William Jennings Bryan: An Electrifying Orator

Second of a five-part series

William Jennings Bryan delivers a campaign speech, circa 1910. i i

William Jennings Bryan delivers a campaign speech, circa 1910. Bryan put himself on the map as one of America's best orators with his "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896. Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Bettmann/Corbis
William Jennings Bryan delivers a campaign speech, circa 1910.

William Jennings Bryan delivers a campaign speech, circa 1910. Bryan put himself on the map as one of America's best orators with his "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896.

Bettmann/Corbis

A Famous Speech

The Cross of Gold Speech, delivered July 9, 1896, was re-created for a recording in 1921.

At the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, William Jennings Bryan gave a speech that electrified his party.

The 36-year-old Bryan, who only served a couple of terms as a congressman from Nebraska and lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1894, was an unlikely presidential candidate.

But his "Cross of Gold" speech — about the gold standard and its impact on the working class — won him the nomination. It is known today as one of the most important oratorical performances in American history.

That year, Bryan ran against Republican nominee William McKinley, the former governor of Ohio, and lost. In 1900 and 1908, Bryan again won his party's nomination, but lost both times.

Radio Diaries spoke with two authors about Bryan's speech and how he changed the Democratic Party: Michael Kazin, who wrote A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, and Richard Bensel, who wrote Passion and Preferences: William Jennings Bryan and the 1896 Democratic National Convention.

Says Kazin: "In many ways, Bryan was one of the most important losers in American history."

This story was produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.