William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a populist three-time Democratic presidential nominee, known as "The Great Commoner" due to his strong political support for farmers and laborers, his popular touch, and his deeply held religious beliefs. He was notable for advocating that the United States drop the gold standard and switch to the inflationary silver standard, a move designed to help farmers and hurt big business. Bryan was a gifted orator, one of the finest in all of American history. Trained as a lawyer, Bryan represented the state of Nebraska in the United States Congress, 1891-95.
In 1896, Bryan delivered one of the most riveting speeches in all of American history, known as the "Cross of Gold" speech. A phenomenal speaker, Bryan galvanized the national political convention at the young age of only 36. His speech almost single-handedly united the Democratic and Populist parties, thereby laying the foundation for what became the modern Democratic Party.
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 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.
Bryan then toured Europe and became alarmed at the consequences of teaching Darwinian evolution as he was a devout evangelical. He grew concerned that this theory was the intellectual basis for the massive world wars, and that the theory led to an erroneous view that human races must inevitably fight with each other for survival of the fittest. He feared another world war.
He argued for the prosecution in the Scopes trial in in 1925, a case which he won. Already in poor health, he died five days after the trial while taking his afternoon nap after church. Bryan College, a private Christian college located in Dayton, is named for him. Unfortunately, liberal bias in plays such as Inherit the Wind have cast Bryan as not only the loser, but an ignorant man simply for sticking to logic and his beliefs. Modern Christians remember him for his valiant defense of Christianity in the face of deceit perpetrated by ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow.
Bryan was the son of Silas Lillard Bryan and Mariah Elizabeth (Jennings) Bryan. Silas Bryan won election as a state circuit judge, served in various local positions and sought election to Congress in 1872, but was narrowly defeated by the Republican candidate. An admirer of Andrew Jackson and Stephen A. Douglas, Silas passed on his Democratic affiliation to his son, William, who would remain a lifelong Democrat.
- Born on March 19, 1860, in Salem, Illinois.
- Larson, Edward J. (2006), Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial And America's Continuing Debate over Science And Religion, Basic Books, p. 199
- William Jennings Bryan Nebraska State Historical Society
- Kazin (2006), p. 5
- Kazin (2006), pp. 4–5, 9