Reviews & Misc

A Rigorously Christian Liberal – Nebraska’s Wm J Bryan

He was openly, deeply Christian, and vigorously liberal. And “He did more than any other man to transform the Democratic Party
from a bulwark of laissez-faire into the citadel of liberalism we identify with Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

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Christian believer, political liberal, Nebraska-born politician, Wm J BryanA committed Christian, social justice liberal

William Jennings Bryan was elected to Congress from eastern Nebraska in 1890 and 1892. He was three times the Democratic nominee for President, and served as Secretary of State early in Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency.  (These facts and quotes are from A Godly Hero by Michael Kazin.)

Unfortunately he is mostly remembered today as the silly man portrayed, under a different name, in the movie “Inherit the Wind.” He was far from silly, as is made clear by these quotes.

The author, Michael Kazin, sums it all up like this:

… a rigorously Christian liberalism was not a contradiction in terms.

Amen!  Then Kazin ends with this:

As everyone who heard him could attest,
Bryan made significant public issues sound urgent, dramatic, and clear,
and he encouraged citizens to challenge the motives and interests of the most powerful people in the land.

Bryan’s sincerity, warmth, and passion for a better world won the hearts
of people who cared for no other public figure in his day.

And, from the intro – this is quite a legacy! 

Most Americans, he said, are interested, not in getting their hands into other people’s pockets, but in keeping the hands of other people out of their pockets.

He did more than any other man to transform the Democratic Party
from a bulwark of laissez-faire
into the citadel of liberalism we identify with Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now get a load of these things Bryan himself said.

No wonder he got people’s ears!

First there is this awesome rebuke he delivered to the Republicans among his fellow Congressmen. He’d been elected in a “wave” year in which R’s lost seats and D’s gained. This was in a ringing speech early in his career in Congress.

You rioted in power,
you mocked the supplication of the people,
you denied their petitions,
and now you have felt their wrath.

May it be so!! This next was a few years earlier, as a college senior.

I rejoice that in a few years it will not be necessary to shoot a man
to convince him that you are right
and to blot out a nation
to prove to them that their principles are false.

Most Americans, he said,

are interested, not in getting their hands into other people’s pockets,
but in keeping the hands of other people out of their pockets.

On what makes a good orator.  It seems he should know.

He borrows from the philosopher his principles, from the poet his language, from the warrior his courage, and mingling with these his own enthusiams, leads his hearers according to his will.

When Bryan died Will Rogers said:

Bryan was just a plain citizen, [usually] holding no office. Yet this country holds hundreds and thousands of people who feel that they haven’t got a Soul now who will conscientiously fight for them, the plain people.

I would not agree with all his convictions or all his positions. How would you ever dare say that about anyone?

But there is much here to learn from, even to emulate.

… a rigorously Christian liberalism was not a contradiction in terms.

[This is a revision of a post published here in 2006.]

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