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Walter LaFeber : William Jennings Bryan's Campaign Strategy
Walter LaFeber William Jennings Bryan decided that he was going to emphasize the key issue, or, as he called it, the "paramount issue", of imperialism. He made a very effective, impassioned acceptance speech, a speech that was so effective in attacking McKinley's foreign policies that McKinley and his political organizer, Mark Hannah, were extremely concerned for a while in July and August of 1900 that, Bryan was going to defeat them. Bryan used the anti-imperialist , issue very, very well. This was a time which the Philippine insurrection was going badly. This was the time when the Boxers were besieging the foreign compound and we did not know whether or not they were going to massacre all of the foreigners in China and it looked as though McKinley's foreign policies were in shambles. By September of 1900, McKinley had resolved several of these problems. He appointed a new military commander in China -- in the Philippines, Arthur MacArthur, and what this General MacArthur did in the Philippines was to fight a different kind of war, a war in which, for example, he offered amnesty to the rebels and simply didn't threaten to massacre them. He changed the direction of that war. The other thing that happened was, of course, that the foreign interventionary forces in China ended the Boxer siege of the foreign compound. So that by September, just two months before the election was to be held, Bryan suddenly found that McKinley had resolved some of these foreign policy issues. Bryan went back to his advisors and decided that anti-imperialism probably was not the best issue after all, and they decided, after considerable deliberation, that instead of emphasizing foreign policy, they'd emphasize the trust issue, the consolidations, the creation of the giant corporations in the late 1890s, and also the money issue. This turned out to be a catastrophic mistake for Bryan because Americans were feeling prosperous in 1900. McKinley was running on the slogan "the full dinner pail" and most Americans were enjoying a pretty full dinner pail by 1900 and why Bryan decided to talk about the trust and the money issue in 1900 is a very interesting question. One politician, Speaker Reed of the House of Representatives, said that he thought, quote, "Bryan would rather be wrong than President." And it was quite clear that Bryan was wrong in raising these particular issues. One of the things that happened was that when Bryan raised the issue of trusts and money instead of imperialism, he immediately lost the very important financial backing of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was willing to bankroll Bryan as long as Brian talked about foreign policy. But when Bryan started talking about "millionaires like Carnegie and trusts like the Carnegie Steel Corporation", at point Carnegie lost interest in Bryan and, as Carnegie wrote his good friend the President McKinley late in the campaign, quote, "I surrender," unquote. Carnegie decided that he could not vote for Bryan. He pulled the financial backing out of the Democratic Party and McKinley won an even larger victory that he did in 1896.

I don't think Bryan would have won under any conditions in 1900, although things looked pretty bright for him in the summer when he was emphasizing foreign policy and things were going badly for McKinley in the Philippines and in China. But I think by the fall of 1900, reality had taken over and the reality was that Americans were prosperous and they were feeling prosperous. The American economy was beginning to hum along very, very well, and McKinley was taking credit for this and Roosevelt was pointing out that it'd been McKinley's policies which had turned around this depression-plagued nation of 1896-97 to a very prosperous nation with "a full dinner pail", as the Republican slogan had it, in 1900. So I think that Bryan probably would not have won under any circumstance. Another thing that I think hurt Bryan a lot was that the Democrats were not nearly as well organized as the Republicans. McKinley ran a modern American political campaign. It's one of the first modern American politician campaigns in the sense that he raised enormous amounts of money and goes into the states and even the localities of places in the Middle West and West and spends money lavishly in order to, for example, issue pamphlets or to get out the vote. His political organizer, Marcus Hannah, was so successful at this that at the end Hannah, with great joy, essentially told Theodore Roosevelt that since the West was not in such good shape, Roosevelt should go into Bryan's home state of Nebraska and begin to campaign there. And Roosevelt very happily went into Nebraska and in a period of four days gave 40 speeches, lost his voice, and the end result was that McKinley and Hannah and Roosevelt carried Bryan's home state of Nebraska. At the end of the campaign this organization had been well oiled, so well greased with American money that Hannah actually returned $50,000 to his supporters in the Standard Oil Company, who were very surprised to get $50,000 back from Hannah. But Hannah simply didn't need it. He had raised so much money and used it so effectively in 1900, that Bryan never stood a chance.

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