parties  &  platforms leaders themes JOURNALS FEATURES

Antisemitism religion/bible civil war/slavery currency economic depression
immigration Labor nativism race/prejudice sectional interests strikes
supreme court the tariff trusts/monopolies suffrage women u.s. foreign relations


In the cultural climate of nineteenth century America anti-Semitism was an acceptable form of social prejudice. There has been a history of anti-Semitism in western society for centuries, and the United States is no exception to that fact. The political uses of anti-Semitism had been well proven before, and would be proven again in the 1896 presidential campaign. No political party was above using anti-Semitism, especially to appeal to Christian constituents, but it was the Populist party who used anti-Semitism most distinctively.

Since the origins of the Populist movement, anti-Semitism had found its way into Populist doctrine. Many important Populist thinkers considered Jews to be at the root of problems for the farmers who made up the Populist party's rank and file. Of course not all Populists were anti-Semitic, and some even attacked the party for its prejudice, but anti-Semitism was definitely a theme in Populist ideology. Jews were an easy villain for the Populists to use, since the party was dominated by rural farmers and other small businessmen, people from areas of the US where there were few Jews. It was easy for the Populists to suggest that it was these unseen Jews who were responsible for farmers' financial difficulties. Since many of the Populist party's rank and file had never seen a Jew they only had stereotypes of Jews to base their opinions on. It was an easy jump from those stereotypes to a political platform with anti-Semitic tendencies. It was easy to blame local financial problems on large, unseen groups.

Anti-Semitism was not something which was confined to the early history of the movement, or to its rank and file. William Jennings Bryan was adept at switching between coded anti-Semitic language, and preaching people's need to get past racial prejudice. The most notable example of Populist anti-Semitism can be found in the novel A Tale of Two Nations, written by the Populist thinker "Coin" Harvey, who was also the author of Coin's Financial School, one of the most popular pro-silver arguments to be published during the Populist period. A Tale of Two Nations was the story of a wealthy London banker, Baron Rothe, who engineers a plot to keep the United States from ever using a silver as currency. In the novel Rothe sends a henchman to the US to `encourage' congressmen and economists to support the gold standard. The henchman, Rogasner, falls in love with an American girl, who is in love with a Nebraskan congressman of the pro-silver variety. The characters in the book are either thinly disguised historical figures or thinly disguised racial stereotypes. Rogasner, the dark European was clearly a Jewish villain out to ruin the Caucasian race. His love was a shixa goddess, protecting herself from the threat of miscegenation by falling in love with the literary equivalent of William Jennings Bryan. And the Rothe character was a symbol for the Rothschild House. All of this fit neatly into Harvey's Populist theory of history which saw the Jewish banking houses, and therefore the Jewish race, as the source of the common man's problems.

Populist anti-Semitism worked its way into the 1896 campaign through the Morgan Bonds scandal. When the public learned that President Cleveland had sold bonds to a syndicate which included JP Morgan and the Rothschilds house, bonds which that syndicate was now selling for a profit, the Populists used it as an opportunity to uphold their view of history, and prove to the nation that Washington and Wall Street were in the hands of the international Jewish banking houses. The currency issue itself was loaded with anti-Semitism as the Populist returned again and again to crucifixion metaphors to argue against the gold standard. The reference was clear. The same Jews who were responsible for the death of Jesus were responsible for the currency crisis. The message was clear to the many Protestants who filled the ranks of the Populists.

—by Ben Macri, Vassar '99

Cartoons on this Site with Antisemitic References

  • April 15, Sound Money
  • June 21, Denver New Road
  • August 6, Sound Money
  • August 20, Sound Money
  • October 15, Sound Money
  • October 22, Sound Money
  • November 5, Sound Money


A poster depicting Alfred Dreyfus as a snake. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus--the only Jewish member of the French general staff--was accused and convicted of spying for Germany. He was exonerated of all charges a decade later, but only after strenuous protests on his behalf. The case was widely followed in the U.S.

Observing the Dreyfus Affair, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist in Austria, concluded that Jews would never be equal citizens in Europe. In 1896 he published A Modern Solution to the Jewish Question, one of the first modern works advocating a Jewish state.

This image is from the site Beyond the Pale: The Dreyfus Affair.

"Even more significant, Populists strengthened their cause by using religious metaphors to link money with a Jewish conspiracy. Thus, in 1896, Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, speaking in an idiom Protestant Fundamentalists were fully conversant with, could easily intersperse biblical imagery with economic necessity when he thundered, `You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.' The antisemitism evoked by the metaphor of the crucifixion was powerful and appealed to rural Protestants who possessed a similar religious and cultural heritage with other Americans in the South and the West." —Leonard Dinnerstein, from Antisemitism in America (p.49-50).

"We are not attacking a race, we are attacking greed and avarice, which know neither race nor religion. I do not know of any class of our people who, by reason of their history, can better sympathize with the struggling masses in this campaign than can the Hebrew race." —William Jennings Bryan, in a speech to a Jewish audience, from The First Battle (p.581).

"Redemption money and interest-bearing bonds are the curse of civilization. We are paying tribute to the Rothchilds of England, who are but the agent of the Jews." —Mary Elizabeth Lease, a Populist speaker, as reported by The New York Times on August 11, 1896.

"While the jocose and rather heavy-handed anti-Semitism that can be found in Henry Adams letters of the 1890's shows that this prejudice existed outside Populist literature, it was chiefly Populist writers who expressed that identification of the Jew with the usurer and the `international gold ring' which was the central theme of American anti-Semitism of the age. The omnipresent symbol of Shylock can hardly be taken in itself as evidence of anti-Semitism but the frequent references to the House of Rothschild make it clear that for many silverites the Jew was an organic part of the conspiracy theory of history." —Richard Hofstadter, from the article "The Folklore of Populism" in Antisemitism in the United States (p.61).

"There is no doubt that in their intense hatred for the 'money power,' some Populists accepted anti-Semitic stereotypes and identified Jews with the evils of society. [...] There is doubt, however, that the Populists did this any more frequently than other groups in society." —Louise A. Mayo, from The Ambivalent Image: Nineteenth-Century America's Perception of the Jew. (p.131).

"Despite the suggestions of some writers, this reasoning need not be taken to indicate that these advocates of silver were any more tainted with anti-Semitism than any other group in American society. During the 1890's the entire Western world accepted certain stereotypes of the Jew, which were in no way peculiar to the Populists, Bryanites, or any other advocates of free silver." --J. Rogers Hollingsworth, from The Whirligig of Politics (p.97).


  1. Dinnerstein, Leonard. Antisemitism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  2. Hofstadter, Richard. "The Folklore of Populism." In Antisemitism in the United States, ed. by Leonard Dinnerstein. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.
  3. Mayo, Louise A. The Ambivalent Image: Nineteenth-Century America's Perception of the Jew. London: Associated University Press, 1988.

© Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

click a pic to learn more

Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley