William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) Lincoln, Nebraska

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Born in Illinois in 1860, William Jennings Bryan influenced Nebraskan and United States politics for thirty years.

Bryan came to Lincoln in 1887 at the beginning of the Populist Revolt, an agrarian political movement spurred on by the depression of the late 1880's. Often regarded as the greatest orator of his time, Bryan capitalized on his tremendous personal magnetism and speaking ability to champion the Populist cause.

Initially, the Populist wrath was directed at the railroads, who farmers felt unfairly discriminated against them when they shipped their produce to market, but later, their platform encompassed not only government ownership of the railroad and telegraph lines, but also the free coinage of silver (to help loosen the tight reins on lending, especially to farmers) and an adjustment of taxation such that the wealthy "bear its just burdens." Sound familiar?

In 1896, backed by Populist support, Bryan received the Democratic nomination for the office of President of the United States, but was defeated by the Republican nominee William McKinley. Bryan was just 36 years of age. Bryan was again nominated in 1900 and 1908, but was defeated in both elections.

In the presidential election of 1912, Bryan was influential in Woodrow Wilson gaining the Democratic nomination and when Wilson became president, Bryan was made secretary of state. He resigned the post three years in a disagreement over foreign policy.

Bryan was known as the "Great Commoner" because of his concern for the working man. The newspaper he founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1901, was named "The Commoner" and served to carry his political views. For two years prior to his 1896 presidential nomination, Mr. Bryan was editor of the Omaha World-Herald.

Bryan is also nationally known as the prosecution lawyer in the "Scopes Monkey Trial," one of the most sensational trials of its era. In 1925, John Scopes was brought to trial for teaching evolution theory in his classroom. While Bryan helped secure a conviction in the nationally prominent case, it was widely felt that the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, made a fool of Bryan and the prosecution with his legal arguments. Mr. Bryan died soon after the trial's completion.