Tuesday night, March 28, 2017
the Nation.An illustration depicting William Jennings Bryan on the shoulders of state representatives at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1896, moments after he gave his 'Cross of Gold' speech." Via
The Populist Christian Gospel, once upon a time:
The day before the election of 1896, twenty-three married couples from central Pennsylvania sent a letter of tribute to their candidate for president. They gave thanks that “divine Providence” had allowed Bryan “in splendid health and form” to wage a campaign in which he had “pilloried plutocracy...and revealed to the people the privileged class, in all its revolting nakedness.” They praised his wife, Mary, for “risking health and life” to make “the cause of her husband, the people, her cause.” Assuming he would win, they looked forward to “the redemption of a monopoly cursed people” from “the power of mammon.”
Bryan lost the election, as he did two subsequent campaigns for the White House. Yet this letter, one of hundreds of thousands he received that fall, suggests why we should care about him---a man who was elected to no office higher than that of congressman from Nebraska and who is best known today for prosecuting a young teacher in Tennessee who taught evolution to his students.
For many of his correspondents, Bryan was not merely a favorite politician. They believed him to be a godly hero who preached that the duty of a true Christian was to transform a nation and world plagued by the arrogance of wealth and the pain of inequality. That could only mean a radically progressive interpretation of the Gospels, so that, as the Pennsylvanians phrased it, “our gaping social wounds may be healed...and class distinction leveled.” Bryan’s creed drove his three campaigns for the White House, his work for a dazzling variety of causes both secular and religious, and thirty continuous years of theatrical speechmaking throughout the nation and the world.
---from A Godly Hero: The Life of Willaim Jennings Bryan by Michael Kazin.