July 23, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Parts of Bryan’s ‘Cross of Gold’ Chicago speech echo 128 years later

When it comes to national political conventions in Illinois, two top every historian’s list: the 1860 Republican convention, from which ascended the political career of one Abraham Lincoln, and the 1968 Democratic event, marred by violent clashes between protestors and police.

In all, there have been 25 total conventions in the Windy City – 14 for the GOP and 11 for the Democrats, with the 12th beginning in six weeks.

On July 9, 1896, William Jennings Bryan addressed the DNC for more than 30 minutes at the Chicago Coliseum, a famous oratory known as the Cross of Gold speech. Bryan convinced the party to coalesce around his position of moving America away from the gold standard to embrace “free silver,” or bimetallism.

As I researched the history of the topic – having either never been taught of the issue or forgetting any such lessons – the exercise seemed a reminder that something so divisive, so seemingly central to the American way of life, might one day become just another footnote. But it also afforded the opportunity to consider Bryan’s rural-urban framing and hear arguments echoing almost 13 decades later.

“They tell us that this platform was made to catch votes. We reply to them that changing conditions make new issues; that the principles upon which rest democracy are as everlasting as the hills; but that they must be applied to new conditions as they arise. Conditions have arisen and we are attempting to meet those conditions. ...

“They criticize us for our criticism of the Supreme Court of the United States. My friends, we have not criticized; we have simply called attention to what you already know. If you want criticisms, read the dissenting opinions of the court. There you will find criticisms. They say that we passed an unconstitutional law; we deny it. … It did not become unconstitutional until one of the judges changed his mind, and we cannot be expected to know when a judge will change his mind.”

Although the speech also elevated Bryan to become the party’s presidential nominee, he fell in the general election to William McKinley, former Ohio governor. Read it all at historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5354.

ALSO ON THIS DAY: It’s been exactly 135 years since Joseph “Léo” Dandurand was born in Bourbonnais and about 120 since he returned to Quebec, where his great-grandfather lived before moving to Illinois. Léo was 32 when he and two partners bought the Montreal Canadiens. He won a Stanley Cup as a coach and three during his run as general manager, while also having a major stake in a 17-track horse racing empire that included his native state. The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him in 1963; Dandurand died in 1964.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.