William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois on March 19, 1860. He grew up, attended college there, and practiced law in Illinois before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska. Having been born just four years after Nebraska became a territory, he still was an important citizen of the young state's growth following his move to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1887. Three years later he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, from Nebraska's First Congressional District, becoming the 2nd Democratic representative from Nebraska to be elected to Congress. He was reelected in 1892, but the Republican landslide of 1894 lead to a Republican being elected.

The 1896 Democratic National Convention showed he had great oratory skills, and the ability to bring about change in how people viewed the country's future. Soon, Bryan was being suggested as a U.S. Presidential Candidate. At the age of 36, Bryan became (and still remains) the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in American history. Bryan was in favor of Silver being reinstated as the standard over Gold. If you think our current political election process is complicated, you should research how Bryan was formally nominated by three separate political parties. Like other political parties and groups, the Democratic Party developed different factions; some in favor of Gold and some in favor of Silver as the standard. The agrarian and silver factions supported Bryan, and so did the Populist Party and the Silver Republican Party (also a faction). People from three parties could vote for Bryan without crossing party lines. You would think that would lead to an instant shoe in for success, but the opposing Republican Party went to work in areas of the country where Bryan was popular (Midwest and South) claiming Bryan was a madman, a religious fanatic surrounded by anarchists, who would wreck the economy. The opposition political choice was William McKinley, who campaigned for the Gold Standard and Industrial Growth.

We all know the outcome, however, McKinley did not win by a great margin at all.

Although known as a peace advocate and critical of militarism, when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Bryan had to reconsider his and his political party's stance on war. Spain's suppression of Cuba went against his ideal of world democracy. As a result, Bryan instantly supported the president he had lost to in his declaration of war against Spain. He volunteered for service to be of help wherever needed. He was assigned duty as the Colonel of a Nebraska militia regiment.

Bryan's militia was sent to Jacksonville Beach, Florida for training. The following (rare) pictures are from his time there in camp. Even though the war ended before he and his men got to participate, during this time, there was an outbreak of Typhoid Fever, and Bryan (like many of this soldiers) became one of its victims. As a result, he had to stay in Florida after the war ended for recuperation.

William Jennings Bryan on Jacksonville Beach, Florida
William Jennings Bryan on horseback at Jacksonville Beach, Florida
William Jennings Bryan at camp established at Jacksonville Beach, Florida
William Jennings Bryan at camp established at Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Camp of William Jennings Bryan at Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Camp of William Jennings Bryan

Following the war and Bryan's recuperation, he returned to politics. He ran for president two more times but failed to be elected. He became an important and prolific speaker in many political issues of the day. Due to his support of President Wilson's presidency, he was appointed Secretary of State. Only due to the sinking of the Lusitania, a predecessor to World War I, did he resign at age 57, offering his services to President Wilson as a private to be used wherever needed. President Wilson did not allow him to reenter the military.

Bryan's support for prohibition lead him to move to Florida in 1913 to avoid the influx of German-American's coming into Nebraska “because they were "wet" (against prohibition).” He promoted development of southern Florida communities, such as Coral Gables, a planned community. Bryan was against Darwinism, his other cause that lead him to be involved in many speeches, and finally participating in the Scopes Trial of 1925. Four days following winning the case, Bryan passed away on July 26, 1925, while taking an afternoon sleep.