Because of this post and P.M. Prescott’s comments on it, I was reading again about the populists and William Jennings Bryan when I came across this page, which not only has the text of Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, but also an audio recording of Bryan himself giving excerpts from it. The recording is from 1921, 25 years after he first gave the speech at the Democratic convention. Apparently, it was such a big hit, he gave it many times. His performances of it are even mentioned in the book East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which I recently read.
It’s funny; I’ve studied the Populists and WJB a fair amount, and considered myself pretty familiar with the Populist party and the issues of the time. But there is something about actually hearing him speak–even if it was a recording made much later–that really brings the reality of it home to me. Makes it seem more real, in a visceral way. That sounds corny, but it’s true.
As for the speech itself–can you imagine a politician today giving such a speech? It’s brilliant rhetoric, but it uses so many big words and complex concepts. I bet a lot of people would tune out.