Reconsidering Bryan: William Jennings Bryan’s Advocacy of Causes Using Rights-Based Arguments
Townsend, Richard B
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William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians in American history. This is true in spite of three losses as the national candidate of the Democratic Party for the office of President of the United States. He has been accurately characterized as a populist, a moralist, a majoritarian and a crusader. But no previous study has examined the extent to which he advocated on the foundational basis of individual, civil, legal and religious rights as significant components of his arguments in favor of causes he championed. This dissertation is offered to fill that gap and provide another dimension through which to characterize Bryan. Primary sources have been used to consider the rights-based logic Bryan used over a thirty-seven-year political career from 1888 through 1925. Documentary evidence cited has been selected from material written or spoken by Bryan, including personal correspondence, dozens of books, several pamphlets, hundreds of newspaper commentaries, transcriptions of speeches, and other material. The time span includes a twenty-three-year period from 1901-1923 during which he, his wife, his brother, Charles, and a few trusted companions published The Commoner, a nationally-distributed subscription newspaper. Archival copies of those editions are available online and provided a wealth of primary source material. Taken together, along with key secondary source material that provided context, a compelling picture has emerged regarding Bryan as an advocate. He advanced multiple causes he thought would improve American government and society, and he argued for those causes using rights-based arguments as a key aspect of his rhetoric.