America's Silver Era, The Story of William Jennings Bryan

At least he went out on a high note.

BTW, I meant to mention this before, but I love the irony of the fact that ITTL, the 21st Amendment enables Prohibition instead of ending it. What was the 18th Amendment ITTL, again?
So who wants to bet Prohibition goes per OTL?

Which, FYI, means it didn't even last an hour before being broken (No, literally, not even a hour after it came into effect, people were arrested for trying to steal liquor for selling).
So who wants to bet Prohibition goes per OTL?

Which, FYI, means it didn't even last an hour before being broken (No, literally, not even a hour after it came into effect, people were arrested for trying to steal liquor for selling).

Agreed. And I'm sure the mob will profit from it just as much as they did OTL.
In honor of the Great Commoner, I ate Chicken Bryan at Carrabba's today. 9.5/10 would highly recommend. Didn't order any alcohol out of respect for Bryan's convictions.


In honor of the Great Commoner, I ate Chicken Bryan at Carrabba's today. 9.5/10 would highly recommend. Didn't order any alcohol out of respect for Bryan's convictions.

I am reminded of that beautiful scene in The Sun also Rises.

For those that have not read the book, the main character (based on Hemingway) and his friend go fly-fishing in Spain. They stop to eat a lunch of chicken and eggs. The friend makes a fuss over how the egg should naturally come before the chicken, regardless of whatever that idiot Bryan says. The main character informs him that he just read in the paper that Bryan died. The friend stops, then solemnly proclaims that just this once, in honor of the Great Commoner, he would eat the chicken first.
Chapter LXIV, an American Icon
While William Jennings Bryan is primarily remembered for his political actions, he also had an undeniable impact on American culture. From sports to cinema, America today would be very different had William McKinley won the election in 1896. William Jennings Bryan was also a cultural icon himself. He made himself wildly popular with many from his own speeches. He had a reputation as the “Great Commoner.” But there were others working behind the scenes, most notably William Randolph Hearst and Milford W. Howard, helped show America the non-political side of the young president. For the first time in history, people from California to Maine got to see their president playing sports. Even the great Theodore Roosevelt could not match Bryan’s appeal to the average man.

-Excerpt from America's Silver Age, Edward S. Scott, Patriot Publishers, 2017.

The first important cultural contribution of William Jennings Bryan was basketball. In 1897, Bryan had his whole cabinet shoot hoops with James Naismith and a group of athletes. It was Milford Howard’s idea to capture the event on tape. This is said to have improved Bryan’s image with the American people. For a long time it was believed that Bryan was single-handedly responsible for popularizing the sport. However, many historians have cast doubt on that popular belief, pointing out that basketball’s popularity was already spreading quickly. Nevertheless, the sport soon became associated with the president. And in the 1890s, the young controversial Bryan was not yet the nationally popular elder statesman he would become by the 1920s.


(Early Basketball team)

Some Republican-friendly, pro-Gold Standard publications in the East attacked the new sport as being inferior to football and baseball. But there were still plenty of Republicans who loved playing basketball. Nevertheless, the sport was clearly more popular in the West than it was in the East. In 1898 the 16 best teams in the nation met in DC for a national championship. Only three were from east of the Mississippi. One notable team was the all-black Little Rock Warhogs, who won the first two games only to lose to the Idaho Silvermen, who went on to win the championship. In 1899 professional basketball was established with 33 recognized teams forming the National Basketball League. The number of teams would soon jump to over 60. In 1903, however, the league was officially segregated. The “Colored League” as it would be called, was dominated by African-Americans, but it also included a predominantly Native-American team. When the NBL was integrated in the 1940s, many of these teams combined with nearby white teams. The Warhogs, however, remained and became a powerhouse in their own right.

In 1899, the first official professional basketball season would begin. The NBL was organized in much the same way as professional baseball. The Idaho Silvermen were defeated 30-29 by the San Diego Scorpions for the first championship title. Colleges increasingly fielded basketball teams as well. American troops brought basketball to Cuba as a result of the war. In 1898 a Cuban team challenged the US Marines to a game. The marines won and it wasn’t even close. Basketball quickly spread across North America. In 1904 in Saint Louis, basketball was introduced as an Olympic sport with the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba competing. America won gold, Cuba won Silver, and Canada won Bronze. It wouldn’t return to the Olympics until 1920, however. By that time, the Philippines, China, Japan, and Russia would all have basketball teams. America would win gold every year until they were eventually defeated by Mongolia in 1944.

Bryan’s presidency had a great effect on film in America. Milford Howard had the president filmed during his first and second terms. Before Bryan, the vast majority of Americans could only know what the president looked like by photograph or portrait. Film reels were distributed all the way to California so people could see William Jennings Bryan in motion. Among the many scenes found in the reels were Bryan playing basketball, Bryan playing baseball, and Bryan with his wife and children on the lawn of the executive mansion. The films were a huge hit. After 1904, Howard became a producer. Howard Studios, based in Mobile, Alabama, was competitive with the movie industry in California for decades. He also was the first person to produce hour-length films. Common themes found in the early films he produced were greedy corporate managers challenged by courageous populist Robin Hoods and lost cause historical narrative. If it wasn’t for Bryan, he would never have achieved nearly as much fame as he did.

Bryan was depicted in countless books and films after his death in 1924. Howard Studios produced 1896 in 1926, which was an account of the battle between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley. It was well-received by the much of the American public including the Bryan family. It is now famous for being the last major release of the silent era of American cinema. Its sequel, 1900, was released to much fanfare in 1930, but poor acting and writing made the film a flop. The 1945 film Bill Bryan was a moderate success, but contained a large number of historical inaccuracies. Bryan and Roosevelt are depicted as eternal enemies; Bryan is shown grabbing his would-be-assassin’s gun and firing back, and Bryan is also shown as writing the Chinese Constitution.

Age of Silver, made in 1960, is easily the most famous movie on the man, and excerpts from the four hour film are shown in classrooms today. The film is largely pro-Bryan, but does not shy away from showing his shortcomings. It shows Bryan fighting for the poor and needy. It also shows him wrestling with what to do about the mistreatment of African-Americans. The climax of the movie is when Bryan gives his 1923 State of the Union address on the two forms of evil and helps convince the Senate to pass the Lodge-Wheeler bill. In 2016, a miniseries called William Jennings Bryan began. It had 20 episodes that were an average of 45 minutes long. It was generally historically accurate and approached events from a neutral perspective. It also was noteworthy for showing the conflicts within Bryan’s cabinet. Bryan has also been portrayed negatively. In French and Russian anti-German propaganda movies of the ‘20s and ‘30s, he is shown as gleefully abandoning the Entente nations to their fates.
Chapter XLV, President Walsh
David Ignatius Walsh has the honor of being the only person to suddenly become president while also running for president. This was made possible, of course, by the death of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan’s death gave new life to Walsh’s struggling campaign. Indeed, Walsh was considering dropping out of the race altogether mere hours before he was thrust into the presidency. His base was immigrants, particularly the Irish. He would still be at a major disadvantage though, as Charles W. Bryan, William Randolph Hearst, and Milford W. Howard all had much larger bases of support. In his inaugural speech, he emphasized the need for American unity, and gave some words of respect to the late William Jennings Bryan. It was not a bad speech, but people who were used to listening to his predecessor were left wanting.

-Excerpt from The Guide to the Executive Mansion, an in Depth Look at America's Presidents by Benjamin Buckley, Harvard Press, 1999.

In April 1924, President Walsh vetoed a prohibition enforcement bill. He said that he would only sign an act to enforce prohibition if beer and light wines were exempted. Some supporters of prohibition thought that enforcement with exemptions would be better than nothing, while others rejected the compromise and advocated waiting until a new administration. Congress passed the law and it was a major victory for the new president. Walsh would also pursue closer relations with Ireland, which was going through its own Populist phase and had even experimented with free silver. Not long after entering office, Walsh nominated two Supreme Court justices, George Remus of Illinois and Franklin Roosevelt of New York to replace the vacant slots left by George Shiras and Walter Clark.


(David Ignatius Walsh)

Walsh’s efforts to ensure the legality of some forms of alcohol inspired people to support his presidential campaign. But it also inspired opposition. Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League was determined to bring him down. While he originally favored Charles W. Bryan, he decided to stick to simply attacking Walsh. Stories of Walsh and young boys resurfaced. He was also at a disadvantage due to his Catholicism. Bryan was having his own problems, he was only winning Western states and even there he was often losing to various favorite sons such as Frank Steunenberg of Idaho, William Hope Harvey of Colorado, and Denver Dickerson of Nevada. The Democratic Party was determined that 15 years of his brother was enough and the party needed fresh faces. Charles was only continuing his campaign out of respect for his brother’s wishes.


(Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League)

Milford Howard won the two popular vote primaries held in the South; Florida and his native Alabama. The only challenge he received in that region was Furnifold Simmons of North Carolina (the candidate of the BTS). Other than that, Charles W. Bryan had scattered support all around the South and a large minority in Louisiana supported Walsh. After all, Howard had a media empire in the South. He also won the Illinois and Indiana primaries, though he did so with a plurality, not a majority. Other than that, he was completely outmatched by William Randolph Hearst in the North. When it came time for the convention in St. Louis, Howard delegates saw the writing on the wall. Hearst was nominated for president while Howard was nominated for Vice President.


(Left: William Randolph Hearst, Right: Milford Wriarson Howard)

Republicans were similarly divided. Charles Evans Hughes was popular among many in both the party establishment and the rank-and-file. Robert La Follette ran for the fourth time. This time, he was not only calling for abolition of the Electoral College, but also a presidential recall amendment and a national runoff system for presidential elections. Frank Hanly was all about Prohibition and enforcing the law more strictly. Warren Harding had the support of many conservatives who had been shut out of power for years. Smith Journalist H. L. Mencken of Maryland made a run for the nomination intending to use his campaign simply as a platform for his ideas without actually trying to win. Newspaper editor William Allen White of Kansas also ran. Thomas Coleman du Pont of Delaware ran as a pro-business candidate. Ole Hanson of Washington ran on an anti-Communist platform.

It was soon apparent that only three candidates stood any chance of winning the nomination; Hanly, Harding, and Hughes. The delegates determined that Hanly was the least electable of the three. After several ballots, it was agreed that Hughes would be the presidential nominee and Harding should be his running mate. This ticket would unite both the progressive and the resurgent conservative wing of the party. Even though Hughes was a progressive, he was certainly campaigning to the right of Hearst. Many Americans by this point were tired of progressivism and believed that the government needed to be reined in. The GOP platform of 1924 would call for a kind of moderate conservatism. Republicans that year would argue not to cut already existing government programs, but to not create any new ones. The hawkish foreign policy that had driven many away from the party in the past was significantly downplayed.


(Left: Charles Evans Hughes, Right: Warren Gamaliel Harding)

Bill Haywood was chosen as the Socialist Labor Party nominee. Representative Max Hayes of Ohio, a defector from the Democratic Party, was chosen to be his running mate. The Socialists would continue to rise in popularity, which concerned many Americans. Still, the majority of Americans were not receptive to their ideas. For most Americans, the important issues were the enforcement of prohibition, government spending, and foreign policy. On prohibition and foreign policy, the candidates were very similar. On government spending the Republicans supported less spending, so that was something to distinguish the two. Hughes was more supportive of civil rights, while Democrats didn’t talk much about the issue. Opinion polling suggested a narrow Republican victory. Either way, the election was going to be close.

In the end, Hearst won by narrow margins. But the Republican performance compared to 1920 was astonishing. The entire Northeast fell to the GOP along with most of the Midwest. And even in the West, Hearst won the states of California, Oregon, and Utah by only narrow margins. Though the Democrats won every Western State, most of them swung towards the Republican Party by ten or twenty percent. An unidentified observer declared that Bryan’s ghost was keeping the West in the Democratic fold for one final election. In Hearst’s victory speech he promised to honor the legacy of the late William Jennings Bryan. However, over the next four years, America would see that he and Howard were very different than the man they voted into office four times.


William Randolph Hearst (D-NY)/Milford W. Howard (D-AL), 14,699,201 votes (44.45%), 367 Electoral Votes[1]
Charles Evans Hughes (R-NY)/Warren G. Harding (R-OH), 14,431,342 votes (43.64%), 269 Electoral Votes
Bill Haywood (S-UT)/Max Hayes (S-OH), 3,270,531 votes (9.89%), 0 Electoral Votes
Others[2], 667,995 votes (2.02%), 0 Electoral Votes

1: Wisconsin's 15 electoral votes are required to go to the winner of the popular vote.
2: Mostly Prohibition Party and write-ins
In January of 1924, William Jennings Bryan had a heart attack. He survived, but he became increasingly conscious of his own mortality. He realized that his plan of enjoying a long retirement would not likely be fulfilled. Nevertheless, he continued to perform his duties as president as best he could. In March, a sufficient number of states ratified the 21st Amendment, establishing federal prohibition. Bryan had seen one of his last major policy goals achieved. He would travel back to Nebraska for the state’s presidential primary, proudly casting his ballot for his brother, Charles. Charles W. Bryan was struggling, but had a large base of support. David Walsh, on the other hand, was having a hard time winning over voters outside of Massachusetts. Increasingly it looked like William Randolph Hearst was the frontrunner with Milford Howard a strong second.

President Bryan returned to Washington on March 11. He signed a bill increasing funding for bridge repair on the 14th. On March 20, 1924, William Jennings Bryan passed away in his sleep. It was the day after his 64th birthday. He was survived by his wife, Mary Baird Bryan, and his three children, Ruth, William Jr., and Grace Bryan. The nation mourned as the man who had defined American politics more than anyone else for close to three decades died. In April his funeral was attended by dignitaries from Europe. Even Conservative Republicans found kind words to say about the man. Two emperors, one Chinese and the other Austrian, would praise the deeds of William Jennings Bryan. The Communist Party of Spain, on the other hand, asked why God wasn’t there to save His most devout follower.

-Excerpt from The Guide to the Executive Mansion, an in Depth Look at America's Presidents by Benjamin Buckley, Harvard Press, 1999.

Times had changed since Bryan first gave his “Cross of Gold” speech in 1896. Everyone who voted for him that year would be middle aged or older by now. His own children who lived in the executive mansion with him were now all in their 30s. There was still a large group of people who voted for Bryan in all five elections in which he ran. They wouldn’t all die off until the 1980s. The last person who is known to have voted for William Jennings Bryan died in 2013 at the age of 114. Even in death, Bryan continued to impact the American political system. For the next 20 years, various political candidates would promise to carry on his legacy. His fifteen years in office will not soon be forgotten.


William Jennings Bryan
March 19, 1860-March 20, 1924​

May the Great Commoner rest in peace. :cryingface::tiredface::'(:teary::confounded::noexpression::perservingface::frown::);)

They say he lives forever. In one timeline or in another, the Great Commoner will always be in our hearts. And who knows, his soul may live in another TL and/or land of hope.

Praise be Silver Platte Orator from Nebraska, the Great William Jennings Bryan!