Call for Panelists, NCA 2016 – If I were King of the Forest: Political Rhetoric and William Jennings Bryan

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The 2016 presidential campaign in many ways mirrors the political landscape of 1896. The distinguished American teacher, historian and writer Bernard A. Weisberger observed in early 2016 that “The rebellions in both parties this year mark an uprising against our second Gilded Age, with excesses greater than ever. Bryan wrote a memoir of his struggle and titled it, prophetically, The First Battle. This election year is the latest re-enactment of it. We should expect a campaign that will be outrageous, passionate and wastefully, tragically expensive.”

As such it is important we turn our attention to the historic record of campaign politics one century ago as enacted by William Jennings Bryan—the Democrat’s nominee for President of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908—and those influenced by him.

A popular public speaker, a progressive politician, and a pious Christian Bryan, at the age of 36, he found himself the nominee for the Presidency, a prize he won in large part because of his still-celebrated speech, “The Cross of Gold,” which he delivered at a divided national convention. This panel will engage Secretary Bryan’s public rhetoric from a variety of critical perspectives.

We have commitments from authors who will contribute papers on the pro-silver editorial cartoons published nationally prior to Bryan’s 1896 Cross of Gold speech and on Bryan’s convention speech in 1924. Examples of other potential topics include, but are not limited to, (1) a treatment of Bryan’s pioneering 500-speech whistle-stop campaign in the 1896 election, (2) analyses of Bryan’s conventions speeches of 1900 and 1908, (3) a critical analysis of L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its symbolic portrayal of Bryan and others, (4) an exploration of Bryan’s pro-creationism crusade as an extension of his populist runs for the White House, and (5) a critique of Bryan’s anti-eugenics (i.e., against forced sterilizations by the states) rhetoric during the 1920s.

If you are interested in contributing to this panel, please send your name and affiliation, a paper title, and 150-200 word abstract to Daniel S. Brown, Grove City College, ( by March 21.

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