William Jennings Bryan Was Born
A great speaker and three-time presidential
candidate, William Jennings Bryan was born on March 19, 1860, in
Salem, Illinois. Because he felt deeply about his religion and
consistently defended the ordinary American, people called him
"the Great Commoner." He had an active political career during
his entire life, from a young lawyer entering the House of
Representatives to the seasoned prosecuting attorney at the
Scopes Trial, where the issue of whether evolution should be
taught in school was argued in 1925. His controversial views
gained him many supporters and critics. Can you think of people
today who raise such controversy?
At 36, Bryan ran for
president. He delivered a speech accusing the wealthy of
supporting the gold standard (the worth of paper money
determined by the value of gold) at the expense of the average
worker. "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this
crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of
gold," he said. This moving speech gained him support, but not
enough to win the presidency. After three unsuccessful
presidential races, Bryan served as secretary of state under
Woodrow Wilson. However, he resigned in 1915 as World War I
approached because he opposed Wilson's foreign policies, which
he believed would draw America into a war against Germany.
Bryan brought many of his religious beliefs to the Senate.
He supported Prohibition, which made the buying and selling of
alcohol illegal in the United States, and an amendment to the
Constitution preventing schools from teaching evolution. In
1925, Bryan was involved in a trial against a Tennessee teacher,
John T. Scopes, who broke the law by teaching the theory of
evolution in a high school biology class. Clarence Darrow, who
represented Scopes, argued against Bryan and said, "Civilization
is on trial." Scopes was convicted and fined $100.