Evangelical reformer

Michael Kazin, a scholar of U.S. populism who catalogues William Jennings Bryan’s many public incarnations, chose to write about the Great Commoner for several related reasons.

First, as a historian Kazin sees Bryan—partisan of white farmers and laborers, thrice-defeated presidential candidate, secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson, crusader for temperance and women’s suffrage—as an innovator whose approach to political campaigning shaped politics today. Kazin finds the roots of our contemporary obsessions with candidates’ personalities in Bryan’s style on the stump. The grassroots network that revered and promoted Bryan’s various initiatives helped transform the act of voting from a dispassionately performed duty to a highly personalized activity built around testing and selecting worthy servants.

 

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