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Bryan's Letter to Mary Baird

A letter from William Jennings Bryan to Mary Baird, his fiancee, was written on November 21, 1883, from Jacksonville, Illinois, where Bryan had opened a law office. During these first six months his law practice netted just sixty-seven dollars. However, during the succeeding year his income rose until it reached fifty dollars per month. It was upon the encouragement of this growing business that he was married in October 1884.

Bryan wrote: "I am now in the Court Room and will take advantage of a dry speech to write you a letter. The most interesting item to me--and may I assume to you also?--is my effort of yesterday or rather of Monday. After mailing your letter Monday morning I came over to the Court House and Ed McDonald called me to assist him in an assault case. It took us all day and just after dinner I had the pleasure of making my first speech before a jury. I had the noon recess in which to collect my thoughts and when I got upon the floor my fright all left me and I never spoke with more fluency and earnestness than I did that day. I was complimented by the judge and several attorneys. The Courier said, 'W. J. Bryan was highly complimented on Monday for his success in his first speech before a circuit Court jury.'

"I think Mr. McDonald was real kind to help me in this way. He was going to have me assist in the murder case now on trial but I was not here when it began. He expected Mr. Barnes to help him but B. left as soon as the case began. I am to help him in the case of Russell who cut his wife's throat--if the case comes up this term and Mr. Kirby told me today that he would want me to help him in an assault case which he is defending. . . .

"I am sorry your throat is worse. My dear, that troubles me. Can't you cure that? Does it come from Catarrh? I have a recipe which I am trying. Equal parts of 'Golden Seal, alum and borax.' Don't know what effect it will have. . . .

Bryan concluded with the promise: "Unless something detains me you may expect me next Wednesday evening. One week from tonight! Will you be glad to see me? I am getting pretty tolerable anxious to see you."

(June 2001)


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