Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

7
William Jennings Bryan, Attorney Before the Nebraska Supreme Court

Andrew B. Koszewski

Historians and biographers of William Jennings Bryan tend to examine his life only in terms of his political ambitions or his place in late nineteenth- century social movements while neglecting his legal career. What biographers have focused on about Bryan's early years in Nebraska was his relationship with J. Sterling Morton and his wing of the state Democratic party, as well as Bryan's rise as a public speaker and a political force. Very little research has been done on Bryan's career in the Nebraska bar from 1887 to 1891. Biographers, such as Paolo Coletta, have commented that Bryan viewed law as a means to political success and not as an end in itself. 1 Other biographers, such as Paxton Hibben, described Bryan's Nebraska practice as "hit and miss," and Louis Koenig commented that Bryan achieved only moderate success as a lawyer. 2

Bryan was a young attorney in Jacksonville, Illinois, when he decided to move to frontier Nebraska in 1887. He was more fortunate than other lawyers new to the area in that he was acquainted with a Lincoln attorney, Adolphus Talbot. Talbot and Bryan met while both attended Union College of Law in Chicago and began a friendship that influenced Bryan to relocate to Lincoln. By the time Bryan arrived, Talbot had already dissolved a partnership, which allowed Bryan to enter into a partnership with his friend

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