[May 23, 2018 Update]
FARM AND CITY, 1865-1900
Man is a political animal, said Aristotle, an animal whose
characteristic it is to live in a “polis” (a city-state)--to live in
association with other human beings. There is a tendency for
people to want to gather together in cities, and a great city attracts
people like a magnet. Why? Because that’s where they action
is. The cities have the great works of art and architecture, the
cathedrals and palaces, the schools, bookstores, hospitals—and the
jobs! The very word civilization comes from the Latin civitas,
city, and one could argue that, without cities, there is no
But life in the city is not altogether good. Aristotle himself
that the ideal man was not the city-dweller but the farmer, and the
Bible too tends to side with the rural/pastoral life rather the
city-dweller. It's Cain that establishes the first city!
America began, not as a nation of cities, but as a nation of
farmers. “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to
April’s breeze unfurled, here once the embattled farmer stood, and
fired the shot heard round the world,” said Emerson in his Concord
Hymn. When our country was established, only 5% of Americans
lived in towns larger than 2500—and leaders like Thomas Jefferson
thought this was a mighty good thing:
who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God if ever he
had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for
substantial and genuine virtue.
Jefferson believed that a rural economy dominated by farmers was the
key to a truly democratic society. What would happen if America
ceased to be a nation of farmers? Then, said Jefferson, we would
be like Europe where the rich devoured the poor:
we get piled upon one another in large cities, we shall
become corrupt as in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do
When one looks at what went on in America during the 1865-1900 period,
it’s clear that Jefferson was right to be worried.
Generalization: Both city dwellers and farmers struggled with enormous
problems as America transformed itself into an urban society in the
19th century. There were, however, many attempts at reform--some
fairly successful, others rather disappointing.
Growth of U.S. cities to 1900
Up until the Civil War, America was still a mostly rural country, with
only 20% of Americans in towns bigger than 2500. By 1900,
though, 40% of Americans lived in towns bigger than 2500, with most of
them in growing cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Here are some numbers illustrating urban growth from 1850-1900
Rapid growth is great for some things—ideal for a businessman looking
for opportunities, for example. But rapid growth brought with it
• Housing (Where
do you put all those people?)
• Waste (How do you deal with garbage,
• Disease (Typhoid, etc.)
• Social breakdown: crime, theft, prostitution
• Major disasters (e.g., the Chicago Fire of
the San Francisco earthquake of 1906)
Unfortunately, city government was often less than effective in
dealing with these problems because those in office were more concerned
about their own profits and power than anything else. The most
infamous example: the Tammany Society in New York.
The Tammany society had been founded in the 1780’s a social
organization. It was named for a Delaware Indian chief,
Tammanend. The leader of the society had an Indian title
“Sachem.” While officially a charitable organization, the Tammany
society had close ties to the Democratic party, and Tammany’s support
was essential for New York Political candidates.
The Tammany society was especially powerful because of its immigrant
base. Cities like New York and Chicago were 75% foreign-born
during this period. Immigrants came with not money, no language
skills, no homes, no jobs—and they needed help. The Tammany
society provided that help for many, many immigrants—but they wanted
something in return: votes. Controlling such a huge voting block
made the Tammany Society the decisive voice is just about every New
A typical Tammy product: William Marcy “Boss” Tweed. With Tammany
support, Tweed won office as an alderman and U.S. congressman.
But he wanted a more powerful position: Sachem of Tammany Hall, a
position he gained in 1868.
Tweed continued the Tammany policy of helping immigrants, finding them
jobs, housing and legal help. But he also made himself a fortune
in politics. How? Well, he controlled government contracts,
and how much those getting those contracts would be paid. He
operated very much like the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags in the
South. He once made sure a plasterer was paid $138,000 for two
days work! Naturally enough, he got major kickbacks, making $200
million for himself.
Why didn’t people protest? Well, Tweed had ways of dealing
with you if you did. No, not a visit from a hit man. A
visit from the tax assessors office!
Tweed himself was finally convicted, Thomas Nast’s cartoons playing a
major role here. But it’s interesting that, even while under
indictment, he had enough clout to get himself elected to the New York
Because city government was so often corrupt, reform through the
governmental process was difficult. But there were still some
potential sources for reform outside the government.
One such was the Salvation Army. This organization, started by
William and Catherine Booth in England, extended its work into American
cities in the 1880’s. The Salvation Army started:
• Food and
• Rehabilitation centers for disabled workers
• Rescue homes for converted prostitutes
• Hospitals for unwed mothers
• Halfway houses for released criminals
• Orphanages and day-care centers
All very impressive. But perhaps most impressive of all, the
constant message of hope. The Salvation Army always considered
its primary mission to be the saving of souls, and hundreds of
thousands of people got a new start in life thanks to the Salvation
Similarly successful, the YMCA. The YMCA aimed primarily at
reaching young men, a group particularly vulnerable to the temptations
of crime and vice as they left the rural areas for the cities.
The YMCA attracted young men though sponsoring activities these men
would enjoy—athletic events, etc.
One of those affected by the YMCA was a Chicago businessman, Dwight L.
Moody. Moody had been very successful in the shoe business, but
his involvement in the YMCA led him to full-time evangelism. He
was an extraordinarily effective speaker, speaking to huge crowds all
over the United State and (eventually) in London and other overseas
areas. He started the Chicago Bible Institute (now Moody Bible
College) to train Bible teachers. He started would became Moody Press,
one of the most important Christian publishing companies in America.
In the days before radio and television, publican speaking was
especially important, and Moody was generally regarded as the finest
speaker in America—and certainly the best known. Just about every
American history textbook mentions Moody, but the textbook authors have
a hard time explaining his importance.
I think this is because Moody is important primary for a negative: what
*didn’t* happen in American because of men like him. The slums
and tenements of American cities were crime-ridden disasters waiting to
happen—and yet the great cataclysm never came: partly, perhaps, because
Moody and groups like the YMCA and Salvation army turned so many
hundreds of thousands of people toward a better life and better
treatment of each other. For immigrants in particular, the
preaching of men like Moody, regardless of what it might mean
spiritually, meant incorporation into the American religious tradition
and into therefore into the mainstream of American cultural life.
Another important reform organization at the time was the Woman’s
Christian Temperance Union started by Frances Willard. Willard
called for reform in many areas of American life:
“No sectarianism in religion, no sectionalism in politics, no sex in
Her greatest concern, however, was to end alcohol abuse and the
problems it created. She adopted a very successful three-fold
“Mental suasion for the man who thinks, moral suasion for the man who
drinks, but legal suasion for the drunkard-maker.”
The WCTU added many new temperance songs: “I’ll Marry No Man if he
Drinks,” “The Saloon Must Go,” and “Lips that Touch Liquor will Never
touch Mine.” Rather than the maudlin songs or the earlier
temperance movement, the WCTU tried to make their songs (and meetings)
fun: you can have more fun without liquor than with it.
Also furthering the cause of reform, the influence of Charles Sheldon’s
In His Steps. Sheldon’s book, which continues even today to be a
best-seller, asks the reader to imagine what things would be like if,
before taking any action, Christians would ask themselves, “What Would
Jesus Do?” and then committing themselves to follow up
appropriately. One sees the influence of Sheldon today with
people wearing the WWJD bracelets and, presumably, still trying to
follow Sheldon’s advice.
One of those influenced by Sheldon was Walter
Rauschenbusch. Rauschenbusch thought that the WWJD question
ought to be extended to society as a whole. How would Jesus
organize society? Rauschenbusch pushed what he called the “Social
Gospel,” advocating political, economic, and social changes as
important to the success of Jesus’ message. Rauschenbusch had a
major effect on many seminaries and churches—and, in some ways to a
parting of the ways between Christians.
For some Christians (following Sheldon), the WWJD question remained
first of all a person decision: social change follow on individual
conversion. For others, it was first a social change: individual
lives improve when society changes first.
[Is this perhaps a major problem,
a disappointing side-effect of 19th century attempts to reform?]
In addition to the various Christian reform efforts, there was another
important voice for reform: the media. Newspapers and journals of
the 19th century launched crusade after crusade against one injustice
or another, attacking crime and corruption wherever they found
it. Thomas Jefferson said that, if one had the choice between
government and no newspapers and newspapers and no government, he would
choose the latter, and journalism in the late 19th century suggested
that there was some merit to this idea. Magazines like the Ladies
Home Journal, Harper’s, Atlantic, Scribner’s, the Century and
Cosmopolitan (a very different magazine from what it is today!) led
campaigns for cleaning up the cities, eliminating patent medicines, etc.
Oh, and, incidentally, they managed to pick up a few bucks on the
side. Daily newspaper circulation exploded from less than
3,000,000 daily issues in 1870 to more than 24 million in 1899.
Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World began 1883 with a daily run of 20,000
papers. By 1884, circulation was up to 100,000, and by 1888,
Flamboyant, lurid stories sold papers, and this led to the rise of
Yellow Journalism: the exploitation of a cause to build
circulation. The problem is that too much sensationalized news
eventually leaves people in a position where, will they might react
with outrage to the latest scandal, makes them eventually less likely
to actually do anything about it. Media-led reform is an
excellent example of both the somewhat successful attempt at reform
(the papers did bring down Boss Tweed after all), but also of the
disappointing nature of some reform attempts.
Farmers too faced formidable problems in the late 19th century.
This was a period of tremendous growth in farming. In 1870, 408
million acres were farmed. By 1900, the acreage had more than
doubled to more than 839 million acres. Production of hogs, corn,
wheat, etc. more than doubled during this period. Farmers
invested in new farm implements that allowed the individual farmer to
produce far more than ever before.
But as production increased, prices dropped dramatically. Wheat
went from $.95 per bushel in 1880 to $.50 per bushel in
1895. Prices for hogs, butter, cheese, etc. all went
down. A farmer had to produce twice as much in 1900 as he had in
1870 just to stay even.
It could be done, but other problems threatened his well being.
Reliance on the tariff meant that farmer’s (indirectly) paid a
disproportionate share of the cost of government. Also, the
farmer had to deal with middlemen: the railroads, grain elevator
operators who often charged exorbitant rates. And then there were
the friendly neighborhood bankers charging interest rates of up to 40%
and foreclosing at the drop of a hat.
The tremendous success of American farming meant riches for John Deer,
International Harvester, the bankers, the barbed wire companies, and
the railroads—but not usually for the farmers. The average
Connecticut farmer was clearing only $181 a year, while Massachusetts
farmers made $326. A hired man would make more! Many
farmers went out of business, and ended up going to the city where they
could make $1.25 a day.
But farmers weren’t quite as powerless as factory workers, and managed
to push for some important changes. The most successful of their
reform organization for a time was what’s called the Grange.
The Grange was founded in 1867 by Minnesota farmer Oliver H.
Kelly. It was first a semi-secret society like that Knights of
Labor, but it soon became a major rural-area social organization.
Within a few years, Grange membership reached 1.5 million!
Naturally enough, talk at Grange meetings frequently drifted to the
problems farmers shared and to possible solutions to these
problems. Grangers began pushing into politics, lobbying for (and
sometimes getting) regulation of railroad rates, grain elevators, etc.
The Grangers also tried to start co-ops: cooperative grain elevators,
for instance. But when they tried to set up their own farm
implement manufacturing (trying to replace John Deere and International
Harvester), they fared badly—and, eventually, the Grange drifted back
to being mostly a social organization.
Reformers of the Country, Unite!
No single labor union or farmer’s group seemed to have enough clout to
bring about the more major political/economic reforms the country may
have needed, and, in the 1880’s, there was a major attempt to bring the
various reform movements together into a single organization, the
People’s Party, better known as the Populists. The Populists
challenged both the Democrats and the Republicans, and were just about
as successful as third parties ever get in America.
The Populists agreed to a far-reaching set of reforms at what’s called
the Omaha Convention. Measure called for included the following:
1. Direct election of senators
2. Nationalization of banks
3. Government ownership of rails and utilities
4. Prohibitions on foreign ownership of land
5. A single term for the president
6. The secret ballot for all elections
7. Free coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 ounces of silver to
one ounce of gold
8. Shifting away from the tariff, and replacing the revenues with
an income tax
Election of 1892
The Populists ran James Weaver (a former union general) and James Field
(a former confederate general) for the presidency and
vice-presidency. Note that putting sectional differences aside
might aid in other reforms.
The Republicans re-nominated President Harrison. Harrison had
earned enthusiastic support from the GAR by signing a huge increase in
the number of people receiving veteran’s pensions and in the amount of
those pensions. This bill ate up the government surplus—a happy
event for those who wanted to justify keeping the tariff high.
But Harrison had some bitter enemies in those who were hurt by high
tariffs and saw the pension bill as essentially a bribe. The
obvious Democrat candidate to run on these issues was former president
Once again, Cleveland prevailed in the popular vote—and, this time, in
the electoral college as well.
The Populists did surprisingly well, getting 1,000,000 popular votes
and carrying six Midwestern states.
Cleveland’s 2nd term
It’s a rare sequel that matches up to the original, and Cleveland’s 2nd
term was a near disaster. The deficit left over from the previous
administration was tough to deal with. Further, 1893 saw the
beginnings of a recession, with 600 banks failing and 15,000 businesses
going under. The Sherman Silver purchase Act had given the
populists what they wanted: free coinage of silver. But now
people began turning in their silver for gold, and U.S gold reserves
were disappearing—replaced by the silver that many people
distrusted. Labor unrest (e.g. the Pullman strike) increased.
Cleveland blamed the country’s economic problems on the tariff, and
tried to push through a measure decreasing the tariff and imposing a 2%
income tax on those making over $4,000 a year (about 10 times the
average wage). But the eventual bill did so little, Cleveland
didn’t even sign it.
Further, Cleveland, worried about declining gold reserves, commission
J.P. Morgan to buy up $65 million in gold. Morgan got a nice $7
million commission on the deal. In a time of economic hardship,
this seemed outrageous.
With both the Democrats and the Republicans looking like tools of big
business, the Populists perhaps had a chance to capture the grand
prize—the presidency of the United States—should they play their cards
The Republicans stuck with their pro-business inclinations, nominating
William McKinley. McKinley had the backing of Marcus Alonzo
Hanna, an Ohio businessman who had spent $100,000 getting McKinley out
of debt and in a position to run for office.
And the Democrats? Well, the Democrats had a dilemma. They
couldn’t very well put up the now-unpopular Cleveland nor anyone
associate with him. They went into their convention disheartened
and directionless. But then a 36-year-old Nebraskan named William
Jennings Bryan stepped to the platform. In addressing the issue
of free silver, Bryan gave one of the most dramatic speeches in
American political history.
“You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the
gold standard. We reply that the great cities rest upon our broad
and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms,
and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy
our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the
Hear was the voice of the embattled farmer: the farmers are the
backbone of the nation, said Bryan. But did the farmer’s have a
“The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a
righteous cause is stronger than all the hosts of Error.”
Yes—there was a chance! Righteousness would triumph over the
political machines and corrupt businessmen.
Bryan concluded his speech with thunderous words:
“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of
thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
As strong a metaphor as Bryan could possibly find—maybe a bit too
strong. Comparing the gold standard to the crucifixion of Christ
is going a bit far.
But the convention loved it. With this speech, Bryan made himself
the leader of the Democrats, and the next day he received the
Democratic nomination for the presidency.
But what kind of man had the Democrats nominated? While a
Democrat himself, Bryan was virtually a populist on every sing
issue. He wanted a low tariff, an income tax on the wealthy, free
silver, regulation of the rails. And so, what were the Populists
themselves to do? Well, they decided that they too would nominate
And so William Jennings Bryan was the 1896 candidate of both the
Populists and the Democrats. A sure winner? Don’t count on
Bryan did have some things going for him. He was the finest
political speaker in the country in an age when such things really made
a difference. The poet Vachel Lindsay remembered how Bryan had
impressed him when Lindsay himself had been a 16 year old boy:
BRYAN, BRYAN, BRYAN, BRYAN
Campaign of Eighteen Ninety-Six, as Viewed at
by a Sixteen-Year-Old, etc.
In a nation of one hundred fine,
mob-hearted, lynching, relenting, repenting, millions,
There are plenty of sweeping,
swinging, stinging, gorgeous things to shout about,
And knock your old blue devils out.
I brag and chant of Bryan, Bryan,
Candidate for president who
sketched a silver Zion,
The one American Poet who could
He brought in tides of wonder, of
Wild roses from the plains, that
made hearts tender,
All the funny circus silks
Of politics unfurled,
Bartlett pears of romance that
were honey at the cores,
And torchlights down the street,
to the end of the world.
There were truths eternal in the
gab and tittle-tattle.
There were real heads broken in
the fustian and the rattle.
There were real lines drawn:
Not the silver and the gold,
But Nebraska's cry went eastward
against the dour and old,
The mean and cold.
It was eighteen ninety-six, and I
was just sixteen
And Altgeld ruled in Springfield,
When there came from the sunset
Nebraska's shout of joy:
In a coat like a deacon, in a
black Stetson hat
He scourged the elephant plutocrats
With barbed wire from the Platte.
The scales dropped from their
They saw that summer's noon
A tribe of wonders coming
To a marching tune.
Oh, the longhorns from Texas,
The jay hawks from Kansas,
The plop-eyed bungaroo and giant
The varmint, chipmunk, bugaboo,
The horned-toad, prairie-dog and
From all the newborn states arow,
Bidding the eagles of the west fly
Bidding the eagles of the west fly
The fawn, prodactyl and
The rakaboor, the hellangone,
The whangadoodle, batfowl and pig,
The coyote, wild-cat and grizzly
in a glow,
In a miracle of health and speed,
the whole breed abreast,
The leaped the Mississippi, blue
border of the West,
From the Gulf to Canada, two
thousand miles long:-
Against the towns of Tubal Cain,
too cunning for the young,
The longhorn calf, the buffalo and
wampus gave tongue,.
These creatures were defending
things Mark Hanna never dreamed:
The moods of airy childhood that
in desert dews gleamed,
The gossamers and whimsies,
The monkeyshines and didoes
Rank and strange
Of the canyons and the range,
The ultimate fantastics
Of the far western slope,
And of prairie schooner children
Born beneath the stars,
Beneath falling snows,
Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
With the Indian raid a howling
through the air.
And all these in their helpless
By the dour East oppressed,
Making their mistakes for them,
Crucifying half the West,
Till the whole Atlantic coast
Seemed a giant spiders' nest.
And these children and their sons
At last rode through the cactus,
A cliff of mighty cowboys
On the lope,
With gun and rope.
And all the way to frightened
Maine the old East heard them call,
And saw our Bryan by a mile lead
Of men and whirling flowers and
The bard and the prophet of them
Prairie avenger, mountain lion,
Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,
Gigantic troubadour, speaking like
a siege gun,
Smashing Plymouth Rock with his
boulders from the West,
And just a hundred miles behind,
tornadoes piled across the sky,
Blotting out sun and moon,
A sign on high.
Headlong, dazed and blinking in
the weird green light,
The scalawags made to moan,
Afraid to fight.
When Bryan came to Springfield,
and Altgeld gave him greeting,
Rochester was deserted, Divernon
Chickenbristle, Cotton Hill,
Empty: for all Sangamon drove to
In silver-decked racing cart,
Buggy, buckboard, carryall,
Carriage, phaeton, whatever would
And silver-decked farm-wagons
gritted, banged and rolled,
With the new tale of Bryan by the
iron tires told.
The State House loomed afar,
A speck, a hive, a football,
A captive balloon!
And the town was all one spreading
wing of bunting, plumes, and sunshine,
Every rag and flag, and Bryan
When the rigs in many a dusty line
Jammed our streets at noon,
And joined the wild parade against
the power of gold.
We roamed, we boys from High
While Springfield gleamed,
Oh, Tom Dines, and Art Fitzgerald,
And the gangs that they could get!
I can hear them yelling yet.
Helping the incantation,
With every bridle gone,
Ridding the world of the low down
Bidding the eagles of the West fly
Bidding the eagles of the West fly
We were bully, wild and wooly,
Never yet curried below the knees.
We saw flowers in the air,
Fair as the Pleiades, bright as
-Hopes of all mankind,
Made rare, resistless, thrice
Oh, we bucks from every
Colts of democracy-
Yet time-winds out of Chaos from
the star-fields of the Lord.
The long parade rolled on. I stood
by my best girl.
She was a cool young citizen, with
wise and laughing eyes.
With my necktie by my ear, I was
stepping on my dear,
But she kept like a pattern,
without a shaken curl.
She wore in her hair a brave
Her gold chums cut her, for that
was not the pose.
No Gibson Girl would wear it in
that fresh way.
But we were fairy Democrats, and
this was our day.
The earth rocked like the ocean,
the sidewalk was a deck.
The houses for the moment were
lost in the wide wreck.
And the bands played strange and
stranger music as they trailed along.
Against the ways of Tubal Cain,
Ah, sharp was their song!
The demons in the bricks, the
demons in the grass,
The demons in the bank-vaults
peered out to see us pass,
And the angels in the trees, the
angels in the grass,
The angels in the flags, peered
out to see us pass.
And the sidewalk was our chariot,
and the flowers bloomed higher,
And the street turned to silver
and the grass turned to fire,
And then it was but grass, and the
town was there again,
A place for women and men.
Then we stood where we could see
And the speaker's stand.
And Bryan took the platform.
And he was introduced.
And he lifted his hand
And cast a new spell.
Progressive silence fell
Around the world.
Then we heard these glacial
boulders across the prairie rolled:
�The people have the right to make
their own mistakes....
You shall not crucify mankind
Upon a cross of gold.�
And everybody heard him-
In the streets and State House
And everybody heard him
Around and around and around the
That danced upon its axis
And like a darling broncho whirled.
July, August, suspense.
Wall Street lost to sense.
August, September, October,
And the whole East down like a
Then Hanna to the rescue,
Hanna of Ohio,
Rallying the roller-tops,
Rallying the bucket-shops.
Threatening drouth and death,
Rallying the trusts against the
Invading misers' cellars,
Melting down the rocks,
Pouring out the long green to a
Spondulix by the mountain-load, to
stop each tornado
And beat the cheapskate,
Election night at midnight:
Boy Bryan's defeat.
Defeat of western silver.
Defeat of the wheat.
Victory of letterfiles
And plutocrats in miles
With dollar signs upon their coats,
Diamond watchchains on their vests
And spats on their feet.
Victory of custodians,
And all that inbred landlord stock.
Victory of the neat.
Defeat of the aspen groves of
The blue bells of the Rockies,
And blue bonnets of old Texas,
By the Pittsburgh alleys.
Defeat of the alfalfa and the
Defeat of the Pacific and the long
Defeat of the young by the old and
Defeat of tornadoes by the poison
Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my
Where is McKinley, that
The man without an angle or a
Who soothed down the city man and
soothed down the farmer,
The German, the Irish, the
Southerner, the Northerner,
Who climbed every greasy pole, and
slipped through every crack;
Who soothed down the gambling
hall, the bar-room, the church,
The devil vote, the angel vote,
the neutral vote,
The desperately wicked, and their
victims on the rack,
The gold vote, the silver vote,
the brass vote, the lead vote,
Where is McKinley, Mark Hanna's
His slave, his echo, his suit of
Gone to join the shadows, with the
pomps of that time,
And the flame of that summer's
Where is Cleveland whom the
Read from the party in a glorious
Gone to join the shadows with
And sledge-hammer Altgeld who
wrecked his power.
Where is Hanna, bulldog Hanna.
Low-browed Hanna, who said: �Stand
Gone to his place with old
Gone somewhere... with lean rat
Where is Roosevelt, the young dude
Who hated Bryan, then aped his way?
Gone to join the shadows with
And tall King Saul, till the
Where is Altgeld, brave as the
Whose name the few still say with
Gone to join the ironies with Old
Whose fame rings loud for a
Where is that boy, that
That Homer Bryan, who sang for the
Gone to join the shadows with
Altgeld the Eagle,
Where the kings and the slaves and
the troubadours rest.
But big business hated Bryan even more than they had hated Cleveland,
and the Republicans easily raised $16,000,000 for McKinley’s campaign,
while the Democrats could only raise $1,000,000 in support of
Bryan. The Republicans distributed tens of millions of pamphlets,
tracts, leaflets, and posters attacking Bryan. They translated
their attacks into dozens of immigrant languages, and sent out hundreds
of speakers to attack Bryan.
Big business had dirtier tricks to play. Republican business
placed contracts with the proviso, “contingent on the election of
McKinley.” Factory owners told workers they’d be paid with 50
cent pieces instead of dollars if Bryan won.
Well, Bryan didn’t win: enormously disappointing to reform-minded men
like Ignatius Donnelly (author of the anti-Plutocrat/conspiracy book
“We had a splendid candidate and he had made a gigantic campaign; the
elements of reform were fairly united; and the depression of business
universal. And yet, in spite of it all, the bankrupt millions
voted to keep the yoke on their own necks. I tremble for the
“The people are too shallow and too corrupt to conduct a
republic. It will need a god come on earth with divine power to
save them. And are they worth saving? Will they stay saved?”
Donnelly might have been gratified is the in his view foolish vote of
1896 had led to ruin: economic collapse, revolution, and chaos.
But that’s not what happened. The country did reasonably well
under McKinley. The economy bounced back, and America was more
prosperous overall than ever before. And Bryan himself would rise
to fight again….