1896–Bryan’s “Cross of Gold”–Dennis O’Neill
The election of 1896 between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan was a competitive election that played a large role in the revolution of presidential campaigning. William Jennings Bryan was one of the first presidential candidates to travel the country and speak publicly. Bryan gave many of his speeches off of the back of old boxcars to the people, which enabled him to create a favorable image.
During William Jennings Bryan’s pursuit of the Democratic nomination, he gave the “Cross of Gold” speech. The “Cross of Gold” speech is one of the most historically famous speeches ever, to this day. Many political analysts believe that the “Cross of Gold” speech is what won William Jennings Bryan the democratic nomination. One major pressing issue during the time of this election was the dispute on American currency. William Mckinley was in favor of the gold standard, which benefitted investors and those Americans with wealth. The second option in regards to the currency situation was bimetallism. William Jennings Bryan was in favor of bimetallism which suggested that American currency consist of both silver and gold coins. This would create inflation and as a result would help western farmers, coal miners, and silver miners who were in debt. Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech explained why bimetallism was a logical move for America, and that speech won Bryan the votes of most farmers and miners. The end of the “Cross of Gold” speech contains imagery and analogies that were audacious and direct. That is only one reason why this “Cross of Gold” quote is so historically famous.
Preface: Before this quote, William Jennings Bryan is making a strong point as to why we do not need England to switch to bimetallism before America does. He references America’s ancestors and how they declared independence when the population consisted of millions less. His point is that America should be able to declare independence from England in regards to our monetary situation, if our ancestors were able to declare independence many years before.
“If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation, and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for the gold standard by saying to them: you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” – William Jennings Bryan
Immediately after the last sentence of this speech, Bryan holds his arms out as if he is being crucified like Jesus Christ. Campaign rhetoric has changed quite a bit since then, and you can definitely tell the difference in how bold speeches were back in the late nineteenth century. Mimicking Jesus Christ during this time period impacted how a lot of citizens viewed William Jennings Bryan, and a lot of people bought into the message of this cross of gold speech. This speech was given during a time when religion was not wildly challenged by science like it is today.
The most famous quote from this speech is obviously during his last statement. When he mentions putting a cross of thorns upon the brown of labor and crucifying mankind upon a cross of gold, Bryan really captures the attention of the audience. Maybe he is comparing the seriousness to the gold standard issue to the crucifying of Jesus Christ. Also, he could have been comparing the Farmers, silver miners, and coal miners out west to Jesus Christ himself. William Jennings Bryan was standing up for the Blue Collar workers of America. He was implying that they are the life-force of this country that get minimal recognition, but without them we would be in worse position than we are already in with them. The gold standard would be killing their careers and drastically altering their lives. If anything this speech shows a classic difference between democrat and republican. The Democrat wants to promote a system that benefits the blue collar working man, while the Republican is concerned with keeping the gold standard, which benefits rich investors and businessmen.