Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 30:1 (Winter 2010)
Richard Franklin Bensel offers a masterful inspection of William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech and the 1896 Democratic National Convention. As Bensel demonstrates, this convention, held in the newly finished Coliseum in Chicago, was a watershed in American political history. Southern and western Democratic leaders, including those from the Great Plains, wrested the power of the party from "the patricians of the East"; the soft money men, or silver supporters, defeated the gold or hard money Democrats. Bryan did not alter this course, but his "Cross of Gold" speech, one of the most famous orations in American political history, did propel the young Nebraskan to the nomination. The convention also helped cause the decay of the People's Party. Unlike modern conventions, which are somewhat contrived, the fervor "and commotion was spontaneous" inside the Coliseum. The convention also introduced the U.S. to Bryan, who became one of the country's "most important political leaders."