From the Front Porch to the Front Page:
McKinley and Bryan in the 1896 Presidential Campaign
Presidential Rhetoric Series
William D. Harpine
The campaign of 1896 gave the public one of the most dramatic and interesting battles of political oratory in American history, even though, ironically, its issues faded quickly into insignificance after the election. It marked the beginning of the use of the news media in a modern manner, saw the Democratic Party shift toward the more liberal position it occupies today, and established much of what came to be considered the Republican coalition.
In what is often thought of as a single-issue campaign, William Jennings Bryan delivered his famous "Cross of Gold" speech but lost the election. Meanwhile, William McKinley addressed a range of topics in more than three hundred speeches—without ever leaving his front porch.
William D. Harpine traces the campaign month-by-month to show the development of Bryan's rhetoric and the stability of McKinley's. He contrasts the divisive oratory Bryan employed to whip up fervor (perhaps explaining the 80 percent turnout in the election) with the lower-keyed unifying strategy McKinley adopted and with McKinley's astute privileging of rhetorical siting over actual rhetoric.
Beyond adding depth and detail to the scholarly understanding of the 1896 presidential campaign itself, this book casts light on the importance of historical perspective in understanding rhetorical efforts in politics.
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WILLIAM D. HARPINE, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, is a professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
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