William Jennings Bryan: Orator of Small-Town America

William Jennings Bryan: Orator of Small-Town America

William Jennings Bryan: Orator of Small-Town America

William Jennings Bryan: Orator of Small-Town America

Synopsis

"Probably best remembered today for his The Cross of Gold' acceptance speech delivered at the 1896 Democratic national convention, and his exchange with Clarence Darrow in the 1925 Scopes Trial, Bryan's speaking brilliance went far beyond these orations, flavoring his own two presidential campaigns, his tenure as Secretary of State, and the second campaign of Woodrow Wilson. This work examines the oratory skills of Bryan, tracing and analyzing his development as a speaker, and providing the texts of important addresses that spanned much of his career." Reference & Research Book News

Excerpt

The contribution of William Jennings Bryan to the political life of the United States was a considerable one. Bryan sought and won, largely through his oratory, the Democratic nomination for President of the United States three times: 1896, 1900, and 1908. He held public office for only four years in Congress and two years as Secretary of State, but through his speaking from 1890 to 1920, he laid the foundation of American liberalism. His oratory, in no small way, helped to put into law the following acts of legislation: the federal income tax, the popular election of United States senators, publicity for all campaign contributions, restoration of freedom to the Philippines, prohibition of alcohol, suffrage for women, an international court, labor representation in the Cabinet, regulation of the freight rates charged by railroads, abolition of the gold standard, and utilization of the initiative and referendum in states.

To understand Bryan's intellectual and spiritual importance, it is helpful to contrast him with his contemporary, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a transformed college professor with wide appeal to intellectual America. Wilson, like Edmund Burke, the great British debater, was a philosopher in action. Wilson's ideas were more than commonplace. His ideas revealed unusual insight and considerable mental range. Bryan appealed to a much different audience. Rural America was satisfied with a surface treatment of ideas. Bryan's tendency to reason in dualistic fashion appealed to them. They wanted to know if the candidate was "progressive" or "reactionary," a "wet" or a "dry," "for labor" or "against labor." Both Bryan and Wilson projected their Presbyterian background into their platform addresses, but Bryan reached the have-nots of America. He delivered the "Prince of Peace" speech over two thousand times. From 1900 until his death in 1925, he told the small town people of America the story of Christ on earth.

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