United States Elections: Presidential Elections (1900)

William Jennings Bryan
Figure 1.--Williams Jennings Bryan was a gifted orator and perenial campaigner who mesmerized the Democratic Pary for more than a dcade. Unfortunaley for the Democrats he did not prove very successful at winning elections. This photograph was taken during one of his a presidential campaigns. He was a strenous campaigner, traveling the country by rail, delivering stemwinding speeches sometimes lating hours. Here he is the balding man to the left of the woman who we asume is his wife Mary. The photograph is unidentified. We believe it was taken in 1900, perhaps somewhere in the South, in part because it was so common for boys to go barefoot there. The boy is unidenyified, but may be his son William Jennings Bryan Jr. who would have been about 10-years old in 1900.

The 1900 election was a rematch between President McKinley and former Congressman William Jennings Bryan. Bryan had an unimpressive political history. He had served two terms in Congress (the second with a narriow victory) and had been defeated in a senate race. McKinnely has soundly defeated Bryan in 1896, but Bryan with his oritorical skills retained control over the Democratic Party. He had traveled the country giving speeches in support of Democratic candidates. While Bryan inveighed against imperialism, McKinley quietly stood for "the full dinner pail." The election was important because New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt obtained the Republican vice presidential election--largely because Republican Party stalwart Mark Hannah and New York Senator Conklin wanted him out of New York. The election was also notable because Bryan had begun his campaign within weeks of losing the 1896 election. Bryan and his wife and political confident, Mary, published an inpassioned account of their losing campaign. The title, The First Battle left no doubt how Bryan viewed politics and his plans for 1900. Their book proved to be a run-away best seller. Thousand of people wrote to Bryan. Mary and his brother made a list of the correspondants to build an index card (the principal data organizing system before computers) list of supporters througout the country. Bryan began approaching important figures in the state Democratic organization in 1897. The outcome was another stunning defeat for Bryan. The Democrats were becoming a largely sectional party. Vryan carried a few Western states, but only the solid South voted strongly for Bryan. This was true in most post-Civil war elections, but rarely had a Democratic candidate carried so few states outside the South.

President McKinnely

The 1900 election was a rematch between President McKinley and former Congressman William Jennings Bryan. William McKinley was the 25th United States President. He was not a man of great vision, but was an astute politican and reflected America at the turn of the century. The McKinley presidency was a turning point for America. Under McKinley the Nation gained its first overseas possessions. Presidents from even before the Civil War had been advocating American expansion into the Cariibean with a variety of motives, some related to slavery. This occurred during the McKinley presidency, but more importantly America acuqired extensive Pacific possessions. This made America a major Pacific power and would provide the eventual basis for the resisting the agressive expansion of the Japanese militarists within only a few decades. McKinley is a president often overlooked by historians, in part because of the formidable stature of his sucessor. Mckinnley is, however, the first 20th century president--not only in the chronological sence, but in the fact that he created a great realignment in American politics. Beginning with Mc Kinnely the Republicans, with the exception of the Wilson Administration, dominated the Federal Government until Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan was of Scotts-Irish and English origins. Religion played a very important role in his life from an early age. He was one of the most influential American politicans of turn-of-the century America, He had an unimpressive political history, at least in running for office. He had served two terms in Congress (the second with a narriow victory) and had been defeated in a senate race. McKinnely has soundly defeated Bryan in 1896, but Bryan with his oritorical skills retained control over the Democratic Party. He had traveled the country giving speeches in support of Democratic candidates. His campaigns were highly moralistic in tone and substance. His most famous political campaign was based on a moralistic approach to economic. At the Democratic Convention in 1896, promoting free silver, he thundered, "You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold." He never excplained why America prospered economically after his economic policies were rejected in 1896, rather he went on to other moral isues. In 1900 his moral issue was imperialism. He never won the presidency, but President Wilson appointed him Secretary of State. Bryan would resign over moral issues, what he saw as overly aggressive American policies folloing the German sinking of the 'Lusitania' during World War I (1915). His campaiging for prohibition helped bring about the 18th Amendment. And in the Roaring-20s he took on evolution on moral (religious) grounds, most famouly at the Scopes 'Monkey' Trial (1925). His career is an instructive example of deciding public issues on largely moral grounds. Different people have varying concepts of morality. And secondly morality while certainly laudible in the ideal may not be the best guide as to economic, political, social, and scientific policies. While Bryan was never elected president, he did, however, have a major impact on the Democratic Party.

Non-stop Campaigning (1897-1900)

The 1900 election was notable because Bryan had begun his campaign within weeks of losing the 1896 election. Bryan and his wife and political confident, Mary, published an inpassioned account of their losing campaign. The title, The First Battle left no doubt how Bryan viewed politics and his plans for 1900. Their book proved to be a run-away best seller. Thousand of people wrote to Bryan. Mary and his brother made a list of the correspondants to build an index card (the principal data organizing system before computers) list of supporters througout the country. Bryan began approaching important figures in the state Democratic organization in 1897.

Republican Convention (June 1900)

The Republicans met in Philadelphia (June 1900). Popular president William McKinnely was easily renominated. The principal question that the Republicans faced was who would be their vice presidential candidate. The election was important because New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt obtained the Republican vice presidential election--largely because Republican Party stalwart Mark Hannah and New York Senator Conklin wanted him out of New York. Roosevelt was reluctant to give up the governorship to New York, Theodore Roosevelt accepted the nomination.

Democratic Convention (July 1900)

The Democratic Convention was held at Convention Hall in Kansas City, Missouri during the week of July 4. William Jennings Bryan was still wildy popular within the Democratic Party. Bryan had little opposition for the nomination. Spanish-American War hero Admiral George Dewey did lunch a campaign, but dropped out before the Convntion (May 1900). He told a reporter that he thought the President's job would be an easy one because the president simply followed Congressional instructions and enforce the law. The only important opposition at the Convention was offered by Richard Croker of New York's Tammany Hall. The Convention easily nominated Bryan despite his descisive loss to McKinnely in 1896. The Convention chose Illinois politican and former vice-president Adlai E. Stevenson as the vice-presidential candidate. The major issue considered by the Convention was whether to continue supporting the silver plank that Bryan had made such an issue in 1896. As America had recovered from the Depression of 1893 and enjoying a return of prosperity, there was much less enthisiam for it.

Campaign

The 1900 campaign at least in style was essentially a replay of the 1896 campaign. Bryan campaigning strenously. His campaigning was legendary. A typical day of campaigning might consist of four hour-long speeches and shorter talks that could total six hours of speaking. One study estimted that the he spoke at an average rate of 175 words a minute. That mean about 63,000 words--about 52 columns of a standard newspaper. One day while campaigning in Wisconsin, he delivered 12 speeches in 15 hours. [Coletta, Vol. I, p. 272.] McKinley in contrast rarely ventured from the White House. The issues were, however, different. Bryan decided to shift his emphasis in 1900. Throughout his political career, morality was at the center of his beliefs and cmpsign. In 1896 he had turned economics into a moral issue, campaigning for free silver. Here we do not mean to say that free silver was a moral matter, only that Bryan believed it was. With the economy improving, he decided to shift his camoaign. He never explained how if free silver was so important why the economy was so prosperous without it. He decided in 1900 to again campaign on moral issues--this time the issue was he chose was imperialism. He deciced to take issue with McKinnely's foreign policy, especially the Spanish-American War (1898-99) which he had opposed. The issue he chose was imperialism. The candidates differeed on whether the United States should give independence immediately to the territories seized frfom Spain. While the centralm issue was Cuba, the United States also seized control of Puerto Rico and various Pacific territories--especially the Philippines Islands. Byran advocated immediate independence. Governor Roosevelt, an authentic war hero, did not sit on his porch conducted an equally strenuous campaign. He argued that the United States had a duty to 'civilize' the new territories before granting independence. This was not, however, the issue that resonated with most voters. The essential issue which Bryan failed to understand was prosperity. McKinley quietly stood for "the full dinner pail". The continued prosperity of the McKinley era decsively decided the election.

Third Parties

Third parties were of only minor importance in 1900, but they are notable politically. The most important was the Prohibition Party headed by John Wooley. He would garner only v2 percent of the popular vote. But like many third parties, the Prohibition Party would influence the two main parties. Bryan waa a strong advocate of prohibition. Eventually popular sentiment would lead after World war I to the passage of the 18th Amendment hich would introduce prohibition. Nothing could be more instructive in examining the difference betweem American and Europe. Eugene V. Debs headed the Socialist ticket, but unlike Europe, there was almost no appeal for socialism in America.

Results

The outcome was another decisive victory for Mc Kinnely and he won by an even higher margin than in 1896. He carried 52 percent of the popular vote. Bryan managed only 46 percent because of the third party candidates. McKinnely carried 65 percent of the electoral votes. The Democrats were becoming a largely sectional party. Bryan carried a few Western states, but only the solid South voted strongly for Bryan. Some states in the Deep South vioted morecthan 90 percent for Bryan. Of course at the time, African-Americans were prevented from voting throughout the South. The Solid South was the case in most post-Civil war elections, but rarely had a Democratic candidate carried so few states outside the South.

Preident McKinnely Assasination (1901)

resident Mc Kinley's second term began auspiciously, but came to a tragic end only months later at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The President delivered a speech (September 5). He announced that he was reconsidering his views on tariff policy. His major domestic achievement had been enacting a high, protective tariff. Now he was consudering the negotistion of recipricol tariff agreements with other countries. In the crowd was Leon Czolgosz, a Detroit-born anarchist of Polish immigrant parents. Anarchists at the time were attacking European leaders with varying success. Czolgosz was not only an archist, but he was mentally deranged. He had been stalking the President. Secret Service agents pevented him from getting near the stage where McKinley delivered his speech. The following day, the president appeared at a public reception in the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds. A crowd had assembled to meet the president, an opportunity to shake hands and exchange a few words. This was Czolgosz's opportunity. He stood close to the front of the line. He wrapped his right hand in a handkerchief to make it look like he had been injured. In fact he was using it to conceal a .32 caliber revolver. When the President approched, Czolgosz extended his left hand and rapidly fired two shots at point-blank range. McKinely died 8 days later--to the horror of Republican leaders who thought they had effectively side lined Govenoor Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt thus became president. With the passing of McKinley the United States also passed from one era to another--from an era of internal growth and expansion to one of growing participation in world affairs.

Sources

Coletta, Paolo E. William Jennings Bryan 3 vols. (1964),






HBC






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Created: 6:30 PM 11/11/2011
Last updated: 8:19 AM 11/12/2011