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Bryan for President, 1896

This year marks the centennial of William Jennings Bryan's first run for the White House. Bryan was the only Nebraska resident ever nominated for president by a major party, and also the youngest candidate at the age of thirty-six. Defeated by William McKinley in 1896, Bryan gained the Democratic nomination again in 1900 and in 1908 only to lose both times.

The 1896 election will long be remembered for Bryan's famous "Cross of Gold" speech at the Democratic convention, which won him the nomination, and for his dramatic, "whistle-stop" campaign. Because the Democrats lacked funds to publish political literature and to transport voters for the traditional visit to the candidate's "front porch," Bryan was the first to take his message directly to the people, crisscrossing the country by rail. Between his nomination and election day Bryan traveled 18,000 miles, visited twenty-six states and more than 250 cities, and addressed about five million people. He gave six hundred speeches overall.

To commemorate the political career of Nebraska's "Great Commoner," the Nebraska State Historical Society opened a major exhibit March 1 at the State Museum of History in Lincoln. The focus is on Bryan's three campaigns for the presidency and the years from 1887 to 1921, when he called Lincoln home. Memorabilia from the 1896, 1900, and 1908 campaigns is displayed, along with original objects used by the Bryan family at Fairview, their Lincoln residence. Recordings of Bryan's voice highlight his fame as "The Silver Tongued Orator." The exhibit is free and open to the public.

(March 1996)



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