William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic presidential nominee during three different presidential elections. He ran unsuccessfully against McKinley and Taft. And as years progressed his following decreased immensely. However Bryan was an extremely influential and persuasive public speaker.
In 1896 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago Bryan delivered his famous Cross of Gold Speech. This speech advocated bimetallism. During this time, the country was experiencing economic hardship. Bimetallism supporters believed replacing the gold standard with silver would have an adverse effect of inflation. (Cross of Gold) Bryan’s political party wanted to “standardize the value of the American Dollar to silver.” (Cross of Gold) The silver standard would make it easier on the poor to repay their debts. The poor were associated with careers such as farming and agriculture as well as other small local businesses. It was also believed that individuals would also have an easier time repaying debts if the gold standard was changed to the silver standard. This speech helped Bryan during his first campaign. Americans “believed themselves victimized by banks, railroads, and agricultural implement dealers, who prevented farmers’ economic progress. That belief, coupled with sagging commodity prices, drought, high taxes, interest rates, and excessive freight charges, led farmers and other Americans to look for assistance” (Wunder). Bryan is who these Americans turned to. Many like the idea of the silver standard, but not enough to vote him into office.
During the next Presidential election Bryan moved from his silver standard platform to an anti-imperialism platform. However, there were times during this campaign where he combined the two policies. He was recorded saying “The nation is of age and it can do what it pleases; it can spurn the traditions of the past; it can repudiate the principles upon which the nation rests; it can employ force instead of reason; it can substitute might for right; it can conquer weaker people; it can exploit their lands, appropriate their property and kill their people; but it cannot repeal the moral law or escape the punishment decreed for the violation of human rights” (Hibben) Republicans mocked his “indecisiveness” and referred to him as a coward. It has been said that Henry Littlefield portrayed his Cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, off of Bryan during this campaign. On August 8, 1900 Bryan gave another speech. This time its focus was on anti-imperialism. Most of the speech shows his support for equality. However he goes into detail discussing other nation’s practices. He sets the stage for his opinion as well as the opinion held by the Democratic Party. Bryan does a good job of using past presidents and political leader’s ideals, and policies to convince the American people of “what we should do now.” Though not expressed directly in this speech Bryan also perused avenues that supported Prohibition (without taking a direct stand on the matter) and attacked Darwinism beliefs.
Around this time period Bryan produced a weekly magazine titled: “The Commoner.” When he first produced the magazine he was calling for the help of his fellow Democrats. He wanted the Democratic Party to take the incentive in dissolving banking-trusts and regulating the railroad more closely. (William Jennings Bryan) Bryan believed that creating this magazine would generate followers, which he believed would indirectly help him win the 1908 Presidential election. He wanted “to take his message to the people through the most widely accessible medium for political expression available. Contemporaries often called Bryan the voice and hope of the people, the orator of small-town America and the mouthpiece for Jeffersonian democracy” (Wunder) The magazine ran from 1901-1923, and each edition presented “his personal, political and moral agendas, including his domestic policy support for business regulation, citizens’ ballot initiatives and referenda, the political primary nomination system and, in foreign policy, an anti-imperialist stance.” (Wunder) During the later years of the magazine Bryan attacked and undermined his opponents through the articles. He attacked numerous government agencies and leaders, which some believe helped him get appointed Secretary of State during the Wilson years. While Bryan was sitting Secretary or War, the magazine continued to endorse particular candidates for leadership positions and was noted as an extremely influential magazine.
At the end of the magazine’s life it began to take another approach. The magazine’s articles were less about the government, and Bryan’s political agendas and more about his religious beliefs. William Jennings Bryan has been noted as one of America’s leading men in politics during the turn of the century and many give credit to his speeches and this magazine as a factor.
“Cross of Gold.” 30 March 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011
Hibben, Paxton. The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929.
“William Jennings Bryan.” 20 April 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011.
Wunder, John. “William Jennings Bryan: The Commoner.” 9 Febrary 2010. Jnews. 20 April 2011
In the late 1800s German political cartoonist Joseph Kepler created and founded America’s first humor magazine. Named for the mischievous Fairy in Shakespeare’s “Mid Summer Night dream,” Puck was only published in German. After a year of distribution and extreme popularity Puck rose to the top. It was then printed in both English and German. In 1920 publishers continued producing the English edition, but discontinued the German edition. The periodical was designed for criticizing and commenting on governments and political leadership through colorful political cartoons, caricatures and political satire. Puck primarily favored bourbon democrats. These democrats were considered conservative, classical liberals. The magazine also favored large corporations like banks and railroads. It was also said to support German American ideals and proficiently attack Irish Americans. Historians believe that the artists of the magazine enjoyed depicting political leaders over everything else, especially during political campaigns.
Released during the 1908 presidential campaign Samuel Ehrhart constructed a political cartoon depicting Theodore Roosevelt handing a baby off to William Taft. It was a popular piece of rhetoric during the campaign. Shown here on the right one can see the importance of Taft and Roosevelt’s comradely and friendship.
Roosevelt had been the President of the United States from 1901-1909 and decided not to run for a third term. It was believed that Roosevelt hand- picked Taft for the position and was going to do everything in his power to make sure that Taft won the presidential election. Teddy Roosevelt is depicted here as a cowboy. He was often depicted as a cowboy because of his robust “masculinity”. Though Roosevelt was neither from the South nor the West he remained true to his Cowboy association. Before becoming President, Theodore purchased land in North Dakota where he was able to practice his cowboy nature and experiment with land protection. In the early 1900 Cowboys were hired to maintain ranches and cattle. They often maintained and protected the land and its surroundings, which in some ways is easily compared to the principles of commander and chief.
In the background a bell hop is carrying Teddy’s “big stick”. The stick refers to Teddy’s popular saying “speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far”. Roosevelt used this message while negotiating the Monroe Doctrine. He made it clear that he was willing to negotiate, but in a threatening manner. The big stick was representing Roosevelt’s military ties and the force behind them. Roosevelt was known to use his “big stick” metaphor continually throughout his presidency. The bellhop in this photo was meant to depict William Loeb, Roosevelt’s right hand man and head of advisors. William Loeb was an extremely knowledgeable political leader, but was mostly in the background. Loeb was given credit for assisting the President in the decision of not running for a third term. Loeb also assisted in finding a good replacement candidate that Roosevelt could endorse.
The baby in the picture is meant to depict the responsibilities of the presidency. Here Roosevelt is handing his responsibilities to Taft, who is well prepared in his maid’s uniform to accept the ongoing responsibilities. As one can see, the baby looks like Roosevelt because it is supposed to represent all his own plans and policies. The baby looks as though he will allow Taft to hold him, however it is clear that he would rather be held by Roosevelt.
Taft is depicted here as a man in a maid’s uniform. This has multiple dimensions of its own. Firstly, under his maid’s uniform is a suit, which shows Taft’s professionalism as the President to be. However the maid’s uniform shows his loyalty to Roosevelt as a servant of his plans, responsibilities, and policies for the country.
Samuel Ehrhart used his knowledge of history and the presidency to create this political advertisement. As it was distributed around the United States many Americans saw the add for what it was. It was viewed as Roosevelt leaving office, and handing all his responsibilities and policies to Taft. It was reassuring to the American people that Roosevelt left the office in good hands. He had left the presidency up to Taft, which was fine because Taft had the same beliefs and plans that Roosevelt had when he left office. The magazine also created several cartoons which completely discredited William Jennings Bryan.
After two incredible terms, President Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run for a third. Instead he set out to find another candidate from the progressive party to take his spot. The first man Roosevelt chooses for the job was Elihu Root and he declined. Root believed that he would not be a good contender and had no interest in serving and as commander and chief. William Howard Taft was the second man that Roosevelt approached for the job. With a little bit of persuasion from his wife and Roosevelt, Taft accepted the offer. After Roosevelt hand- picked his successor the race was on. The 1908 presidential election was between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan.
Taft was a well liked, respectable Republican man from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was from a large wealthy family who like himself, was very well educated. By the age of 30 Taft had made his way through law school, law firms and landed a position in the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1881 he was appointed to the United States court of Appeals for the sixth circuit and in 1904 President Roosevelt appointed him to Secretary of War. He remained in that position until he was nominated for President of the United States. Taft was projected to win. With Roosevelt as his primary endorser he was able to use Teddy’s popularity, policies and ideals to sway the American Public. Many believed voting for Taft was similar to voting Roosevelt into office for a third term. Taft wasn’t perusing any particular policies during his campaign. Many of his policies and plans were actually attributed to Roosevelt. Instead of promoting ideas, Taft took another avenue. His campaign slogan was “Vote for Taft now, you can vote for Bryan anytime.” Taft as well as the Republican Party believed if they promoted his popularity he won win by a land slide. Along with the American popular vote, Taft also consumed the votes of large businesses and corporations which at the time essentially controlled much of America.
William Jennings Bryan was very different then his competitor. He was a left wing Democrat. Many Americans viewed Bryan’s policies and ideals as an extreme and outlandish. William Jennings Bryan was a very religious man from Nebraska. He was endorsed by the Presbyterian Church whenever he ran for a position in the U.S. government. He held positions in both the Senate and House as well as serving in President Wilson’s cabinet. The 1908 campaign was Bryan’s third and final presidential campaign. The Democratic Party continued nominating him for the position of President, believing that he would make a wonderfully influential leader. However, Bryan had trouble running successful campaigns. Each election he ran was negatively correlated with the previous election. He continued losing, and each time by more votes. Bryan created the stumping tour, which many believed would help him win his elections. The stumping tour was when a candidate traveled around the USA giving speeches on platforms or sawed off tree stumps to the people of that town. Many of his contenders were staying at home, campaign on their own front porch. Bryan was known for his policies; free silver, anti-imperialism and trust-busting. During this campaign Bryan was perusing the trust-busting policy. Some believe that these ideals cost him the election. Essentially trust-busting was breaking up large corporations that used “trusts” to conceal the nature of certain business arrangements. The Democratic Party was trying to prove to the country that many large corporations were using these trusts to do illegal business transactions.
The campaign wasn’t a process like it is today. Many nominations were made months before the vote took place. Today people being campaigning for President years before the election. For the most part the country was evenly divided. Most Northern states voted for Taft, and many Southern states voted for Bryan. Roosevelt carried 29 states and an electoral vote of 321, which was equal to about 53% of the population. Bryan on the other hand carried 17 states, 162 electoral votes and 42% of the population. The Republican Party had remained in power and in office for 3 terms, after which the Democratic Party took control with Presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately for Roosevelt and the Republican Party, Taft did not keep the promises in which he made. After a few years in office he decided to formulate his own ideals and policies, which cause Roosevelt to return to the campaign arena in 1912.
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“William Jennings Bryan.” 10 April 2010. Nebraska State Historical Society. 18 April 2011