The First Battle/Life of William Jennings Bryan
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Life of William Jennings Bryan
The impelling cause which is responsible for this article needs no elaboration. During the last few months, so many conflicting statements have been made by writers, friendly and unfriendly, concerning Mr. Bryan's ancestry, habits, education, etc., that a short biography based upon the fact seems a necessary part of this book.
Writing from the standpoint of a wife, eulogy and criticism are equally out of place. My only purpose, therefore, is to present in a simple story those incidents which may be of interest to the general reader.
Within the last few years Mr. Bryan has corresponded with a number of persons bearing the family name. Some of the Bryans trace their ancestry to Ireland, some to Wales, while others have followed the name through Irish into English history. A biographical sketch written under the supervision of Silas L. Bryan states that the family is of Irish extraction.
William Bryan, who lived in Culpeper County, Virginia, something more than one hundred years ago, is the first ancestor whose name is known to the descendants. Where he was born, and when, is a matter of conjecture. He owned a large tract of land among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Sperryville. The family name of his wife is unknown. There were born to the pair five children: James, who removed to Kentucky; John, who remained upon the homestead; Aquilla, who removed to Ohio; and Francis and Elizabeth, about whom nothing is known.
John Bryan, the second son, was born about 1790, and at an early age married Nancy Lillard. The Lillard family is an old American family of English extraction and is now represented by numerous descendants scattered over Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. To John Bryan and wife ten children were born, all of whom, excepting Russell and Elizabeth, are deceased. The oldest, William, removed to Missouri in early life and lived near Troy until his death, some ten years ago. John and Howard died in infancy. Jane married Joseph Cheney and lived at Gallipolis, Ohio. Nancy married George Baltzell, and lived in Marion County, Illinois. Martha married Homer Smith, and lived at Gallipolis, Ohio, later removing to Marion County, Illinois. The next child, Robert, a physician, was killed in a steamboat explosion while yet a young man. Silas Lillard, father of William Jennings Bryan, was born November 4th, 1822, near Sperryville, in what was then Culpeper, but is now a part of Rappahannock County, Virginia. The next child, Russell, located at Salem, Illinois, where he has since lived. Elizabeth, the youngest of the family, married another George Baltzell. She early removed to Lewis County, Missouri, her present home.
About the year 1828 John Bryan removed with his family to the western portion of Virginia, in what is now West Virginia. His last residence was near Point Pleasant, where both he and his wife died, the latter in 1834, the former in 1836.
Silas, then but a boy, went West and made his home a part of the time with his sister, Nancy Baltzell, and a part of the time with his brother, William. He was ambitious to obtain an education, and after making his way through the public schools, entered McKendree College, at Lebanon, Illinois, where he completed his course, graduating with honors, in 1849. Owing to lack of means he was occasionally compelled to drop out of college for a time and earn enough to continue his studies. At first he spent these vacations working as a farm hand, but later, when sufficiently advanced in his studies, taught school. After graduation he studied law, was admitted to the bar, and began the practice at Salem, Illinois, at the age of twenty-nine. On November 4th, 1852, he married Mariah Elizabeth Jennings. During the same year he was elected to the State Senate and served in that body for eight years. In 1860 he was elected to the circuit bench, and served twelve years. In 1872 he was nominated for Congress upon the Democratic ticket, receiving the endorsement of the Greenback party. He was defeated by a plurality of 240 by General James Martin, Republican candidate. As a member of the convention of 1872, which framed the present Constitution of Illinois, he introduced a resolution declaring it to be the sense of the convention that all offices, legislative, executive and judicial, provided for by the new Constitution, should be filled by elections by the people. Before his election to the bench, and after his retirement therefrom, he practiced law in Marion and the adjoining counties. He was a member of the Baptist Church, the church to which his parents belonged, and was a very devout man. He prayed at morning, noon and night, and was a firm believer in providential direction in the affairs of life. He was a man of strong character, stern integrity and high purpose. He took rank among the best lawyers in Southern Illinois, and was a fluent, graceful and forcible speaker. His mind was philosophical and his speeches argumentative. In politics he was a Democrat in the broadest sense of the word and had an abiding faith in republican institutions and in the capacity of the people for self-government. He was a staunch defender of higher education and gave financial as well as moral support to various institutions of learning. He regarded the science of government as highly honorable and used to say that the guest chamber of his home was reserved for "politicians and divines". He was broad and tolerant in his religious views. It was his custom, after he removed to the farm, to send a load of hay at harvest time to each preacher and priest in Salem. While a public man during a large part of his life, he was eminently domestic. He died March 30, 1880, and was buried in the cemetery at Salem. His will provided that all of his children should be encouraged to secure "the highest education which the generation affords".
The Jennings family 
The Jennings family has lived so long in America that the descendants do not know the date of the immigration of the ancestors to the colonies nor is it known positively from what country they came, but they are believed to have been English.
Israel Jennings, who was born about 1774, is the first known ancestor. He was married to Mary Waters about the year 1799, and lived in Mason County, Kentucky. In 1818 he moved with his family to Walnut Hill, Marion County, Illinois, where his wife died in 1844 and he in 1860. He was the father of eight children: Israel Jr., and George, now deceased; Charles Waters, of whom I shall speak later; William W., now living in Texas; Elizabeth, who married William Davidson; America, who married George Davidson; Mary, who married Edward White; and Ann, who married Rufus McElwain. All of the daughters are deceased.
Charles Waters Jennings was married to Maria Woods Davidson, December 14th, 1826, and established a home adjoining the Israel Jennings homestead. He died in 1872, and his wife in 1885. To this pair were born eight sons and two daughters: Josephus Waters, deceased, who lived near the home of his father; Harriet, who married B. F. Marshall, and lives at Salem, Illinois; Sarah, who married Robert D. Noleman, of Centralia, Illinois, both deceased; Mariah Elizabeth, the mother of William Jennings Bryan; America, deceased, who married William C. Stites, then of Marion County, Illinois; Nancy, who married Dr. James A. Davenport and lives at Salem, Illinois; Docia, who married A. Van Antwerp, and lives at Sedalia, Missouri; and Zadock, who lives near Walnut Hill.
Mariah Elizabeth Jennings was born near Walnut Hill, Illinois, May 24th, 1834. She attended the public schools of the neighborhood, and when nearly grown was the pupil of Silas L. Bryan, who was nearly twelve years her senior. At an early age she connected herself with the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the church of her parents, and remained a member until about 1877, when she united with the Baptist Church, at Salem, to which her husband belonged. She was a woman of excellent sense and superior management. Her husband's frequent absence from home threw upon her a large portion of the responsibility for the care and discipline of the family, and for some years after his death her entire time was given to the nurture and education of the five minor children. When the boys were grown she removed from the farm to Salem, and became an active worker in her church and in societies for social improvement. She always took a deep interest in the political fortunes of her son William, and he has always felt indebted to her equally with his father for counsel and instruction. She lived during the later years of her life in a home which William bought for her use with the first savings from his Congressional salary. After a lingering illness, which she bore with great patience, she died on the 27th of June, 1896, and was laid to rest by the side of her husband.
To Silas Lillard and Mariah Elizabeth Bryan were born nine children. Of these Virginia, John and Hiram died in infancy. Russell Jones, born June 12th, 1864, died at the age of 17, on the eve of his departure for college. Five children are now living, namely:
- Francis Mariah, born March 18th, 1858.
- William Jennings, born March 19th, 1860.
- Charles Wayland, born February 10th, 1867.
- Nancy Lillard, born November 4th, 1869.
- Mary Elizabeth, born May 14th, 1872.
Francis M. Bryan (now Baird), lives at Salem, Illinois, and Charles W., in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Bryan, Lillard, Jennings and Davidson families all belonged to the middle classes. They were industrious, law-abiding, God-fearing people. No member of the family ever became very rich, and none were ever abjectly poor. Farming has been the occupation of the majority, while others have followed the legal and medical professions and mercantile pursuits.
William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois, March 19, 1860. He was sturdy, round-limbed and fond of play. There is a tradition that his appetite, which has since been a constant companion, developed very early. The pockets of his first trousers were always filled with bread, which he kept for an emergency. One of the memories belonging to this period was his ambition to be a minister, but this soon gave place to determination to become a lawyer "like father". This purpose was a lasting one, and his education was directed toward that end.
His father purchased a farm of five hundred acres, one mile from the village, and when William was six years old the family removed to their new home. Here he studied, worked and played, until ten years of age, his mother being his teacher. He learned to read quite early; after committing his lessons to memory, he stood upon a little table and spoke them to his mother. This was his first recorded effort at speech-making. His work was feeding the deer, which his father kept in a small park, helping care for the pigs and chickens, in short the variety of work known as "doing chores". His favorite sport was rabbit hunting with dogs. I am not sure that these expeditions were harmful to the game, but they have furnished his only fund of adventure for the amusement of our children.
At the age of ten, William entered the public school at Salem, and during his five years' attendance, was not an especially brilliant pupil, though he never failed in an examination. In connection with his school, he developed an interest in the work of literary and debating societies.
His father's Congressional campaign in 1872 was his first political awakening, and from that time on he always cherished the thought of entering public life. His idea was to first win a reputation and secure a competency at the bar, but he seized the unexpected opportunity which came to him in 1890.
At fourteen he became a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. Later, he joined the First Presbyterian church at Jacksonville, Illinois, and, upon our removal to Nebraska, brought his letter to the First Presbyterian church of Lincoln, to which he still belongs. It may not be amiss at this point to quote from an eulogy which Mr. Bryan delivered upon a colleague in the Fifty-third Congress. This extract will serve a double purpose, in that it gives his views upon immortality, and, at the same time, presents a passage which I think may without impropriety be called a finished bit of English.
I shall not believe that even now his light is extinguished. If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless heart of the buried acorn, and make it burst forth from its prison walls, will He leave neglected in the earth the soul of man, who was made in the image of his Creator? If He stoops to give to the rosebush, whose withered blossoms float upon the breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime, will He withhold the words of hope from the sons of men when the frosts of winter come? If Matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces of Nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit of man suffer annihilation after it has paid a brief visit, like a royal guest, to this tenement of clay?
Rather let us believe that He who, in His apparent prodigality, wastes not the raindrop, the blade of grass, or the evening's sighing zephyr, but makes them all to carry out His eternal plans, has given immortality to the mortal, and gathered to Himself the generous spirit of our friend.
Instead of mourning, let us look up and address him in the words of the poet:"Thy day has come, not gone; Thy sun has risen, not set; Thy life is now beyond The reach of death or change, Not ended—but begun. O, noble soul! O, gentle heart! Hail, and farewell."
College life 
At fifteen he entered Whipple Academy, the preparatory department of Illinois College, at Jacksonville, Illinois, and with this step a changed life began. Vacations found him at home, but for eight years he led the life of a student, and then took up the work of his profession. Six years of his school life were spent in Jacksonville, in the home of Dr. Hiram K. Jones, a relative. The atmosphere of this home had its influence upon the growing lad. Dr. Jones is a man of strong character, of scholarly tastes, and of high ideals, and during the existence of the Concord school was a lecturer upon Platonic Philosophy. His wife, too, was a woman of rare attainments, and having no children, they gave the youth a home in the fullest sense of that word.
His parents wished him to take a classical course and while sometimes grumbling over his Latin and Greek, he has since recognized the wisdom of their choice. Of these two languages, Latin was his favorite. He had a strong preference for mathematics, and especially for geometry, and has believed that the mental discipline acquired in this study has since been useful in argument. He was, too, an earnest student of political economy. This entrance into college life brings to mind an incident which shows both the young man's rapid growth and his father's practical views. During the first year of his absence, he discovered, as holidays drew near, that his trousers were becoming too short, and wrote home for money to buy a new pair. His father responded that as it was so near vacation he need not make any purchase until he reached home, and added: "My son, you may as well learn now, that people will measure you by the length of your head, rather than by the length of your breeches."
As to college athletics, he played very little at baseball or at football, but was fond of foot-racing and of jumping. Three years after graduation on Osage Orange Day, he won a medal for the broad or standing jump, in a contest open to students and to alumni. The medal records twelve feet and four inches as the distance covered.
A prize contest always fired William's ambition. It may interest the boys who read these pages to know of his record on this point, and to note his gradual rise. During his first year at the Academy he declaimed Patrick Henry's masterpiece and not only failed to win a prize, but ranked well down in the list. Nothing daunted, the second year found him again entered with "The Palmetto and the Pine" as his subject. This time he ranked third. The next year, when a Freshman, he tried for a prize in Latin prose, and won half of the second prize. Later in the year, he declaimed "Bernardo del Carpio," and gained the second prize. In his Sophomore year he entered another contest, with an essay on the not altogether novel subject, "Labor". This time the first prize rewarded his work. An oration upon "Individual Powers" gave him the first prize in the Junior year. A part of this prize was a volume of Bryant's poems. Mr. Bryan gave me this book, his first gift, because it contained his favorite poem, an ode to a waterfowl, which concludes:
He who, from zone to zone, Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, In the long way that I must tread alone, Will lead my steps aright.
The winning of the Junior prize entitled him to represent Illinois College in the intercollegiate oratorical contest which was held at Galesburg, Illinois, in the fall of 1880. His oration was upon "Justice" and was awarded the second prize of fifty dollars. Gen. John C. Black, of Illinois, was one of the judges in this contest and marked Mr. Bryan one hundred on delivery. Upon invitation of Mr. Black, the young man called at the hotel and received many valuable suggestions upon the art of speaking. At the time of graduation he was elected class orator by his class, and, having the highest rank in scholarship during the four years' course, delivered the valedictory. Upon entering the academy, he joined the Sigma Pi society, and was an active member for six years, profiting much by the training in essay, declamation and debate.
My personal knowledge of Mr. Bryan dates from September, 1879. He was then entering upon his Junior year. At the risk of departing from the purpose of this biography, I shall speak of my first impressions. I saw him first in the parlors of the young ladies' school which I attended in Jacksonville. He entered the room with several other students, was taller than the rest, and attracted my attention at once. His face was pale and thin; a pair of keen, dark eyes looked out from beneath heavy brows; his nose was prominent—too large to look well, I thought; a broad, thin-lipped mouth and a square chin, completed the contour of his face. He was neat, though not fastidious in dress, and stood firmly and with dignity. I noted particularly his hair and his smile. The former, black in color, fine in quality, and parted distressingly straight; the latter, expansive and expressive. In later years this smile has been the subject of considerable comment, but the well-rounded cheeks of Mr. Bryan now check its onward march, and no one has seen the real breadth of the smile who did not see it in the early days. Upon one occasion, a heartless observer was heard to remark, "That man can whisper in his own ear," but this was a cruel exaggeration.
During the summer of 1880, Mr. Bryan attended his first political meeting. I record the details of this gathering for the encouragement of young speakers. He was to make a Democratic speech at a farmer's picnic near Salem, and the bills announced two other speakers, Mr. Bryan standing third upon the list. Upon reaching the grove, he found the two speakers and an audience of four, namely, the owner of the grove, one man in control of a wheel of fortune, and two men in charge of a lemonade stand. After waiting an hour for an audience which failed to come, the meeting adjourned sine die, and Mr. Bryan went home. Later in the fall, however, he made four speeches for Hancock and English, the first being delivered in the court house at Salem.
The graduating exercises of Illinois College occurred in June, 1881. Mr. Bryan's oration and valedictory address are given below, not because they posses great literary merit, but in order to show his style and the trend of his mind at that time.
When fall came, he entered the Union College of Law at Chicago. Out of school hours his time was spent in the office of ex-Senator Lyman Trumbull, who had been a political friend of Mr. Bryan's father. This acquaintance, together with the fact that a warm friendship existed between Mr. Bryan and his law school classmate, Henry Trumbull, the judge's son, led to the establishment of a second foster home—a home in which he and his family have ever found a cordial welcome. In this home, but lately bereft of its head, he spent his first Sabbath after the Democratic National Convention.
Mr. Bryan stood well in law school, taking an especial interest in constitutional law. Here again, he was connected with the debating society of the college, and took an active part in its meetings. At graduation, his thesis was a defense of the jury system. His first fee was earned in the County Court at Salem.
To these years of study belong many things which are of interest to us, but which are too trivial for the public eye. I shall venture upon one, however. Many people have remarked upon the fondness which Mr. Bryan shows for quoting Scripture. This habit is one of long standing, as the following circumstance shows. The time came when it seemed proper to have a little conversation with my father and this was something of an ordeal, as father is rather a reserved man. In his dilemma, William sought refuge in the Scriptures, and began: "Mr. Baird, I have been reading Proverbs a good deal lately, and find that Solomon says: 'Whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord!'" Father, being something of a Bible scholar himself, replied: "Yes, I believe Solomon did say that, but Paul suggests that, while he that marrieth doeth well, he that marrieth not doeth better." This was disheartening, but the young man saw his way through. "Solomon would be the best authority upon this point," he rejoined, "because Paul was never married, while Solomon had a number of wives." After this friendly tilt the matter was satisfactorily arranged.
A lawyer 
On July 4, 1883, Mr. Bryan began the practice of his profession in Jacksonville, Illinois. Desk room was obtained in the office of Brown & Kirby, one of the leading firms in the city, and the struggle encountered by all young professional men began. The first six months were rather trying to his patience, and he was compelled to supplement his earnings by a small draft upon his father's estate. Toward the close of the year, he entered into correspondence with his former law school classmate, Henry Trumbull, then located at Albuquerque, New Mexico, and discussed with him the advisability of removing to that territory. After the 1st of January, however, clients became more numerous, and he felt encouraged to make Jacksonville his permanent home. The following spring he took charge of the collection department of Brown & Kirby's office, and in a little more than a year his income seemed large enough to support two. During the summer of 1884, a modest home was planned and built, and on October 1, 1884, we were married.
During the next three years we lived comfortably, though economically, and laid by a small amount. Politics lost none of its charms, and each campaign found Mr. Bryan speaking, usually in our own county.
Three years after graduation, he attended the commencement at Illinois College, delivered the Master's oration, and received his degree. His subject on that occasion was "American Citizenship".
In the summer of 1887, legal business called him to Kansas and Iowa, and a Sabbath was spent in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a law school classmate, Mr. A. R. Talbot. Mr. Bryan was greatly impressed with the beauty and business enterprise of Lincoln, and with the advantages which a growing capital furnishes for a young lawyer. He returned to Illinois full of enthusiasm for the West, and perfected plans for our removal thither. No political ambitions entered into this change of residence, as the city, county and state were strongly Republican. He arrived in Lincoln, October 1, 1887, and a partnership was formed with Mr. Talbot. As Mr. Bryan did not share in the salary which Mr. Talbot received as a railroad attorney, he had to begin again at the bottom of the ladder. During this winter Ruth and I remained in Jacksonville, and in the spring following a second house was built—the one we now occupy—and the family was reunited in its Western home. The practice again became sufficient for our needs, and during the three years which followed we were again able to add to our reserve fund. I might here suggest an answer to a hostile criticism, namely, that Mr. Bryan did not distinguish himself as a lawyer. Those who thus complain should consider that he entered the practice at twenty-three and left it at thirty, and during that period began twice, and twice became more than self-supporting. At the time of his election to Congress his practice was in a thriving condition, and fully equal to that of any man of his age in the city. Mr. Bryan often met such demands as are commonly made upon lawyers in the way of short addresses, toasts, etc. Some of this post-prandial oratory discussed questions of public importance. The following was a toast upon "The Law and the Gospel", delivered at a banquet given by the St. Paul Methodist church of Lincoln, in honor of some distinguished visitors:
In politics 
Mr. Bryan became actively connected with the Democratic organization in Nebraska immediately after coming to the State, his first political speech being made at Seward in the spring of 1888. Soon afterward he went as a delegate to the State convention; this gave him an acquaintance with the leading Democrats of the State and resulted in a series of speeches. He made a canvass of the First Congressional district that fall in behalf of Hon. J. Sterling Morton, and also visited some thirty counties throughout the State. Mr. Morton was defeated by thirty-four hundred, the district being normally republican.
When the campaign of 1890 opened, there seemed small hope of carrying the district and there was but little rivalry for the nomination. Mr. Bryan was selected without opposition, and at once began a vigorous campaign. An invitation to joint debate was issued by his committee and accepted by his opponent, Hon. W. J. Connell, of Omaha, who then represented the district. These debates excited attention throughout the State. I have always regarded the first debate of this series as marking an important epoch in Mr. Bryan's life. The meeting took place in Lincoln. I had never before seen Mr. Bryan so preoccupied and so intent on making his effort acceptable. He had the opening and the closing speeches. The hall was packed with friends of both candidates and applause was quite evenly divided until the closing speech. I dare not describe this scene as it stands out in my memory. The people had not expected such a summing-up of the discussion; each sentence contained an argument; the audience was surprised, pleased and enthusiastic. The occasion was a Chicago convention in miniature, and was satisfactory to those most concerned. In addition to these eleven joint contests, Mr. Bryan made a thorough canvass, speaking about eighty times and visiting every city and village in the district. Though these debates were crisp and sharp in argument, they were marked by the utmost friendliness between the opponents. At the close of the last debate, Mr. Bryan presented to Mr. Connell a copy of Gray's Elegy, with the following remarks:
When the returns were all in, it was found that Mr. Bryan was elected by a plurality of 6,713. Desiring to give his entire time to his Congressional work, he, soon after election, so arranged his affairs as to retire from practice, although retaining a nominal connection with the firm.
In the speakership caucus with which Congress opened, Mr. Bryan supported Mr. Springer, in whose district we had lived when at Jacksonville; in the House, he voted for Mr. Crisp, the caucus nominee. Mr. Springer was made chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and it was largely through his influence that Mr. Bryan was given a place upon that committee. His first speech of consequence was the tariff speech of March 16, 1892. This was the second important event in his career as a public speaker. The place which he held upon the Ways and Means Committee is rarely given to a new member, and he wished the speech to justify the appointment. It is perhaps unnecessary for me to comment at length upon the reception accorded this speech, as the press at the time gave such reports that the occasion will probably be remembered by those who read this sketch. This speech increased his acquaintance with public men, and added to his strength at home. More than one hundred thousand copies were circulated by members of Congress. Upon his return to Nebraska, he was able to secure re-election in a new district (the State having been reapportioned in 1891) which that year gave the Republican state ticket a plurality of 6,500. His opponent this time was Judge A. W. Field of our own city. The Democratic committee invited the Republicans to join in arranging a series of debates, and this invitation was accepted. This was even a more bitter contest than the campaign of 1890, Mr. McKinley, Mr. Foraker and others being called to Nebraska to aid the Republican candidate. Besides the eleven debates, which aroused much enthusiasm, Mr. Bryan again made a thorough canvass of the district. The victory was claimed by both sides until the Friday following the election, when the result was determined by official count, Mr. Bryan receiving a plurality of 140.
In the Fifty-Third Congress, Mr. Bryan was reappointed upon the Ways and Means Committee and assisted in the preparation of the Wilson bill. He was a member of the sub-committee (consisting of Representatives MacMillan, Montgomery and himself) which drafted the income tax portion of the bill. In the spring of 1893, through the courtesy of the State Department, Mr. Bryan obtained a report from the several European nations which collect all income tax, and the results of this research were embodied in the Congressional Records during the debate. He succeeded in having incorporated in the bill a provision borrowed from the Prussian law whereby the citizens who have taxable incomes make their own returns and those whose incomes are within the exemption are relieved from annoyance. On behalf of the committee, Mr. Bryan closed the debate upon the income tax, replying to Mr. Cockran.
During the discussion of the Wilson bill, Mr. Bryan spoke in its defense. His principal work of the term, however, was in connection with monetary legislation. His speech of August 16, 1893, in opposition to the unconditional repeal of the Sherman law brought out ever more hearty commendation than his first tariff speech. Of this effort, it may be said that it contained the results of three years of careful study upon the money question.
While in Congress he made a fruitless effort to secure the passage of the following bill:
Be it enacted, etc.: That section 800 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, of 1878, be amended by adding thereto the words "In civil cases the verdict of three-fourths of the jurors constituting the jury shall stand as the verdict of the jury, and such a verdict shall have the same force and effect as a unanimous verdict."
The desire to have the law changed so as to permit less than a unanimous verdict in civil cases, was one which he had long entertained. In February, 1890, in response to a toast at a bar association banquet in Lincoln, he spoke upon the jury system, advocating the same reform. His remarks were as follows:
- See The Jury System.
Besides the work which I have mentioned, Mr. Bryan spoke briefly upon several other questions, namely, in favor of the election of United States Senators by a direct vote of the people, and in favor of the anti-option bill; in opposition to the railroad pooling bill and against the extension of the Pacific liens.
In the Fifty-Third Congress, the Democrats adopted a rule which was somewhat similar to the one in force under Speaker Reed, providing for the counting of a quorum. Mr. Bryan opposed this rule and I quote the reasons which he then gave in support of his position.
- See Counting a Quorum.
In the spring of 1894, Mr. Bryan announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election to Congress, and later decided to stand as a candidate for the United States Senate. He was nominated for that office by the unanimous vote of the Democratic State Convention. While the Republicans made no nomination, it seemed certain that Mr. Thurston would be their candidate and the Democratic committee accordingly issued a challenge to him for a series of debates. The Republicans were also invited to arrange a debate between Mr. McKinley and Mr. Bryan, Mr. McKinley having at that time an appointment to speak in Nebraska. The latter invitation was declined, but two meetings were arranged with Mr. Thurston. These were the largest political gatherings ever held in the State and were as gratifying to the friends of Mr. Bryan as his previous debates. During the campaign, Mr. Bryan made a canvass of the State, speaking four or five hours each day, and sometimes riding thirty miles over rough roads between speeches. At the election, Nebraska shared in the general landslide; the Republicans had a large majority in the Legislature and elected Mr. Thurston.
This defeat was a disappointment, but it did not discourage Mr. Bryan, as is evident from an address to his supporters, extracts from which follow:
The Legislature is Republican, and a Republican Senator will now be elected to represent Nebraska. This may be mortifying to the numerous chairmen who have introduced me to audiences as "the next Senator from Nebraska", but it illustrates the uncertainty of prophecies.
I appreciate more than words can express the cordial good will and the loyal support of the friends to whom I am indebted for the political honors which I have received. I am especially grateful to those who bear without humiliation the name of the common people, for they have been my friends when others have deserted me. I appreciate also the kind words of many who have been restrained by party ties from giving me their votes. I have been a hired man for four years, and, now that the campaign is closed, I may be pardoned for saying that as a public servant I have performed my duty to the best of my ability, and am not ashamed of the record made.
I stepped from private life into national politics at the bidding of my countrymen; at their bidding I again take my place in the ranks and resume without sorrow the work from which they called me. It is the glory of our institutions that public officials exercise authority by the consent of the governed rather than by divine or hereditary right. Paraphrasing the language of Job, each public servant can say of departing honors: "The people gave and the people have taken away, blessed be the name of the people."
Speaking of my own experience in politics, I may again borrow an idea from the great sufferer and say: "What, shall we receive good at the hands of the people, and shall we not receive evil?" I have received good even beyond my deserts, and I accept defeat without complaint. I ask my friends not to cherish resentment against any one who may have contributed to the result.
The friends of these reforms have fought a good fight; they have kept the faith, and they will not have finished their course until the reforms are accomplished. Let us be grateful for the progress made, and "with malice toward none and charity for all" begin the work of the next campaign.
Mr. Bryan received the votes of all the Democrats and of nearly half of the Populist members. It might be suggested here that while Mr. Bryan had never received a nomination from the Populist party, he had been, since 1892, materially aided by individual members of that organization. In Nebraska, the Democratic party has been in the minority, and as there are several points of agreement between it and the Populist party, Mr. Bryan advocated co-operation between the two. ln the spring of 1893, he received the support of a majority of the Democratic members of the Legislature, but, when it became evident that no Democrat could be elected, he assisted in the election of Senator Allen, a Populist. Again, in 1894, in the Democratic State Convention, he aided in securing the nomination of a portion of the Populist ticket, including Mr. Holcomb, Populist candidate for Governor. The cordial relations which existed between the Democrats and Populists in Nebraska were a potent influence in securing his nomination at Chicago.
On September 1st, 1894, Mr. Bryan became chief of the editorial staff of the Omaha World-Herald, and from that date until the last national convention gave a portion of his time to this work. This position enabled him daily to reach a large number of people in the discussion of public questions and also added considerably to his income. While the contract fixed a certain amount of editorial matter as a minimum, his interest in the work was such that he generally exceeded rather than fell below the required space.
After the adjournment of Congress, Mr. Bryan, on his way home, lectured at Cincinnati, Nashville, Tenn., Little Rock, Ark., and at several points in Missouri, arriving in Lincoln March 19, his thirty-fifth birthday. The Jefferson Club tendered him a reception and an opera house packed with an appreciative audience rendered this a very gratifying occasion to Mr. Bryan. As he was no longer in public life, and could show no favors in return, the disinterested friendship shown will always be remembered with pleasure. He chose as his theme, "Thomas Jefferson still lives", and, after reviewing the work of the Fifty-third Congress, discussed at length the principles of his patron saint. His admiration for the Sage of Monticello is so well known that I quote a tribute which he once paid him:
Let us then, with the courage of Andrew Jackson, apply to present conditions the principles taught by Thomas Jefferson—Thomas Jefferson, the greatest constructive statesman whom the world has ever known; the grandest warrior who ever battled for human liberty! He quarried from the mountain of eternal truth the four pillars, upon whose strength all popular government must rest. In the Declaration of American Independence he proclaimed the principles with which there is, without which there cannot be "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people". When he declared that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed", he declared all that lies between the Alpha and Omega of Democracy.
Alexander "wept for other worlds to conquer" after he had carried his victorious banner throughout the then known world; Napoleon "rearranged the map of Europe with his sword" amid the lamentations of those by whose blood he was exalted; but when these and other military heroes are forgotten and their achievements disappear in the cycle's sweep of years, children will still lisp the name of Jefferson, and freemen will ascribe due praise to him who filled the kneeling subject's heart with hope and bade him stand erect—a sovereign among his peers.
Mr. Bryan intended to resume the practice of law and re-open his office. At this time, however, the contest for supremacy in the Democratic party had begun in earnest and calls for speeches were so numerous and so urgent that it seemed best to devote his time to lecturing and to the public discussion of the money question. In view of the suggestions which have been made that Mr. Bryan was in the pay of the silver league, I will be pardoned for speaking of the earnings during these months. His editorial salary formed the basis of his income. When lecturing before Chautauquas and similar societies he was paid as other lecturers. At meetings where no admission was charged he sometimes received compensation and at other times received nothing. Many of the free speeches were made en route to lecture engagements, and his compensation ranged from traveling expenses to one hundred dollars. Only upon two or three occasions did he receive more than this. Never at any time was he under the direction of, or in the pay of, any silver league or association of persons pecuniarily interested in silver. During the interim between the adjournment of Congress and the Chicago convention he spoke in all the States of the West and South, and became acquainted with those most prominently connected with the silver cause.
I have briefly outlined the life and political career of Mr. Bryan. Perhaps it may please the reader to add a few words concerning his home life.
Our children are three. Ruth Baird is now eleven; William Jennings, Jr., is seven and a half, and Grace Dexter will soon be six. The older girl is said to be very much like her mother; the younger strongly resembles her father; and the son seems a composite photograph of both parents. Though for several years past, Mr. Bryan's work has often called him from home, he arranges to return for the Sabbath whenever possible.
During his service in Congress, the family spent three of the five sessions with him in Washington. We found a very comfortable and pleasant home at 131 B street, S. E., with Mr. C. T. Bride, and here the four years were spent. No member can live within his salary and make much of social life. We did little visiting, but were often found at lectures and heard many actors of note. The National Library was an endless source of pleasure and many rare books were read during those years. Though an advocate of an eight hour day, Mr. Bryan has, during the last thirteen years, averaged nearly twelve hours a day at professional and literary work.
He spoke on several occasions outside of Congress. The two most important speeches delivered were, the one at Tammany Hall, July 4, 1892, the other, at the National Cemetery at Arlington, May 30, 1894. I insert the latter. The scene was impressive and the audience representative. President Cleveland and four of his cabinet were in attendance.
- See Memorial Day Address.
As a conclusion for this sketch, I have asked the publishers to give a picture of our library, the place where Mr. Bryan spends most of his time when at home and where, as he has often said, his happiest hours are passed. Our collection of books is more complete along the lines of economic subjects and in the works and lives of public men. The orations of Demosthenes and the writings of Jefferson afford him the greatest pleasure.
To give an estimate of his character or of the mental endowments which he may possess, would be beyond the scope of this article. I may be justified, however, in saying that his life has been one of earnest purpose, with that sort of genius which has been called "a capacity for hard work".
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.