Much like the Republican problems during the 1892 election, in which Grover Cleveland won his second term of office, the Democratic Party faced problems in the 1896 election. Cleveland, who had won on the strength of labor unions and his policy on monetary policy, lost on both of his signature issues. His use of the military during a railroad strike in 1894 and his comment that he would he would commission the military to do government services if the postal service struck did not endear himself to the growing labor movement within the Democratic Party.
These blunders caused the Republicans to gain over 100 House seats and control over the Senate in the 1894 midterm elections. The Populist Party reached a critical juncture in 1896. At the 1896 Democratic nominating convention, the more progressive aspects of the party rallied behind Nebraskan politician William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, a proponent of silver currency, gave a speech now referred to as the “Cross of Gold” speech in which he derided the Republican administration of monetary policy in the past and hoped for a more populist approach to government in the future.
The Democrats rallied behind Bryan and the platform reflected not only his populist agenda but their future fusion with the People’s Party to create a more progressive and rural party. The Democratic platform included advocacy for free silver and the possibility of international bimetallism, a federal income tax, statehood for Western territories, and a decreased tariff. When the People’s Party met at their nominating convention, they voted to fuse their candidates to the Democratic Party and pool resources with the more organized Democrats.
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The Republican Party, resurgent with their congressional success in 1894, rallied around Ohio governor William McKinley, the namesake of the 1890 tariff bill that was hotly contested in this decade. McKinley and the Republicans shaped a platform around the gold standard, an increase in protective tariffs more vigorous navy, increased standards for immigration, the acquisition of Hawaii, and an opposition to the idea of bimetallism. His monetary policy shifted miners and the lower class towards Bryan, but his measured platform managed to keep labor and business happy.
The two campaigns had contrasting styles. William Jennings Bryan crisscrossed the nation giving stump speeches that were both fiery and inspiring to Democratic activists. However, Bryan lost gold Democrats and progressives who were turned off by his policy towards the economy and towards his focus on rural populations. The McKinley campaign, managed by Republican operative Mark Hanna, received several million dollars in donations to aid in the Republican campaign. For the most part, Hanna got these donations out of businesses and the wealthy that were afraid of a Bryan presidency and agrarian revolt.
McKinley ran a front porch campaign while 1400 plus Republican speakers went around the nation stumping against the “radical” William Jennings Bryan. While Bryan did well in the West and the South, the more densely populated industrial North and Midwest went to McKinley who was able to win the election. If Bryan had won the election, things would have been vastly different. “No one can make a million dollars honestly. ” – Bryan was widely regarded as a prominent spokesman for millions of rural Americans who were suffering from the economic depression following the Panic of 1893.
William Jennings Bryan believed in free and unlimited coinage of silver, which he thought would remedy the economic ills then plaguing farmers and industrial workers. This inflationary measure would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers. He blamed big business for the economic depression that was present. If elected President of the United States, he would have advanced his idea for free coinage of silver. Although this would have been beneficial for the majority of farmers, many of the rest of the population would have been extremely unhappy.
The big business partners would have gotten together and plotted for the assignation for William Jennings Bryan; which would have been successful. Bryan should have never messed with big business because, they mean business. “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. ” I believe that it was William Jennings Bryan’s destiny to lose the election of 1896 so that he would not be assassinated. It was for the better of the country that he had not won the election. The economic strategy of farming for the country was coming to an end regardless.
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