Parades, Protests and Politics


Changing Standards: 1896

William Jennings Bryan, 1907, reproduced
from The Trumpet Soundeth, 1960.

William Jennings Bryan, 1907, reproduced from "The Trumpet Soundeth," 1960. (CHS)

The 1896 Democratic National Convention focused on how to end America's economic depression. City dwellers of the East and Midwest--working-class immigrants as well as wealthy financiers--believed that gold-based currency was the only sure path to economic stability. Farm interests in the West and the South argued that this gold standard restricted the monetary supply and lowered prices for their crops. They wanted to use both silver and gold with free and unlimited coinage of silver.

The Democratic National Convention at the first     Coliseum, on 63rd Street between Blackstone Avenue and Harper Avenue.

The Democratic National Convention at the first Coliseum, on 63rd Street between Blackstone Avenue and Harper Avenue. (From Harper's Weekly)

President Grover Cleveland's decision not to seek re-election left the race wide open. The platform floor fight opened with a speech in favor of the gold standard by William Russell and climaxed with little-known delegate William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech that advocated free silver and ended with the words "...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's speech created a frenzy among delegates, who began to unite behind him. He was nominated but lost the general election to William McKinley. Bryan was nominated again in 1900 and 1908 and was referred to as the greatest Democrat of his generation, although he never attained the presidency.


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