McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896
R. Hal Williams
The presidential election of 1896 is widely acknowledged as one of only a few that brought about fundamental realignments in American politics. New voting patterns replaced old, a new majority party came to power, and national policies shifted to reflect new realities. R. Hal Williams now presents the first study of that campaign in nearly fifty years, offering fresh interpretations on the victory of Republican William McKinley over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
In tracing the triumph of gold over silver in this fabled "battle of the standards," R. Hal Williams also tells how the Republicans—the party of central government, national authority, sound money, and activism—pulled off a stunning win over the Democrats—the party of state's rights, decentralization, inflation, and limited government. Meanwhile the People's Party, one of the most prominent third parties in the country's history, which also nominated Bryan, went down to a defeat from which it would never recover.
“A compelling account . . . . Exhaustively researched and written with a storyteller’s knack for moving the narrative forward and unearthing personal and colorful testimonies that buttress the history of the campaign.”
—Great Plains Quarterly
“A fresh retelling of the campaign, serving as both a portrait of the nation's changing political landscape and an accessible primer on the era's economics. . . . A useful introduction to turn-of-the-twentieth-century political history and a compelling reexamination of the McKinley-Bryan contest. Moreover, it is a surprisingly good read, filled with humanizing anecdotes and novelistic descriptions.”
—Journal of Southern HistorySee all reviews...
“The 1896 election needs a historian to get the answers right and allow the most casual reader to enjoy learning them. Realigning America carries conviction—and by a landslide.”
—Journal of American History
“Williams includes facts as well as behind-the-scenes anecdotes and correspondence to create a story that is enlightening for serious students of history and engaging for history buffs and general readers with an interest in the subject. Highly recommended.— ”
“As historiographically sophisticated as it is riveting to read. . . . This is history in living color, with its vivid descriptions of scenes on American streets and on the floors of political conventions. Indeed, this book may point the way for the future of political history because it brings so much social and cultural history to bear in the service of telling the story of a presidential election.”
“Williams has written a concise and highly readable account of the 1896 election, which pitted Republican William McKinley against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Although this well-researched book is geared to academic readers, presidential history buffs in general are sure to enjoy it.”
“Vintage Williams— an epic story meticulously researched, insightfully argued, and vividly told. This fresh, authoritative account changes our understanding of one of the most momentous elections in the nation’s history.”
—Michael McGerr, author of The Decline of Popular Politics: The American North, 1865–1928
“Superb, written with his customary grace and skill, well informed about the issues, and balanced in its point of view. It should replace all previous treatments of the election and find a ready market in courses on presidential elections, the Gilded Age, and American politics in general. In short, a winner.”
—Lewis L. Gould, author of The Presidency of William McKinleySee fewer reviews...
Williams plunges readers into a contest that set new standards in financing, organization, and accountability, and he analyzes the transition from the long-dominant "military style" of campaign to the "educational style" that appealed to a savvier electorate. He also presents key players in new light: he views Bryan not simply as a gifted speaker whose "Cross of Gold" speech took the Democratic convention by storm, but as a more calculating politician with his eye squarely on the nomination; he depicts McKinley's campaign manager Mark Hanna not as the one-dimensional fundraising machine painted by history but rather as a shrewd, insightful politician who understood what was required to get his man elected; and he presents retiring president Cleveland as an increasingly out-of-touch, irrelevant chief executive whom the Democrats repudiated in a way no other party ever had a sitting president.
With the Republicans' star on the rise and the Democrats banished to the South and the cities, the 1896 election was more than a victory of one party over another, it marked the emergence of new ways of politicking that makes this campaign especially relevant for twenty-first-century readers.