The Gold Democrats and Bryan’s Nomination


 “A Too-Continuous Performance”
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   May 12, 1900, p. 427

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Uncle Sam and Miss Columbia are bored by the unending performance of clownish William Jennings Bryan on the issue of free silver (the unlimited coinage of silver). As the Democratic presidential nominee of 1896, Bryan had made free silver the cornerstone of his unsuccessful campaign against Republican William McKinley. Here, peeking its head around the corner is an ostrich, the derogatory symbol of Populism (the proverbial ostrich ignores reality by sticking its head in the ground). Free silver was a key part of the Populist agenda, and the Populist Party had also nominated Bryan for president in 1896. With the presidential election of 1900 taking shape as a Bryan-McKinley rematch, the presumptive Democratic nominee refused to drop free silver despite very different economic and political circumstances from the previous campaign.

In 1896, the United States was still in an economic depression and the “money question” of whether the nation should support the gold standard or allow the unlimited coinage of silver was fiercely debated. Bryan had insisted that gold was ruining the economy and that only inflationary free silver would restore prosperity. However, in 1900, the economy had been thriving and growing for three years without free silver, and the Republican-dominated Congress settled the issue by passing the Gold Standard Act. None of this had an effect on Bryan; as former Republican congressman Thomas Reed dryly remarked, “Bryan would rather be wrong than [be] president.”

Several months before the Democratic National Convention opened on July 4, Vice-Chairman William J. Stone of the Democratic National Committee cautioned Bryan that he had to win Illinois, Indiana, and New York to capture the presidency in 1900, and could only do so by downplaying the money question. On July 1, Stone and four other Democratic leaders met the candidate at his Nebraska home to reiterate the warning. Bryan threatened to run as an independent if the free-silver plank of the 1896 party platform was not incorporated unchanged into the 1900 platform. After the meeting, he telephoned key delegates to convince them to vote for the free-silver plank. At the convention, it was adopted by a one-vote margin, signifying the stark division within the party on the money question. During the campaign, Bryan emphasized the issues of anti-imperialism and antitrust, although he stood by his free-silver allegiance.













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