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.