Monday, September 1, 2014

The Great Commoner: William Jennings Bryan and the US presidential campaign of 1896

Presented to the Club by Roger B. Linscott (date of presentation unknown — sometime in the 1960s or 1970s). Roger was, for many years, the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield's daily newspaper. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1973, and died in 2008 at the age of 88, having been a member of the Club since 1950. We are indebted to Roger's daughter, Wendy Lamme, for a treasure trove of Roger's Monday Evening Club papers.

This paper is principally the story of a political campaign. But no member of the Club need tremble for fear that our unwritten injunction against political topics will be breached. Just as a statesman has been defined a dead politician, so can history be pictured as the politics of yesterday. The presidential campaign I propose to discuss is not the one that engaged our attentions so thoroughly last fall, but rather a campaign far enough removed in time to be labeled history rather than politics — so far removed, in fact, that no person here tonight is old enough to have known at first hand the enormous flood of passion and prejudice which it unleashed throughout the land.

To me, the presidential contest of 1896 has always seemed the most exciting of all our presidential campaigns, and in many respects the most significant as well. It drew a dividing line through the nation's history; it marked the last stand of agrarianism against an inexorably rising industrialism; and it marked the dramatic emergence of an arresting new personality bursting like a meteor on the American scene. This political meteor was, of course, William Jennings Bryan — Bryan the Boy Orator, the Great Commoner, the young crusader from the prairies of Nebraska who, in one magnificent flight of oratory, expressed so powerfully the dissatisfaction of the economically disenfranchised that he was catapulted overnight from obscurity to fame and, very nearly, into the White House.

It is difficult for us today to understand the tremendous impact that Bryan made upon America in that fateful year. Our judgment of him is too heavily weighted by his later follies and failures. He lived too long; he talked too much; he ran for president too often; he embraced too many foolish causes. When he finally died in 1925, it was in Dayton, Tennessee, where he had just suffered his last and most ignominious defeat, in the celebrated Scopes trial, at the hands of Clarence Darrow. His pathetic attempt to defend Bible Belt fundamentalism against the forces of scientific progress had destroyed what standing he still had with the new generation. H. L. Mencken spoke for most of the intelligentsia when, on the day after Bryan's death he wrote: "He was born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming halfwits. His whole career was devoted to raising those halfwits against their betters, that he himself might shine."

But the Bryan of 1896 was not a tired old man battling vainly against enlightenment. He was a dazzling new star in the political firmament, a popular messiah whose appearance was hailed by his fanatical followers as something very akin to a second coming of Christ — a spokesman for millions of Americans who had no other spokesman. Vachel Lindsay caught the electrifying spirit of his emergence when he wrote: "Prairie avenger, mountain lion, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan / Gigantic troubadour, speaking like a siege gun / Smashing Plymouth Rock with his boulders from the West." Pitted against the combined forces of respectability — the businessmen, the educated, the monied, the influential — he conducted single-handedly the most spectacular political campaign in U. S. history. And defeated though he was, the bulk of the populist ideas he espoused eventually became the law of the land.

One cannot begin to understand the passions that were aroused by the 1896 presidential campaign without first understanding the bitter political and economic conditions that gave rise to them. For many of us, this understanding is impeded by the persistence of the myth of the Gay Nineties. Gaiety there was for many Americans — for those who were favored by economic circumstances. It was the decade when the introduction of the pneumatic tire brought the bicycle craze into full flower, when the clean-cut drawings of Charles Dana Gibson were establishing the "Gibson Girl" as the American ideal, when Weber and Fields were convulsing audiences on Broadway and DeWolf Hopper was reciting "Casey at the Bat" up and down the land. It was the decade when "robber barons" of American industry were building fortunes beyond the dreams of avarice — when the Vanderbilt mansions (one of them a three million dollar replica of the Chateau de Blois) occupied six blocks on Fifth Avenue — when steel magnate Charles Schwab was building a Riverside Drive chateau with 75 rooms and 40 baths while Clay Frick was preparing to top them all with a Fifth Avenue castle costing 17 millions. It was the decade when Mrs. William Astor was emerging as the unquestioned empress of New York society, aided by her social prime minister Ward McAllister, who once said that "a fortune of only a million dollars is respectable poverty" and who originated the term "The 400" to describe the number of persons who could comfortably be accommodated in Mrs. Astor's house.

But for many if not most Americans, the 1890s were far from gay. In the teeming slums of the big cities, on the marginal farms of the South and the West, it was a decade of grinding poverty, intensified by the worst economic depression the nation had ever known. Politically, it was a decade of extremism and discouraging bitterness. Throughout large areas of the nation there was a rising feeling of unrest, of deep irritation and dissatisfaction — a mood of discontent fed partly by the passing of the frontier (which had been a safety valve in the past) partly by the oppressive policies of the increasingly powerful trusts and monopolies, and partly by the mounting gap between extremes of wealth and poverty. The business depression which had begun in 1892 was so far advanced by the end of the following year that some 15,000 [corporate] bankruptcies involving liabilities of nearly one-half billion dollars had taken place. In the South and the West there was a wave of bank failures; and in the cities and mill towns a demoralized horde of nearly four million persons looked futilely for work.

Closely linked to these economic miseries in the public mind, if not in fact, was the money question, which had been simmering for a quarter-century and was now ready to boil over. It came to a head as an issue between the free coinage of silver and the single gold standard; but this was merely what showed above the surface. More basically, it was a battle of geographic sections and economic classes; a contest for power between the agrarian South and West against the industrial East. In the broadest terms, it was another chapter, indeed the final chapter, in the historic tug-of-war between the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian concepts of government.

Essentially, the money question was an issue of deflation versus inflation, of hard money versus soft. It became an issue of gold versus silver simply because the amount of currency the government could issue under a gold standard was limited by the amount of gold available to redeem the paper money. Between 1860 and 1890 world gold production, for various reasons, remained steady; but during the same period the population of the United States doubled. This meant that the number of dollars in circulation, on a per capita basis, dropped precipitously, a fact which pushed prices down and interest rates up. This worked to the advantage of the creditor classes, who had dollars to lend or contracts payable to them in dollars. It worked to the disadvantage of the debtor classes by making it harder for them to get dollars with which to pay their debts. In the classic example of the period, the Western farmer who obtained a $5,000 mortgage immediately after the Civil War was borrowing the equivalent of 2,500 bushels of wheat — but when it came time to pay it back he had to produce 5,000 bushels because of the increase in the value of the dollar. The mortgage-holder in the East had lent him a 50-cent dollar and received back a dollar worth twice as much.

In short, the farmers and debtors felt that the shortage of gold produced a situation in which there was too little money to go around. The solution they proposed was the free, unlimited coinage of silver, which they felt would increase the supply of money without risking reckless inflation of the sort that might result from printing greenbacks unsecured by bullion of any kind. In this, quite naturally, they were supported by the silver mine owners of the West, whose production was increasing by leaps and bounds and who wanted the government as a customer. It was a peculiar alliance but an effective one. The farmers gave fervor to the silver cause, and the miners gave the financial backing.

In 1873, before silver agitation became strong, Congress had demonetized silver by passing a coinage act which failed to provide for the continued production of silver dollars. Although this was later pictured as the "Crime of '73," perpetrated by "the gold conspiracy," it stirred little controversy at the time. By 1878, however, the silver miners needed to expand their market, and in that year they pushed through the Bland-Allison Act requiring the U. S. Treasury to mint at least two million dollars worth of silver a month. When this failed to increase the money supply appreciably, stronger measures were demanded; and by 1890 the stage was set with a cynical deal by which Western Republicans agreed to support high tariffs if their Eastern colleagues would line up with silver.

The result was the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which ordered the Treasury to buy 4,500,000 ounces of silver each month, paying for them with treasury notes which could be redeemed in either gold or silver at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury.

When the Panic of 1893 gripped the nation, Democratic President Grover Cleveland blamed it primarily on this law, which had shaken the confidence of many business interests in the monetary system and thus induced them to convert their assets into gold. Accordingly, the President called Congress into special session that summer and demanded the act's unconditional repeal. By adroit use of his patronage powers to win over wavering votes, the President had his way. The Washington Post termed it "a great personal victory for President Cleveland against the most formidable obstacles," and the New York Times pictured his "iron firmness" as all that saved the nation from fiscal ruin. But the victory irreparably alienated the silver wing of his party; and he was denounced as a tool of Wall Street by many who felt the panic was a bankers' plot against silver.

(On the very day the President called Congress back to Washington his immense personal courage was demonstrated by a dramatic episode that did not become a matter of public record until after his term ended. A few days earlier, a growth in the roof of his mouth had been diagnosed as malignant by the White House physician, and an immediate operation was decided upon. Because Vice-President Adlai E. Stevenson was a silverite, any knowledge of the President's grave condition would have caused incalculable panic in the money market; and so, with only a handful of persons privy to the secret, Cleveland went to New York and boarded a friend's yacht, ostensibly for a pleasure cruise. While the boat steamed at half-speed up the East River on June 30, two of the nation's ablest surgeons removed the entire upper left jaw, replacing it — after a second operation some weeks later — with a vulcanized rubber jaw so efficient that neither his appearance nor speaking ability were impaired by the ordeal.)

The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was a victory for the conservative "hard money" forces, but it worked no economic magic. The panic continued, and the drain on the nation's gold reserves became more alarming than ever. The drain had begun under Harrison's administration, partly due to the demand for gold to be sent abroad to meet unfavorable trade balances resulting from the prohibitively high McKinley tariffs. It had been augmented by the fact that holders of silver certificates issued under the Sherman Act were demanding that they be redeemed in gold. By the time Cleveland took office, the gold reserve had dwindled well below the $100 million level established by custom, and by the end of 1893 it was down to $75 million. To make matters worse, when the President and his Secretary of the Treasury, John S. Carlisle, tried to meet the situation by selling bonds for gold, the purchasers of the bonds simply cashed in treasury notes and drew out gold with which to pay for their subscriptions.

Before the crisis passed, the gold reserve had dipped as low as $41 million. Worse, in the eyes of many Democrats, the Cleveland administration had been forced to go three times to the New York bankers, principally the house of Morgan, to sell its bonds. To the silver men in the party, such traffic with the money-changers of Wall Street was intolerable.

As if this were not enough for the overburdened president, the federal surplus which had caused concern four years earlier had become a deficit which caused even more concern. And when the Cleveland administration sought to bolster federal revenues with a two percent tax on incomes above $4,000, the tax was declared unconstitutional by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court. Senator Sherman spoke for most Republicans in contending that the court had saved the nation from "socialism, communism and devilism," but to millions of less favored Americans it seemed [as expressed in a New York World editorial] "another victory of greed over need."

[Editor's note: Linscott wrote a marginal note on the paper at this point: "Joseph Choate, Stephen Field. David Brewer gave the decision." Presumably he paused here to make an ad lib aside to the Club about the Berkshire County connections involved in the case. Joseph H. Choate, the New York attorney who argued the case against the tax before the Supreme Court, built a summer residence in Stockbridge called Naumkeag, renowned for its gardens, and is buried in the Stockbridge cemetery. Stephen Field, a Supreme Court justice appointed by Abraham Lincoln, was one of the nine children of David Dudley Field, a Congregationalist minister in Stockbridge. And a fellow justice, David Josiah Brewer, was Stephen Field's nephew.]

If 1893 was bad, 1894 was worse. Unemployment reached a new high; bread lines lengthened; farm prices continued a downward spiral; strikes were frequent and generally fruitless. From the West came pathetic little armies of "commonwealers" and hoboes in search of an outlet for the grievances, and at times they engaged in disorders with police and local officials. To Washington, also, came "Coxey's Army," a ragged assembly of unemployed who marched east from Ohio under the leadership of "General" Jacob S. Coxey, a man of considerable means who was regarded as a radical eccentric for proposing that public works be undertaken to relieve unemployment and restore purchasing power. His "army," numbering nearly as many reporters as unemployed, was generally regarded in the press as more comic than significant; and when they arrived in Washington, Coxey and his lieutenants were promptly jailed for walking on the Capitol lawn and displaying banners without a permit. But the desperation that this pathetic army reflected was widespread, and talk of civil war was even heard. In Colorado, Governor Waite was quoted as saying "I am prepared to ride in blood up to my bridles."

[Editor's note: The following three paragraphs are crossed out by Linscott on the typescript, presumably to reduce the paper to a reasonable speaking length, but are given here in the interest of continuity and supplementing the historical details:

[Barely a week after the arrest of "General" Coxey, the mounting class antagonism boiled over again with singular bitterness, this time at the Pullman Palace Car Company's "model" company town of Pullman, Illinois. The trouble originated with the refusal of Mr. [George] Pullman to listen to employees' grievances, but it soon became a far-flung battle between the Railway Managers' Association and the American Railway Union, an organization of 100,000 workers headed by the able and dedicated Eugene V. Debs. In every state and territory, Debs' men paralyzed transportation by refusing to handle Pullman cars, and in Chicago mobs seized and burned hundreds of cars. Finally, when the strikers derailed a mail train in defiance of a court injunction obtained through the efforts of U. S. Attorney General [Richard] Olney (a former railroad counsel) President Cleveland sent an Army regiment into Chicago over vigorous protests from John P. Altgeld, the liberal governor of Illinois. After further disorders Debs was jailed for contempt of court, order was slowly restored, and the strike was broken.

[Today it is apparent that Cleveland was ill-advised in the Pullman crisis by Olney, who was more interested in breaking the strike than in protecting private property. At the time, however, the President was solidly backed by the nation's press, which echoed approvingly his contention that "if it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that card will be delivered." Nonetheless, the fact that the strike was defeated by an unprecedented use of court injunctions, and by perverting the Sherman Anti-Trust Act into an anti-labor act, caused deep concern among liberal and labor elements.

[Together with the general economic and fiscal dislocation, this helped produce a devastating Republican sweep in the mid-term elections of 1894. The rout vindicated Speaker [Thomas B.] Reed's jubilant prediction a few months earlier that "the Democratic mortality will be so great next fall that their dead will be buried in trenches and marked 'unknown' — till the supply of trenches gives out."]

The succeeding winter, when the panic reached bottom, was the blackest of all — indeed the blackest since the Civil War. To a friend, the burdened President wrote: "Mrs. Cleveland and the babies are well. God be praised for that! I often think that if things should go wrong at that end of the house, I should abandon the ship."

[Editor's note: A full page, covering the 1894-1895 period, is missing from the typescript at this point, presumably also crossed out and discarded by Linscott in the interest of time, along with a few lines crossed out on the next page that deal with the resolution of the Venezuelan crisis of 1895.]

Such was the desperate situation in the election year of 1896. As the time for conventions approached, the central question was whether the silver Democrats would desert to the Populists, who had polled an astonishing vote of one million and one-half in the mid-term elections, or whether they would take over control of the party and run their own kind of Democrat. By the time the convention was held in Chicago, it was evident that the silverites rather than Cleveland's "sound money" wing would be in charge. The farmers of the South and West, flashing silver badges and carrying silver banners, took control from the opening gavel and held it. Cleveland and his followers were outsiders looking in.

But the silverites at the convention needed more than an issue; they needed a candidate, and none seemed to be at hand. What the silverites must have, commented the New York World on the eve of the convention, "is a Moses. They have the principle, they have the grit, they have the brass bands and the buttons and flags, they have the howl and the hustle, they have the votes and they have the leaders so-called. But they are wandering in the wilderness like a lot of lost sheep because no one with the courage, the audacity, the magnetism, and the wisdom to be a real leader has yet appeared among them. The opportunity is here; the man is lacking."

Less than 12 hours after this statement was published, the silverites' "Moses" appeared on the scene in one of the most dramatic episodes of American political history.

William Jennings Bryan had come to the convention with no national following whatever. He was not even the darkest of dark horses. His private notion that he might become the Democratic standard-bearer would have been deemed ludicrous if he had expressed it aloud. At the age of 36 — only one year older than the minimum prescribed for the presidency by the Constitution — he was a political unknown — a small-town lawyer and editor who had served one term in Congress from Nebraska and who had nothing more than a local reputation in his home state as a fluent speaker on the silver issue. Indeed, as a member of a contested delegation, he had experienced considerable difficulty even obtaining a seat at the convention.

On the second night of the convention, however, he managed to get himself included in a list of four delegates scheduled to speak on the money question as part of the debate on the party platform. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Fully aware that this was his challenge to greatness, he contrived to be the last of the four speakers.  It was a sweltering June night in Chicago, and the smoke-filled convention hall was jammed with nearly 20,000 noisy, milling delegates and spectators. But as Bryan rose to speak, something in the handsome young orator's manner sent a thrill through the sweating mob. The shouting suddenly subsided as his remarkably rich and resonant voice filled the huge hall.

"Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Convention," he began, "I would be presumptuous indeed to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities, but this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty — the cause of humanity."

In mellifluous, strikingly balanced phrases — phrases that he had tested time and time again at free silver meetings in grange halls and at country crossroads throughout Nebraska — Bryan then proceeded to document the grievances of the farmers and the working man, evoking a crescendo of cheers with each new sentence, until finally he threw down the challenge: "We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!"

And then came the famous, superbly conceived peroration: "If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a 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."

It was not a great speech in the sense of being an orderly intellectual exposition. It was not a well-reasoned statement of the case for bimetallism. It was pure oratory, pure emotion. But its effect was tremendous. As one of the more perceptive observers, correspondent Harry Thurston Peck, described it, "He spoke with the utmost deliberation, so that every word was driven home to each hearer's consciousness, and yet with an ever-increasing force, which found fit expression in the wonderful harmony and power of his voice. His sentences rang out, now with the accent of superb disdain, and now with the stirring challenge of a bugle call . . . The leaderless democracy of the West was leaderless no more. Throughout the latter part of his address, a crash of applause had followed every sentence; but now the tumult was like that of a great sea thundering against the dikes. Twenty thousand men and women went mad with irresistible enthusiasm.

Such as the effect of the Cross of Gold speech, one of the great orations of American history. This was no trumped-up demonstration of the sort that commonly features political conventions. When the oration was over, it was three-quarters of an hour before the wild, hysterical crowd could be brought under control. The man and the hour had met; Bryan's nomination was assured.

The Republicans, meanwhile, had met with sublime confidence at a convention dominated by Marcus Alonzo Hanna, the Cleveland coal and iron baron who was the closest thing America has ever had to a national political boss. A personification of big business in politics, Hanna had found the perfect protégé in his friend, William McKinley, whom he had saved from bankruptcy some years earlier and who was now serving as governor of Ohio after a Congressional career distinguished by his advocacy of higher protective tariffs. Blunt and rigorously practical, Hanna had been grooming McKinley for the presidency since 1890, billing him as "the advance agent of prosperity" and sending him about the country in a private railroad car to show himself to the people and to the Republican bosses. For his part, McKinley was an apt pupil, a man of high personal principle and statesmanlike manner who, in the words of William Allen White, went about "like a bronze statue determinedly looking for his pedestal." All told, Hanna spent more than $100,000 of his own money on the grooming, and it proved to be money well spent. At the Republican convention, McKinley was nominated on the first ballot and backed by a platform unalterably opposed to the free coinage of silver.

It is hard to convey the intensity of the presidential campaign which followed. The money problem — or the "battle of the standards" as it was promptly dubbed — was the most emotionally charged issue since slavery, and it cut ruthlessly across party loyalties. Silver Republicans walked out of their party's convention; "sound money" Democrats formed a party of their own; even the Prohibitionist Party split into hostile gold and silver camps. To the gold-standard advocates, it seemed almost a question of the survival of private property. To the silverites, it was a modern version of Christ against the money changers, of God against Mammon.

"It was a fanaticism like the Crusades," William Allen White later wrote in describing the free silver movement. "Indeed the delusion that was working on the people took the form of religious frenzy. Sacred hymns were torn from their pious tunes to place to give place to words which deified the cause and made gold — and all its symbols, capital wealth, plutocracy — diabolical. For the thousands who assembled under the schoolhouse lamps believed that when their cause won, the millennium would come by proclamation. They sang their barbaric songs in unrhythmic jargon with something of the mad faith that inspired martyrs going to the stake."

At first the Republicans were sublimely confident that McKinley would carry the day. Despite the zealousness of the silverites, Bryan's obstacles appeared insurmountable. The Democratic Party had been split down the middle, with Cleveland and most of its eastern leadership opposed to Bryan. The business community, the press, the clergy, the voices of respectability everywhere, were solidly behind the Republican "sound money" cause. But as the disquieting reports of Bryan's popular support spread eastward, the conservatives began to become alarmed. Confidence gave way to fear, and fear to blind hatred in what became the most bitterly fought campaign since Jackson's time. Bryan became, in the eyes of panicky conservatives, a communist, an anarchist, and worse.

"Probably no man in civil life succeeded in inspiring so much terror, without taking life, as Bryan," reported the Nation magazine. In New York, the money capital, he was scathingly villified in the press and from the pulpit. The Tribune described him as "that wretched, rattle-pated boy, posing in vapid vanity and mouthing resounding rottenness . . . apt at lies and forgeries and blasphemies and all the nameless iniquities of his campaign against the Ten Commandments." The Rev. Thomas Dixon called him a "slobbering demagogue whose patriotism is all in his jawbone" while another prominent New York cleric, the Rev. Charles Parkhurst, declared: "I dare, in God's pulpit, to brand his doctrines accursed and treasonous." The Rev. Cortland Myers of the Baptist Temple in Brooklyn charged that the Democratic platform was "made in Hell." Theodore Roosevelt pictured Bryan and his followers as being philosophically "in hearty sympathy with their remote skin-clad ancestors who lived in caves and fought one another with stone-headed axes and ate the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros." And when Bryan was labelled by his admirers as the "boy orator of the River Platte," Republican Senator Foraker drew howls of glee from his audiences by describing the River Platte as "six inches deep and six miles wide at the mouth."

If the election had been held in the summer of 1896, Bryan probably would have won. But by early fall, the aroused and badly frightened Republicans had marshaled far more money and manpower than had ever been seen in a presidential campaign before. Mark Hanna set up headquarters in New York and systematically tapped banks, insurance companies, railroads and trusts for campaign contributions on an unprecedented scale. The larger banks were assessed one-quarter of one percent of their capital funds; Standard Oil alone contributed $250,000; and the total amount raised to fight Bryan was estimated at upwards of seven million dollars. McKinley himself waged what the correspondents labeled as a front-porch campaign, remaining at his house in Canton, Ohio, and addressing scores of delegations which came to see him, their fares paid by the Republican campaign committee. But his efforts were supplemented by an army of some 18,000 Republican campaign speakers whom Hanna sent swarming across the country to denounce Bryan and proclaim the McKinley pledge of "the full dinner pail." All told, more than 100 million pieces of campaign literature were sent out in the Republican cause; and on the Saturday before the election, the campaign came to a climax with a "sound money" parade in New York in which 150,000 businessmen, civic leaders and clergymen marched up Broadway in black hats and coats. Factory workers in scores of communities found slips in their pay envelopes reading: "If Bryan is elected, don't come back to work. The plant will be closed."

Against this solid array of money and respectability, the Democrats had no weapon but Bryan himself. He was a man of severe limitations, neither widely read nor a clear thinker; but his magnetism, his courage and his passionate belief in the wisdom of the common people enabled him to command immense personal loyalty. Without adequate funds, with scarcely a major newspaper on his side, he carried the entire burden of the campaign on his shoulders, traveling 16,000 miles back and forth across the country and making as many as 36 speeches in one day. All told, he addressed some five million people.

It was an extraordinary performance in many ways, spectacular in American political history — but it was not enough to overcome the enormous odds. On election day, the populous Northeast, with its preponderance of electoral votes, stood fast for sound money and Republicanism. Considering the obstacles he faced, however, Bryan's total of 6.5 million votes against McKinley's 7 million was a remarkable tribute to his personal appeal and his inexhaustible energy; indeed, it has been estimated that an additional 50,000 votes, properly distributed, could have put him in the White House. That this did not happen is testimony to the fact that industrialism was too firmly in the American saddle to be dislodged.

"For 100 years," wrote Henry Adams, "the American people had hesitated, vacillated, swayed forward and backward between the two forces. The issue finally came on the single gold standard, and the majority at last declared itself, for once and for all, in favor of a capitalistic system with all its necessary machinery." In the person of Bryan, Jeffersonian agrarianism had made its last stand and lost.

But the memory of that last stand lingered on to become something approaching an American legend. Men now in middle age," wrote Henry Pringle a generation later, "still recall some weird night in a Kansas or Nebraska boyhood when, well toward midnight, they waited in tingling excitement on the fringe of the crowd which packed the station plaza. The train roared in, as a hastily assembled band played Sousa's new march, 'El Capitan,' and from the back platform a man with longish black hair began to speak. Men grown old still sit in crossroads grocery stores, listening to the radio, and telling of the giants who once lived: Blaine, perhaps, and Foraker of Ohio, and McKinley and Roosevelt. They had heard them all — but Bryan, only 36 years old, Bryan had been the greatest."

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