Cross of Gold 1896

The Democratic Convention in 1896 held in the Colosseum in Chicago, has a fixed place in the political history of our country, as the "Crown of Thorns" and "Cross of Gold" Convention.

The delegates were all tied up in a deadlock and as soon as Bryan ascended to the platform it was easy to see that they were all keyed up for some fireworks. After the loud applause of his admirers, and some "boos" from the eastern delegates, had subsided, he started out with the most sensational speech that was ever made in the history of a party convention. Directly back of Bryan, was a large window, opening out on an open court behind the building. As the speaker stood, his form was perfectly framed by the window, which was not curtained. This was noticeable to many of his auditors who remembered it later on.

As he proceeded in his speech after lambasting "Wall Street" and its "oppressors of the poor", he worked up to a point for his peroration. The light through the window behind him made his figure - in long black Prince Albert coat - seem to be part of a stage setting, put there for a purpose; then as he neared the end - referring to the "barons of great wealth", he roared out: "We will say to them - you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!" As he uttered these last words he spread out his arms, cross like, at full length, with open hands, which completed a scene that moved all who saw it; and from that dramatic climax the convention was in his hands. I have heard people say that Bryan had that speech corked up for some time, waiting for the right place to spring it; and that he timed it to the moving of the light to get the effect.

I pause for a moment to shudder over the thought of what might have happened if the radio had then been in use as it is today! Bryan would have been elected by his convincing arguments and silver toned oratory; for he surely had the sympathy of the masses, when they heard his voice.

I never saw such a sight as I witnessed when Bryan came to Chicago. he had been widely billed and otherwise advertised for a big show by his campaign committee. Canal Street was crowded in front of the Union Depot. All down Madision to Market, and Washington to Michigan Avenue, the streets were thickly lined with people waiting to see Bryan. I had a seat at a second story window in the office of S. T. Gunderson in the Chamber of Commerce Building, at the corner of La Salle and Washington, and could see the crowd from Market Street to Michigan Avenue. There must have been not less than two hundred thousand people waiting at the depot and along the line of march.

Finally, when the train which was carrying him arrived, there was great difficulty in getting him into the carriage that was waiting for him. The crowds closed in, trying to get near enough to even touch the horses or the carriage in which he rode. They fell in behind, and followed in a solid mass the whole length of the route all shouting "Bryan, Bryan, Bryan!" We could hear the roar clear down to La Salle Street. He rode in a large barouche with the top down, and, instead of sitting on the back seat, he was perched up on the lowered top so he could see all, and be seen. This show, as I remember, was about the middle of summer, and there was little doubt then but what Bryan would be elected.


In Reminiscence by Frederick E. Coyne, pages 88-91
Excella Press, Chicago, 1941.