American HistoryThe U.S. underwent tremendous political and social changes during the Gilded Age (1877-1900). The 1896 presidential election was one of the most crucial elections. Given all the...
The U.S. underwent tremendous political and social changes during the Gilded Age (1877-1900). The 1896 presidential election was one of the most crucial elections. Given all the problems and challenges the nation faced (e.g., settlement of the West, industrialization, urbanization, race issues, etc.), which party and candidate offered the best solutions in 1896 and why? (Be sure to remember that political parties were not always the same back then. For example, African Americans always voted Republican and NEVER Democrat back then, etc. So, answer the question from your readings not just what you think of politics today).
If you look at this election strictly in terms of social and economic justice, then it would have been better for W. J. Bryan to win. The wealth disparity in the country was simply obscene, and farmers shouldered a ton of debt just to survive. To reduce that debt by 90% (at the same time as you shrank the holdings of the wealthy by 90%) would go a long way to balance the scales.
What that would have done to the US economically is, as pointed out above, anyone's guess. Bryan was also a staunch anti-imperialist, so it is unlikely we would have entered the Spanish-American War, built the Panama Canal, etc. This would have had an economic effect as well.
Finally, if Bryan had won, there would have been no Teddy Roosevelt presidency, and this was critically important from a progressive point of view, as well as an imperialist one.
The only really important issue in this election was the issue of "free silver" vs. the gold standard. The Republicans won by running in support of the gold standard.
There is no way to objectively say which would have been better. Free silver would surely have been better in the short term for farmers. The gold standard was better in the short term for banks and other lenders. As far as what would have been better in the long term for the overall health of the US economy, we have no idea. Economists argue over such things and there is no way to go back and have a "do over." So this comes down to which you think is better -- a policy that makes it easier for farmers to pay their loans back but makes bankers lose money or a policy that makes it harder for farmers to pay their loans but makes banks lose money.