Seeing as how I consider myself more of a Republican than a Democrat I will try to make this objective as possible. Democrats here on ATS and even
some open minded Republicans should enjoy this look at two Democrats who have shaped the Liberal element within the party itself and sought to fix the
observed problems in this country. Their views may not align on every issue but they have one idea in common; Justice.
It should also be noted that this is part 1 of a 5 part series which I hope to have all published shortly here on this site. If this thread is bust
then I will leave it as is and shall not continue on with the series as there would be no receptive audience but if it does okay then I shall continue
with the series.
Part 1: The Forgotten Liberals
Part 2: Populism and the Democratic Party
Part 3: Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats
Part 4: The Republican era 1896-1932
Part 5: Tea Party ancestry
William Jennings Bryan
There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below.
The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class
which rests up on them.
– Cross of Gold Speech (July 9, 1896)
William Jennings Bryan is a man remembered for many different reasons. To the anti-imperialists he is a champion of peace, to the poor farmer he is a
defender of his lifestyle, to the Liberal at heart he is the ally of all the downtrodden, and to the intellectual he is remembered as someone who is
closer to a flat earth type than anyone who should revered.
In 1896 he ran for President of the United States from Nebraska at the age of 36, his victory at the party convention was a serious upset to the
establishment who backed the Bourbon wing of the party whose champion was Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was a near perfect as we would call today in
America “Libertarian”. But with the panic of 1893 and the serious economic burden placed on Western farmers and small business owners the
Republicans won 130 seats in the 1894 House election for a 357 seat house and the Democratic Party became fractured.
The 1892 Presidential Election featured a strong performance by Populist James Weaver whose movement was hostile to banks, railroads, and the elites.
This surprise showing would only foreshadow the nomination of the dark horse candidate William Jennings Bryan to be the youngest nominee for President
in American history. His message of agrarianism and economic populism rang from Virginia to Idaho. He railed against the gold standard being kept in
place for the betterment of business at the expense of farmers as the deflation seriously damaged their ability to stay afloat.
He wanted to inject silver into the currency market to inflate the currency thereby allowing farmers to sell their goods. This passionate idea
manifested itself in perhaps the most widely known speech in American political history. More people have heard of this speech than perhaps any other,
rivaled only by Richard Nixon’s ‘Checkers Speech’.
On the 9th of September 1896 at the Democratic National Convention Bryan was not expected to be the nominee but when he entered stage with his fiery
rhetoric and emotional oratory he brought the participants to their feet. Just merely posting the letters does do his speech justice but unfortunately
we have no audio of it. Here are a few excerpts:
“This is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all
the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defence of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity.
“We object to bringing this question down to the level of persons. The individual is but an atom; he is born, he acts, he dies; but principles
are eternal; and this has been a contest over a principle.
“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us
the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will
answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not
crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
At the end of his speech he reached his arms out wide in a Christ-like manner for 5 seconds, when he brought his arms down the crowd went mad
according to the New York Times. It was reported that the crowd nearly became a mob as they rushed the stage. Further in the NYT report it stated that
“a wild; raging irresistible mob” had been unleashed.
Cross of Gold Speech
Bryan lost the 1896 Presidential election to William McKinley when under his Presidency the largest buildup of trusts in our nation’s history
occurred. But that did not stop Bryan, no, he ran again in 1900 this time with a new target: imperialism. McKinley was reluctant to enter into the
Spanish-American War which was instigated by yellow journalism he nevertheless did intervene. Fears of imperialism then begun with talk of annexing
the Philippines becoming a critical issue. Those who feared we were becoming an empire quickly ran to Bryan’s defense when in 1900 he staged another
run for the Presidency, this time as an anti-Imperialist. He said in a speech during his run:
“The nation is of age and it can do what it pleases; it can spurn the traditions of the past; it can repudiate the principles upon which the
nation rests; it can employ force instead of reason; it can substitute might for right; it can conquer weaker people; it can exploit their lands,
appropriate their property and kill their people; but it cannot repeal the moral law or escape the punishment decreed for the violation of human
This time he received the backing of Andrew Carnegie and other millionaires who abhorred the idea of empire. But he lost once again, losing worse than
he did in 1896. That did not deter him however as he gave it one last try in 1908. He proposed income and inheritance taxes, requiring disclosure of
campaign contributions, and opposed the use of our navy for collection of private debts. He argued that the Republican Congress spent too much money,
they wanted centralization of government, and favored monopolies. His principled conviction would carry on into his services within the Wilson
administration when he stepped down as Secretary of State over his disagreement with intervention in WWI.
One thing that has made Secularists and intellectual Liberals laugh at Bryan was his opposition to Evolution. Contrary to how people criticize him it
was not because he was a “flat earther” it was actually because at the time Darwinism was associated closely with Social Darwinism, something he
believed would give the elite an excuse to disregard the poor entirely. In a 1905 speech on evolution he stated:
“The Darwinian theory represents man reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate, the merciless law by which the strong
crowd out and kill off the weak. If this is the law of our development then, if there is any logic that can bind the human mind, we shall turn
backward to the beast in proportion as we substitute the law of love. I choose to believe that love rather than hatred is the law of
As the suffrage movement begun to heat up during the Wilson administration 1913 Bryan argued in favor of a constitutional amendment for women’s
suffrage, alongside prohibition of alcohol. Yet he is not remembered for most of the things I listed here, except the Cross of Gold Speech, but is
remembered for his part in the Scopes Monkey Trial. According to historian Ronald L. Numbers Bryan was not as much of a creationist as modern day
“William Jennings Bryan, the much misunderstood leader of the post–World War I antievolution crusade, not only read the Mosaic "days" as
geological "ages" but allowed for the possibility of organic evolution—so long as it did not impinge on the supernatural origin of Adam and
One last quote, and this one is quite important, is by his autobiographer Michael Kazin who stated of Bryan’s legacy:
“Bryan was the first leader of a major party to argue for permanently expanding the power of the federal government to serve the welfare of
ordinary Americans from the working and middle classes....he did more than any other man-between the fall of Grover Cleveland and the election of
Woodrow Wilson-to transform his party from a bulwark of laissez-faire to the citadel of liberalism we identify with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his
Alfred Emanuel Smith, Jr.
No sane local official who has hung up an empty stocking over the municipal fireplace, is going to shoot Santa Claus just before a hard
Al Smith is almost completely forgotten today but that is definitely a tragedy. Had Smith not run for President in 1928 then the modern Democratic
Party would not exist, Franklin Roosevelt probably would not have been President and so much more. He definitely changed the political field even
though he lost a landslide election to Herbert Hoover. But it was because of him the Republicans last Presidential win in New York City, along with
most other major cities, was in 1924.
He was a Catholic born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, humorously claiming “the Brooklyn Bridge and I grew up together”. His family
was of many different backgrounds; Irish, German, Italian, and Anglo-Irish, while his religion was Roman Catholicism. Smith never attended high school
or college yet went on to become a successful Governor of New York and became a businessman. His relationship with the very corrupt Tammany Hall
political machine would draw questions to his record but always showed that he himself was uncorrupted.
Smith was known a strong Progressive in the state and a reformer who was elected Governor of New York in 1918, lost re-election in 1920, but was
elected again in 1922, 1924, and 1926. During his tenure he strengthened laws concerning workers’ compensation, children and women’s labor, and
women’s pensions. In 1928 he began his run for President of the United States during the peak of the “roaring ‘20s”. With Republicans enjoying
firm controlling over government, the economy booming, the KKK almost extinguished, and prosperity reining supreme it was nearly impossible to imagine
a Democrat defeating a Republican for President, especially Hoover who was viewed as the “great humanitarian” for his saving of millions of
starving Ukrainians during the famines.
Reporter Frederick William Wile made the observation that what truly defeated Smith was the three P’s: Prohibition (which he opposed), Prejudice
(hated him for his Catholicism) and Prosperity (economy was booming). The nativists decried that he would answer to the Pope and not the Constitution.
Catholics who had been split in their voting in 1920 and 1924 because of Wilson’s betrayal voted en masse for Smith, along with women. This also
marked the first time Republicans broke through in the South with Herbert Hoover carrying a few “Solid South” states, mostly due to Smith’s
Catholicism. Not to mention his very foreign accent to most Americans when he would take to the airwaves, most people were not accustomed to the urban
New York City accent he featured.
So what does Smith have to do with changing the Democratic Party? Well William Bryan moved the party from States’ Rights and Laissez-faire to modern
day economic interventionism, Al Smith moved the party from the rural and Southern communities to the urban areas. Because he was a Progressive reform
from a deep urban center with an immigrant background his support was strong among other immigrant and urban centers, something the Democrats built on
in 1932 with the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Since that time no Republican Presidential candidate has been able to reclaim the major American
cities from the Democrats.
It could be argued that his struggle against religious and ethnic discrimination helped propel the party towards a more civil rights structure. As he
brought together the discriminated against religious minorities (Jews and Catholics) he also influenced the Democratic Party in later years under
Roosevelt to bring in racial minorities who had long found refuge in the Republican Party, thus stripping them of that voter base. Most blacks first
voted for a Democrat when they cast their ballots for Franklin Roosevelt. The loyalty of racial minorities soon turned to the Democrats.
But just because Smith began this turn it does not mean he liked the man who built on it. During the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination they were
enemies. Because of the rivalry was so deep at the convention he worked with William McAdoo and William Randolph Hearst at an attempt to block
Roosevelt’s nomination at several ballots. When this coalition fell apart and Roosevelt won the nomination Smith campaigned on his behalf. Yet this
did not last into his Presidency where Smith broke with the New Deal agenda and joined the American Liberty League which was an anti-Roosevelt
He believed the New Deal was not a friend of good-government Progressive ideals that also disagreed with the idea of working closely with business.
Smith believed the New Deal was destroying individual freedom and rapidly expanding government beyond a reasonably desirable goal. This he could not
support so they published relentless attacks against Roosevelt until 1936 when the League realized it was not succeeding. By 1940 it was disbanded.
The anger towards the Democratic government by many Conservative and business oriented Democrats was strong, so strong that Smith even endorsed the
Republican rival Alf Landon in 1936 and Wendell Willkie in 1940 against Roosevelt.
While it may appear that he was more Conservative and Individualist than the Roosevelt Democrats he still set the stage for not only the New Deal but
the entire New Deal coalition which would last until 1968. The demographic alliance for the Democrats would last even until this day with Barack Obama
performing 70, 80, and 90% in most major American cities, winning the Roman Catholic and Jewish votes, the racial minority votes, and the overall
edit on 9/11/2011 by Misoir because: (no reason given)