W.J.B., Vox Populi
4 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2007 Last revised: 26 Nov 2007
William Jennings Bryan dominated American politics at large for nearly three decades. Thrice he sought the presidency. Thrice he lost. Perhaps no other American politician has had greater influence by losing.
The publication of Michael Kazin's biography, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2006), reminds us that the Great Commoner was far more than the sum of the Cross of Gold speech and the trial of John Scopes. Bryan singlehandedly transformed the Democratic Party from a conservative, almost reactionary, party opposed to the exertion of federal power into an activist party advocating the aggressive deployment of federal resources and legal coercion on behalf of the working class. Even though free silver and redistribution through inflationary monetary policy soon faded from the Democratic Party's agenda after 1896, the other elements of the Democratic domestic platform utterly transformed American law and politics.
Bryan, for good and for ill, served as a harbinger of numerous political movements. The New Deal, the Great Society, the religious right, and an emerging Christian left all owe their origins to the political career of William Jennings Bryan. To be sure, Bryan was the prophet of free silver and the scourge of evolution. But today as during the days of his life, mostly W.J.B. is the voice of the people.
Keywords: William Jennings Bryan, Great Commoner, Cross of Gold, John Scopes
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation