William Jennings Bryan and the Campaign of 1896

William Jennings Bryan and the Campaign of 1896

William Jennings Bryan and the Campaign of 1896

William Jennings Bryan and the Campaign of 1896


"Bryan or McKinley -- which are you for?" The six-year-old boy had no idea. He had never heard either name before. But around him stood his gang, the boys who lived on a certain block in Brooklyn, suddenly menacing. Evidently it was required of him to choose. He faltered, "Bryan." Instantly every throat was opened against him. He was jostled, kicked, punched, until he recanted in tears. Then and there he was enlisted in the Republican ranks and pledged to support the gold standard. Soon he was happily yelling with the others:

McKinley drinks so-da-wa-ter,
Bryan drinks rum;
McKinley is a gen-tle-man,
Bryan is a BUM!

At the same time in Springfield, Illinois, a youngster named Nicholas Vachel Lindsay, aged sixteen, found himself and his gang committed heart and soul to Free Silver and the "Boy Orator of the Platte,"

Defying aristocracy,
With every bridle gone,
Ridding the world of the low down mean,
Bidding the eagles of the West fly on.

To him Bryan was a new messiah, champion of the plain people, bard and prophet of democracy, prairie avenger, gigantic troubadour, speaking like a siege gun.

In 1896 traditional party lines were giving way. There were Silver Republicans in Colorado, Gold Democrats in New York. Farmers of the West and South were lined up against the moneylending East. Not for a long time had political passions been so deeply stirred. Vachel Lindsay rightly held that "there were real heads broken in the fustian and the rattle." The ostensible conflict over silver and gold screened the clash of mighty opposites.

To economists a nation's monetary system, including the question of bimetallism, still remains a debatable issue, but hardly one to break heads over. In 1792 Congress provided for the minting of gold and silver coins at the ratio of 15 to I and both coins were made legal tender. This ratio was changed to 16 to 1 during the 1830's, and in 1873, when the coinage laws were being revised, no provision was made for continuing the silver dollar as a legal tender coin. Then, for technical reasons connected with foreign exchange, Congress declared the gold dollar the single unit of value. No immediate disaster ensued, but some fifteen years later when prices of farm products were abysmally low the agricultural interests fixed upon the failure to include the silver dollar as a full legal tender coin as the prime reason why money had become so scarce. The so-called demonetization of silver then became known as "the crime of 1873." The Democrats took up the slogan of Free Silver as a panacea for every social ill, while the Republicans rejected it as equivalent to repudiation of . . .

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