Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

What was the breakdown of Populist ballots vs Democratic ballots in the Presidential election?
I made turnout a smidge higher than OTL, so if Bryan won around 7 million total votes, I'd say around 280K, or 4% of his 49.29%, were on the Populist line.
 
Part 2: Chapter III

William J. Bryan, 25th President of the United States - Source: Wiki Commons

Part 2: Virtuous Cause

Chapter III: Temerity and Reaction: The Bryan Presidency


The unthinkable transpired. By a fluke of the gods, it appeared as though William Jennings Bryan would now be President of the United States. Republicans were dumbfounded when reporters called the election for the congressman. How was it that an evangelical orator from the American Prairie able to defeat the mighty alliance of Republican machine politicking and exuberant corporate power?

The prime reaction among Republicans leaders, at first, was pure disbelief. On November 4th and 5th, Republican National Committee Chairman Garret Hobart contested the count in Ohio, alleging widespread fraud and corruption from Democratic-held districts. Publications like The Nation outright refused to refer to Bryan as the president-elect, distributing headlines assuring its readership that the election was growing closer as the count progressed. The fretting only subsided once Governor McKinley firmly opted against declaring his state's vote suspect, to the dismay of the national party.

On November 6th, Harrison finally conceded the race and Chairman Hobart ended all attempts to contest the legitimacy of the election. Harrison gave no official statement to the press, but Hobart released a brief dispatch. In it, he admitted that the election results were final and, regardless of how narrow the margins proved to be, that he would yield to the voice of the voters. "The nation has selected its next president in Mr. Bryan. [...] As Chief Executive, Mr. Bryan will have earned the trust by the millions of patriotic Americans who cast their votes for Benjamin Harrison. They adhere to the majority of the office and believe in the validity of the result. We shall nonetheless continue our work to secure growth for American markets and encourage enterprise with the restorative properties of protection and sound money."

When the election was said and done, Republicans and Bourbons next convinced themselves that the economy would plummet into a deeper depression. Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle (D-KY) relayed these fears in a correspondence with President Cleveland, gossiping that men on Wall Street, "expressed immeasurable apprehension at the very idea of [Bryan's] succession." He offered that the nation would erupt into a new banking panic the precise moment of inauguration, "that may well dwarf that of 1893.". However, such calamity never came. The American economy remained weakened in its state of early recovery, but it did not collapse further from the news of Bryan's win. Unemployment rates did not increase and gold specie hovered at the same trading value throughout November. Conservatives later accredited the resilience of the economy to their continued hold on Congress.

For Democrats, this was no less than an astounding victory. Few expected Bryan to pull off this grand upset, and fewer still believed he could carry a plurality in the Popular Vote. Upon the news of Benjamin Harrison's defeat, joyous Democrats held rousing parades in towns and cities all across the nation. From New York City to San Francisco, men and women marched in syncopation with a newfound sense of optimism for the future. Bryan himself was greeted by enormous crowds at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska in the aftermath of his win, to which he cheerfully reiterated portions of his famed Cross of Gold speech. Observers reflected that this sole front-porch display far outmatched, audience-wise, any of the similar events held by Harrison.

On Thursday, March 4th, 1897, William Jennings Bryan was sworn in as the 25th President of the United States. Overlooking a sea of supporters from all corners of the country, Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller administered the oath of office to the newcomer. Bryan, as one may imagine, delivered a memorable inaugural address to the hungry crowd.


I want you to understand the campaign which we have had to fight. They have told us that the great interests of society were against us. Yes, certain great interests have been. The trusts have been against us, but the trusts are no more against me than I am against the trusts. The syndicates which have been selling bonds for the government are against me, but, my friends, they have reason to be, because, from this day, they will no longer bleed the American people. They say that the corporations are against us. Yes, many of them are, and they have reason to be, because we believe that the corporation is a creature of law and that the government which created it is still greater than the corporation and should compel it to obey the law.
I realize that the great corporations, trusts, syndicates and combinations of wealth are against us, but I remember that they were against Andrew Jackson in the same fight that we are making today. They were powerful before the people, but when the time to vote came the people were greater than the combination. My friends, this campaign has demonstrated the desire for to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, not a government of syndicates by syndicates and for syndicates.
I will promise you that no power in this country or in any foreign land will prevent the restoration of the money of the Constitution among our people. The work that lies before a president who goes into the office with a desire to reform the financial policy and to drive the trusts and syndicates from this land, will be hard enough if he is supported by the people; his work would be impossible if he were not supported by the them. Here, today, we know now that the people have chosen to fight for freedom from this curse of gold. They tell us that we must bow down and worship the golden calf. I say, my friends, that the American people did not bow down. They have voted to restore the gold and silver coinage of the Constitution, and lead in the restoration of bimetallism throughout the world.
My friends, for all that you have done, for all that you have said, for all that you have felt, I beg to thank you and assure you that whatever may come, it shall be my desire, and I shall prize it, to know that I have obtained your respect, your confidence and your esteem; and it shall be the saddest day of my life if any word or act of mine shall make any person in this vast throng to regret a single kindly thought that he has felt toward me.
William Jennings Bryan, Inaugural Address Excerpt, March 4th, 1897
 
Last edited:

President Bryan Inaugural Ceremony - Source: Wiki Commons

Mr. Bryan, Mrs. Bryan, and their three children moved into their new, executive living quarters upon inauguration - a far cry from the Bryan residence in Nebraska. Not one to be enthused with the opulent comforts granted to him by his new title, Bryan impatiently, yet graciously, endured the ceremonies traditionally associated with inauguration. During this, he introduced himself, and his family, to the White House staff. As described by presidential historian H. William Ackerman, Bryan adapted quickly to his new surroundings and fostered a fond relationship with the domestic workers of the Executive Mansion.

The replacement of a tired and fat Grover Cleveland with the young, determined Bryan perfectly encapsulated the shifting from one age in American politics to the next. Cleveland was said to have ran the Executive Branch much like a boss runs a factory. That is, demanding the unquestioning respect and obedience of his workforce. Bryan led differently. He did not find comfort in barking orders nor being treated like royalty by members of staff. By all accounts, he saw himself as one of them, only lifted to his new role by the grace of God with the divine purpose of delivering justice to America. That, and not the title of president, garnered him the sort of respect Cleveland never had.
H. William Ackerman, Presidents of the Gilded Age, 2016

Regardless of his strength as a presidential candidate to repel mudslinging and name-calling by the Republican opposition, Bryan could not argue against the claim that he was not a seasoned veteran of the complex affairs of Washington. The Nebraskan served only a short while in Congress, and in that position found the task of networking beyond his own sect of Silver Democrats nigh impossible. To make matters worse, many of the Democrats who served alongside Bryan in the 53rd House of Representatives, like his close ally Representative William M. Springer (D-IL), had been shuffled out since 1894.

President Bryan's solution lied in his next problem: the Cabinet. When it came to filling the array of vacant positions allocated to the Cabinet, Bryan focused not only on suitable policy chops as a base prerequisite for his candidates, but their capability to build bridges with those who otherwise opposed his objectives. "He had no other choice," writes O'Conner. "You would be hard pressed to find any Bryan measure gaining passage through the 55th Congress without compromise. Not only did Republicans hold insurmountable majorities in both the House and Senate, but the Bourbons remained a prominent obstacle as well."

Bryan, with Vice President McLean and Chairman James K. Jones (D-AR) of the Democratic National Committee, finalized their plan for a suitable, conciliatory Cabinet and began the process of submitting the candidates to Congress. In an effort to demonstrate his willingness to accommodate bipartisanship, Bryan composed his Cabinet as such. To reward the Populists for their choice to cross-nominate Bryan, he presented Congressman William A. Harris (Pop-KS) with the position of Agriculture Secretary. For the purpose of placating Southerners eager to see themselves represented in the new administration, the president appointed former Governor James S. Hogg (D-TX) as Secretary of the Interior. Meant as an olive branch to the Old Guard, Bryan retained Bourbon Democrat William L. Wilson as Postmaster General and granted gold-bug Representative George B. McClellan, Jr. (D-NY) with the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Finally, Representative George Washington Steele (R-IN), a Republican and Civil War veteran, was designated Secretary of War.

Congress typically did not spar with the president over Cabinet appointments, but Bryan, nonetheless, desired to avoid instigating any early battles with the legislature. Therefore, although he did procure congressional approval for pro-Silver Governor Horace Boies (D-IA) as Treasury Secretary, he resisted calls from Silver Democrats to appoint former Governor Sylvester Pennoyer (D-OR) to the office of Attorney General. The pro-labor Pennoyer, more so than any other potential choice, would have practically guaranteed a drawn-out battle in the House. Bryan instead chose the oft-agreeable, moderate Senator George Gray (D-DE).

By tradition and as a show of admiration, Bryan initially planned to offer the role of State Secretary to Democratic runner-up, Representative Richard P. Bland, however, perhaps considering his potential as a leader in the House, he ultimately did not. He also briefly considered Populist leader Thomas E. Watson, the candidate chosen by the People's Party for vice president, for that role in his Cabinet, but this too he opted against. He eventually settled on Missouri Governor William Joel Stone (D-MO): a DNC member and an opponent of expansionism. Stone accepted and took his place in the president's premier committee.


The Bryan Cabinet

President - William J. Bryan
Vice President - John R. McLean
Sec. of State - William J. Stone
Sec. of Treasury - Horace Boies
Sec. of War - George W. Steele
Attorney General - George Gray
Postmaster General - William L. Wilson
Sec. of the Navy - George F. Williams
Sec. of Interior - James S. Hogg
Sec. of Agriculture - William A. Harris
 

Puck Magazine Anti-Silver Cartoon - Source: Wiki Commons

President Bryan won his seat on a platform of federal regulation and currency modification, and he considered achievement on both fronts paramount to long-term progress. The young president demanded it be done, and his base was no less enthusiastic. Letters addressed to "The Great Commoner" poured in, congratulating Bryan on his new role and noting support for the Democratic platform. Some desired prompt action on immigration. Others recommended a clean tariff bill. Nearly all Bryan supporters hoped for new bimetallism legislation.

The Nebraskan chose the latter as his first major challenge and intended to utilize as much political capital as was necessary to see it through. Pressing the silver issue would be no easy task for Bryan, however. The Republicans leading Congress would not waver in their staunch opposition to ending the gold standard. Every last GOP congressman worth a modicum of relevance in the 1890s marched in lockstep with RNC Chairman Hobart's call to resist Bryan's reform efforts. They had certainly conceded the White House, but surrendering the power of the legislature was another matter entirely.

Speaker Reed reportedly corresponded with the president regarding this very issue shortly following the inaugural ceremonies. Reed, according to historians familiar with his head-space in early 1897, plainly expressed to Bryan that passage of his coinage reform measure would prove impossible. It mattered little to the House speaker that Bryan won the national vote on a platform of Free Silver. Reed, like his Republican colleagues, decided that the rightful defense of 'sound money' superseded the will of the voters.

There was no talking him out of something when he had his sights set. I think "stubborn" would be putting it lightly. I remember he spent days at a time in the Oval Office speaking with different men. And by different, I mean it was almost never the same person twice. They were always much older than my father was, probably men thirty, forty years his senior, yet he still equipped his authoritative, paternal voice and never once shrunk down.
Ruth Bryan Roosevelt (as cited in David Bergman, The First Families: Bryan, Roosevelt & Fitzgerald, 1969)

President Bryan did not back down from his campaign pledge, and orchestrated the creation of novel currency legislation in July of 1897. Co-written by Henry M. Teller (SR-CO), one of eight Silver Republican congressmen, and Representative Bland, the Coinage Restoration bill detailed the integration of a 16-to-1, silver-to-gold, bimetallist policy into the American system and the repeal of the pro-gold Coinage Act of 1873. Silverites universally applauded the endeavor and urged its swift passing when it was formally introduced in the House that summer.

Prospects for the bill's success were dim from the get-go, but the Bryan Administration believed its chances to be far greater in Czar Reed's House than the vitriolic and unorganized Senate. Perhaps meaning to humiliate President Bryan, Reed eventually allowed for debate. Representative Bland spoke at length to the pros of the coinage legislation, as did Representatives Nicholas Cox (D-TN) and John Shafroth (SR-CO). House Republicans were not unanimous in their disapproval, with Western Republicans like Shafroth indicating their intention to vote in favor of the measure. The entire Eastern establishment was opposed, however, and Bourbon Democrats proved just as uninterested.

Even including supportive Republicans, Bryan learned that the numbers simply did not support the agenda for Free Silver in either house of Congress. Senator Augustus Bacon (D-GA) influenced several Democrats in the upper house to move closer to Bryan's point of view, in addition to those rallied by Teller on the Republican side of the aisle, but the sheer extent to which pro-gold sentiment permeated Congress was overwhelming. It was detrimental news to the once-optimistic president, for if he could not secure passage of this, then how well could his other legislative plans fare?
 

The S.S. Excelsior Departing San Francisco, July 28th, 1897 - Source: Wiki

The Free Silver Movement, in the decade leading to Bryan's inauguration, spurred not only the rise of the Silver Democrats and their consolidation of power in the national party, but it boosted the popularity of the Populists and tore at Republican unity in the Western U.S. Those promoting the expanded coinage of silver toppled the legacy of Grover Cleveland and managed to propel one of their own into the White House in one of the greatest political upsets in the modern era. After all of this, few expected it to collapse as suddenly as it did.

From the wealthiest executives on Wall Street to the tenant workers in the agrarian South, the reality of Free Silver seemed inevitable with Bryan's victory over Harrison. Critics of the ruling class blamed the gold standard, and the mineral's extreme scarcity, for the terror brought on by the financial panics. Famed labor activist Eugene V. Debs, known best for his role in the Pullman Strike, delivered speeches in support of then-Candidate Bryan and his call to abolish the present coinage system in the autumn of 1896.


This is a conflict between American manhood and British gold, between man and the dollar. The dollar has ruled long enough. Under the gold standard, born in 1873, 2 million American workingmen have been reduced to the condition of beggars. [...] It is the corporation that is everything and nothing. They are the ones who think they are interested in the maintenance of the existing gold standard. It is that element which is endeavoring to coerce you. The Republican Party says it is cooperation. Yes, it is the cooperation of the lamb and the wolf.
Eugene V. Debs, Campaign Speech on Behalf of William Jennings Bryan, Cleveland, October 27th, 1896

At around the same time Debs was equating currency imbalance to class struggle, an American prospecting group along the Klondike River, just short of the Alaskan border, discovered an enormous, untouched gold deposit. Local miners traversed the winter landscape and hastily established impromptu mining colonies along river inlets. Word reached California in mid-July of 1897 when a handful of these pioneers returned with gold in-hand worth an estimated $1.1 million.

News of the prospectors' return assailed the press and provoked a stampede of West Coast residents to the Klondike. Gold-hungry Americans flooded licensing offices with a sudden interest in the mining game, and subsequently scattered to Alaska-bound vessels. The former Governor of Washington, John McGraw (R-WA), and Seattle Mayor W.D. Wood (R-WA) abandoned their homes in search of newfound wealth. Seattle and San Francisco, especially, were hot spots for "Klondicitis," as the phenomenon was named. Today, this event is more commonly referred to as the Klondike Gold Rush.

The natural outcome of this discovery was a major influx of hard gold specie into the U.S. Treasury starting in 1897. Not only was the substance itself now far more plentiful, thus sabotaging the argument that it was only reserved for investors and banking elites, but a recent breakthrough in gold cyanidation simplified the extraction technique and allowed for the growth of refining plants in the United States. This, in conjunction with a steady increase in crop prices over the course of the year, greatly diminished public interest in the concept of Free Silver.

Even with William J. Bryan, the standard bearer for silver coinage, as the sitting president, the pressure on Congress to deliver a radical change in the currency policy diminished with each passing day. Bryan needed to adapt if he wished to garner any sort of worthwhile legacy. Prompted by his Cabinet, the president hesitatingly issued a temporary retreat from his assault on 'sound money' and instead announced plans to combat the mushrooming hegemony of trusts and, more generally, the exploitation of the poor.
 

U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C., 1896 - Source: Wiki Commons

Bryan allies in Congress introduced two new pieces of legislation in early December of 1897. The first, known as the American Safeguards bill, was written mostly in response to President Cleveland's notorious treatment of the Pullman strikers (which had been denounced in the 1896 Democratic platform). The legislation flatly stated that federal courts could no longer issue injunctions against nonviolent workers. Initially, this bill included provisions banning anti-union 'yellow-dog contracts' as well as the utilization of private agencies to instigate labor violence, but these were stripped away in a conservatively-bent committee. Other than the most virulent Bourbons, Democrats accepted this bill and unified to defend it.

The Sulzer-Hepburn Bill, named for its co-authors, Representatives William 'Plain Bill' Sulzer (D-NY) and William P. Hepburn (R-IA), called for an expansion of the Interstate Commerce Commission in order to more stringently control the formation of trusts, curtail the consolidation of railroad systems, institute bookkeeping standards, and set maximum rail rates. Members of all three major political factions in Congress seemed to agree on the necessity to implement these regulatory measures. Now their actions needed to match their words.

Just prior to the opening of the second session of Congress on December 6th, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Johnson Field retired from the bench. Having reached the ripe old age of 80, the rather traditionalist Lincoln appointee decided to vacate his seat on the court and allow for President Bryan to name a successor. "Attorney General Gray," wrote Ackerman, "insisted Bryan conserve his political capital and present Congress with a middle-of-the-road nominee. Boies concurred, concerned with the fate of the trust-busting initiative. Even Rep. Bland wrote to the president, urging he deny any instinct to reshape the highest court. Bryan listened to their advice, but could not be swayed."

To Congress, Bryan floated a name they could not have anticipated: Joseph M. Carey. This individual, then retired, served from 1885 to 1895 as a Republican congressman from Wyoming. Prior to this, he was an associate justice to the Wyoming Territory Supreme Court. Carey was unlike most Republicans of his time, often disputing the mainstream party line on issues of federalism and social issues. In one instance, during the course of congressional debate pertaining to admitting Wyoming to statehood, Carey declared, "Wyoming would wait 100 years for statehood rather than join without women's suffrage." For lack of stronger terminology, the former senator could fairly be described a 'Progressive' before Progressivism.

The president believed that Carey was the perfect candidate, and the Wyomingite took Bryan up on his offer. Some Democrats fumed over what they saw as Bryan's incredulous betrayal of party allegiance. To them, the nomination of a Republican senator was indefensible. Bryan, nonetheless, worked to persuade his party, confiding in them his belief that Carey would further the goals outlined in the Chicago platform. Congressional Republicans, having long since deemed Bryan an inept fool, happily agreed to admit Carey to the bench. Within weeks, Congress near-unanimously approved of Bryan's pick and granted Joseph Carey permission to sit alongside new colleagues on the Fuller Court.

Speaker Reed, considering himself twice victorious in defeating President Bryan, thereafter allowed for the introduction and debate of the Sulzer-Hepburn and American Safeguards bills. The merits and Constitutionality of both measures were discussed at length by members of the House, with support for passage far exceeding that of the Coinage Restoration bill. Conservative Republicans objected to a stipulation in the injunction bill protecting the rights of workers to organize collectively, a conviction shared with the Bourbon minority. An amendment gutting the Safeguards legislation of the pro-union language passed with ease, 225 to 132. Bryan was discouraged by this news, but still sought to pass what he could.

The House passed both measures, in the end. Upon its arrival, the legislation found less resistance in the Senate, where the bulk of its members exhibited favor of passage. A handful of staunch conservatives did remain opposed to Sulzer-Hepburn on the grounds that regulating rates could disrupt the railroad industry. Others, like Senator Platt, remarked that the Supreme Court would simply strike down the anti-trust portions, as they recently managed to do with the Sherman Antitrust Act in United States v. E. C. Knight Co. To the latter charge, Senators Spooner and Cullom, proponents of the Interstate Commerce Act, retorted that the federal government had the power regulate monopolies, trusts and pools since it meant the protection of interstate commerce. The Senate did not alter either bill, passing both with few defections in early April.
 
Really well written and well-researched timeline. Nice to see Bryan getting a shot. I've admired him.

Kind of sorry Harrison didn't make it, though. I feel he was underrated as President. He had some strikingly progressive ideas about corporate responsibility and equal rights for black Americans.
 
Really well written and well-researched timeline. Nice to see Bryan getting a shot. I've admired him.

Kind of sorry Harrison didn't make it, though. I feel he was underrated as President. He had some strikingly progressive ideas about corporate responsibility and equal rights for black Americans.
Thank you! That is true about Harrison - Maybe an idea for another TL :)
 
Part 2: Chapter IV

Anti-Spain Publication, 1898 - Source: Wiki Commons

Chapter IV: Cuba Libre!: The War and How it Ended


In his final address to Congress in December of 1896, President Grover Cleveland dedicated a section specifically to foreign policy. In response to a recent uprising taking place on the Caribbean island of Cuba, a province held by the sputtering Spanish Empire, the mustachioed president stated that the United States may be forced to intervene if Spain was unable to exercise its authority. In his words, the U.S. acted on behalf of its "higher obligations [...] which is by no means of a wholly sentimental or philanthropic character. [...] It is reasonably estimated that at least from $30 to $50 millions of American capital are invested in the plantations and in the railroad, mining, and other business enterprises on the island."

Liberty-starved Cuban "insurrectos" rebelled against Spanish colonialism starting in 1895. They, as well as thousands of Cuban workers and peasants, were subsequently brutalized in a series of abhorrent human rights abuses, including indefinite detention in concentration camps. The American yellow press, led by Hearst's New York Journal and Pulitzer's New York World, intensely cataloged this behavior by the Spanish and called for the federal government to forcibly intervene. Initially, neither Grover Cleveland, William Jennings Bryan nor the Republican Congress held the slightest interest in moving toward armed conflict overseas, and both presidents frequently corresponded with Spain in order to sort out the situation in a diplomatic fashion. Likewise, lucrative overseers of American corporations, albeit eager to expand beyond the nation's borders, too feared that war would impede the tenuous economic restoration.

Regardless of their government's anti-war sentiments, Hearst and Pulitzer incessantly pressed the issue all throughout 1896 and 1897. Hearst, especially, derided the conditions faced by the struggling Cuban people in great detail and specificity, garnering a reputation for exaggerated headlines and fictionalized accounts of women prisoners. The mass of these reports centered on the treatment of Cubans by the villainous Governor-General Valeriano Weyler, cited by Hearst as "The Butcher." Hundreds of thousands of Cubans died, and many more suffered, under Weyler's reign. In addition to his crimes against Cuba itself, the general authorized the internment of American citizens residing on the island, thus further incensing the United States citizenry.

Weyler's term finally came to an end with the rise of Spanish Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta in October of 1897, but much of the damage had already been done. Even with the general's replacement and the reversal of his most malevolent policies, Cuba and its people remained unwillingly married to the Spanish throne. Hearst's reporting continued, undeterred by Weyler's sacking, capitalizing on an exponential rise in sales of the Journal. Sales exploded for the World as well, in addition to the sea of other publications mimicking anti-Spain sentiment.

Some politicians shared Hearst's feelings and directly called on the president to act. Senator Lodge of Massachusetts strongly supported U.S. intervening in the conflict, as did the outspoken former police commissioner of New York City, Theodore Roosevelt. Both found it the responsibility of the nation to protect Western Hemispheric countries at any cost. Roosevelt declared, "We will have this war for the freedom of Cuba in spite of the timidity of the commercial interests," and in confidence famously relented that, "A slice of Boston cream pie has more courage than [Bryan] could hope to muster."

President Bryan, like nearly every other American, steadily grew enraged by the management of Cuba under Spanish rule.


Bryan was not immune to the revulsion. He saw the crisis as a moral issue. Cubans pined to win their freedom from a tyrannical European power. They were slaves. Captives of Pharaoh. The capitalists of Spain starved the people of Cuba, ground them down and enslaved them for profit. It was the burden of the United States, Bryan thought, to liberate. To break the chains that bound and scarred the wrists of a downtrodden population.
Spain ignored his plea to grant Cuban autonomy, time and time again. [Spanish Ambassador Enrique] Dupuy de Lôme publicly mocked his naivety and guffawed at the notion that the peasants were worthy of self-rule. Diplomacy was silenced -- drowned out by the reverberating boom of the war drum.
Benjamin McIntyre, The Workers' Struggle: The Birth of a Columbian International, 2018

Bryan had had enough. Empathizing with the Cuban cause and recognizing his duty to speak with the voice of an outraged public, the president implored Congress pass a formal ultimatum to Spain demanding it relinquish control of its colonial possessions. On February 11th, Bryan spoke directly to the legislature. He proclaimed, "Universal peace cannot come until justice is enthroned throughout the world. Until the right has triumphed in every land and love reigns in every heart, government must, as a last resort, appeal to force."

The House and Senate concurred, passing a joint-declaration by the month's end. President Bryan proudly signed the measure on February 25th and immediately authorized Navy Secretary Williams' issue to blockade Cuba. Spain refused the order and declared war on the United States. For the first time since the Civil War, the U.S. mobilized for armed entanglement with a hostile power.
 
Last edited:
I've not read through all this yet, so I'm sorry if this has been answered, but is this a socialist America timeline or one where left-wing politics is actually relevant.
 

Frederic Remington's "Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill," 1909 - Source: Wiki Commons

The United States was at war. Bryan, firmly believing the conflict a mission to spread democracy, heartily accepted his duties as commander in chief. In his address to Congress, the president pledged that the U.S. would seek engagement in the affairs of Cuba insofar as the rights of its people were concerned. He delivered a blanket repudiation of mistreatment and his glorified Lockean ideals of liberty and freedom, but noticeably did not highlight the plight of commerce, the protection of property, nor the ambitions held by pro-expansion jingoists to establish American protectorates in place of Spanish colonies. Sugar plantation owners and other commercial interests were displeased by the speech, but they had grown accustomed to disappointment under President Bryan and thoroughly expected a bungled overseas efforts.

Congress promptly authorized funding for war mobilization and the Bryan Cabinet began to enact its military strategy. Apart from the tactically successful naval blockage of Cuba, the chief victory for the Navy Department arose when Secretary George Williams dispatched Commodore George Dewey and Rear Admirals Winfield S. Schley and William T. Sampson to lead a precision strike on the Spanish fleet. The vessels in this contingent targeted the Santiago de Cuba port, which had been a major base for the Spanish Caribbean Squadron. On March 24th, when the squadron attempted an offensive maneuver against the American forces, the U.S. Navy caught wind and unleashed their barrage, thus eliminating all six Spanish ships.

Simultaneously, Secretary of War George Steele, alongside President Bryan, plotted a land campaign. They recruited former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler and Major General Wesley Merritt to head the Fifth Army Corps and work toward a full-throttle assault on Santiago. Seemingly inspired by the plight of Cuba and the president's call to action, volunteers joined with the Army by the scores and quickly filled the ranks needed to embark. Among those who enlisted were Theodore Roosevelt and presidential physician Leonard Wood. These two would command the 1st Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, also known as the 'Rough Riders'.

The American forces barreled through Cuba that spring, suffering only minor casualties while inflicting devastating damage to the poorly led and strategically inept Spanish troops. The U.S. and Cuban soldiers trudged through the territory and atop the San Juan heights by April 2nd, overcoming what war historians like John Duka have since deemed,"... a reduced Spanish garrison fighting a two-front war along the perimeter of Santiago. Victorious in their legendary charge up San Juan Hill were Roosevelt, First Lieutenant John J. Pershing, and Captain [Buckey] O'Neill." With morale plummeting, due in part to their defeat at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, and their infantry overwhelmed by an encircling siege, the Spanish garrison finally capitulated. Guantánamo surrendered shortly thereafter.

The war for Cuban liberty reached its end, and the American-bolstered "insurrectos" had won. An intermediary with the Spanish government approached State Secretary Stone with an offer to negotiate peace, adding that Spain would consider independence options for Cuba in such terms. Stone conscientiously informed Bryan of this information, knowing full well Bryan's inclination to jump at independence as the sole treaty stipulation.

Removing the Spanish influence from Cuba meant a foothold for American commercial interests in the Caribbean. Cuban self-rule, however, meant nothing apart from the endangerment of the U.S. tobacco and sugar markets. Worse still was the prospect of Spain retaining its Pacific holdings in the Philippines when the United States had the opportunity to seize these territories for herself should the war go on. President Bryan listened when Stone expressed this warning, but he found that the war for Cuban liberation could not be justly expanded into a war of conquest.
Thomas O'Conner, A Radical History of American Politics: Vol. 4, 2014

Stone adhered to Bryan's instruction and responded affirmatively to Spain's request for a ceasefire. Thenceforth, representatives from both belligerent parties gathered together at a Parisian venue to conduct the business of peacemaking. Secretary Stone chaired the negotiating commission, and he was accompanied by former Vice President Stevenson, Senators Teller, Bacon, and Arthur Gorman (D-MD). From May 3rd through June 30th, the opposing delegations discussed terms in drawn-out mediation sessions until the deal was struck, at last.

In the final Treaty of Paris, Spain agreed to grant complete independence to Cuba as well as Puerto Rico. The Spanish crown would also absorb any debt owed by the two island territories (estimated at around $4 million) and free all remaining American prisoners. Stone was unable to incorporate a fourth segment mandating limited autonomy in Spain's remaining colonies, but the Spanish delegations assured him that the Sagasta Government would gradually phase out its prison policy of indefinite detention. The document was finalized and signed by all parties present on July 1st, formally ending the Spanish-American War.
 

Puck Magazine's "Uncle Sam's Picnic", 1898
Children are labeled 'Philippines,' 'Ladrones,' 'Porto Rico,' and 'Cuba'
Man on Right is labeled 'Monroe Doctrine' - Source:
Wiki Commons

Once news broke that the U.S. commission in Paris accepted terms of Cuban and Puerto Rican independence, most Americans reacted with celebration. The nation's military succeeded in easily ridding Spain from the Caribbean, and thereby protected the Americas from European interference. "Cuba Libre!" hailed Hearst's Journal, "War in Cuba Ends with Spanish Retreat - Bryan Enshrines American Ideals Abroad". Hearst was overjoyed by Bryan's actions, and he ensured that the president was extensively lauded for his heroism in a series of articles and political cartoons. If sales of the publication were any indication of Bryan's favorability with the public, then he was surely beloved in the summer of 1898.

However, not all viewed the Paris Treaty in a positive light. The fervor of patriotism that took hold with American involvement overseas did so alongside a revived iteration of Manifest Destiny. Egged on by commercial interests aspiring to international growth, a handful of politicians, authors and public orators sought to utilize the tide of idealistic popular concern for their own purposes and beliefs. Such figures disliked the prospect of independence for Spain's colonies, and instead backed widespread annexation. For the capitalist class, permanent U.S. control meant access to swathes of land, the integration of a new workforce, and the production of an extensive amount of goods.

As with westward expansion, imperialism held that it was the God-given right of the United States to expand beyond its existing borders. Those espousing this rhetoric stated that it was for the best interest of the colonized communities to be "saved" by American oversight a la "White Man's Burden." Theodore Roosevelt remarked that fitness for self-government came "to a race only through the slow growth of centuries, and then only to those races which possess an immense reserve fund of strength, common sense and morality." In other words, he believed that the experiment of democracy could only be successful if the quality of the racial stock in question was suitable.

Imperialists like Roosevelt greatly disapproved of Bryan ending the war without establishing protectorates in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and, most significantly, the Philippines. Far more than the Caribbean islands, that Pacific archipelago symbolized a gateway to international markets and a stepping-stone on the road to empire. Over the course of the Spanish-American War, this became the rallying cry of the Republican Party. Mark Hanna, who previously spoke against involvement in Cuba, now stridently supported American ownership of the Spanish colonies. "As long as the nation was entangled with Spain," Hanna stated, "we should seek a strategic point [in the Pacific, to give] the American people an opportunity to maintain a foothold in the [Chinese] markets."

Now, with Secretary Stone's signing of the Treaty of Paris, leading Republicans declared that Bryan betrayed his own economy. They had their chance to grandstand during the congressional ratification process, when a two-thirds majority was required to officially accept the terms. Senate Republicans lambasted the deal at length and profusely disowned the agreement. Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-RI) warned that passage would "rob us of our just dues" and Lodge accused the president of deliberately ignoring an "irresistible pressure of events." Others like Senators George Hoar and Eugene Hale (R-ME) broke from the party leadership and sided with the Democratic minority supporting ratification, yet they proved to be few and far between. Bryan simply could not acquire the support needed to pass the treaty in the Senate.

Albert J. Beveridge, a historian and political speaker from Indiana, became one of the most prominent individuals advancing the cause of imperialist annexation. He fostered a new faction within the state Republican party and quickly rose through the ranks during the Bryan Administration to the point that he won the GOP nomination for Senate. Like Roosevelt and Lodge, Beveridge spoke regularly against the policies of President Bryan. Once the fine print of the Paris Treaty was accessible to the public, the Hoosier elected to deliver a speech touching on the merits of American exceptionalism, the divine nature of expansionism, and race destiny.

The American Republic is part of the movement of race, the most masterful race in history. The race movements are not to be stayed by the hand of man. They are mighty answers to Divine commands. Their leaders are not only statesmen of peoples - they are prophets of God. The inherent tendencies of a race are its highest law. They precede and survive all statutes, all constitutions... the sovereign tendencies of all our race are organization and government. They are pre-destined to be master organizers for governing savage and senile people.

Where shall we turn for consumers of our surplus? Geography answers the question. China is our natural customer. The Philippines give us a base at the door of all the East. The power that rules the Pacific is the power that rules the world. With the Philippines that power is and will forever be the American Republic. Either we rise and answer the call, the profound regeneration of the world, or it may collapse into barbarism. We know where this current administration stands - the question is, where do you stand?
Albert Beveridge, Indiana University Bloomington Speech, August 4th, 1898

This Beveridge address, dubbed the "March of the Flag" speech, was widely reported and laid down a principle all assumed would guide the postwar doctrine of the Republican Party. It was extensively lauded by the party leaders and, as would come to pass, practically guaranteed his election to the Senate. The allure of the Pacific archipelago breathed new life into racial pseudoscience, a facet which had fallen out of fashion beyond staunch segregationists and anti-Sioux fanatics.
 

“Civilization Begins at Home,” Literary Digest, Nov. 26, 1898 - Source: Wordpress

As the Republican Party entrenched itself in limitless expansionism and opportunity, their counterparts in the Democratic Party and elsewhere exclaimed dramatically opposing viewpoints. Contrary to the grandiose oratory espoused by those in favor of imperialism, relatively few Americans in this late Gilded Age period championed the idea of an American Empire. Support for the Spanish-American War was certainly universal, that much is true. Yet, most viewed the war as a heroic endeavor to protect Cuba, not a catalyst for conquest.

When Roosevelt and Lodge began guiding their party toward imperial ambitions, resistance was inevitable. As previously mentioned, Senators Hoar and Hale found Cuban independence justified and fought to ratify the Paris Treaty in Congress. Hoar implored his fellow congressmen to adhere to the foundational principles of the nation, warning "we would be descending from the ancient path of republican liberty [...] down into the modern swamp and cesspool of imperialism." The contingent in Hoar's camp was mostly composed of the Old Guard, including men like Speaker Reed, former President Harrison, and railroad executive Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

Speaker Reed, especially, rallied for senatorial passage of the Paris Treaty. Even with his disdain for Bryan and the Democrats, Reed admitted that the administration fared well in the war with Spain and constructed a suitable agreement to end hostilities. He could not sympathize with the imperialists within his party who pressed renewed aggression in the Philippines. "It is inconsolable," Reed remarked, "and unconstitutional for the United States to rule other peoples against their will and without congressional representation." This outburst by the Maine representative, a denouncement of fellow Republicans, effectively ended any talk of his reappointment to the speakership. He would later choose not to run for re-election to the House.

Democrats and Populists fiercely attacked the idea of American imperialism and the potential subjugation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. However, the lion's share of Democrats (notably in the South) did not oppose American rule over Spain's colonies out of concern for the well-being of the local populations. It was quite the opposite. Most Democratic politicians detested the idea of empire because it meant absorbing new, non-white communities. For some, like Populist Senator William Allen (Pop-NE), the issue was economics. "Should the imperialists have their way," he said, "the Philippines and Cuba would be ours. What, then, would prevent commerce from relocating to these regions? The syndicates could easily build new factories and employ an endless horde of nondescript populations for starvation wages."

With Senator Benjamin Tillman, the problem was not economic, but social.


We of the South have borne this white man's burden of a colored race in our midst. We have already learned the impossibilities of peacefully associating the races. There is no sense in squandering our resources to add these inferior races to our fine nation. Doing so will inject this poisoned blood into the body politic. God Almighty made them inferior and lacking in moral fiber. [...] If I may echo Senator McLaurin, it is indeed peculiar that senators who favored universal suffrage and the full enfranchisement of the negro should now advocate imperialism. If they are sincere in their views as to the Filipinos, they should propose an amendment to the Constitution which will put the inferior races in this country and the inhabitants of the Philippines upon an equality as to their civil and political rights.
Benjamin Tillman, Speech Before Congressional Hearing | Treaty of Paris Ratification, January 3rd, 1899

Tillman's opinions were not unique to the South Carolinian. His words in Congress received rapturous applause from the entire Southern Democratic delegation, and even a handful of Democrats from the Western states. He articulated exactly what disturbed fellow anti-imperialists most of all: the two-face nature of the Republicans. The GOP dream of an American Empire was hypocritical as it paralleled the racial issues at home. They exhorted absolute rule whilst accepting nonvoting status for the colonized. Therefore, in their eyes, the Republicans validated white supremacy despite their rhetoric favoring non-white suffrage in the South.

Regardless of this, the mainstream Republican press sought to mimic Hearst's accomplishment and drive up public support for their point of view. Publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times reported little of anti-imperialists like Tillman, other than to deride their callowness, and instead propped up the "righteous' cause of expansionism. One particularly vigorous article in the Post read, "The taste of empire is in the mouth of the people. It is our destiny to pursue an imperial policy. The Republic, renascent, [will take] her place with the armed nations." Editorials like these often concluded with the endorsement of certain 'messengers' to these policies, and as the next presidential election approached, the endorsements included prospective presidential candidates. No more would artifacts of a bygone era like Benjamin Harrison stand a chance at the convention, not when "the hero of San Juan Hill, Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt" was up for consideration.
 
Top