, but only for the true believers."  Harpine suggested that, "by appealing in such an uncompromising way to the agrarian elements and to the West, Bryan neglected the national audience who would vote in the November election".  Bryan's emphasis on agrarian issues, both in his speech and in his candidacy, may have helped cement voting patterns which kept the Democrats largely out of power until the 1930s.  
Writer Edgar Lee Masters called the speech, "the beginning of a changed America."  Bryan's words gave rise to later economic and political philosophies, including Huey Long's 1930s Share Our Wealth program, with its trigger phrase, "Every Man a King" inspired by Bryan's speech.  Author and political commentator William Safire, in his political dictionary, traced the term "trickle-down economics" (common in the Reagan era) to Bryan's statement that some believe that government should legislate for the wealthy, and allow prosperity to "leak through" on those below.  Historian R. Hal Williams suggested that the opposite philosophy, of legislation for the masses leading to prosperity for all, advocated by Bryan in his speech, informed the domestic policies of later Democratic presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt with his New Deal. 
Bensel ties the delegates' response to Bryan's address to their uncertainty in their own beliefs:
In a very real sense, adoption of the silver plank in the platform was akin to a millennial expectation that the "laws of economics" would henceforth be suspended and that the silver men could simply "will" that silver and gold would, in fact, trade on financial markets at a ratio of sixteen to one. The silver men were thus in the hunt for a charismatic leader who would underpin what they already desperately wanted to believe. They manufactured that leader in the convention, a fabrication in which Bryan was only too happy to assist. 
The most famous speech in American political history was delivered by William Jennings Bryan on July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The issue was whether to endorse the free coinage of silver at a ratio of silver to gold of 16 to 1. (This inflationary measure would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers.) After speeches on the subject by several U.S. Senators, Bryan rose to speak. The thirty-six-year-old former Congressman from Nebraska aspired to be the Democratic nominee for president, and he had been skillfully, but quietly, building support for himself among the delegates. His dramatic speaking style and rhetoric roused the crowd to a frenzy. The response, wrote one reporter, “came like one great burst of artillery.” Men and women screamed and waved their hats and canes. “Some,” wrote another reporter, “like demented things, divested themselves of their coats and flung them high in the air.” The next day the convention nominated Bryan for President on the fifth ballot. The full text of William Jenning Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech appears below. The audio portion is an excerpt. [Note on the recording: In 1896 recording technology was in its infancy, and recording a political convention would have been impossible. But in the early 20th century, the fame of Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech led him to repeat it numerous times on the Chautauqua lecture circuit where he was an enormously popular speaker. In 1921 (25 years after the original speech), he recorded portions of the speech for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana. Although the recording does not capture the power and drama of the original address, it does allow us to hear Bryan delivering this famous speech.]
I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability but this is not a contest among persons. The humblest citizen in all the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity. When this debate is concluded, a motion will be made to lay upon the table the resolution offered in commendation of the administration and also the resolution in condemnation of the administration. I shall object to bringing this question down to a level of persons. The individual is but an atom he is born, he acts, he dies but principles are eternal and this has been a contest of principle.
Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been by the voters themselves.
On the 4th of March, 1895, a few Democrats, most of them members of Congress, issued an address to the Democrats of the nation asserting that the money question was the paramount issue of the hour asserting also the right of a majority of the Democratic Party to control the position of the party on this paramount issue concluding with the request that all believers in free coinage of silver in the Democratic Party should organize and take charge of and control the policy of the Democratic Party. Three months later, at Memphis, an organization was perfected, and the silver Democrats went forth openly and boldly and courageously proclaiming their belief and declaring that if successful they would crystallize in a platform the declaration which they had made and then began the conflict with a zeal approaching the zeal which inspired the crusaders who followed Peter the Hermit. Our silver Democrats went forth from victory unto victory, until they are assembled now, not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgment rendered by the plain people of this country.
But in this contest, brother has been arrayed against brother, and father against son. The warmest ties of love and acquaintance and association have been disregarded. Old leaders have been cast aside when they refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of freedom. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever fastened upon the representatives of a people.
We do not come as individuals. Why, as individuals we might have been glad to compliment the gentleman from New York [Senator Hill], but we knew that the people for whom we speak would never be willing to put him in a position where he could thwart the will of the Democratic Party. I say it was not a question of persons it was a question of principle and it is not with gladness, my friends, that we find ourselves brought into conflict with those who are now arrayed on the other side. The gentleman who just preceded me [Governor Russell] spoke of the old state of Massachusetts. Let me assure him that not one person in all this convention entertains the least hostility to the people of the state of Massachusetts.
But we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities in the state of Massachusetts. When you come before us and tell us that we shall disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your action. We say to you that you have made too limited in its application the definition of a businessman. The man who is employed for wages is as much a businessman as his employer. The attorney in a country town is as much a businessman as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis. The merchant at the crossroads store is as much a businessman as the merchant of New York. The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of this country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain. The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.
We come to speak for this broader class of businessmen. Ah. my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast but those hardy pioneers who braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose—those pioneers away out there, rearing their children near to nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds—out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their children and churches where they praise their Creator, and the cemeteries where sleep the ashes of their dead—are as deserving of the consideration of this party as any people in this country.
It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.
We beg no longer we entreat no more we petition no more. We defy them!
The gentleman from Wisconsin has said he fears a Robespierre. My friend, in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth.
They tell us that this platform was made to catch votes. We reply to them that changing conditions make new issues that the principles upon which rest Democracy are as everlasting as the hills but that they must be applied to new conditions as they arise. Conditions have arisen and we are attempting to meet those conditions. They tell us that the income tax ought not to be brought in here that is not a new idea. They criticize us for our criticism of the Supreme Court of the United States. My friends, we have made no criticism. We have simply called attention to what you know. If you want criticisms, read the dissenting opinions of the Court. That will give you criticisms.
They say we passed an unconstitutional law. I deny it. The income tax was not unconstitutional when it was passed. It was not unconstitutional when it went before the Supreme Court for the first time. It did not become unconstitutional until one judge changed his mind and we cannot be expected to know when a judge will change his mind.
The income tax is a just law. It simply intends to put the burdens of government justly upon the backs of the people. I am in favor of an income tax. When I find a man who is not willing to pay his share of the burden of the government which protects him, I find a man who is unworthy to enjoy the blessings of a government like ours.
He says that we are opposing the national bank currency. It is true. If you will read what Thomas Benton said, you will find that he said that in searching history he could find but one parallel to Andrew Jackson. That was Cicero, who destroyed the conspiracies of Cataline and saved Rome. He did for Rome what Jackson did when he destroyed the bank conspiracy and saved America.
We say in our platform that we believe that the right to coin money and issue money is a function of government. We believe it. We believe it is a part of sovereignty and can no more with safety be delegated to private individuals than can the power to make penal statutes or levy laws for taxation.
Mr. Jefferson, who was once regarded as good Democratic authority, seems to have a different opinion from the gentleman who has addressed us on the part of the minority. Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business.
They complain about the plank which declares against the life tenure in office. They have tried to strain it to mean that which it does not mean. What we oppose in that plank is the life tenure that is being built up in Washington which establishes an office-holding class and excludes from participation in the benefits the humbler members of our society. . . .
Let me call attention to two or three great things. The gentleman from New York says that he will propose an amendment providing that this change in our law shall not affect contracts which, according to the present laws, are made payable in gold. But if he means to say that we cannot change our monetary system without protecting those who have loaned money before the change was made, I want to ask him where, in law or in morals, he can find authority for not protecting the debtors when the act of 1873 was passed when he now insists that we must protect the creditor. He says he also wants to amend this platform so as to provide that if we fail to maintain the parity within a year that we will then suspend the coinage of silver. We reply that when we advocate a thing which we believe will be successful we are not compelled to raise a doubt as to our own sincerity by trying to show what we will do if we are wrong.
I ask him, if he will apply his logic to us, why he does not apply it to himself. He says that he wants this country to try to secure an international agreement. Why doesn’t he tell us what he is going to do if they fail to secure an international agreement. There is more reason for him to do that than for us to expect to fail to maintain the parity. They have tried for thirty years—thirty years—to secure an international agreement, and those are waiting for it most patiently who don’t want it at all.
Now, my friends, let me come to the great paramount issue. If they ask us here why it is we say more on the money question than we say upon the tariff question, I reply that if protection has slain its thousands the gold standard has slain its tens of thousands. If they ask us why we did not embody all these things in our platform which we believe, we reply to them that when we have restored the money of the Constitution, all other necessary reforms will be possible, and that until that is done there is no reform that can be accomplished.
Why is it that within three months such a change has come over the sentiments of the country? Three months ago, when it was confidently asserted that those who believed in the gold standard would frame our platforms and nominate our candidates, even the advocates of the gold standard did not think that we could elect a President but they had good reasons for the suspicion, because there is scarcely a state here today asking for the gold standard that is not within the absolute control of the Republican Party.
But note the change. Mr. McKinley was nominated at St. Louis upon a platform that declared for the maintenance of the gold standard until it should be changed into bimetallism by an international agreement. Mr. McKinley was the most popular man among the Republicans and everybody three months ago in the Republican Party prophesied his election. How is it today? Why, that man who used to boast that he looked like Napoleon, that man shudders today when he thinks that he was nominated on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Not only that, but as he listens he can hear with ever increasing distinctness the sound of the waves as they beat upon the lonely shores of St. Helena.
Why this change? Ah, my friends. is not the change evident to anyone who will look at the matter? It is because no private character, however pure, no personal popularity, however great, can protect from the avenging wrath of an indignant people the man who will either declare that he is in favor of fastening the gold standard upon this people, or who is willing to surrender the right of self-government and place legislative control in the hands of foreign potentates and powers. . . .
We go forth confident that we shall win. Why? Because upon the paramount issue in this campaign there is not a spot of ground upon which the enemy will dare to challenge battle. Why, if they tell us that the gold standard is a good thing, we point to their platform and tell them that their platform pledges the party to get rid of a gold standard and substitute bimetallism. If the gold standard is a good thing, why try to get rid of it? If the gold standard, and I might call your attention to the fact that some of the very people who are in this convention today and who tell you that we ought to declare in favor of international bimetallism and thereby declare that the gold standard is wrong and that the principles of bimetallism are better—these very people four months ago were open and avowed advocates of the gold standard and telling us that we could not legislate two metals together even with all the world.
I want to suggest this truth, that if the gold standard is a good thing we ought to declare in favor of its retention and not in favor of abandoning it and if the gold standard is a bad thing, why should we wait until some other nations are willing to help us to let it go?
Here is the line of battle. We care not upon which issue they force the fight. We are prepared to meet them on either issue or on both. If they tell us that the gold standard is the standard of civilization, we reply to them that this, the most enlightened of all nations of the earth, has never declared for a gold standard, and both the parties this year are declaring against it. If the gold standard is the standard of civilization, why, my friends, should we not have it? So if they come to meet us on that, we can present the history of our nation. More than that, we can tell them this, that they will search the pages of history in vain to find a single instance in which the common people of any land ever declared themselves in favor of a gold standard. They can find where the holders of fixed investments have.
Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between the idle holders of idle capital and the struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country and my friends, it is simply a question that we shall decide upon which side shall the Democratic Party fight. Upon the side of the idle holders of idle capital, or upon the side of the struggling masses? That is the question that the party must answer first and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as described by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.
You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these 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.
My friends, we shall declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth, and upon that issue we expect to carry every single state in the Union.
I shall not slander the fair state of Massachusetts nor the state of New York by saying that when citizens are confronted with the proposition, “Is this nation able to attend to its own business?”—I will not slander either one by saying that the people of those states will declare our helpless impotency as a nation to attend to our own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but 3 million, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation upon earth. Shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to 70 million, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends, it will never be the judgment of this people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good but we cannot have it till some nation helps us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we shall restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States have.
If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
Source: Official Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention Held in Chicago, Illinois, July 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11, 1896, (Logansport, Indiana, 1896), 226. Reprinted in The Annals of America, Vol. 12, 1895: Populism, Imperialism, and Reform (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1968), 100.
William Jennings Bryan - History
William Jennings Bryan,
Scopes Trial Closing Speech
Excerpted from Famous Trials in American History.
In March 1925, the Tennessee legislature made it illegal to teach evolution in the public schools. Later that year, John Scopes, a high school science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was charged with teaching evolution. It was easy enough to show that he had broken the law - - the basic biology textbook he assigned included evolution. Scopes lost his case, but the trial is most significant for its effect on public opinion. It drew national attention because it reflected a basic conflict in society between "traditionalists" and "modernists." (William Jennings Bryan represented the traditionalists, and Clarence Darrow represented the modernists.) The prosecutors won their case in court, but the ideas they represented lost considerable prestige.
In 1925 William Jennings Bryan was a famous populist politician, having been the Democratic presidential candidate three times (beginning in 1896). He was also a Fundamentalist Christian who was campaigning to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Bryan spent weeks composing this closing speech, which represents the traditionalists' position on science and faith. Because of a technicality, the trial ended before he could give the speech. -smv
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane--the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times a bloody as it was before but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings, alone, can solve the problems that vex heart and perplex the world.
It is for the jury to determine whether this attack upon the Christian religion shall be permitted in the public schools of Tennessee by teachers employed by the state and paid out of the public treasury. This case is no longer local, the defendant ceases to play an important part. The case has assumed the proportions of a battle-royal between unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science and the defenders of the Christian faith, speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. It is again a choice between God and Baal it is also a renewal of the issue in Pilate's court.
Again force and love meet face to face, and the question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" must be answered. A bloody, brutal doctrine--Evolution--demands, as the rabble did nineteen hundred years ago, that He be crucified. That cannot be the answer of this jury representing a Christian state and sworn to uphold the laws of Tennessee. Your answer will be heard throughout the world it is eagerly awaited by a praying multitude. If the law is nullified, there will be rejoice wherever God is repudiated, the savior scoffed at and the Bible ridiculed. Every unbeliever of every kind and degree will be happy. If, on the other hand, the law is upheld and the religion of the school children protected, millions of Christians will call you blessed and, with hearts full of gratitude to God, will sing again that grand old song of triumph: "Faith of our fathers, living still, In spite of dungeon, fire and sword O how our hearts beat high with joy Whene'er we hear that glorious word--- Faith of our fathers--Holy faith We will be true to thee till death!"
By far the most celebrated court case in Rhea County and perhaps in all of Tennessee history was the case of the State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, which took place in Dayton's Rhea County Courthouse 10-21 July 1925.
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) came to Dayton in 1925 for the Scopes Evolution Trial when he expressed the wish that a school that would teach truth from a Biblical perspective might be established on one of Dayton’s scenic hills.
“Why Dayton – of all places?” This question, asked by many, is answered directly or indirectly in a 28-page booklet of the same title produced in 1925 by F.E. Robinson and W.E. Morgan. In purple prose, the publication addresses “champions of the survival of the fittest” and “followers of the lowly Nazarene” and alludes to the complex religious and philosophical issues involved in the trial. Currently these can be summarized as Darwinian theory vs. Biblical theology, academic freedom of teachers vs. that of students, governmental rights vs. those of parents, and First and Fourteenth Amendments clauses covering freedom of speech, establishment of religion, and personal liberty.
The booklet also evaluates the political genesis of the trial and especially the mixture of politics and religion that occurred when William Jennings Bryan lectured in Nashville on “Is the Bible True?” a year before the legislature discussed the evolution question (Robinson 3, 11). Several hundred copies of Bryan’s lecture were sent on two occasions to the legislators (Russell 183). One of the recipients was Representative John Washington Butler, who originated House Bill 185, which stated, “That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, 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.” The bill was passed in the lower house by a vote of 71 to 5 on 28 January 1925 was approved by the senate 24 to 6 on Friday, 13 March 1925 and was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay on 21 March 1925, becoming Chapter 27 of the Public Acts of Tennessee for 1925. Violation of the act was considered a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of $100-$500 for each offense (Grebstein 1, 3).
In addition to the philosophical, religious, and political facets, the Robinson and Morgan booklet cites two somewhat related reasons for “Why Dayton – of all places?” The first was a response to an American Civil Liberties Union offer to test the new law that was on the part of the Dayton movers and shakers a “half playful, half serious” plan to “start something and maybe it would be interesting.” The second was a serious economic affirmation: “Dayton would be woefully remiss in her duty to herself not to grasp this hour of her lime-light incandescence and make of it an occasion for self-aggrandizement with some incontrovertible facts about her products and natural resources.” Supported by ten pages of pictures, the booklet extols the agricultural advantages of the Dayton area and then states, “Dayton bids for new industries with advantages second to none” (Robinson 14-27)
The above-mentioned two streams of thought converged in the mind of one man: George W. Rappleyea, a metallurgical engineer who had come to Tennessee from New York City, married a Dayton girl, and was managing the ailing Cumberland Coal and Iron Company in Dayton. When Rappleyea read his 4 May 1925 issue of the Chattanooga Daily Times, he saw an article that had the potential of ending Dayton’s economic drought and bringing a rain of economic benefits. Rappleyea took the paper and headed for Robinson’s Drug Store. Frank Earle Robinson, who called himself “the hustling druggist,” was the chairman of the Rhea County School Board and a man of civic vision and activity
Rappleyea showed Robinson the article, which contained an announcement from the New York headquarters of the ACLU that said, in reference to the new Tennessee anti-evolution law, “We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job” (Allem 56, 58: “Plan” 5).
Accounts compiled over 30-45 years later by various researchers interviewing Robinson, Rappleyea, Scopes, and others disagree so much on specific details that they can be harmonized only on major points. It is at least clear that by May 5 the following met with Doc Robinson at his drug store to discuss a possible test case of the evolution law: Rappleyea, Superintendent of Schools Walter White, lawyer Wallace C. Haggard, city attorneys Herbert B. Hicks and his brother Sue K. Hicks (the original “Boy Named Sue” of the Johnny Cash hit), and John Thomas Scopes. Since the regular biology teacher, W.F. Ferguson, refused to be a part of a test case, Scopes was asked to help even though he was the football, basketball, and baseball coach and taught math, physics, and chemistry. At least he had substituted for a few days in biology class when Ferguson was sick, but Scopes confessed. “I wasn’t sure I had taught evolution.” He agreed, however, to help. A warrant was sworn out, the press and ACLU were notified, and law school dean and Rhea County native Dr. John R Neal made his services available to Scopes (Allem 58-64 de Camp 7-16, 433 Scopes 56-65).
Through the efforts of the press, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, and the Dayton court choreographers, William Jennings Bryan announced on May 12 that he was willing to participate in the trial without remuneration (Larson 60-61 Ginger 23 Allem 63). Because Bryan was a former Secretary of State, three-time presidential candidate, leader of the Democratic Party for some fifteen years, popular silver-tongued orator of the Chautauqua circuit, and famous spokesman for Christian fundamentalist ideas, his arrival on the scene raised the trial to major-league status and broadened the issues
The day after Bryan’s announcement, Clarence Seward Darrow, America’s most famous criminal lawyer, was urged by journalist H.L Mencken to offer without charge his services to Scopes: “Nobody gives a damn about that yap schoolteacher. The thing to do is to make a fool out of Bryan.” By the end of the week, both Darrow and his friend Dudley Field Malone had wired Dr. Neal of their availability. Neal and Scopes were delighted, but the ACLU was not. Darrow was radical and sensational, and Malone did not have the best public image, being an international divorce lawyer and a divorced, backslidden Catholic (de Camp 74, 78-80, 89-92 Fecher 199 Scopes 71-73).
The next eight weeks were marked by a mixture of serious legal maneuvers and comic interludes. Chattanooga leaders tried unsuccessfully to get the trial. Dayton leaders countered successfully by recalling Scopes from vacation in Kentucky, speeding up the legal process by two months, and arranging for two fake fights to maintain media interest. On July 2 in New York, the defense planned their strategy, which included broadening the argument to pit science against Fundamentalism and sacrificing Scopes’ acquittal for the opportunity to appeal a verdict of guilty to a higher court in the hope that the Monkey Law would be declared unconstitutional (Allem 65-69, Scopes 69, 74-76 de Camp 130-131.
Back in Dayton the population swelled from about 1800 to about 5000 at the height of the trial. There was an increasing carnival atmosphere: refreshment stands, monkey souvenirs, eccentrics such as “John the Baptist the Third,” and oddities such as Joe Mendi, the trained chimpanzee. And then there were the media people: three news services and 120 reporters, whose stories totaled about two million words and whose ranks included H.L. Mencken, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Westbrook Pegler 65 telegraph operators, who sent more words to Europe and Australia than had ever been cabled about any other American happening and Quin Ryan and the radio crew from the Chicago Tribune’s WGN, who did the first live national broadcast of an American trial (de Camp 116, 147, 161-164, 171 Ginger 66 Trial 316).
The official chief counsel for the defense was Dr. John R. Neal, and he was ably assisted by Clarence Darrow, Dudley Field Malone, Arthur Garfield Hays (ACLU representative, agnostic, Malone’s partner in international divorce cases), W.O. Thompson (Darrow’s law partner and replacement for Bainbridge Colby, who resigned the day before the trial began), and F.B. McElwee (former student of Neal and replacement for John L. Godsey, who resigned the first day of the trial after being active in the planning and preparations). In addition, the defense had as librarian and Biblical authority Charles Francis Potter (Modernist Unitarian preacher) (Scopes 65,91-92 de Camp 126, 166, 172-173).
In charge of the prosecution was A.T. Stewart (Attorney General for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit). Serving with him were William Jennings Bryan, William Jennings Bryan Jr. (Bryan’s son from Los Angeles), Ben O. McKenzie (former Assistant Attorney General from Dayton), J. Gordon McKenzie (Ben’s son and a former judge), Sue K. Hicks (from Dayton), Herbert B. Hicks (Sue’s brother), and Wallace C. Haggard (F.E. Robinson’s brother-in-law) (de Camp 124, 125 Allem 59).
Those officiating and assisting at the trial were under much pressure because of the significance of the issues, the importance of some of the lawyers, the hot July weather, the presence of the media, and the crowded conditions of the courtroom, which was built to seat about 400 but had about twice that number seated and standing. The presiding judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court was John Tate Raulston, who lived in Winchester and was a devout Baptist. Helping to maintain law and order were Sheriff Robert “Bluch” Harris, officer Jim Mansfield, and — on loan from the Chattanooga Police Department — Captain Marion Perkins and four of his men, one of whom, Kelso Rice, Judge Raulston chose to be Bailiff. The court reporter was Mrs. McCloskey of the McCloskey firm and the boy who chose the jury names was Tommy J. Brewer (de Camp 83-84, 120, 161, 209-210 Gorman 2 Allem 73, 76 Trial 21 Harris).
What You Didn’t Know About William Jennings Bryan. What You Should Know About Darwin.
Christopher L. Webber is an Episcopal priest and author of some thirty books including “American to the Backbone,” the biography of the fugitive slave and abolition leader, James W.C. Pennington. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the General Theological Seminary who has served parishes in Tokyo, Japan, and the New York area and currently lives in San Francisco. The work of William Jennings Bryan is dealt with more fully in Christopher Webber’s book, “Give Me Liberty: Speeches and Speakers that Shaped America,” Pegasus, 2014.
William Jennings Bryan (left) and Charles Darwin.
The action of the North Carolina legislature to pay compensation to victims of a forced sterilization program brings attention to an almost forgotten chapter of American history. It may also provide an opportunity to set the infamous Scopes trial in a broader light and do justice to the much-maligned William Jennings Bryan for his role in that case.
The sterilizations that were carried out in so many American states were a direct result of Charles Darwin’s writing on the theory of evolution, writings which alarmed William Jennings Bryan and led him to campaign against it being taught in American schools. Bryan was no theologian but an intensely practical man concerned with consequences. His goal in life was to make the world a better place and he believed that teaching evolution would not do that. In one area at least he was right.
Darwin followed up his publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 with a second book, The Descent of Man, published in 1871. Bryan had prepared a long statement for the Scopes trial but the trial came to an end before he could enter it in the record. In his statement, he quoted from The Descent of Man, in which Darwin had written:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick: we institute poor laws and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to smallpox. Thus the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race but, excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.45
Bryan was appalled. Darwin, he wrote,
. . . reveals the barbarous sentiment that runs through evolution and dwarfs the moral nature of those who become obsessed with it. Let us analyze the quotation just given. Darwin speaks with approval of the savage custom of eliminating the weak so that only the strong will survive, and complains that “we civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination.” How inhuman such a doctrine as this! He thinks it injurious to “build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick” or to care for the poor. Even the medical men come in for criticism because they “exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment.” And then note his hostility to vaccination because it has “preserved thousands who, from a weak constitution would, but for vaccination, have succumbed to smallpox!” All of the sympathetic activities of civilized society are condemned because they enable “the weak members to propagate their kind.” . . . Could any doctrine be more destructive of civilization? And what a commentary on evolution! He wants us to believe that evolution develops a human sympathy that finally becomes so tender that it repudiates the law that created it and thus invites a return to a level where the extinguishing of pity and sympathy will permit the brutal instincts to again do their progressive (?) work! . . . Let no one think that this acceptance of barbarism as the basic principle of evolution died with Darwin. ( Memoirs, p. 550)
Bryan’s concern was with practical outcomes, not “What do Christians believe?” but “What difference does it make?” Evolution seemed to him to be making the wrong kind of difference, and in his time it often did. The development of what is now called “Social Darwinism” is far too complex to be dealt with fairly in this brief article, but German militarism in World War One seems to have been influenced by it and the Turkish genocide of Armenians was justified by some on the same grounds.
The same enthusiasm for improving the human race called “eugenics” led a majority of the states to pass laws allowing the sterilizing and castrating of selected populations, typically prisoners and those with reduced mental abilities. California, in particular, carried out thousands of sterilizations. Unnoticed at the time of the Scopes trial was the publication in the same year, 1925, of Mein Kampf in which Adolf Hitler called for the improvement of the race by the elimination of inferior people: Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded, and others. Once the full significance of that program became visible at the end of World War Two, eugenics and social Darwinism took on a different appearance and the interest in improving the human race by those methods withered away.
The ongoing struggle over the teaching of evolution in American classrooms and courthouses seems now to be confined to a conflict between what scientists believe and what some Christians believe but unfortunately William Jennings Bryan’s role in the Scopes trial is caricatured in those same terms. Undoubtedly Bryan had a simplistic view of the Bible, but the cause Bryan was championing was one with which most Americans today would probably agree: human beings are not to be treated as mere tools in some gigantic experiment. Human progress is created when societies find new and better ways to incorporate the weakest and most handicapped as fully as possible in the life of their community. The North Carolina legislature has taken an important step in recognizing a wrong turn in its past and has set an example for many other states to follow.
Perhaps it is time also to rescue William Jennings Bryan’s reputation from the stain of the Scopes trial. He was not a brilliant and original thinker but he was a man who consistently worked for the weaker members of society and set the Democratic party on the side of those who were being left behind in the free-for-all evolutionary struggle of the age of industrialization.
Paternal grand-parents, uncles and aunts
William Jennings Bryan
On this site on July 4th, 1883, distinguished American William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) began his practice of law and journey to national prominence. The forthright, spirited Bryan would become a Congressman from Nebraska, three-time Democratic nominee for President, and Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Government & Politics. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #28 Woodrow Wilson series list. A significant historical date for this entry is July 4, 1883.
Location. 39° 44.062′ N, 90° 13.873′ W. Marker is in Jacksonville, Illinois, in Morgan County. Marker is on West State Street just east of West Street, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 232 W State St, Jacksonville IL 62650, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line) 1858 Senate Race Here (about 600 feet away) Lincoln and Slavery (about 600 feet away) Potawatami Indians (about 700 feet away) Lincoln and Jaquess (approx. 0.3 miles away) Greene Vardiman Black (approx. 0.3 miles away) The Civil War Governor (approx. half a mile away) Whig Rivals and Friends (approx. half a mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Jacksonville.
In 1895, Williams Jennings Bryan wrote to I. J. Dunn, an Omaha lawyer and president of the Jackson Club, to decline an invitation to speak at the local Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, an annual event held by the Democratic Party. Bryan, a politician from Nebraska, was already a national political figure who had served two terms in the House of Representatives (1890 and 1892) and would win the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 1896. His letter expresses his political beliefs and draws upon the ideals of Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson.
Bryan compared contemporary events in business and banking to Jackson’s destruction of the Bank of the United States and then concentrated on Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal":
Of the self-evident truths set forth in that immortal document the declaration that "All men are created equal" is the most important because it is the most fundamental and comprehends all the others. Its application now would solve aright the questions which vex the civilized world, and would both remove the abuses of legislative power encouraged by our own government and add to the laws we now have such additional statues as are necessary to protect each citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Bryan would become the youngest major-party presidential candidate when he earned the Democratic and Populist nominations in 1896 at the age of thirty-six, and would run two more times (1900 and 1908). Throughout the rest of his political career, Bryan would support legislation that helped achieve his understanding of Jefferson’s ideal: