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Discussion Writing Further Reading Advanced Archival Research

The 1896 Presidential Campaign:
Teaching Page

Below are a few tips for educators who want to use the 1896 site in the classroom. If you do so, or if you have suggestions for adding to this page, please write to us! We'd like to include others' ideas and experiences in using the site.

For Discussion

1. Ask students to explore the site and come to class ready to explain how they would have voted in the 1896 presidential race. You might divide the class into two groups, pro-McKinley and pro-Bryan, for debate. Would the students have been 100-percent satisfied with their presidential choice? If not, what sorts of compromises would they have had to make?

2. Give each student a character to play: for example, a Nebraska farmer, an Irish-American Catholic priest in Cleveland, a Jewish shopkeeper in Philadelphia, a middle-class woman reformer in Colorado. Ask them to come to class prepared to explain how they would have voted and why.

3. Ask each student to pick one cartoon (see Chronology at right) which explains why McKinley won the election--either because it is persuasive (Republican) or unpersuasive (Silver), and for whom. Ask them to come to class prepared to show the cartoons (by printout, or by URL if your classroom connects to the web) and defend their choices.

4. "Free silver" was the central issue of the 1896 presidential campaign, but today the debates surrounding it may seem technical and obscure. Ask students to explore the site and explain why they think Americans cared so passionately about "honest money" and "free silver." What were the deeper meanings of these slogans?

5. In the First Amendment, the U.S. Constitution declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This clause prevents government from interfering with religion, but it has never prevented religious leaders from expressing their views respecting government. Use the site to explore: Why were prohibition of liquor, immigration, and "free silver" considered religious issues? By whom, and what were the opposing views?

6. Use the cartoons to consider the prevailing views, in 1896, of: women; African-Americans; non-Christian religious minorities within the United States; non-Christians overseas (for example, in Turkey). (For an analysis of the uses of gender in political campaigns, see the book by one of this site's creators': Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era.)

7. Ask students to look closely at the circulation figures on the Journals page. How did the circulations of pro-McKinley and pro-Bryan journals compare? Which had more color pictures? Which, in your opinion, had more talented cartoonists? What might account for these discrepancies, and how might it have affected the outcome of the campaign? (You may wish to explore the changing nature of the newspaper industry in the 1890s, starting with the information on Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.)

For Writing

1. Building on discussion question #1 and #2, above: ask students to write letters to the editor, in their own voices or in the voices of their 1896 characters, seeking to persuade others to vote for the presidential candidate they have chosen.

2. Ask students to write a sermon, to deliver on November 1.

3. Building on discussion question #6, above: ask students to generate a list of viewpoints that are not well represented on the site, especially in the cartoons. (Some examples might be: Southern African-American men, Chinese-American immigrants, industrial laborers, women of many ethnicities and religions). Ask them to write a letter to the editor representing an opinion from one of these groups.

For Further Reading

1. The "reform novel" was a popular and wide-ranging genre of the 1890s. Ask students to read one such novel, and consider what issues the author might have considered most important in 1896, and how he or she might have voted.

A few suggested titles:

  • Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy A Traveler from Altruria and A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells
  • The Octopus by Frank Norris
  • Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
  • Helen Harlow's Vow by Lois Waisbrooker
  • The Strike of a Sex by George Noyes Miller
  • A Spoil of Office by Hamlin Garland
  • Pray You Sir, Whose Daughter? by Helen Hunt Gardener

2. Explore non-fiction writing relating to the issues of the campaign, such as Coin's Financial School (by W. H. "Coin" Harvey), or Sarah V. Emery's Seven Financial Conspiracies Which Have Enslaved the American People (both by Populists). You could also assign excerpts from other works of economic criticism from the era, such as Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Woman and Economics.

3. A shorter assignment would be to read and compare Vachel Lindsey's poem "Bryan" and various elegies and poetic works published after William McKinley's assassination in 1901. You might find other campaign or political poems in the library.

4. Ask students to read and biography of a prominent literary or social leader of the 1890s, and to consider how his/her views changed between 1890 and 1900. How might he/she have voted in 1896? Some possible subjects: Jane Addams, Mark Twain, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, William Dean Howells, Florence Kelley, Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, Frances Willard, Samuel Gompers, Terence Powderly.

5. Use Robert McMath's American Populism as a starting point for exploring various schools of thought on the meaning of Populism. In particular, your class might want to consider the interpretations of John Hicks, Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward, and Lawrence Goodwyn.

For Advanced Archival Research

1. Explore the history of a social movement that figured in 1890s politics: for example, the Farmers' Alliance, Knights of Labor, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, American Protective Association, Bellamyite Nationalism, or the woman suffrage movement. What decisions did they make in regards to the political parties and electoral politics, and why? (For classes on the history of women, Angels in the Machinery analyzes woman suffragists' partisan decision-making between 1880 and 1912, with special emphasis on the 1890s. Secondary works on the 1896 Bibliography page examine other movements of the era.)

2. Research the election of 1896 in your city, town, or county. Who spoke on behalf of Bryan, McKinley, or other candidates? What campaign events occurred, and who sponsored them? What were the local election results?

3. Explore a local or state race or issue (see Election Results for a state-by-state breakdown of returns). How did issues at this level differ from those in the national campaign? What were the key issues in gubernatorial, congressional, or local races?

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College, 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