These were the days before microphones. You needed a big voice to be heard. William Jennings Bryan had one. He discussed issues intelligently. He smiled and shook hands. When he talked about gold and silver, people understood what he was saying. He was a silver man. The night before he was due to speak at the Democratic presidential convention in Chicago, he watched the delegates cheer another candidate. Then to a friend he said, "These people don't know it, but they will be cheering for me just this way this time tomorrow night."
Few of the delegates had even considered the young man from Nebraska as a candidateuntil he got up to speak about silver. He was clad in the armor of a righteous cause, he said. He led them through the history of the struggle between silver and gold. On Bryan's tongue it became a struggle between good and evil. He was dividing the country between East and West. Between hardy pioneers and financial magnates. Between city and country. At the height of his speech he said: "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 in the country."
Willa Cather was there. She wrote: "At Chicago, when Bryan stampeded a convention, appropriated a party, electrified a nation, one of those ragged farmers sat beside me in the gallery, and at the close of that never-to-be-forgotten speech, he leaned over the rail, the tears on his furrowed cheeks, and shouted, 'The sweet singer of Israel.' "
And then Bryan reached the crescendo of his oration: "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 next day the Democratic and Populist Parties nominated William Jennings Bryan for president of the United States. Not only did he stand for free silver, he was a genuine reformer who wanted to put power back in the hands of the people.