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A Interesting William Jennings Bryan Postcard

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I spotted this post card in a recent political items auctions, and decided to bid on it. It was issued during William Jennings Bryan's 1908 presidential campaign, and it neatly sums up the hold he had on the Democratic Party for the time he gave his "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 national convention until his death in the mid 1920s. During that period no politician, who would lose repeatedly, ever had has much influence over a major political party as Bryan did.


William Jennings Bryan burst on the political scene in 1896 when he totally wowed the delegates at the Democratic Party National Convention with his "Cross of Gold Speech. At the beginning of the convention the party bosses recognized him as a possible figure on the rise, but at age 36 and with limited experience, it hardly seemed that 1896 would be his year. Nevertheless, Bryan won the day and the party nomination with his hour long speech which seemed to come out of nowhere.




The presidential campaign was a study in contrast. Bryan traveled thousands of miles delivering as many as 18 speeches a day. In contrast, his opponent, William McKinley, set up shop on his front porch in Canton, Ohio and the press and his supporters make pilgrimages to him. Bryan and the energy and the great speaking voice, while McKinley had the cash and the support of the American establishment. Bryan was also saddled with a one issue campaign that ultimately lost its appeal. McKinley won the election.




1900 Bryan and McKinley had a rematch. This time McKinley held the clear advantage. The economy had recovered, and the issue of Free Silver had lost much of its appeal. Bryan tried to expand the issues with statements against the monopoly power of big business, and moral arguments against American imperialism, but McKinley won by a wider margin than 1896.




In 1904 Bryan might have won the Democratic Party nomination again, but he realized that no one would be able to beat Theodore Roosevelt and bowed out of the running. As expected Roosevelt won by a wide margin.


1908 Bryan made another run for the White House with the same result. In that contest he received fewer popular votes than he had received in 1896 despite that the population pool of eligible votes had grown much larger. Bryan compared himself to a drunk who had been kicked out a barroom because he was no longer welcome. That was quite a personal rebuke given that Bryan was a strict teetotaler who opposed the consumption and sale of alcoholic beverages.




In 1912 Bryan would have loved to have received the Democratic presidential nomination, but he knew that as a three time loser, his time had passed. Still he played a significant role in winning the nomination for Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson rewarded him by appointing to be secretary of state. Bryan would resign that office in protest when Wilson got the U.S. involved in World War I.




Bryan's last bit of major influence over the Democratic Party came in 1924 when his brother, Charles, won the party nomination for vice president with John W. Davis. The nomination did not amount to much because even Davis admitted that he had little chance of winning after the Democratic convention had been a political bloodbath. The convention was divided between William Gibbs McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson's son-in-law, and New York governor Al Smith. McAdoo represented the rural South, the "drys" (pro prohibition) and the Ku Klux Klan. Smith represented the urban areas, Tammany Hall and the "wets" (end prohibition). After more than 100 ballots, both men withdrew and Davis received the nomination.


At the end of his life Bryan was a prosecuting attorney in the famous "monkey trial" which was of the indictment of a Tennessee teacher, John T. Scopes, for the teaching of evolution in the public school. Bryan's team won the case, but in the opinion of some embarrassed himself in his testimony under the examination of famed lawyer Clarence Darrow. Bryan died a few days after the trial.


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