William Jennings Bryan : biography

March 19, 1860 - July 26, 1925

Prohibition battles: 1916–1925

Bryan campaigned for the Constitutional amendments on prohibition and women's suffrage. Partly to avoid Nebraska ethnics such as the German-Americans who were "wet" and opposed to prohibition,Coletta 3:116 Bryan moved to Coconut Grove in Miami, Florida in 1913. He called his home on Brickell Avenue Villa Serena. Later, in 1925, he moved to a new home further south in Coconut Grove on Main Highway called Marymont. Bryan filled lucrative speaking engagements, including playing the part of spokesman for George E. Merrick's new planned community Coral Gables, addressing large crowds across a Venetian pool for an annual salary of over $100,000.George, Paul S. "Brokers, Binders & Builders: Greater Miami's Boom of the Mid-1920s." Florida Historical Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 4. 1981. pp. 440-463. He was also extremely active in Christian organizations. Bryan refused to support the 1920 Democratic presidential nominee, James M. Cox, because he deemed Cox not dry enough. As one biographer explains,

William Jennings Bryan and wife, Mary, in [[New York City, June 19, 1915]]

Bryan's national campaigning helped Congress pass the 18th Amendment in 1918, which shut down all saloons as of 1920. But while prohibition was in effect, Bryan did not work to secure better enforcement. He opposed a highly controversial resolution at the 1924 convention condemning the Ku Klux Klan, expecting it would soon fold. Bryan disliked the Klan but never publicly attacked it.Coletta, William Jennings Bryan 3:162, 177, 184; Kazin For the nomination in 1924, he opposed the wet Al Smith; Bryan's younger brother, Nebraska Governor Charles W. Bryan, was put on the ticket with John W. Davis as candidate for vice president to keep the Bryanites in line. Bryan was very close to his brother and endorsed him for the vice presidency.

Bryan was the chief proponent of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, the precursor to our modern War on Drugs. However, he argued for the act's passage more as an international obligation than on moral grounds.

Secretary of State: 1913–1915

Cartoon of Secretary of State Bryan reading war news in 1914 Villa Serena, Bryan's home built in 1913 at Miami, Florida

For supporting Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1912, Bryan was appointed Secretary of State. However, Wilson only nominally consulted him and made all the major foreign policy decisions himself. In the civil war in Mexico in 1914, Bryan supported American military intervention.

Bryan in 1913-1915 negotiated 28 treaties that promised arbitration of disputes before war broke out between the signatory countries and the United States. He made several attempts to negotiate a treaty with Germany, but ultimately was never able to succeed. The agreements, known officially as "Treaties for the Advancement of Peace," set up procedures for conciliation rather than for arbitration. In September 1914 he wrote President Wilson urging mediation in the World War that had just begun in Europe, with the U.S. as the largest neutral:

Bryan tried to choke the American credit to the Entente, saying "money is the worst of all contrabands because it commands everything else" but eventually yielded. He also pointed out that by traveling on British vessels "an American citizen can, by putting his own business above his regard for this country, assume for his own advantage unnecessary risks and thus involve his country in international complications" Lawrence W. Levine, Defender of the faith: William Jennings Bryan, the last decade, 1915–1925 (1987) p. 8 Wilson's demands for "strict accountability for any infringement of [American] rights, intentional or incidental" after the sinking of the Lusitania troubled Bryan, leading to his resignation in June 1915.

Despite their differences, Bryan campaigned as a private citizen for Wilson's reelection in 1916. When war was declared in April 1917, Bryan wrote Wilson, "Believing it to be the duty of the citizen to bear his part of the burden of war and his share of the peril, I hereby tender my services to the Government. Please enroll me as a private whenever I am needed and assign me to any work that I can do."Hibben, Peerless Leader, p. 356 Wilson, however, did not allow the 57-year-old Bryan to rejoin the military, and did not offer him any wartime role.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine