William Jennings Bryan – Biography, Cross of Gold & Scopes Trial


William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), the U.S. congressman from Nebraska, three-time presidential nominee and secretary of state, emerged near the end of the 19th century as a leading voice in the Democratic Party and the nation. A devout Protestant, his populist rhetoric and policies earned him the nickname “the Great Commoner.” In his later years, Bryan campaigned against the teaching of evolution in public schools, culminating with his leading role in the Scopes Trial.

Early Life and Political Career

Bryan was born on March 19, 1860 in the small town of Salem, Illinois. His father, Silas, was a dedicated Jacksonian Democrat and a successful lawyer who served in various local elected positions and passed on his politics to his son. After graduating from Illinois College, Bryan earned a law degree from the Union College of Law in Chicago in 1883. He was admitted to the Illinois bar and began practicing law in Jacksonville, marrying Mary Elizabeth Baird in 1884; the couple went on to have three children.


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