This is the fourth part of a multi-part series on Presidential
campaign collectibles from the Nov. 7, 2016, monthly issue of
Presidential campaign banners, badges, tokens, medals and more from
200-plus years of American elections provide windows into the
campaigns and their eras. Depending upon the campaign and candidates,
available items may be abundant and cost only a few dollars each, or
scarce, some costing thousands of dollars regardless of condition.
The hotly contested presidential race of 1896 pitted former Ohio
Gov. William McKinley, a Republican, against Democratic contender and
perennial presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan.
Bryan was also the nominee for the Populist Party and the Silver
Republicans in the election of 1896.
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Some political historians consider the campaign of 1896 to be one of
the most dramatic and complex races in American political history.
McKinley’s conservative coalition comprised businessmen and
professionals, skilled factory works and well-heeled farmers into a
For Bryan, a former Nebraska congressman, the crusade was for
silver, and opposition to the gold standard. Bryan believed the fight
pitted the working man against the rich who kept much of the nation
impoverished by limiting the money supply.
Bryan argued that sufficient supplies of silver were available to be
coined into money, restore prosperity and break the stranglehold of
the rich in power.
Since the Panic of 1893, the United States was bogged down with an
economy marked by low prices, low profits, and high unemployment.
Central to the presidential race were unavoidably economic topics,
focusing on tariff policies and whether the gold standard should be
preserved to regulate the money supply.
McKinley’s campaign was heavily bankrolled through the fundraising
efforts of Republican campaign manager Mark Hanna.
Hanna’s ability to raise $3.5 million — calculated to $3 billion
today — allowed McKinley to outspend Bryan by a 5 to 1 margin.
The Democratic Party’s rejection of its economically conservative
Bourbon faction — represented by incumbent President Grover Cleveland
— gave Bryan and his backers control of the party into the 1920s. It
also provided the Republicans the opportunity to control the White
House for 28 of the next 36 years.
Cleveland, a fiscal conservative, had denounced political corruption
and fought hard for lower tariffs and the gold standard.
Just a month after McKinley captured the GOP nomination, supporters
of U.S. currency backed by silver took control of the July 7 to 11,
1896, Democratic Party convention in Chicago.
Party members were geographically divided on the issues of free
silver espoused by the Populists and the rejection of Cleveland’s
tariff policies and the gold standard.
There was no clear cut nominee among the eight potential Democratic
That is, until Bryan, on July 9, 1896, delivered from the convention
floor his “Cross of Gold” speech, considered to be one of the greatest
political orations in American history.
Bryan defended the struggling farmers and factory workers affected
by the nation’s existing economic policies. Bryan called for reform of
the American monetary system, government relief for the economically
oppressed, and an end to the gold standard.
The speech earned Bryan the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Political campaign items from the 1896 election include what are
referred to as Bryan dollars — campaign medals struck in silver
professing Bryan’s monetary ideals — which compose a separate
collecting field beyond presidential campaign memorabilia.
Pro-gold Democrats, rankled by Bryan’s nomination, removed
themselves from the main party to form a third-party effort, the
National Democratic Party, and at a hastily planned convention,
selected former Illinois Sen. John M. Palmer as their candidate joined
by running mate Simon Bolivar Bucker, a former Kentucky governor.
The schism in the Democratic Party helped derail Bryan’s bid and
deliver the White House to McKinley.
Read our entire series so far on collecting Presidential election materials:
The presidential election that
might have been the nastiest on record
: So nasty were the personal attacks between Jackson and the
incumbent, John Quincy Adams, during the 1828 campaign that Jackson
blamed the stress of the attacks for contributing to the death of
The election of 1800 saw a number
of firsts among American presidential races
: The presidential election of 1800 was a particularly
uncomfortable one in political circles, pitting Vice President
Thomas Jefferson against the president he was currently serving
under, John Adams.
Abraham Lincoln faced
more than one opponent in the 1860 presidential election
: While it is not uncommon today for political candidates in state
and national contents to stump in any small community that will host
them, during the 1860 campaign the tactic was considered somewhat tacky.
Sounds like jewelry, so
why was a ‘cross of gold’ not considered a good thing in 1896?
: The hotly contested presidential race of 1896 pitted former Ohio
Gov. William McKinley, a Republican, against Democratic contender
and perennial presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan.
How Theodore Roosevelt helped
deliver the White House to Woodrow Wilson
: The 1912 election witnessed the establishment of a new political
entity, Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, also dubbed the Bull Moose Party.
Four-time winner Franklin Roosevelt
generates opposition collectibles
: The election of 1932 put Democrat and former New York
governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the White House for the
first of his unprecedented four terms.
The 2016 presidential election
hitting new heights, or depths, of nastiness
: Campaign collectibles are trying to promote the 2016 presidential
candidates amid all the mudslinging.