Home > 1896-1928 Campaigns, 1908 Campaign > 1908–The Commoner–Kate Hamill

1908–The Commoner–Kate Hamill

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.

Sources: 

“Cross of Gold.” 30 March 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_of_Gold_speech.

Hibben, Paxton. The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929.

“William Jennings Bryan.” 20 April 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011.               http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jennings_Bryan.

Wunder, John. “William Jennings Bryan: The Commoner.” 9 Febrary 2010. Jnews. 20 April 2011                http://www.unljnews.net/college/the-commoner-william-jennings-bryan%E2%80%99snewspaper/.

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