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Banging The Bryan Drum And…

March 2023
2min read

Presidential campaigns generally leave in their wake all sorts of debris—abandoned buttons, discarded straw hats, ripped and soiled bunting, forgotten promises. The Bryan-McKinley campaign of 1896—described by Louis W. Koenig in “The First Hurrah” (April/May 1980)—was no exception, and among the detritus was a scrapbook of splendid pro-Bryan doggerel written for various newspapers. Nadine Butler, of Madison, Wisconsin, who now owns the scrapbook, was kind enough to pass along some samples.

“The people appear to have entered into the contest with a vigor that would have made their pioneer forebears proud,” she writes. “The evidence is in this scrapbook, yellowed and dry with age. Ida Kegler, among whose papers it was found, seems to have been the young Democrat of eighty-four years ago who clipped and pasted the newspaper accounts. She left no doubt of her political bias.”

Indeed not. Consider, for example, one Tom Russell, who in “Welcome Bryan” waxed wroth over the discrepancy between McKinley’s campaign chest (at least $3,500,000) and that of Bryan (some $300,000):

In the battle of the standards , Holding up the people’s end , He who leads the fusion forces Needs no Croesus for a friend .

Needs no Hanna, needs no Morgan , Digging deep in pockets wide , Buying up a nation’s conscience With the fat from gold-bugs fried .

Note the nerve of Marcus Hanna! With his foot on labor’s neck , Holding out a hand for kisses On the Seamen’s Union wreck .

Do you kiss the hand that smites you? Lick the club that breaks your head? Can you cheer the man who mocks you? Gives a stone when you ask bread?

Up, like freemen! Welcome Bryan! Goldbugs will not live for aye , Thirty days at most we’ll give them Then we’ll lay them cold away .

Mrs. John Gimple was more genteel in her own verse; though neither she nor any other woman could vote, she spoke directly to those who could:

This glorious, beloved land of freedom Bought with blood and carnage and wars , Oh! it trembles today in the balance , With a power that freedom abhors .

Rise up then, ye free men, ye voters , Arise, you are twelve million strong . Rise now in the name of our fathers And bid all these fetters be gone .

Go forth in the strength of your manhood , Up, and gird the whole armor on , Go forth shoulder to shoulder like brothers To the rescue twelve million strong .

Then intrigues will quiver and vanish Buried deep in oblivion’s sands , When in ninety-six we come to the polls With twelve million votes in our hands .

Probably the most affecting of the scrapbook’s memorabilia concerns little four-year-old Harry Ackerman, who prefaced a Bryan speech before a large group of women (date and place unknown) with “a campaign poem prepared by his mother”:

Blow the Bryan trumpet , Bang the Bryan drum , Gather in your thousands , Make the “gold bugs” run .

Bryan shall be president , Silver save the land , They will beat the enemy , They go hand in hand .

Then blow the Bryan trumpet Bryan beats them all , Come and join free silver band Labor’s chains will fall .

Bryan was not about to be upstaged by anybody’s little boy. Striding to the podium, he spoke: “Ladies, this is a novel experience, not only new in that I am unaccustomed to addressing an audience of ladies entirely, but also new in that I have to compete against another ‘Boy Orator/ When I am talking against older persons I have the sympathy of the mothers, but when I am talking against a younger person I am afraid that the mothers’ sympathy will go out to the smaller of the two, and I confess that I cannot blame you, because I felt that, if I were judge, I would award him the prize, even though I were contestant myself against him.”

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