Bryan, William Jennings

Bryan, William Jennings

biographical name


William Jennings Bryan, c. 1908.—Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(born March 19, 1860, Salem, Ill., U.S.—died July 26, 1925, Dayton, Tenn.) U.S. politician and orator. He practiced law at Jacksonville, Ill. (1883–87), before moving to Lincoln, Neb., where he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1890. In the U.S. House of Representatives (1891–95), he became the national leader of the Free Silver Movement; he advocated its aims in his “Cross of Gold” speech, which won him the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1896. He was the party's nominee again in 1900 and 1908. In 1901 he founded a newspaper, The Commoner, and thereafter lectured widely to admiring audiences; he was called “the Great Commoner.” He helped secure the presidential nomination for Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and served as his secretary of state (1913–15), contributing to world law by espousing arbitration to prevent war. A believer in a literal interpretation of the Bible, he was a prosecuting attorney in the Scopes trial (1925), in which he debated Clarence Darrow on the issue of evolution; the trial took a heavy toll on his health, and he died soon after it ended.

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