Thursday, November 02, 2006

The second coming of William Jennings Bryan

A Godly HeroWilliam Jennings Bryan is cemented in the modern imagination as a three-time presidential loser and the emblem of the "Monkey Trial." This caricature of Bryan falls far short of doing justice to one of the greatest populist politicians in American history. As Michael Kazin documents in his new biography, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, Bryan's political career paved the way for many progressive causes that the contemporary left takes for granted. At a moment in American history that may be ripe for an unusual coalition between evangelical Christians and secular liberals, Bryan represents the rare figure who can inspire both social conservatives and economic progressives.

In honor of one of Nebraska's most prominent citizens, the University of Nebraska College of Law will stage a panel discussion of Bryan on November 3. I will join Michael Kazin and Nebraska's own Will Thomas and Susan Franck in pondering the legacy of "The Great Commoner."

Bryan's own words from "The Law and the Gospel," an oration before the St. Paul Methodist Church in Lincoln during his legendary 1896 presidential campaign, are especially apt:
You cannot judge a man's life by the success of a moment, by the victory of an hour, or even by the results of a year. You must view his life as a whole. You must stand where you can see the man as he treads the entire path that leads from the cradle to the grave—now crossing the plain, now climbing the steeps, now passing through pleasant fields, now wending his way with difficulty between rugged rocks—tempted, tried, tested, triumphant.


Blogger Elizabeth Weeks said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/02/2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I think Bryan is underestimated & misremembered, too. Sounds like a great conference. I was very inspired by a biography of him I read when I was in high school. It might ahve been this one:

but I can't remember.

11/03/2006 5:54 PM  

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