William Jennings Bryan

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Much like the Republican problems during the 1892 election, in which Grover Cleveland won his second term of office, the Democratic Party faced problems in the 1896 election. Cleveland, who had won on the strength of labor unions and his policy on monetary policy, lost on both of his signature issues. His use of the military during a railroad strike in 1894 and his comment that he would he would commission the military to do government services if the postal service struck did not endear himself to the growing labor movement within the Democratic Party. These blunders caused the Republicans to gain over 100 House seats and control over the Senate in the 1894 midterm elections. The Populist Party reached a critical juncture in 1896. At the 1896 Democratic nominating convention, the more progressive aspects of the party rallied behind Nebraskan politician William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, a proponent of silver currency, gave a speech now referred to as the “Cross of Gold” speech in which he derided the Republican administration of monetary policy in the past and hoped for a more populist approach to government in the future. The Democrats rallied behind Bryan and the platform reflected not only his populist agenda but their future fusion with the People’s Party to create a more progressive and rural party. The Democratic platform included advocacy for free silver and the possibility of international bimetallism, a federal income tax, statehood for Western territories, and a decreased tariff. When the People’s Party met at their nominating convention, they voted to fuse their candidates to the Democratic Party and pool resources with the more organized Democrats.

The Republican Party, resurgent with their congressional success in 1894, rallied around Ohio governor William McKinley, the namesake of the 1890 tariff bill that was hotly contested in this decade. McKinley and the Republicans shaped a platform around the gold standard, an increase in protective tariffs...
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