Bryan, William Jennings
Political leader and orator, born in Salem, Illinois, USA. After practising law, he was elected to the US House of Representatives (Democrat, 1891–5) and began to develop his reputation as the Great Commoner, using his oratorical skills on behalf of the causes of ordinary folk. He opposed high tariffs, and he called for an income tax, direct popular election of senators, a Department of Labour, prohibition, and women’s suffrage. Out of office, he turned to journalism and lecturing, and when he attended the Democratic national convention (1896) and delivered his famous ‘Cross of Gold’ speech on behalf of free silver, the agrarian West prevailed over the urban East and he received the presidential nomination. He lost on this occasion and twice more (1900, 1908). After helping Woodrow Wilson gain the Democratic nomination in 1912, he became Wilson’s secretary of state (1913). Devoted to establishing arbitration as the solution to international disputes, he resigned in 1915 rather than go along with Wilson’s belligerent warnings to Germany, but when America entered World War 1 he supported Wilson. In 1920 he moved to Florida where, participating in the real-estate boom, he made a fortune. He continued his career as a lecturer, known especially for his support of prohibition and of a literal interpretation of the Bible. It was in this last capacity that he made his final public appearance, speaking for the prosecution at the Scopes anti-evolution ‘monkey trial’ in 1925.
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