Friday, June 13, 2008

Great Orator for President – An Idea Tried Before

Would the Democratic Party nominate for President of the Unites States a young candidate with great oratorical skills, but only four years of congressional experience? The Democrats have done it before. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan was thirty-five years old and electrified the Democratic nominating convention with his “Cross of Gold Speech”.

For Republicans, Bryan was the gift that kept on giving as the Democrats were so enamored with him that they nominated William Jennings Bryan three times 1896, 1900, and 1908. Each time, the Republican (McKinley twice and Taft) basically carried the entire country with the exception of the Democratic controlled “solid south”.

According to the author of the biography “A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan” Michael Kazin: “the [1896] platform officially declared that Democrats were in favor of beginning to redistribute wealth and power in America. In rhetoric at least, the party has never gone back”. From page 40, although recognized as a great orator, Bryan would be dogged throughout his career by the perception that he was “a man in love with his words, but heedless of rigorous argument”

Although the Republican Party had tried to enact Federal civil rights legislation to protect the rights of all citizens most importantly the freed slaves and their descendents, a Democrat Presidential candidate can not offend the party’s special interests and Bryan would not support anti-lynching legislation.

Reviewer Shannon Jones writes: “Black tenant farmers were left totally at the mercy of a Democratic Party that terrorized and disenfranchised them. Beginning in the 1890s, laws mandating racial segregation and imposing poll taxes and literacy tests designed to exclude blacks from voting were imposed by Democratic-controlled state legislatures across the South….the Democratic Party sought to institutionalize a divide-and-rule strategy to maintain the system of class oppression. The reign of terror against blacks intensified. Lynchings, tolerated and even encouraged by state authorities, were common occurrences.”

At the time, the Republicans were trying to enact anti-lynching legislative to counteract the intimidation and fear that “Jim Crow” supporters used to kept minorities in their place.

However, lynching was an effective tool. From the 1927 musical “Showboat”, the song “Ol Man River” included the lyrics “Don't look up, An' don't look down, You don' dast make, De white boss frown. Bend your knees, An'bow your head, An' pull date rope, Until you' dead”.


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