Can one man end war forever?
William Jennings Bryan.
If we know him at all it is from the Scopes Monkey Trial at the end of his life. Or maybe we know of his 3 failed campaigns for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket. But many of us are unaware of his efforts to establish world peace. William Jennings Bryan hated war. He wasn’t a pacifist – he enlisted for the Spanish-American War after all. But he saw the meaningless carnage of war and vowed to do his best to reduce the amount of bloodshed.
So “The Commoner” used his position as Secretary of State under President Wilson to establish 30 peace treaties. In this mini-episode, we revisit his career and talk about the impact this man might have had if WWI hadn’t slowed his progress.
God-willing I’ll be back soon with a full episode! Thanks for your patience!
- “A Godly Hero” book by Michael Kazin
- “A Righteous Cause” book by Robert Cherny
- “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitgerald
- “Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing” by Jacob Goldstein
- “What’s Your Problem?” podcast from Pushkin Industries, hosted by Jacob Goldstein
- William Jennings Bryan was the head of the party of Jim Crow. Do his actions to stop imperialism or war shape how you feel about him?
- Would a conciliation treaty policy work today?
- Is world peace a worthy goal today? What role do weapons play in that?
- How might this tie into fundamentalism?
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William Jennings Bryan was a Populist
Populism is a tricky subject. We use it these days as a slur, but populism can be a useful phenomenon. History professor and author Michael Kazin says that populism is an important tool when it comes to regulating power. In the late 1800s, railroads and banks were out of control. Industrialists like John D. Rockefeller had uninhibited control of their markets. Rockefeller believed in social Darwinism and didn’t mind using dirty tactics to undermine his competition.
The origins of the Populist Party
The Populist Party sprouted out of frustrations women had with the political machines of their day. Republicans and Democrats were not yet willing to accept women and the issues they cared about. Women were slowly becoming a force within politics, but neither party had the guts to accept them. So women and others decided to form their own party. But in the election of 1896, the Populist Party was worried about a split vote. They worried that if they were to run a candidate of their own then they might split the vote. So the Populist Party backed Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan.
Bryan was a man of God. He quoted the Bible extensively, talked about the example of Jesus. But he was soundly defeated by the Republicans and William McKinley. He had only about 4% of the budget of his opponents. The story of Bryan is an interesting one because it contains the building blocks of fundamentalism.
- What is a populist?
- Can you name some populists?
- What are the advantages of populism? The drawbacks?
- How are Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders similar?
- William Jennings Bryan was one of the first presidential hopefuls from a major party to tour the country. How has this shaped American politics? Why do we like to see politicians in our home states?
- What do populism and fundamentalism have in common?
- Do you think that fundamentalism relies on strong figures as populism does? Why or why not?
- “A Godly Hero” and “What It Took to Win” by Michael Kazin
- Library of Congress collection of Chautauqua materials
- Bernie Sanders Clip from C-SPAN
- Elizabeth Warren Clip from C-SPAN
- Donald Trump clip from C-SPAN
- Article about Mary Lease
- “These Truths” by Jill Lepore
- Library of Congress collection of McKinley/Bryan campaign materials. It’s worth searching the site in general for images from both of them.
What is the Gold Standard?
There was a time not so long ago when the value of an ounce of gold cost $20.67. That was true not just in one moment or one year. It was true in the 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1920s… This was the gold standard. A person could take $20.67 to a federal bank and receive an ounce of gold in return.
This system worked really well… for a while. But by the 1890s the constant deflation caused by the increasing value of gold meant that people with loans had to work harder and harder to pay them back. The value of gold and the value of goods had an inverse relationship, like a seesaw. One side went up and the other went down.
William Jennings Bryan and “The Cross of Gold” speech
This is the topic William Jennings Bryan chose to discuss in the 1896 Democratic Convention. And it was that speech that won him the presidential nomination that year. Imagine that! Someone so passionate about inflating the cost of good that they are chosen to be president! His bimetallism (he wanted to add silver into the mix to devalue the specie) stance came out of his social gospel leanings and his Christian faith. This was a high point for the social gospel. As the evangelical world was about to turn to the darker premillennialist view, Bryan made an impassioned plea that we could, in fact, make this world a better place.
My guest for this episode is the amazing Jacob Goldstein. He’s the author of the book “Money: the True Story of a Made-Up Thing”. He’s also a co-host of the Planet Money Podcast. You’ll also hear from Michael Kazin, professor of history from Georgetown and author of “A Godly Hero”.
- Have you ever gotten so excited at a political speech that you would gladly carry the politician around the room?
- What is money?
- Why do some of us want our money to be backed by something else? Why gold?
- Is there something inherent in gold that you think makes it forever valuable?
- Do politicians and government officials have some responsibility to consider how monetary policy impacts those in the lower classes? What does that look like?
- How has your life been impacted by monetary policy?
- How do you feel about things like the FDIC?
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Who is an evangelical?
Who is an evangelical? If you go by the news today, you probably think evangelicals are all American middle-class white men. Nope! Evangelical Christians come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They can be men or women from anywhere in the world. They can speak any language. And they can have a lot of variety in their beliefs.
This season on the Truce Podcast we are examining the history of Christian fundamentalism. How did fundamentalism begin? What is Christian fundamentalism? Is Christian fundamentalism a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between?
In this episode, we’re joined by author and professor George Marsden. He’s the author of Fundamentalism and American Culture, which is THE book everyone else refers to when they talk about fundamentalism. According to Marsden, fundamentalism is “militantly anti-modernism protestant evangelicalism”. That is a lot of big words! By the end of the season, you should understand all of that. One important part of that definition is the word “evangelicalism”. It is one of those words that has been used so much in so many different ways that it can be difficult to define it. There are whole movements to create new definitions these days. But in order to move forward this season, we need to pick some frame of reference. I chose David Beggington’s definition of what defines an evangelical:
- Biblicism (a focus on the Bible)
- Conversionism (an emphasis on evangelism)
- Crucicentrism (the centrality of the cross)
Those four things, according to Bebbington, are what make up an evangelical. Again, it is a hotly debated subject.
So when did evangelicalism begin? Many of the sources that I found pointed to the revivals in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. Evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield spread the gospel using a post-millennialist vision of the end times mixed with Calvinism. This was part of the First Great Awakening. Then there were others after the revolution who spread an Arminian view of salvation. Guys like Finney. Belief in God became more personal, without the direct oversight of a priest or minister. It became an individual’s responsibility to look after their spiritual growth.
Welcome to season 5! God willing, I’ll be releasing new episodes every other week.
- What is an evangelical?
- What is a fundamentalist?
- If fundamentalists are evangelicals who are angry at something, what are they angry at? Are you one of those people?
- Do you believe in the Calvinist view of salvation or the Arminian one? Does it matter? Why?
- The Great Awakening movements established a sense that belief in God was not something that needed to be handed down by a priest or minister. Do you think that was a positive move? What are some potential drawbacks (if any)?
Helpful Links and Sources:
Correction: The original version of this episode incorrectly represented Arminian belief. It involves the belief that once grace is offered by God that a sinner can reject the offer. The original version stated that the sinner made the first move to initiate a relationship. That is incorrect. Arminians believe that God makes the first move, but His offer can be rejected. The error has been corrected in this version, My apologies for any confusion.