“You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
– William Jennings Bryan, July 9, 1896
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was one of the most influential politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a skilled orator, campaigning for many Democratic candidates and successfully running for the U.S. House of Representatives representing Nebraska in 1890. At the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Bryan delivered his “Cross of Gold” speech, considered one of the greatest in American history. The following day, he became the youngest major party nominee for President. A famous example of political propaganda medals is “Bryan Money,” a series of pieces critical of Bryan and the “Free Silver” Democratic Party.
Free Silver was a central issue of the 1896 and 1900 presidential campaigns, both ending in Bryan’s defeat. Republican candidate William McKinley favored a strict gold standard for the nation’s money supply, while Bryan campaigned on a bimetallic standard with a fixed silver to gold coin ratio of 16 to 1. McKinley’s campaigns had success portraying Bryan’s ideas as uneducated and fanatical, creating a popular
numismatic genre in the process.
Bryan Money has two classifications: comparative and satirical. Comparative pieces were struck in coin silver and are of high quality. These large, text-heavy pieces demonstrate the size of a silver dollar under the Silverites’ 16 to 1 proposal, with many illustrating the smaller size of contemporary Morgan dollars. Satirical pieces were generally crudely cast in base metal or counter-stamped on foreign coins, with comical or insulting phrases including “In God We Trust, In Bryan We Bust,” “United Snakes of America,” and “16 to 1 NIT” (Not In Trust).
Did You Know?
William McKinley was a notoriously hands-off campaigner. While Bryan made more than 600 speeches across the country in 1896, McKinley generally spoke at his home in Canton, Ohio and let his delegates spread the word. It is the most famous example of a “front porch campaign.”