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Populism and Industry: William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold”

Date: Tuesday, Aug. 17 | 7:00–8:30 PM EDT

William Jennings Bryan lost the election of 1892 pretty badly, but in trying to unite the workers of the United States he gave one of the greatest political speeches in American history, his famous “Cross of Gold” speech. The speech is masterful in its rhetoric, using the nation’s Christian heritage to (he hoped) inspire deep outrage at the ravages of the Industrial Revolution that was so influential at that time. The speech brought the audience to a frenzy, he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president as a young, 36-year-old, and he spent much of the rest of his life giving the speech to paying audiences. But in crafting an anti-elitist ideology, with the elitist now defined as “northern bankers,” Bryan put in motion a trope in American history that continues to exist today. In this seminar, we will study this speech and analyze its legacy in American politics.

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