The Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was unique in his views and would represent what should be an important American political view to this day. He was the longtime head of the Democrat Party in the 1890s and 1900s. He was the Democrat presidential nominee three times but was never elected (1896, 1900, 1912). He was a highly skilled orator and had pioneering positions and influence that eventually came to pass.
Bryan not only opposed U.S. entry into World War I, he dared to criticize the bankster class family that had organized the war. Par for the course, and because he dared to mention the Rothschilds, Bryan was promptly denounced as “anti-Semitic.”
He responded, “Our opponents have sometimes tried to make it appear that we were attacking a race when we denounced the financial policy of the Rothschilds. But we are as much opposed to the financial policy of J.P. Morgan as we are to the financial policy of the Rothschilds.”
Fundamentally, Bryan held the view of not bowing to plutocratic corruption and certainly not giving any player a pass over sophistry.
At the 1896 Democrat National Convention, Bryan delivered his “Cross of Gold speech” that attacked the gold standard and the eastern moneyed interests and crusaded for anti-deflationary/inflationary policies built around the expanded coinage of silver. At the time, agriculture was an important economic force in the U.S., and Bryan recognized the manipulative games being played to depress farm production prices.
In his “Cross of Gold” speech, Bryan argued that the debate over monetary policy was part of a broader struggle for democracy, political independence and the welfare of the “common man.” Bryan’s speech was met with rapturous applause and a celebration on the floor of the convention that lasted for over half an hour. This speech was made 17 years before the Federal Reserve was established.
In a repudiation of incumbent U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his conservative “Bourbon Democrats,” the Democrat convention nominated Bryan for president, making him the youngest major party nominee in history. Subsequently, Bryan was also nominated for president by the Populist Party, and many Populists would eventually follow Bryan into the Democrat Party.
He was building a core coalition of the white South, poor northern farmers, industrial workers and miners against banks, railroads and “money power.” However, Bryan faced a disadvantage in money and media support. The major papers, such as The New York Times (aka NY Slimes) opposed him.
Bryan supported federal income tax but primarily as a way of ensuring a more balanced distribution of wealth. He was an early proponent of pure food and drug laws, but primarily as a way of keeping the people healthy. Other Bryan positions that need a major revisit include a ban on corporate financing of campaigns. At a time when senators were picked by state legislatures, Bryan led the charge for a constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of senators. He was very supportive of decentralized, local control and ownership, particularly for public utilities. He would have stood against privatization. He pushed and supported Theodore Roosevelt into trust busting.
He pushed for other landmark measures that extended the life of American democracy a bit longer. Winter Watch would argue that there can be no democracy without William Jennings Bryan ideals. Throughout his career, his message was constant: It’s “a contest between democracy and plutocracy.”
He was key on creating federal regulation of banks and securities and requiring national banks provide deposit insurance.
He pushed protections for union organizers and tried to build up labor wages. He advocated for the eight-hour workday. He saw building infrastructure and education as a central role of Federal government. He favored greater federal power to limit plutocratic trusts so as to avoid capture, as seen today.
Somehow, the usual suspects have made Bryan look like a backward hick and have diminished his impact. Bryan was religious and late in life got involved in the Scopes trial on Darwinism. He probably was not the best man for that job, so there was a pile-on — and this is how he was remembered. Overlooked was that the central beef Bryan had with Darwinism was on humanitarian grounds — eugenics, and the use of scientism to experiment on and control humans.
However, the other key takeaway is that Bryan stood for traditional values and would not have been a party to divisive cultural Marxism and pervert justice warrior influences. I believe Bryan would have been a staunch opponent of concentrated media control and cultural debasement. Bryan’s political views shouldn’t be that hard to accept; but then, as now, they are thrown into a contrived dialectic. He wouldn’t check off the social-liberal boxes. Even at the time, he was mocked by conservatives along a false dialectic, as the illustration at right shows.
Prohibition was a large issue in that era and Bryan came to support it. This may have been a mistaken policy in the end, but Bryan’s heart was in the right place. Bryan “sincerely believed that prohibition would contribute to the physical health and moral improvement of the individual, stimulate civic progress and end the notorious abuses connected with the liquor traffic.”
You don’t hear much about Bryan in the current political climate. Bryan-like candidates should fare well today but never appear because plutocratic money controls politics. Thus, they are MIA. The ever-prescient Bryan saw this coming.
In 1912, after the start of the convention, Bryan engineered the passage of a resolution stating that the party was “opposed to the nomination of any candidate who is a representative of, or under any obligation to, J. Pierpont Morgan, Thomas F. Ryan, August Belmont or any other member of the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class.”
Bryan won the presidential nomination again in 1900. In the aftermath of the Spanish–American War, Bryan became a fierce opponent of American imperialism and much of the campaign centered on that issue. He supported the Spanish-American War but only as a Cuban independence measure. He was outraged that the Treaty of Paris granted the United States control over the Philippines.
Woodrow Wilson appointed Bryan as Secretary of State. He served from March 5, 1913, to June 9, 1915, and he had considerable influence up to the point that British agent Col. House compromised Wilson.
After World War I broke out in Europe in August 1914, Bryan consistently advocated for U.S. neutrality between the Entente and the Central Powers. With Bryan’s support, Wilson initially sought to stay out of the conflict, urging Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as action.” For much of 1914, Bryan actively attempted to bring a negotiated end to the war.
The May 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat further galvanized anti-German sentiment. Bryan argued that the British blockade of Germany was equally as offensive as the German U-boat campaign.
However, after Bryan’s departure on June 9, 1915, Col. House sabotaged peace efforts, and the rest is hidden history [see “Covert Agent Edward Mandell House: The Enemy Within Wilson’s White House“].
Winter Watch Takeaway: Men like William Jennings Bryan are sorely needed but nowhere to be found. His epitaph was fitting and would be fitting today: “Statesman. Yet Friend To Truth! Of Soul Sincere. In Action Faithful. And In Honor Clear.”