The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan

The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan

The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan

The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan

Excerpt

JOHN MORRISSEY was twenty-nine in 1858 -- no longer young for a prize fighter "whose days and nights," said the Herald, "are spent in carousing and other carnal pleasures." But his fight with the " Benecia Boy" for the championship of America and a purse of the staggering sum of $5,000 was the first big fight in nine years, and the newspapers were full of it. The Herald gave up its entire front page to the mill. The Tribune and Harper's Weekly devoted column editorials to it. Leslie's Weekly printed whole pages of pictures of ringside scenes and the barroom orgies that followed. All in all, the Morrissey-Heenan fight was one of the great events of 1858.

So also was the first trip of the Overland Mail stage, fetching the post from California by way of Tucson in the astounding time of ten days. The publication of The Courtship of Miles Standish was an event too -- five thousand copies sold before noon of the day of issue.

But out in Illinois none of these epochal occurrences created a ripple. There two men were doggedly plugging away from Freeport on the north to Jonesboro in the heart of "Egypt," travelling sometimes by train and sometimes by boat, but more often by buggy over rough, dusty roads to address thousands of farmers who came from miles around and stood for hours in the hot afternoon sun of Indian summer to hear them. And that was what interested the people of Illinois.

They talked about slavery, these two men. They talked about the Constitution and the decisions of the Supreme Court. They even talked, guardedly and with evident reluctance, about what might happen if the people of the . . .

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