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The Visit of William Jennings Bryan
As early as 1886 politicians running for office recognized the value of a state fair appearance as an opportunity to be seen and heard by large numbers of people. Not all were local or state office candidates, however. Throughout its long history, several nationally prominent politicians have visited the fair. Not the least of these was William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Party's presidential candidate for 1896, whose fervent "Cross of Gold" speech had turned the impassioned Nebraskan into the nation's "silver champion." Although Bryan lost the election to his Republican challenger, William McKinley, it looked as if he might be the Democrats' standard-bearer again in 1900. (As it turned out, he was, and in 1908 as well.)
Considering that he had not campaigned in Dallas at all in 1896, it seems remarkable that in 1899 Bryan visited the city not just once but three times! The first was a brief stop, engineered by local Democrats who, when they learned that popular orator would be passing through Fort Worth in March, begged him to make a side-trip to Dallas. On the evening of Friday, March 10, following an afternoon visit with Archbishop Alexander Garrett and the faculty and students of St. Mary's College, Bryan gave a speech at the city's Opera House, packed with hundreds of eager listeners. Despite a hoarse voice, the result of numerous previous speeches, the Nebraska Democrat spoke at length on the silver issue and assured his listeners that "the income tax plank in the platform is stronger today than it has ever been."
Bryan returned to Dallas in the fall, to attend a Grand Democratic Jubilee, which was held at the fairgrounds in conjunction with the annual state fair. Attended by "governors, ex-governors, senators, ex-senators, congressmen and ex-congressmen, state officers and ex-state officers and a whole host of men prominent in the councils of the democratic party," the purpose of the event, explained the Dallas Morning News, was "to swell the campaign fund and whoop up the principles of the Chicago platform."
It was a busy two days. The jubilee began at 10 a.m. on Monday, October 2 in the fairgrounds auditorium. Following the morning session, at which Bryan did not speak, the once-and-future presidential candidate ate lunch with about 200 of his admirers "at one of the big dining booths on the ground." That evening, at 8 p.m., along with several other dignitaries, Bryan held forth at a "Grand labor rally" held "under the auspices of the laboringmen of Texas." The following morning the popular Nebraskan, along with Judge J. P. Tarvin of Kentucky, addressed a surging crowd of 50,000 people in front of the racetrack grandstand. Finally, in the evening, a little more than 3,000 people who paid admission to a "Dollar Dinner" held in the auditorium, shouted, cheered and applauded enthusiastically as Bryan blasted the trusts, the gold standard, and Republican imperialism.
Bryan's third visit to Dallas in 1899 was so transitory that few people noticed. Late on the evening of Monday, November 27, "accompanied by his wife and three children" and his father-in-law, the popular Democrat arrived by train at Santa Fe station, where he was met by a handful of prominent Dallasites. He was traveling, a reporter noted, "from Van Buren, Ark., near which place Mr. Bryan has been hunting and fishing for some time, to Austin, Texas." Following dinner at the station with his admirers, Bryan and his family departed.
- Dallas Morning News, January 5, 1963.
- Dallas Times Herald, January 4 & 5, 1963.
- Sorensen, Theodore. Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965), 480-1.
Notice: The image of Dr. King (above) is from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection website.
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