Home > 1896 Campaign, 1896-1928 Campaigns > 1896–Anti-Bryan Cartoon–Dennis O’Neill

1896–Anti-Bryan Cartoon–Dennis O’Neill

One of the last elections that the Populist Party served any type of significance was the election of 1896.  William McKinley received the Republican nomination and accepted.  When November rolled around and election time was the center of most contributing citizens attention, William McKinley was listed under the Republican ballot as expected.  William Jennings Bryan, on the other hand, had somewhat of an identity crisis to deal with.  He was listed on the ballot under two different parties with two different vice president candidates.  William Jennings Bryan was listed as a candidate for the Democratic Party and he was also listed as a candidate for the Populist Party.  Under Bryan’s nomination for the Democratic Party, Arthur Sewall was listed as his vice presidential nominee.  Under Bryan’s nomination for the Populist Party, Thomas Watson was listed as his vice presidential nominee.  This would prove to cause some measure of conflict for William Jennings Bryan during his presidential campaign. 

The Populist Party was under the impression that they were solid enough to replace the Democrats as the Republican Parties primary opposition.  Unfortunately for the Populist’s members, the Democrats had elected William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate.  This was unfortunate for the Populist members because Bryan was their party’s best potential candidate.  William Jennings Bryan’s ideas and goals were in compliance with the ideas and goals of the Populist Party.  The Populist Party was distraught between choosing Bryan as their presidential nominee or choosing their own candidate.  The Populists feared that splitting the vote would just give too much power to the right wing conservative republicans.  At the national convention the Populist Party nominated William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate and Bryan gladly accepted.  The Populist Party members still wanted to be distinguished from the Democrats even though both political parties elected the same candidate as their presidential nominee.  Considering the Populists distaste for the Democrats, the Populist’s chose to nominate Thomas E. Watson as the vice presidential candidate instead of Arthur Sewall.  Bryan was pleased to accept the nomination, but was never specific or direct about whom he would choose as his Vice President if he was elected.  So who would be the vice president if William Jennings Bryan were elected?  Would it be Thomas E. Watson or Arthur Sewall?  In many states both Bryan-Watson Populist ticket and Bryan-Sewall ticket showed up on the voting ballot. 

In the cartoon you can see that William Jennings Bryan is trying to stay balance and stable while keeping a foot on both platforms.  On one side there is Bryan’s toe balanced on the Populist platform with Thomas E. Watson balanced on his leg.  On the other side there is Arthur Sewall balanced on Bryan’s left leg while his left foot is completely on the platform.  This cartoon symbolizes the divide of William Jennings Bryan between the Populist Party and the Democratic Party.  The ballerina outfits represent William Jennings Bryan’s efforts to balance both parties and stay competitive in the election.  The Populist Party did not win the popular vote in any states but there were 27 electors for William Jennings Bryan cast their vice-presidential vote for Thomas E. Watson instead of Arthur Sewall.  The majority of the votes came from states in the south and states in the mid-west.  There proves to be some significance of the footing of William Jennings Bryan in the cartoon.  Sewall won all of the popular votes over Watson and in the cartoon Bryan’s footing is much more stable on the Democratic platform.  Regardless of what happened between Bryan’s vice presidential candidates, he still lost the election to William Mckinley.  Eventually the Democratic party would overtake the populist party and this would be the last election where the populists were granted significant consideration.

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