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February 2008: Presidential Campaigns Over a Century Ago

Postcard from 1918 Showing evangelist Billy Sunday (left) shaking hands with William Jennings Bryan in Chicago. Sunday was holding an evangelistic meeting in Chicago and also supporting local temperance forces trying to pass ordinances that would have prohibited the sale of alcohol in the city. Bryan had come to the city to help in this Prohibition effort. The local movement failed, but the 18th amendment to the United States constitution, requiring prohibition across the nation, passed early the next year. For his entire political career, Bryan was a fervent supporter of Prohibition, the labor movement, and arbitration instead of war as a settler of international disputes. All of these positions were based in his personal Christian faith.

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was one of the leading politicians in the United States a century ago. He was also a powerful lay evangelist. Click here to hear a tape that includes both aspects of his life. (5-1/2 minutes) Click here to read the texts of the segments on the recording.

In 1896, in a stunning upset, Bryan, then a young congressman from Nebraska, captured the Democratic nomination for president after electrifying the convention with his famous speech that ended, "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!" In one of the closest fought elections in United States history, he lost to Republican William McKinley in November. In 1900, he was again the Democratic nominee (again against McKinley.) This year he ran predominately on an anti-imperialist platform, criticizing the country's recent acquisition of the Philippines as a colony and the likely acquisition of more. He lost again, as he did when he ran in 1908. But the coalition of forces he built provided the foundation for Woodrow Wilson's victory in 1912 against a divided Republican party.

The Archives acquired the Bryan recording (Collection 97) in 1979 from a dealer in historic phonograph records and tapes. It appears to have been recorded from at least three different earlier recordings and is similar but not identical to other Bryan recordings on the Web. The first segment consists of Bryan giving the powerful conclusion of his Cross of Gold speech. This was not recorded at the time at the convention but apparently later in a studio. It is followed by someone else singing a pro-Bryan campaign song. There then follows a segment giving an edited version of the conclusion of Bryan's acceptance speech in 1900, in which he sketched a vision of America's future. The final segment, a reminder of Bryan's deep Christian faith and preaching activities, is his reading of the 23rd Psalm. This last segment was recorded shortly before his death.

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Last Revised: 02/01/08
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2008