Friday, October 14, 2016

William Jennings Bryan, a cross of gold and Chariton

I'm wondering what our forebears, had they been among the 20,000 folks in Chariton on Oct. 31, 1896, for what was described as the biggest political rallying day ever, would make of the October, 2016, campaign.

"No disturbance of any consequence marred the day," The Chariton Patriot reported on Nov. 5, "and the big crowds shouted good naturedly all day for their candidates." 

What do you suppose would happen today if similar numbers of Clinton and Trump supporters held a get-together on the square?


The presidential candidates that year were William McKinley of Ohio, Republican; and William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, candidate of the Democratic, Populist and Silver parties. McKinley forged a conservative coalition --- businessmen, successful farmers, skilled labor and professionals; Bryan presented himself as the candidate of the working man doing battle with the rich.

The gold standard, Bryan said, had impoverished America by limiting the money supply. Free silver coinage, he said, would increase the supply of money, restore prosperity and undermine the interests of wealth.

Bryan's speech during the 1896 Democratic party convention still is classed is one of the most effective delivered by a U.S. political candidate and concluded, "Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."


The focal point of the Oct. 31 rally in Chariton was a very brief campaign stop at the depot by candidate Bryan, who was headed home to Nebraska to await election results. But both Democrats and Republicans had declared Oct. 31 to be "flag day" so both parties scheduled a full day of regional politicking in Chariton to rally their faithful --- and perhaps attract a vote or two from the opposition.

There's no sign that Bryan's speech that day was memorable, but then the reporting in Chariton newspapers on it happened after McKinley had edged Bryan in the county by 252 votes, so extensive coverage of a speech by the losing candidate probably didn't seem especially relevant to the editors of The Leader, The Herald and The Patriot. McKinley went on the take the presidency that year, too.

But the big rally in Chariton was worth remembering. Here's The Herald's account and the reporter quite obviously was a McKinley supporter. One quaint notion among 21st century voters holds that in some golden, distant time the media were impartial. That wasn't the case in 1896 at least.

Countless Thousands Throng the Streets of Chariton and Listen to Political Speeches
Yellow Badges Everywhere and the Silverites Greatly in the Minority

The greatest political demonstration ever known in this section of Iowa took place at Chariton last Saturday. It was almost on the eve of election when the final efforts of the most noteworthy presidential campaign in our Nation's history were being made. It was the day when Wm. J. Bryan, the candidate of the free silverites for president, was to visit Chariton and make a brief speech. It was the date commemorative of both republican and democratic "flag day" according to decree of the national chaimen and it proved to be the day when the people of Chariton were to be given an opportunity to entertain the largest concourse of people ever assembled at the seat of justice in Lucas county.

The weather was cool, roads somewhat muddy and the sky generally clear. At an early hour delegations from the country precincts came in vehicles and on horseback in large numbers filling almost every available space. The regular trains brought quite a number from the smaller towns and adjoining counties, but it remained for the special trains from the Indianola branch and the southwest part of the state to show what could be done in the line of excursions. From Indianola and intermediate points six coach loads came bringing scores of both McKinley and Bryan shouters. Ten coaches, jammed to the guard rails with enthusiastic humanity, came from Decatur, Ringgold, Taylor and Fremont counties with many from over the Missouri border, too. The crowd was estimated at 20,000.

During the early part of the day the common south of the depot was the Mecca for citizens of all sections regardless of party affiliations, who wanted to see and hear the silver candidate for president, Wm. J. Bryan. The special train bearing him arrived at 11:40 and after giving all an opportunity to see him and those near enough an opportunity to hear him, he proceeded westward to his home at Lincoln.

The Bryan parade immediately followed and was a commendable effort of the advocates of the white metal. There were 1,000 in line and the huzzas that were heard testified their regard for their leader and their fealty to the cause he represented. Many of the floats were unique and provoked considerable comment. The music by the Humeston, Indianola and Belinda bands and drum crops was inspiring. Speeches were made both morning and evening by Mr. H.L. Wilcox and during the day by F.Q. Stuart, J.A. Penick and others, and our friends of the opposition certainly enjoyed the day of devotion to the principle from their standpoint.

The program of the republicans began at 1:30 p.m., but long before that hour the delegations from abroad were lined up in a solid phalanx, many hundreds strong, cheering, shouting men from all walks of life doing honor to the candidate of the republican party, the represenative of sound governmental principles and the friend of the people. The procession was beautiful to behold --- the horses, vehicles, and people all were decorated with yellow ribbons and bunting. The distresses of a democratic past and the virtues to be ours under a republican future were represented on the banners, transparencies, etc. The afternoon speakers were Ex U.S. Senator Harlan at the Armory and Congressman W.P. Hepburn at the opera house. At night Judge C.C. Nourse talked at the Armory and N.E. Kendall Esq. at the opera house, each of whom sought to enlist the support of his hearers in keeping intact the nation's honor. With this array of speaking ability no one who was in doubt and seeking light was deprived of the opportunity of hearing the issues discussed from a republican standpoint.

The republican parade of the evening was a magnificent affair. The attractive features of the afternoon were reproduced with the addition of the torch and flambeau procession and the firing of about 2,000 Roman candles. The air along the line of march was aflame with brilliance and McKinley enthusiasm. The Russell, Lagrange and Chariton bands furnished excellent music. The town was decorated from one end to the other with bunting, flags and pictures of the several candidates, those of McKinley and Hobart being in the majority.

Among the efforts in decoration of business houses the firm of A.E. Dent & Co. excelled. The front of their building was made beautiful with vari-colored bunting, flags, etc., and the large portrait of the republican nominees shown prominently. The effect of the Japanese lanterns at night was striking.

The Bryanites scored a good point in the selection of their bands and the music was excellent and frequently commented upon.

The colored republican glee club furnished more genuine fun than any feature of the day. Their singing was fetching.

Many of the visitors were not used to the firewater sold in Chariton, and quite a number left town with a "won't go home till morning" expression on their faces.

The beautiful chimes in the McKinley parade were the product of the ingenuity of Master Mechanic J.P. Evans of the "Q" and they were out of sight. Three cheers and a tiger for Jack.

The church ladies refreshment booths played to full houses all day and many there are who testify to the fact that "de ham bone am sweet."

With all the large concourse of people assembled it is rather remarkable that not an accident occurred during the day.

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