The presidential election of 1896 is remembered as the Great Realignment. As voters moved past contentious issues dating back to the Civil War, millions changed their political preferences. The economy was in severe recession. Farmers suffered from low prices, while urban workers faced new challenges in overcrowded cities.
The Republican National Convention met in St. Louis that June, and the GOP nominated William McKinley. A heroic Union Army veteran, he had served in the regiment commanded by Rutherford Hayes. The seven-term congressman recently completed a term as Governor of Ohio. He stood for sound money and high tariffs. For the vice presidency, the convention nominated Garret Hobart, former New Jersey state legislator and Republican National Committeeman.
1896 Republican National Convention Ticket
Leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago a month later, frontrunner was Richard Bland, a former Missouri congressman. That was until former Nebraska congressman William Jennings Bryan addressed the delegates. Just thirty-six years old, the attorney and gifted orator won them over with his famous Cross of Gold speech. He argued that the working man was being crucified by the gold standard. Boosting the money supply with silver coinage, he argued, would reverse price declines and restore prosperity. In an effort to balance the ticket, for the vice presidency delegates nominated Arthur Sewall, industrialist and Democratic National Committeeman for Maine. While the Populist Party also nominated Bryan, they nominated former Georgia congressman Thomas Watson for vice president.
1896 William Jennings Bryan Speech Ticket
The energetic Bryan broke precedent by campaigning extensively for himself, delivering hundreds of speeches around the country. Though his Democratic Party held the White House, he cast himself as anti-establishment, which in a sense he was. McKinley responded with a front porch campaign — speaking to Republican groups which came to see him.
William McKinley defeated Williams Jennings Bryan, by 51% to 47% in the popular vote and 271 to 176 in the Electoral College.