William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech on July 8, 1896, was a powerful and impassioned address that resonated with people across the United States. Bryan, who was then a relatively unknown politician from Nebraska, had been nominated by the Democratic Party to be their candidate for president. In his speech, Bryan argued that the gold standard, which had been adopted by the United States in 1873, was unfairly enriching a small group of bankers and investors at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Bryan began his speech by declaring that he came from the “heart of America,” a place where people worked hard and struggled to make ends meet. He spoke of the struggles of farmers, who were being forced to sell their crops for less than they were worth, and of workers, who were being paid low wages and struggling to support their families. He argued that the gold standard was responsible for these economic hardships, as it caused a deflationary spiral that harmed the American economy.
Bryan’s solution to this problem was to embrace the free silver movement, which called for the unlimited coinage of silver as a way to increase the money supply and stimulate economic growth. He famously declared that “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” arguing that the gold standard was a “cross” weighing down the American people and preventing them from achieving their full potential.
Bryan’s speech was met with thunderous applause from the Democratic delegates, who saw him as a champion of the people and a voice for change. The speech quickly became famous, and Bryan became known as the “Great Commoner,” a man who spoke for the ordinary Americans who had been left behind by the economic policies of the time.
Despite the popularity of his speech, Bryan was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency. He lost to Republican nominee William McKinley, who was backed by big business interests and the banking industry. However, Bryan’s message continued to resonate with people across the country, and his ideas significantly shaped American economic policy in the following years.
Today, William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech is remembered as a powerful call to action, a rallying cry for those who believe that economic policy should be designed to benefit all Americans, not just a privileged few. It is a reminder of the power of words to inspire change and of the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the face of overwhelming opposition.