Chapter 1: The Great Commoner

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Speech

William Jennings Bryan – The “Cross of Gold” Speech

When William Jennings Bryan arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in July 1896, few people expected him to emerge as the party’s presidential nominee. But as Bryan would soon prove, great political oratory has a way of creating its own political oratory. Asked to address the convention on the long forgotten question of whether America would adopt a gold or silver standard, Bryan delivered the most influential and electrifying campaign speech in American political history, capped off by his stirring declaration, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

Bryan left Chicago the youngest presidential nominee in the country’s history and a new force in American politics. His words were among the first ever spoken by a national political leader that argued for the permanent expansion of the powers of the federal government on behalf of working-class Americans. The “Cross of Gold” transformed the Democratic Party into the ‘party of the people’ and sparked a century-long national debate about the role of the government in the lives of the American people. Quite simply, nothing was ever the same in American politics after the “Cross of Gold

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