William Jennings Bryan - Vol. 1

By Paolo E. Coletta | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

The Morning Star of the Reformation

I

ADOLPHUS TALBOT was a Republican, but Bryan felt fortunate in having him as a partner. Following his predilection for the negative, Bryan tried to think as the opposition would while Talbot outlined the positive arguments to be made at court. At the end of each month the one with the greater income gave the other half of the larger amount. Talbot was an attorney for the Missouri Pacific, but Bryan refused to work for railroad corporations and the railroad income was excluded from the accounts. However, as he had in Illinois, Bryan violated consistency and accepted a railroad pass.

Bryan appeared in each of the hierarchy of local and state courts and practiced all branches of law. Of the nine state supreme court cases the firm handled between 1888 and 1891, six involved political disputes, and it was in these that Bryan appeared at his best. Contemporaries like Charles Gates Dawes believed him to be a good jury lawyer who could have built up a successful practice as a pleader. 1

Once more, as in Jacksonville, Bryan went through the narrows. He tried to avoid the collection business by requesting attorneys from outlying districts to engage him as their Lincoln agent. A few did, but their business also involved mostly collections and tax foreclosures. His income increased year after year, from $800 in 1888 to $2000 in 1890, even though he gave much more of his time to politics than to law. To those who said he was a failure at the bar, Mrs. Bryan retorted that they "should consider that he entered the practice at twenty‐ three and left it at thirty, and during that period began twice, and twice became more than self-supporting." 2 In Jacksonville Bryan had gotten nowhere politically in four years; in Nebraska he was elected

____________________
1
Charles G. Dawes to the author, September 28, 1948; interview with W. H. Selleck, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 7, 1948.
2
Bryan Memorandum Book, William Jennings Bryan Papers; William Jennings Bryan, The First Battle, p. 48.

-33-

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