Voters from Utah went crazy for Democratic presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan in the election 1896.
When it comes to politics, these days national news outlets list Utah as among the reddest of the Red States. But it wasn't always so. Historians tend to agree that many Utahns, of every religious stripe, actually supported the Democratic Party in the years when Utah was still a federally-administered territory. This was no doubt due in part to the Republican's Party's historical disdain for Mormon polygamy.
It wasn't surprising, then, when Utahns went for Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1896, their first time voting for President since achieving statehood. Bryan was a devout Christian, lawyer, and newspaperman from Nebraska who opposed a Republican plan to stop using silver to make coins, and use only gold. Charging that rich Republicans were trying to crucify ordinary Americans on a "Cross of Gold," Bryan was wildly popular in Utah where silver mining had become an important industry and where the Republicans were still eyed with some suspicion. The Nebraska reformer won 86 percent of Utah's popular vote—the largest of any presidential candidate in the state's history.
In the end, Bryan didn't win the presidency. William McKinley did. But the man Utah chose to lead the country remained a potent force in national politics—running for president two more times and eventually being named Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. In his later life, Bryan fought against the teaching of evolution in schools and became the lead lawyer for the World Christian Fundamentals Association in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.
Image: KZN Radio Station. October 25, 1922. William Jennings Bryan standing outside Radio Station KZN prior to delivering an address over the air. Left toright: Nathan O. FUllmer; Mrs. D.C. Dunbar; Mrs. R.L.L. Collier; Mr. Bryan; Dan B. Shields, Democratic County Chairman; Mrs. B.W. Musser; E.S. Woodruff, General Manager, Deseret News; and R.F. Homer, Circulation Manager, Deseret News. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See Frank H, Jonas and Garth M. Jones, “Utah Presidential Elections: 1896-1952,” Utah Historical Quarterly 24 (October 1956): 289-307; Jan Shipps, “Utah Comes of Age Politically: A Study of the State’s Politics in the Early Years of the Twentieth Century,” Utah Historical Quarterly 35 (Spring 1967): 91-111; and Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York: Knopf, 2006). Also see Thomas G. Alexander, Utah: The Right Place 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2003), 250-253.