William Jennings Bryan

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William Jennings Bryan
41st United States Secretary of State
From: March 5, 1913 – June 9, 1915
President Woodrow Wilson
Predecessor Philander C. Knox
Successor Robert Lansing
Former U.S. Representative from Nebraska's 1st Congressional District
From: March 4, 1891 – March 3, 1895
Predecessor William James Connell
Successor Jesse Burr Strode
Party Democrat
Spouse(s) Mary Baird Bryan
Religion Presbyterian

William Jennings Bryan (1860[1]-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.[2][3] 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 was (along with Woodrow Wilson) the most prominent Democrat in the Progressive Era, and was a leader in many progressive causes, such as anti-trust, peace and prohibition.

He served as Secretary of State during the Administration of President Woodrow Wilson, and resigned based on his principled opposition to American involvement in World War I.

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.


At the 1924 Democrat Klanbake Convention, Bryan spoke for two hours in opposition to a plank condemning the Ku Klux Klan by name.[4] He did this because he thought that they would soon fold. Although he disliked the Klan, he never publicly attacked it.[5]

Scopes trial

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]


  • "The Bible differs from all other books in that it never wears out. Other books are read and laid aside, but the Bible is a constant companion. No matter how often we read it or how familiar we become with it, some new truth is likely to spring out at us from its pages whenever we open it, or some old truth will impress us as it never did before. Every Christian can give illustrations of this."[10]
  • "I have been so satisfied with the Christian religion that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it.… I am not afraid now that you will show me any. I feel that I have enough information to live and die by."[11]
  • "A man who murders another shortens by a few brief years the life of a human being; but he who votes to increase the burden of debts upon the people of the United States assumes a graver responsibility."[12]
  • "The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee to slur at it."[11]


  1. Born on March 19, 1860, in Salem, Illinois.
  2. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/today.html
  3. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/aa/bryan
  4. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/240629convention-dem-ra.html
  5. Coletta, Paolo E. William Jennings Bryan. Vol. 3: Political Puritan, 1915–1925 (1969), pp. 162, 177, 184
  6. Larson, Edward J. (2006), Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial And America's Continuing Debate over Science And Religion, Basic Books, p. 199
  7. William Jennings Bryan Nebraska State Historical Society
  8. Kazin (2006), p. 5
  9. Kazin (2006), pp. 4–5, 9
  10. William Jennings Bryan (1922). “In His Image: By William Jennings Bryan”
  11. 11.0 11.1 Scopes trial testimony (July 1925).
  12. First Speech Against Unconditional Repeal (9 February 1893).

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