William Jennings Bryan

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Bryan, William Jennings

(brī`ən), 1860–1925, American political leader, b. Salem, Ill. Although the nation consistently rejected him for the presidency, it eventually adopted many of the reforms he urged—the graduated federal income tax, popular election of senators, woman suffrage, public knowledge of newspaper ownership, prohibition, federally insured bank deposits, regulation of the stock market, pure food and drug laws, and several others.

Presidential Hopeful

He practiced law at Jacksonville, Ill., and in 1887 he moved to Lincoln, Nebr. Bryan was a U.S. Representative from 1891 to 1895 but was defeated for the U.S. Senate in 1894. The next two years he spent as editor in chief of the Omaha World-Herald. Having ardently identified himself with the free silverfree silver,
in U.S. history, term designating the political movement for the unlimited coinage of silver. Origins of the Movement

Free silver became a popular issue soon after the Panic of 1873, and it was a major issue in the next quarter century.
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 forces in Congress, he became their most popular speaker in a preconvention drive to control the Democratic national convention at Chicago in 1896.

At the convention his famous "Cross of Gold" speech so swayed the delegates that his nomination for President was assured, even though he was only 36 years old. The Populist partyPopulist party,
in U.S. history, political party formed primarily to express the agrarian protest of the late 19th cent. In some states the party was known as the People's party.
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 also nominated him, but the conservative gold Democrats ran John M. Palmer. The chief issue of the campaign was Bryan's proposal for free and unlimited coinage of silver, which he thought would remedy the economic ills then plaguing farmers and industrial workers. He lost the bitterly fought contest to Republican William McKinleyMcKinley, William,
1843–1901, 25th president of the United States (1897–1901), b. Niles, Ohio. He was educated at Poland (Ohio) Seminary and Allegheny College. After service in the Union army in the Civil War, he returned to Ohio and became a lawyer at Canton.
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, whose campaign was skillfully managed by Marcus A. HannaHanna, Marcus Alonzo
(Mark Hanna), 1837–1904, American capitalist and politician, b. New Lisbon (now Lisbon), Ohio. He attended Western Reserve College for a short time, then entered his father's wholesale grocery and commission business at Cleveland in 1858.
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Bryan controlled the Democratic convention in 1900 and saved the silver plank from removal by Eastern gold factions, but he agreed to put the campaign emphasis on anti-imperialism. Defeated again by McKinley, Bryan in 1901 started the Commoner, a widely read weekly that kept him in the public eye. His reduced party power in 1904 resulted in the compromise nomination of Alton B. ParkerParker, Alton Brooks,
1852–1926, American jurist, U.S. presidential candidate (1904), b. Cortland, N.Y. He practiced law in Kingston, N.Y., and was (1877–85) surrogate of Ulster co., N.Y.
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, a conservative New Yorker, upon a platform dictated by Bryan. Parker, however, disavowed the silver plank, and Bryan unwillingly acquiesced. Parker's overwhelming defeat by Theodore Roosevelt turned the Democrats again to Bryan, who in 1908 was nominated a third time. Roosevelt's candidate, William H. TaftTaft, William Howard,
1857–1930, 27th President of the United States (1909–13) and 10th chief justice of the United States (1921–30), b. Cincinnati. Early Career

After graduating (1878) from Yale, he attended Cincinnati Law School.
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, defeated him.

Secretary of State

The last Democratic convention in which Bryan played an important role was that of 1912, where his switch to Woodrow WilsonWilson, Woodrow
(Thomas Woodrow Wilson), 1856–1924, 28th President of the United States (1913–21), b. Staunton, Va. Educator

He graduated from Princeton in 1879 and studied law at the Univ. of Virginia.
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 helped gain Wilson the nomination. Upon his election Wilson named Bryan secretary of state. Bryan was influential in holding the Democrats together during the first 18 months of Wilson's administration, when unity was essential to the enactment of the president's reform legislation. He had little previous experience in foreign affairs but studied international questions conscientiously. With some 30 nations he negotiated treaties providing for investigation of all disputes. Antiwar leanings made Bryan more conciliatory than Wilson toward Germany. His Latin American policies, particularly those involving Nicaragua, caused a good deal of friction. Disliking the strong language of the second Lusitania note drafted by Wilson, in which he felt the president had abandoned America's neutral position, Bryan resigned on June 9, 1915, rather than sign it. However, he supported Wilson in the 1916 election and after war was declared.

Later Years and the Scopes Trial

In the 1920 Democratic convention at San Francisco he fought in vain for a prohibition plank, and in 1924 at New York City he supported William G. McAdoo against Alfred E. Smith, but he was no longer the party's leader. In his later years Bryan, a Presbyterian, devoted himself to the defense of fundamentalism. He addressed legislatures urging measures against teaching evolution and appeared for the prosecution in the famous Scopes trialScopes trial,
Tennessee legal case involving the teaching of evolution in public schools. A statute was passed (Mar., 1925) in Tennessee that prohibited the teaching in public schools of theories contrary to accepted interpretation of the biblical account of human creation.
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 in Tennessee. Although he won the case in the trial court, Bryan's beliefs were subjected to severe ridicule in a searching examination by opposing counsel, Clarence DarrowDarrow, Clarence Seward,
1857–1938, American lawyer, b. Kinsman, Ohio. He first practiced law in Ashtabula, Ohio. In 1887 he moved to Chicago, where he was corporation counsel for several years and conducted the cases that the city brought to reduce transit rates.
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. Five days after the trial, Bryan died in his sleep.


See the memoirs (1925, repr. 1971), begun by Bryan and finished by his widow; biographies by W. C. Williams (1936), P. W. Glad (1960), P. E. Coletta (3 vol., 1964–69), L. W. Koenig (1971), and W. Kazin (2006); studies by L. W. Levine (1965) and P. W. Glad, ed. (1968).

Charles Wayland Bryan

William Jennings Bryan's brother, Charles Wayland Bryan, 1867–1945, b. Salem, Ill., was for many years W. J. Bryan's political secretary and business agent. He was publisher and associate editor of the Commoner, mayor of Lincoln, Nebr., and governor of Nebraska.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bryan, William Jennings


Born Mar. 19, 1860, in Salem, Ill.; died July 26, 1925, in Dayton, Tenn. American statesman. Lawyer by education.

In 1891, Bryan became a member of Congress from the Democratic Party. Demagogically supporting the antitrust and Populist movements, he gained popularity among the petite and middle bourgeoisie, farmers, and part of the working class. He ran unsuccessfully three times (in 1896, 1900, and 1908) for the office of president of the USA. From 1913 to 1915 he was secretary of state in W. Wilson’s cabinet. He supported the economic and political expansion of the USA in Latin America. On the eve of World War I, Bryan proposed a plan for solving world conflicts by means of arbitration. Bryan’s so-called pacifism came into conflict with the anti-German position of the USA and led to his resignation. The reactionary nature of Bryan’s views was revealed when he acted as prosecutor in the anti-Darwinian “Monkey Trial” (1925).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bryan, William Jennings

(1860–1925) defended Creationism in famous Scopes trial. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 383–384]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bryan, William Jennings

(1860–1925) political leader, orator; born in Salem, Ill. After practicing law, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., 1891–95) and began to develop his reputation as "the Great Commoner," using his oratorical skills on behalf of the causes of the common folk. He opposed high tariffs and he called for an income tax, direct popular election of senators, a Department of Labor, prohibition, and women's suffrage. Out of office, he turned to journalism and lecturing and when he showed up at the Democratic national convention of 1896 and delivered his famous "Cross of Gold" speech on behalf of free silver, the agrarian West prevailed over the urban East and he ended up with the presidential nomination. He lost, as he would when he ran again in 1900 and 1908. After helping Woodrow Wilson gain the Democratic nomination in 1912, he became Wilson's secretary of state (1913); devoted to establishing arbitration as the solution to international disputes, he resigned in 1915 rather than go along with Wilson's belligerent warnings to Germany; when America entered World War I, however, he supported Wilson. In 1920 he moved to Florida where, participating in the real-estate boom, he made a fortune; he continued his career as a lecturer, known especially for his support of prohibition and of a literal interpretation of the Bible. It was in this last capacity that he made his final public appearance, speaking for the prosecution at the Scopes anti-evolution "monkey trial" in 1925.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Less clear is the connection to William Jennings Bryan, although Doherty makes a fairly compelling case, noting that "[t]he two politicians' character, style, populist appeal, and most specifically their anti-imperialism mark them as kin." In addition, Bryan shaped national politics without ever being elected president.
Before turning to the case studies, I must return to a major Florida figure, someone who (I contend) was crucial to the region's architectural and cultural frontierism--William Jennings Bryan, with whom I began this article.
The author, emeritus professor of religion at Muhlenberg College (and a distant relative of William Jennings Bryan of the Scopes trial), states that "No words ever recorded have had more influence upon human affairs in more diverse ways than the words of the first three chapters of Genesis (ix)." His book provides an excellent overview of why this is so.
Where once William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic nominee for president, thundered on behalf of beleaguered late-19th-century farmers against "the cross of gold" (Wall Street's tight-money policy), today's down-ticket Democrats are running against oil companies and Wall Street's commodity speculators.
He has a knack for keeping his yarn moving while generously peppering it with interesting and occasionally telling anecdotes and quotations, as when he dramatically describes William Jennings Bryan's famous "cross of gold" speech, which cemented Bryan's 1896 presidential nomination, writing that "the audience absorbed the rhythms of Bryan's voice." And he has a sharp, observant eye for the big picture, noting, for example, that "the Civil War began as a revolt by Southern democrats and ended as a revolution by Northern capitalists." Overall, Brands's account of American history as a series of monetary struggles is a fruitful interpretation well worth a reader's dollars.
And in a touch worthy of a gruesome morality play, William Jennings Bryan, a bloated buffoon skewered by Darrow on the stand, staggered off to die five days later.
A GODLY HERO, BY GEORGETOWN historian Michael Kazin, is an admirable if quixotic attempt to refurbish American liberalism by reconsidering the life of William Jennings Bryan. Insofar as he is known at all today, the three-time presidential nominee of the Democratic Party (in 1896, 1900, and 1908), is thought of as the religious fanatic whom H.L.
This audiobook production was directed by Gordon Hunt and features the talented contributions of Edward Asner (who plays William Jennings Bryan), Mike Farrell (as Clarence Darrow), Matthew Patrick Davis (the defendant, John Thomas Scopes), Shaon Gless as the narrator, and a superb supporting cast that includes James Gleason, Matthew Underwood, Robert Pescovitz, David Alan Novak, Rob Nage, Jon Matthews, Jerry Hardin, and Harry Groener.
Nevada in 1908, when William Jennings Bryan beat William Howard Taft by 437 votes.
William Jennings Bryan, for Mencken 'a sort of Fundamentalist Pope', condemned this as blasphemy 'denying the story of divine creation, claiming instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals'.