William Jennings Bryan

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William Jennings Bryan (1902) Bryan's signature
William Jennings Bryan and his wife 1915

William Jennings Bryan (born March 19, 1860 in Salem , Illinois , † July 26, 1925 in Dayton , Tennessee ) was an American politician who served as Secretary of State in the cabinet of US President Woodrow Wilson . From 1891 to 1895 he sat for the state of Nebraska in the US House of Representatives . He was three times - in 1896 , 1900 and 1908 - the Democratic Party candidate for president. During the time of his political activity, Bryan was one of the leading figures of the populist movement in the United States, which campaigned primarily against cartels and for better conditions for farmers.


He was a leading exponent of the populist movement at the end of the 19th century and ran for the US presidency as a Democrat in 1896 and 1900 , where he was beaten by Republican William McKinley . In 1908 he came up again, but was clearly defeated by Republican William Howard Taft .

His platform was not unlike the Raiffeisen movement in Germany and Austria, and he tried to defend the interests of the small farmers against the powerful railroad barons and the industrial cartels. In the election campaign for the presidency in 1896, he fought against the introduction of the gold standard ; bimetallic (gold and silver) should remain. He owed his nomination to an enthusiastically received party congress speech in which he warned against " crucifying humanity on a cross of gold ". He was alluding to the conspiracy theory widespread in the populist movement that the gold standard was based on a plot by big business and the New York banks against the common people. He thus created a broad basis for the Democratic Party, which presented itself as the “party of the little man” and the social reforms against big business and imperialist US foreign policy and won many votes, especially in the rural Midwest .

However, his commitment to the small farmers concentrated mainly on poor white people. He harbored similar prejudices against African-Americans as almost all white politicians of his time. His disregard was shown in a remark he dropped on the occasion of the US military intervention in Haiti in 1916: "Just think - niggers who speak French!" He also failed to attract urban voters (e.g. industrial workers) and convince immigrants who, like blacks, would form the basis for Democrat Woodrow Wilson's victory in the 1912 presidential election .

From March 5, 1913 to June 9, 1915 he was US Secretary of State in the Wilson cabinet . When the US President demanded in two notes that Germany condemn the sinking of the RMS Lusitania as a crime, he resigned as American Secretary of State because Wilson's note had the character of an ultimatum and could embroil the United States in a war with Germany. In Bryan's opinion, Germany had a right to prevent war material from being supplied to its enemies. If such ships take passengers on board in the hope that they will not be attacked, that is not a legitimate protection against destruction.

Populism Bryans was based essentially on its basic rejection of Social Darwinism ' Herbert Spencer , who coined the essential policies of the Republican Party about 1900. He equated social Darwinism with Darwinism , which as an evangelical Christian he contradicted just as fundamentally. For this reason he appeared in 1925 as a co-prosecutor of the prosecutor in the so-called " monkey trial " against the teacher Thomas Scopes. He had taught Darwin's theory of evolution in a public school, although the Tennessee Parliament had recently banned it. Bryan argued that the scientists only represent their theory, but in this case it is not the different theories that matter, but only the law. Bryan died in his sleep five days after completing the trial that fined Scopes. He found his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery .



  • The film Inherit the Wind (1960, Bryan's part is played by Fredric March ) and some remakes (1965, 1988 and 1999) contributed or contribute to the fact that the Scopes trial is still known to many today. Bryan's name was changed to Brady .


  1. Modern Miracles: Money video documentary by THE HISTORY CHANNEL (NBC)
  2. "... to crucify mankind upon a cross of gold". Larry Schweikart: Populism. In: Peter Knight (Ed.): Conspiracy Theories in American History. To Encyclopedia . ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, Denver and London 2003, Vol. 2, pp. 589 f .; Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent: American Conspiracy Theories. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014, p. 111.
  3. “Imagine! Niggers speaking French! " Andrian Kreye : Napoleon's disgrace. The roots of misery: Haiti is still paying for its liberation. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , January 19, 2010.

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