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A Righteous Cause: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (Library of American Biography) Hardcover – February, 1985

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Product Details

  • Series: Library of American Biography
  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T) (February 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316138541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316138543
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,646,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

William Jennings Bryan is one of the most influential "failures" of American politics: a three-time Democratic nominee for president who, although he never won the office, transformed his party into an institution "pledged," in biographer Robert W. Cherny's words, "to use the power of government on behalf of those displaced and disadvantaged by the advance of industrialization and the emergence of corporate behemoths." Although he is best remembered for two events--his electrifying "cross of gold" speech at the 1896 Democratic convention and his work for the prosecution in the Scopes trial of 1925--his career was extremely rich in incident. Cherny draws amply upon Bryan's own writings and correspondence to produce a portrait of the lifelong political crusader that, while comparatively short in length, offers a substantial evaluation of his legacy. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"A succinct study in which the author combines a knowledge of the standard works in the field with original research and new insights and analysis. . . . His book is a serious and intelligent one that students, scholars, and a general public can read with pleasure and profit."—Martin Ridge, Annals of Iowa

"The best short biography of Bryan. . . . Cherny’s treatment of Bryan and Darrow at the Scopes trial is fair, and his concluding chapter, ‘Evaluating a Crusader,’ is very well balanced."—Ferenc M. Szasz, Ohio History

"Cherny has traced Bryan’s life in short compass and in a fashion that works well for the student and general reader."—R. Hal Williams, Western Historical Quarterly
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on March 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Democratic party William Jennings Bryan took control of in 1896 is a far cry from that same party today. The person most responsible for this change is Bryan. As the book points out Bryan was no intellectual giant; but how many of America's leaders have been? To quote Mr. Cherny, to Bryan "Expertise counted for less than a good heart and a principled outlook." The "Great Commoner" saw things in black and white, good vs. evil and when he had decided what was right he took up cause after cause with a zeal not often found among politicans.
It is often said that the proof is in the pudding, and the proof of Bryan's sweeping influence can be found during the New Deal as one after another his ideas were passed into law. He could of course be wrong as one of his pet projects prohibition and his unfortunate trip to Dayton show. On the other hand one has to wonder how much less the depression would have hurt the common people if more of Bryan's ideas had been made into law before 1929. Like him or not William Jennings Bryan has had more influence on American public policy than at least half of the men who won presidential elections.
As for this particular book. It is very well written and keeps the reader's interest. It is on the short side but provides a very good overview of Bryan's life and carear. The only reason I took away one star was because it is not well documented. No footnotes are to be found and in places they are badly needed. Otherwise this is a very good work dealing with one of America's greats.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By David W. Southworth VINE VOICE on December 7, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This brief, concise review of the life of William Jennings Bryan is a quick and easy way to familiarize yourself with this important American politician. While Bryan's only official politrical positions was as a two-term congressman and secretary of state for a little over two years, he was one of the most influential politicians for the thirty years he was active in Democratic politics. The three-time losing presidential candidate popularized (thought did not originate) many of the progressive issues of the period, championing many causes that eventually became law. Examples of this include the direct election of senators, the right to vote for women, and regulation of business and industry.

Through his powerful belief in Christian virtue, Bryan constantly championed the rights of the least among him. While his strict fundamentalist views eventually humiliated him at the end of his life by way of the "Scopes Monkey Trial," it was this belief in the decency of human life that drove him for so long. This book gives a brief and succinct discussion of the great politician's life.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) has the dubious distinction of being one of only two men in American history to run for President three times and lose each time. Yet Bryan almost certainly qualifies as one of the most influential "losers" in American history, for despite his defeats he retained a large and loyal following that allowed him to remake the Democratic Party in the early twentieth century. The son of a country judge in Salem, Illinois, Bryan was raised in a solidly middle-class family by devoutly religious parents. Bryan attended law school in Chicago and then moved to Lincoln, Nebraska and opened his own law office. From the beginning his good looks, marvelous voice, and gifts as an orator made him a celebrity in Nebraska. Bryan used these skills to side with the "underdogs" of the Midwestern prairies - the farmers who were being driven into bankruptcy and foreclosure by a worsening economy and a lack of support from the federal government in Washington. In 1890 he was elected to Congress - a rare victory for the Democrats in a Republican state. He soon earned a reputation as a superb speaker with a magnetic voice - and as a controversial foe of the big businesses that controlled both political parties.

In the 1890's a nationwide economic depression gave Bryan the chance to seize control of the Democratic Party from the conservative, pro-gold standard faction led by President Grover Cleveland. At the 1896 Democratic National Convention he gave what is still regarded as one of the greatest political speeches in American history - a ringing defense of farmers and an assault on the "robber barons" of New York's Wall Street. The "Cross of Gold" speech electrified the delegates and earned Bryan, at the age of 36, the presidential nomination.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grozarks on July 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
"A Righteous Cause" is a very solid study of the life of "The Great Commoner". Prof. Cherny presents a very fair and balanced view of his life and the events that he played a role in. I recommend this to anyone with a desire to know more about the extremely important figure from the turn of the 20th Century. Sadly there is not a good rendering on Bryan's life. Nothing that I've found lifts this obviously charismatic person off the page. I've found good brief bios in various books, but no master work yet.
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