Election of 1896

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Presidential Elections 1896

In 1893, one of the most severe economic crises in US history developed. The nation found itself in a deep depression. President Cleveland blamed the depression on the move to accept silver currency. As a result, business confidence was weakened. Cleveland’s solution was a repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. and thus a return to a currency supported only by gold. Repealing the Silver Purchase Act resulted in a tightening of the supply of currency. This only served to worsen the economic situation.

Democrats lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 1994 Congressional election. When the party met for their convention in Chicago, the party was ready for a change. William Jennings Bryan gave an electrifying speech and became the party's nominee. The party adopted a platform favoring free sliver. The Populist Party decided to support Bryan. The Populist Party chose not to run a nominee of their own.

Republicans nominated the popular Governor of Ohio, William McKinley, on the first ballot. McKinley was backed by Marcus Hanna, a wealthy industrialist, and Chairman of the Republican Party. The 1896 presidential campaign was marked by contrasts. William Jennings Bryan criss-crossed the country making personal appearances. He was accused of lacking dignity. Bryan answered: "I would rather have it said that I lacked dignity, than that I lacked backbone to meet the enemies of the government who works against its welfare from Wall Street". McKinley stayed home and ran a front porch campaign. Thousands of people came to his home and heard him speak. In the campaign Bryan was depicted as a "radical and a socialist", while McKinley was called a "tool of business". In this election, money played an important role, for the first time, in a political campaign. McKinley raised $3 million (mostly from business interests), compared to $600,000 raised by Bryan. Bryan was able to win almost all of the states of the West. However, Bryan had almost no success in the growing industrial cities of the East. The result of the election showed how the farmers’ vote was no longer decisive. By 1896, only 1/3 of Americans lived on farms. It was also clear that the number of Americans living on farms was dropping rapidly. McKinley won the election.

Participation of Eligible Voters 79.3%

Marc Schulman

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