William Jennings Bryan



William Jennings Bryan's closing argument in the Scopes trial was never delivered, because the other side was unwilling to risk it. His arguments against Darwin center around ethical concerns, as expressed by this contemporary writer: "The biblical perspective is not 'the survival of the fittest' but 'the protection of the weakest.'" (Issues Facing Christians Today, John R. W. Stott and John Wyatt, p. 305). Darwin and his first followers took the ethical implications of the theory quite seriously. The resultant two world-views are almost mirror inverses:


William Jennings Bryan (1860—1925) was a three time Democratic Presidential candidate. Though he 'struck out' in his effort to win the highest office in the land, many of his ideas—a progressive income tax, 'trickle-up' economics rather than trickle-down—won acceptance, if not in his lifetime then thereafter. Herbert Hoover complained bitterly that the New Deal was just "Bryanism."

In this era of the 'Religious Right,' it is striking to realize how many of the social arrangements conservatives despise owe their inspiration to this man, a fervent and sincere Christian who truly cared and diligently studied what the Bible says about the rich and the poor and about war and peace. What a contrast he presents with George W. Bush, a man pushed forward by his backers as a Christian, though he does not think it matters much if one is a Muslim or a Christian, and does not believe the Bible to be "literally" true.* This web page is presented in the hope that contrasting the genuine with the fake will awaken some people.

The modern Republican party is a 'three-legged stool,' clamped together by Ronald Reagan. Evangelical social conservatives join with the less numerous laissez-faire capitalists and militarists to form a potentially winning coalition. It is understood that the social conservatives, despite their weight of numbers, are the one leg who are never to expect any governmental action beyond the symbolic on their concerns, such as abortion. While Bryan would have shared the social conservatives' bewilderment at 'gay marriage,' he would never have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with deregulators like Alan Greenspan or the neo-imperialists who invaded Iraq.

And where do these ideas come from? From the gospel? Alan Greenspan's muse was the atheist novelist Ayn Rand. Atheist economist Friedrich von Hayek inspired Margaret Thatcher's neoconservatism. Laissez-faire economic theory received a great impetus from Social Darwinism, a viewpoint first enunciated by Charles Darwin himself in the 'Descent of Man.' The Social Darwinists and their successors lamented that governmental assistance to the poor encouraged these weak, unfit persons to breed, which they could not do if allowed to starve. But the Darwinian viewpoint that life arose by chance is at odds with the Biblical viewpoint of creation. Neither is it a Biblical project to invade nations around the globe, such as Iraq, to shower them with the blessings of democracy. What keeps a three-legged stool made up of such heterogeneous elements from splintering? And why are American Christians willing to allow themselves to be spoken for by a low buffoon like Rush Limbaugh, when this is their heritage?

Bryan had his dark side as well, unfortunately. He was willing to stand at the head of the Democratic Party ticket at a time when the Democratic Party in the South was unabashedly racist. I hope the reader will realize that in putting up this web page I am not so much advocating such nostrums as a silver standard as seeking to correct strange distortions in our perception of American history. You read on the internet that we have an income tax because Karl Marx called for one. Well, not exactly. Who wanted an income tax? Both the Union and the Confederacy had had one during the Civil War, as an emergency war-time measure; those later championing the cause included Bryan's fellow boosters of Prohibition: "This had been obvious to the leadership of the WCTU [Women's Christian Temperance Union] as early as 1883, when the editors of the organization's official organ, The Union Signal, coyly asked their readers, 'How, then, will [we] support the government' if the sale of liquor is prohibited? The editors had a ready answer for their own question: an income tax, they wrote, was 'the most just and equable arrangement ever made for the equalization of governmental burdens.'" (Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, p. 57). Since the federal tax on liquor was a major source of governmental revenue in that day, some substitute had to be found if the Eighteenth Amendment was ever to be feasible. It is not so long since then, but somehow, the progressive history of evangelicalism has retreated to the dark side of the moon.

Not until Hubert H. Humphrey pushed through a civil rights plank in the 1948 Democratic Convention did the Democratic Party become the party of civil rights. However, readers who follow Clarence Darrow's questioning of Bryan in the Scopes trial realize that one of these men is a deep-dyed racist, and it's not Bryan, whose views on Darwinian evolution are laid out in 'In His Image.' Bryan's political work revolved around his perception that the unitary gold standard then in force was deflationary, thus disadvantageous to debtors who were obliged to pay back their mortgages in dollars worth more than those they had borrowed. On issues of taxation, he championed the progressive income tax:


The Silver Question

An Income Tax
Bimetallism
Counting a Quorum
Cross of Gold
Guaranteed Deposits
The Omnivorous West 
The Silver Question
The St. Louis Convention  
The Tariff
Unconditional Repeal 

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