William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” Speech

Populist William Jennings Bryan famously railed against the gold standard during the 1896 election, arguing that the government and big business had abandoned farmers, miners and small merchants, who wanted free coinage of silver. His opponent, Republican William McKinley, supported the gold standard.

In what is regarded as one of the greatest political speeches of all time, he told the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago:

They tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. We reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.

He merged his support for the working class with his devout Christianity in the speech’s most famous phrase:

You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

The audience went wild and nominated the thirty-six-year-old former Congressman from Nebraska, who would go on to lose to William McKinley.

Though no recording exists of the original speech, Bryan recorded portions of it for Gennett Records in 1921.

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