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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.
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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. .
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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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.
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).