William Jennings Bryan - Vol. 1

By Paolo E. Coletta | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16

"Shall the People Rule?"

I

"THREE YEARS ago we were united on the wrong side," Bryan told the faithful early in 1907. Believing that the small-town middle classes as well as the farmers of the South and West were "on fire" for a progressive revolution, he said that either the "radical" of 1896 had grown "conservative," or "something had happened to a lot of people." Again, "the radicalism of 1896 has become the conservatism of 1907.... The Chicago platform, denounced and laughed at by many, is so grown in favor that a Republican president has won his greatest popularity by the adoption of the principles described in that platform." 1 He rejected Thomas E. Watson's invitation to confer with him and William Randolph Hearst lest the meeting "be construed as an attempt to organize a new party," 2 spurned government ownership and metallic money as issues, 3 and averred that "The more freely you allow the people to rule, the more quickly will every abuse be remedied." 4

In keeping with the Social Gospel movement, Bryan also concentrated on the "ethical question," the need for a "moral awakening." Using the slogan "The Brotherhood of Man," he demanded a turning away from the crass materialism of the age and a rebirth of the moral conscience so that men would "love one another instead of running riot after money and emulating men of wealth." According to the Law of Rewards, the rich should contribute generously for social purposes to churches, charities, and educational institutions, not to legislators in order to corrupt them or to foster business practices which violated

____________________
1
Commoner, February 8, May 10, 1907. See also L. Satterthwait, "Bryan's Mistake," The Arena, 37 (March 1907), 257-259.
2
Bryan to Watson, January 24, 1907, in C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, p. 398; Bryan to Watson, May 16, 1907, Henry Steele Commager Papers; Watson to Roosevelt, December 16, 1907, Theodore Roosevelt Papers; Commoner, June 14, 21, 28, July 12, 26, 1907.
3
Charles W. to W. J. Bryan, July 13, 15, 1907, Silas Bryan Papers.
4
Commoner, March 1, 8, 15, May 10, 24, June 14, 21, 1907; Bascom N. Timmons, Portrait of an American: Charles G. Dawes, pp. 141-142.

-390-

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