A Masonic President
The Campaign Of 1896
S. Dennis Phillips, 32°
The presidential campaign of 1896 clearly illustrates the diversity and high quality of the men who are drawn to Masonry.
Born in 1860 in Salem, Illinois, William Jennings Bryan (right above) grew up in an active Democratic family. He graduated from Illinois College as valedictorian and delivered his address on character. Bryan proceeded on to Union College of Law and in 1883 and opened his practice in Jacksonville, Illinois. In 1887 he moved his practice to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the outgoing, high-spirited young lawyer joined several organizations including Lincoln Lodge No. 14 on April 15, later affiliating with Temple Lodge No. 247, Miami, Florida. From Lincoln, Bryan began his ascent up the political ladder.
William McKinley (left above) was born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio. Young McKinley attended Allegheny
College, but due to illness and his father’s financial problems, he was unable to continue his studies. He was clerking in a post office in an effort to raise the money to continue his education when the Civil War broke out. McKinley enlisted in the twenty-third Ohio and, due to his excellent service, was mustered out as a brevet major in 1865. At the end of the war, McKinley, who was visiting an army hospital, noticed the friendliness with which a Union surgeon treated some wounded Confederates. After some inquiry, McKinley found that the wounded southerners and the surgeon were Freemasons. He soon made known his desire to join a fraternity with such strong bonds of brotherhood. The future President was raised a Master Mason in Hiram Lodge No. 21, Winchester, Virginia, by a Confederate chaplain, J. B. T. Reed, as Worshipful Master.
On re-entering civilian life, McKinley entered Albany Law School and, upon passing the bar examination, set up practice in Canton, Ohio. There, like Brother Bryan, he, too, began to ascend the political ladder. In 1896 when the Republicans gathered in St. Louis to nominate their presidential candidate, McKinley, then Governor of Ohio, was the clear favorite and became the Republican presidential nominee standing on a platform anchored by a gold standard plank.
When the Democrats gathered in Chicago, there was no such clear-cut front runner. The closest there
was to a favorite was Richard P. Bland of Missouri. No one seemed to consider William Jennings Bryan a serious candidate. That all changed during debate on a free silver plank when Bryan delivered what is arguably his most famous political speech, which he closed with one of the most famous lines in American history: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold." After this speech, it was only a matter of
time, and on the fifth ballot Brother Bryan became the presidential nominee of
the Democratic Party.
In the campaign that followed, the styles of the two candidates were as
different as their political philosophies. McKinley knew that, when it came to
oratorical power and stage presence, he was no match for his much younger opponent.
He decided that rather than try to match Bryan, he would conduct a frontporch
campaign and speak only to those who visited him at his Canton, Ohio,
home. In fact, except for two non-political commitments he had made before the
convention and a one-week rest break in August, McKinley stayed in Canton
throughout the campaign.
Fortunately for McKinley, his campaign manager, Mark Hanna, and the National Republican Party
were not so passive. Hanna raised huge sums of money from Wall Street interests terrified of a Bryan presidency, and the Republican National Committee arranged transportation to Canton for thousands of people, all
potential or actual contributors, from across the country. On one day alone in September, special trains brought over 20,000 people to Canton to hear and see McKinley.
Bryan, on the other hand, had very little money to work with and had to contend with a national party
lacking strong unity. His greatest asset was his own stamina and oratorical brilliance. While his Republican opponent stayed home, Bryan put in 18-hour days, traveled thousands of miles, and made almost three thousand speeches. At one point in Delaware, the strain became too much, and Bryan collapsed but was fully recovered and ready to go the next morning.
On Election Day, McKinley continued the Republican domination of the
White House, but by the barest of margins. The Republican candidate won less than
51% of the vote, and Bryan carried five more states than did McKinley. On the
other hand, McKinley’s Electoral College margin was fairly comfortable.
The two Masons would face each other again in 1900 with McKinley again
coming out the winner. Then in 1901, President McKinley was felled by an assassin’s
bullet. During his tenure in office, McKinley led the country through an era of
great change, and, more importantly, he began the process of making the United
States into a world power.
Bryan, who many consider the founder of the modern Democratic Party,
continued his service to the nation until his death in 1925 at Dayton, Tennessee. In 1908, he was, for the third time, the Democratic nominee for President, served President Woodrow Wilson as Secretary of State from 1913 to 1915, and throughout his life, he remained the dominate figure in the Democratic Party.
Brothers William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley, two men in a line of many Masons who
dedicated their lives to their country, and two men of which our Fraternity can be truly proud.
-- The Scottish Rite Journal, August 1999
- Michael Ifland
- Cookeville, Tennessee, United States
- I am a member of Cookeville Lodge 266, Grand Lodge Of Tennessee.
This is a blog about my thoughts on Masonry. I also post other peoples thoughts and storys on the subject.
Thoughts on other topics are also posted here, such as religion, politics, and whatever else I can come up with.
I am still very new to Masonry. I was Raised Sept. 20th 2010. I am Looking forward to continuous learning (more light) throughout my life.
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