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The Democratic Campaign
The national Democratic campaign of 1900 suffered from inadequate financing and organization, and therefore relied heavily on its presidential nominee to carry the party’s message to the voters.  As he had in 1896, William Jennings Bryan hit the hustings to deliver 546 speeches before an estimated audience of 2.5 million.  It was a vigorous effort, but one that reached fewer Americans than either his similar speaking tour in 1896 or Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign swing in 1900. 

Bryan kicked off the campaign by emphasizing his opposition to American control of the overseas lands gained after the Spanish-American War.  In Indianapolis on August 8, Bryan declared that his first act as president would be to call Congress into special session in order to ensure the Philippines was an American protectorate with a stable administration and independence.  While he opposed “imperialism,” he called on Democrats to lead the way in peacefully spreading American values across the globe.  The speech persuaded some major Democratic donors to contribute and the Anti-Imperialist League to endorse Bryan, but the anti-expansionist focus was a political liability.  The area of Bryan’s electoral strength in 1896—the Trans-Mississippi West—was the region most favorable in 1900 to continuing America’s presence in the former Spanish colonies.  The effectiveness of the anti-imperial message was also undermined by the candidate’s previous support of the treaty ceding the territories to the United States and his approval of expansion into “desirable” territory. 

On September 18, Bryan’s official letter of acceptance emphasized the antitrust issue.  The fact that the nation was undergoing a period of extensive business consolidation led the Democratic nominee to charge that the Republican Party was the “sponsor at the cradle of more trusts than ever sprang into existence before.”  Bryan’s antitrust focus was blunted by national economic prosperity, McKinley’s forceful remarks against monopolies and his quick response to Hanna’s misstatement, and by the Democratic nominee’s association with Tammany Hall and other Democratic politicians with ties to trusts.  Bryan took his antitrust message to the key electoral state of New York in mid-October.  When he ridiculed “McKinley prosperity” during a speech at Madison Square Garden by asking, “They say we are prosperous.  Who’s we?”  A voice in the audience prompted a roar of laughter by bellowing the name of the Tammany boss, “Croker!”   The next night at Cooper Union, the nominee’s praise of Croker as a “prophet” provoked widespread criticism in the press.  

The Election Results
On November 6, 1900, Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan by a margin of 292-155 in the Electoral College and 52%-46% in the popular vote.  It was the first time a sitting president had won a second term since Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.  Bryan carried the South, the Border States of Kentucky and Missouri, and four Mountain States of Colorado, Nevada, Montana, and Idaho, for a total of 17 states, five less than in 1896.  McKinley carried the other 28 states.  Nationwide voter turnout fell slightly from 1896 to 1900, marking the beginning of a downward trend that continued throughout the twentieth century.  Only 40% of eligible voters in the South cast ballots in 1900; most who did not were black men suffering under political intimidation. 

In 1900, McKinley had coattails carrying other Republican candidates to victory with him.  In 18 of the closest battleground states, GOP state tickets won in 17, including New York, Indiana, Illinois, and Bryan’s home state of Nebraska.  Republicans picked up two seats in the U.S. Senate and 11 in the U.S. House, raising their totals to 57 and 198, respectively.  The biggest Republican gains in the U.S. House were in the most populous states of New York (5) and Pennsylvania (6).  Results of the 1900 election consolidated the realignment begun in 1896 of the GOP as the dominant party in national politics through the 1920s.

Sources consulted:  Paul F. Boller Jr., Presidential Campaigns (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1984); Robert J. Dinkin, Campaigning in America:  A History of Election Practices (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1989); Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence, Kansas:  University Press of Kansas, 1980); Walter LaFeber, “Election of 1900,” in History of American Presidential Elections, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., New York:  Chelsea House Publishers, 1985; Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York:  Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1979); and, Gil Troy, See How They Ran:  The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate (New York:  The Free Press, 1991). 

 
 
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