By Michael Baadke
On March 19, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a $2 Great Americans definitive series stamp in Salem, Ill., to mark the 126th birth anniversary of politician and noted orator William Jennings Bryan (Scott 2195).
Bryan was born in Salem, Ill., on March 19, 1860.
In a speech welcoming the new stamp in 1986, United States Postal Service consumer advocate Ann McK. Robinson said Bryan developed an enduring reputation as an honest politician, distinguished newspaper editor, prominent attorney and one of the nation’s greatest orators.
Bryan graduated from Illinois College in 1881 and studied law in Chicago before moving to Lincoln, Neb. He married Mary Elizabeth Baird in 1884, and together they had three children.
Bryan was elected to the House of Representatives in 1890 and won re-election two years later. His defense of farmers and working men struggling against more powerful business interests earned him a populist following and the Democratic nomination for president in 1896. He lost the election to William McKinley, and served his country instead as a colonel during the Spanish American War, leading the Third Nebraska Volunteer Regiment.
He was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate two more times, in 1900 and 1908, but despite never winning the nation's highest office, he remained a popular public figure. He was named Secretary of State in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson, but resigned after two years in a disagreement with Wilson on foreign policy.
In 1925 Bryan was an important figure in the famed Scopes “monkey trial” considering whether teaching evolution in a public school was illegal. Bryan, devoutly religious throughout his life, promoted the anti-evolution stance that won the trial, but the conviction was quickly overturned in a higher court.
Bryan died less than a week after the trial ended, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.