The Tracy Family History
Three Times the Candidate

Michael Woods Sr., of Blair Park married Lady Mary Campbell. They had a son...

William Woods married Susannah Wallace,1st cousins and sister to my 6th great grandfather, Peter Wallace Jr. They had a daughter...

Mary Woods married George Davidson. They had a son...

Samuel Davidson married Sally Logan. They had a daughter...

Maria Davidson married Charles Jennings. They had a daughter...

Maria(h) Jennings married Silas Bryan. They had a son...

"The most stubbornly wrong man I ever knew." --Victor Rosewater, Omaha Bee
William Jennings Bryan giving one of his many acceptance speeches as a candidate for President of the United States.

Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collections

    His father was from Virginia. They were of Scotch-Irish ancestry. Three times the son would run for the presidency of the United States, and three times he would lose.
    In 1896, he lost to William McKinley. If 19,436 votes had switched in just 6 states, Cousin Bryan would have been president. Our people always come in a close second when running for the presidency, except for Birney. However, he was an abolitionist.
    In 1900, he ran against McKinley again.
    In 1908, he tried for the third time. This time he ran against William Howard Taft. He received 43% of the vote.
    William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois, on 19 March 1860. As a teenager he was born again and joined the Presbyterian Church, of course. He would spend the rest of his life as a crusader for Christ.        
    His father at one time ran for Congress, and lost by only a few votes.
    Willy went to law school, became a lawyer, got married and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. He became involved with the State's Democratic Party, soon becoming a "rising star.” In time, he was asked to run for governor, but refused. He is today the State's native son.
    In 1890, he was persuaded to run for Congress. The campaign would establish his style: "a religious revival, a crusade, a Pentecost of politics," and "the French Revolution and a western religious revival." Bryan was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.
    Along the way, he had made friends, who had friends in high places. As always, with successful politicians, he created even more friends…who owed him favors. At the Democratic convention to select the candidate for the presidency of 1896, Bryan's friends would repay their debts by getting him the chance to speak before the delegates. He was not the odds-on-favorite. Politically, he had only served two terms in the house. Besides, he was only 36 years old.
    The first speaker bored the audience for an hour. Then came three more speakers that are unmemorable. Then it was Bryan's turn. The young man from Nebraska was about to prove what some already knew. He was the greatest orator in America.
    He finished his speech with these words, "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!" "The Cross of Gold" speech would become as famous as Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech.
    The audience was stunned. Then the hall erupted in applause, which lasted for 30 minutes. He was raised up and carried around the floor on the shoulders of the delegates.
    Cousin William Jennings Bryan was nominated.
    The delegates came pouring out of the hall, mesmerized… among the mesmerized, were those who could not even remember what he had said.


(Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collections)
Having lost the presidency three times, his crowning glory came in 1913, when he was named Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.
    In 1914, William Jennings Bryan presides over the signing of a conciliation treaty with Great Britain, France, Spain, and China. These men represented more than half the world's population. His wife watches from the end of the table.

(Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collections)
The famous photo of Bryan, right, and Darrow at the Monkey Trial.

     It is said that timing is everything in life. William Jennings Bryan would live a few days too long. Instead of dying an elderly statesman, he would die with many believing him to be a fool.
    In 1925, at the age of 65, Bryan would be drawn into conflict in the famous “Monkey Trial.” This would pit the nations greatest orator against the country's most famous trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow.
    The issue was over whether a school in Tennessee could teach the theory of evolution as opposed to the biblical version. Darrow, for 68 years had been an avowed atheist. He sided with the evolutionists. Bryan was on a mission from God to defend the bible.
    Darrow utterly destroyed Bryan… as the whole world watched.
    I will not go into this famous episode of American history. Much has been written about it, and is easily available at your library.
    It is said that the trial killed him. He died five days after the trial ended. If he had died a few days earlier, before the trial, then he would have left this world with his reputation intact.
    His legacy is that he fought for the little man. He was "The Great Commoner.”


                                                                                                (Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collections)
                                                                                                  Two hours before his death.



                                                                                                 (Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collections)
Such a great photo I had to include it. Now Col. Bryan, being visited by his wife in camp in Florida during the Spanish American War... as he awaits orders.

 One of his antagonists said that he "never did unworthy or mean things. He may have been mistaken at times as we all are, but he was trying always to do the right as he saw it."

His political philosophy was guided by the belief that every man had the right to be wrong.

The great writer, H. L. Mencken, described him as "a zany without sense.”

Woodrow Wilson describes him “ utterly sincere man. That is what makes him dangerous."
Teddy Roosevelt half-agreed, "By George, he would make the greatest Baptist preacher on earth."

He has gone down in history as a “buffoon.” Because he is one of our cousins, I am confident that the day will come when history will prove that he was right, and everyone else was wrong.

    It was not Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt who founded the modern Democratic party. They are given credit. However, what these two great presidents did was take Bryan’s philosophies, and made it work.
    He fought his whole life for reforms. He believed that women should have the right to vote and hold office. Catholics should not be barred from office. He strongly believed in prohibition and popular elections of U. S. Senators. He saw the potential power in the denied black vote.

    Bryan’s home in which he was born is a museum located at 408 So. Broadway, Salem, Illinois.
    The home in which he lived from 1901 to 1921, called Fairview, is also a museum. It is in Lincoln, Nebraska, at 49th & Summer Streets. A hospital now owns the property. This home is maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society, whose staff has been most helpful.

There are many books on his life. Look in the library under William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Scopes, and the Monkey Trial, or the Scopes Monkey Trial.
    The “Scopes Monkey Trial” was one of the more sensational events of the twentieth century and has been covered in books and numerous articles. A classic movie was made on this story, "Inherit the Wind.” Produced in 1960, the movie stars Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly and Fredric March. It still shows on late night TV. You might be able to get a video in the classic section of your local video store as it is considered to be a "classic."


I leave the world with this one question: What if he had won?

We are all indebted to Ruth Petracek for doing the research, which found this connection.

My family history web site has 79 chapters. If you would like to know more about the other chapters then go to my Home Page

                                                                                Next Chapter