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Cross of Gold

Cross of Gold

“You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” With this indictment of the eastern establishment, William Jennings Bryan swayed the Democratic National Convention held in the Chicago Coliseum, July 1896. Bryan gained the nomination for president and secured a reform platform that called for a federal income tax and the minting of silver to stimulate the economy.

Chicago businessman and Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld made Bryan's victory possible. Angered over President Grover Cleveland's use of federal troops against the 1894 Pullman Strike, Altgeld challenged Cleveland's leadership of the Democratic Party. Altgeld authored the reform platform and prepared the revolt against the “gold standard” conservatives at the 1896 convention.

The Chicago convention marked a shift within the Democratic Party from the Northeast to the South and West. Chicago served as the financial and commercial hub of America's agricultural heartland, and Chicago reformers hoped to forge an alliance with western and southern agrarian reformers. The triumph of reform within the Democratic Party did not bring success at the polls. Bryan lost the presidential campaign, and Altgeld failed in his bid for reelection as governor of Illinois.

Bryan and Altgeld were colleagues of Chicago's William “Coin” Harvey, whose book Coin's Financial School, a fictional account of lectures on finance held at the Art Institute of Chicago, taught millions of Americans about the purported evils of the gold standard.

Bryan was an Illinois native and studied law at Chicago's Union College before moving to Nebraska, where he was elected to Congress in 1890.