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Posts Tagged ‘William Jennings Bryan

“Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers”*…

 

On October 20, 1880, just a couple weeks before the U.S. presidential election of that year, the New York newspaper Truth published a letter made up of two short paragraphs signed by James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Those two paragraphs could have been, as the paper wrote a few days later, Garfield’s “political death warrant.”

Addressed to one H.L. Morey, the letter concerned the immigration of Chinese laborers to America. “Individuals or companies have the right to buy labor when they can get it cheapest,” the letter read. “We have a treaty with the Chinese Government… I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.”

More than 135 years later, that might sound reasonable enough. But in the 1880s, America was caught up in a cascade of nativism and anti-Chinese sentiment. To parts of the American populace—in particular, voters in California and other western states, where Chinese labor was seen as a threat to white workers—this was an outrage…

The 1880 election was going to be very close. It was the first election after the end of Reconstruction, and while the Republicans were still the party of Lincoln, they were divided among themselves. Garfield had been nominated at the longest Republican National Convention ever, after 36 rounds of balloting in which neither of the two leading candidates, Ulysses S. Grant and Senator James Blaine, was able to command a majority. Democrats controlled the South and much of the West. To win, Garfield would have to sweep the North and the West Coast…

The “Morey letter,” as it quickly came to be known, was a classic October surprise, an attack in the waning days of a campaign meant to land a death blow. But the letter also raised some pressing questions…

An all-too-true (and all too resonant) story of 19th Century fake news: “The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield’s Immigration Scandal.”

* Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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As we double-check our sources, we might send eloquent birthday greetings to William Jennings Bryan; he was born on his date in 1860.  An orator and politician from Nebraska, he was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the House of Representatives and was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915, a position he resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I).

He was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era.  A devout Christian, he attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes (“Monkey”) Trial in 1925 in Tennessee; an ardent populist, he was an enemy of the banks and the gold standard (c.f., his famous “Cross of Gold” speech).

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Written by LW

March 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”*…

 

A cartoon depicting William Jennings Bryan as a Populist snake, swallowing the Democratic Party, dated 1896

As if things weren’t weird enough…

By a number of political measures, this year bears an uncanny resemblance to the transformative 1896 presidential election… It pitted Republican William McKinley against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Although McKinley won—the incumbent, Grover Cleveland, was a Democrat and the economy was bad—Bryan’s candidacy ushered in an era of fiery oratory and Democratic Party populism. Indeed, Cleveland’s pro-business Democratic Party largely vanished from American politics.

That probably sounds at least a little bit familiar, what with Trump’s populism and his own brand of fiery oratory. But, political scientists Julia Azari and Marc Hetherington argue in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the similarity goes well beyond personality….

So what does this mean for the future of American politics? “[W]hen political conflict between the parties becomes polarized, the same polarizing issues tend to become divisive within parties as well,” Azari and Hetherington write. “[T]he fate of previous eras of division suggests that this brand of politics is rarely sustainable in the long term. If not in 2016, it seems change is likely to come soon.”

The eerie similarities, then to now, detailed at “If History Is a Guide, American Politics Is About to Get Weird.”

* Mark Twain

As we batten down the hatches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957, at 8:54p, that Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a Democrat (of the Dixiecrat variety), began a 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster, the longest ever conducted by a single Senator.  Thurmond was speaking in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957; his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act led him to switch to the more comfortable home of the Republican Party.

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