With all the hoopla about Darwin’s 200th birthday, which is certain to distress the creationists, let us be fair and balanced — in the name of “critical thinking” and “academic freedom.” We should not forget about William Jennings Bryan. That Great Populist Blowhard was born March 19, 1860, so next month will be his 149th birthday. And the big One-Five-Oh will be next year.
There are so many reasons to celebrate Bryan’s birthday. He is, after all, the original ape-ancestor of all the creationists in the so-called “social conservative” movement. Most such people now vote Republican, but we should remember that in Bryan’s day they were fiercely loyal Democrats. The next few paragraphs about political parties are from one of our earlier posts, but the information is worth repeating here.
The Republican-creationist connection is a new development, because the Republican party only recently became dominant in several Southern states, after those states felt betrayed by Lyndon Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation. Previously, the heavily (but not unanimously) creationist sections of the US population were mostly associated with the Democrat party.
The traditional Democrat-creationist alliance began with the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction (military occupation) after the Civil War. The Compromise left the Southern states free to run their own affairs, which was the foundation of the Solid South — a key factor in many subsequent Democrat Presidential successes.
Now that civil rights is no longer an issue, the politically “homeless” creationists have been more or less inherited by the Republicans (who previously had never been sympathetic to their concerns). This party realignment has been an important factor in the Republican party’s Presidential successes since Lyndon Johnson.
There is always a price to be paid for political realignments. Previously, in return for Southern support of their national ticket, the Democrats allowed the South to run their internal affairs their own way. The South was satisfied with the arrangement, and the national Democrat party was indifferent how the Southern states governed themselves. It wasn’t a glorious arrangement, but it was politically expedient. It’s also a story that today’s Democrats are loath to acknowledge.
The Republicans don’t offer local control of racial affairs to the South — they never did — so the creationists are pressing their remaining “social concerns” to be the national policies of their newly-adopted party. Creationism in the science classes of state-run schools is one of those concerns. Constitutional objections ought to be a constraint here, but such are often ignored in the business of practical politics.
But enough about party history. Let’s concentrate on Bryan, who in his day was the quintessential Democrat-creationist. You all know that back in 1925, Dayton, Tennessee was the site of the Scopes Trial, during which Bryan contended with Clarence Darrow over the theory of evolution. But there’s much more than creationism to Bryan. Or less, depending on one’s point of view.
Bryan also championed the income tax, prohibition, debased currency, and several other idiocies. He was essentially opposed to free enterprise, always favoring increased regulation and government control over the economy. He constantly opposed banks, railroads, and other forms of “big business.”
Bryan supported Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1912 — and Wilson was arguably one of the worst Presidents ever. That is, of course, from our limited government, free enterprise viewpoint.
Bryan also supported the 17th Amendment, which changed the method for selecting members of the US Senate from the original method — according to which they were appointed by state legislatures — to our present method of direct election. In our Curmudgeonly opinion, this was not a change for the better.
He also opposed a controversial resolution at the 1924 convention of his party condemning the Ku Klux Klan, although his apologists say this was purely political, to preserve his support in the South. Even if true, it was shabby. But it’s been noted that Bryan never publicly disparaged the Klan.
In his final years, except for his outrageous participation in the Scopes Trial, shortly after which he died, Bryan was mostly hawking real estate in Florida. If only he had found that calling earlier in life, the nation might have been spared several disastrous detours from the vision of the Founding Fathers.
So for those who aren’t thrilled with Darwin Day, we suggest that next month you should celebrate William Jennings Bryan Day, to honor a great creationist whose unending follies did more to degrade the political and economic greatness of the United States than anyone else, before or since.
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