At the 1896 Democratic convention, a speech by William Jennings Bryan, a little-know congressman, thrust him into becoming a spokesman for the many Americans who opposed the laissez-faire policies of President Grover Cleveland.
“It’s hard to think of a single speech that did more,” said presidential historian Richard Norton Smith. “On a personal level, it catapulted this unknown young congressman to the party’s nomination. On a broader level, it redefined the nature of what it meant to be a Democrat.”
Bryan delivered the speech in the convention’s closing debate over the future direction of the party platform. He introduced a populist element and a policy of anti-imperialism, positions Smith labeled as “two legs of the three-legged modern Democratic stool.” The third element, which is the support of black voters, came later; Bryan depended on many rich, white Southern voters for support.