William Jennings Bryan – Biography, Cross of Gold & Scopes Trial

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), US Congressman from Nebraska, three-time presidential candidate and secretary of state, emerged in the late 19th century as a prominent voice in the Democratic Party and the nation. A staunch Protestant, his populist rhetoric and policies have earned him the nickname “the great commoner”. In his later years, Bryan campaigned against the teaching of evolution in public schools, culminating with his leading role in the Scopes Trial.

Youth and political career

Bryan was born on March 19, 1860 in the small town of Salem, Illinois. His father, Silas, was a dedicated Jacksonian Democrat and renowned lawyer who held various locally elected positions and passed his policy on to his son. After graduating from Illinois College, Bryan received a law degree from the Union College of Law, Chicago in 1883. He was called to the Illinois Bar and began practicing law in Jacksonville, marrying Mary Elizabeth Baird in 1884; the couple had three children.

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