Students have read about how the Republican, Democrat, and Populist Parties
played important roles in the presidential election of 1896. In this activity
they will research the political ideas presented during the 1896 election campaign.
Students will use information from the 1896: The Presidential Campaign Web site
to learn about the political ideas of the 1896 presidential election. They will
read the Republican, Democrat, and Populist platforms and read about the politicians
who impacted the election. Students will also evaluate political cartoons, read
editorials and letters, and see photographs from the campaign. They will then
answer four questions and apply this information by assuming the role of a member
of a political party and debating their choice of candidates in the 1896 election.
- Students will identify the political parties of the 1896 presidential election
and explain the political ideas of their party platforms.
- Students will be able to use this knowledge to assume the role of a member
of a political party and debate their choice of candidates in the 1896 presidential
Student Web Activity Answers
- The Republican platform supported the gold standard, high protective tariffs,
and support for Armenians and Cubans who sought relief from Spain. Primarily,
the Republicans warned of the dangers of free silver and of a radical alliance
between farmers and industrial workers. They played on the public’s fears
of labor unrest as Republican rhetoric identified Silver Democrats, Populists,
and Socialists as threatening to national order. They sometimes called their
opponents anarchists and at other times accused them of seeking tyrannical
state power. Republicans also warned that William Jennings Bryan’s Western
and Southern supporters might plot another secession movement, claiming that
they put sectional interests ahead of the common good. Republicans pinned
their presidential hopes on William McKinley.
- Democrats were split on the currency questionwhether to maintain the gold
standard or to adopt a free silver plank. At the Democratic convention, William
Jennings Bryan delivered a dramatic address in favor of free silver and won
the party’s presidential nomination. Democrats who refused to accept
Bryan’s ideas declared themselves National Democrats at another convention.
They nominated their own candidate, John Palmer. Many believed that the Gold
Democrats actually helped the Republican cause by splitting the Democratic
- By 1896 the Populist Party was in turmoil. One faction, called fusionists,
sought to merge with the Democrats. They believed that a third party could
never hold national power, and that the party’s best strategy was to
influence a major party that could. A second faction, the "mid-roaders,"
advocated staying in the middle of the two major parties in order to win reform.
At the Populist convention, fusionists joined the Democrats in supporting
Bryan for the presidency, but they rejected the Democratic vice-presidential
nominee. Populists sought federal intervention to offset the economic depression,
rein in corporate abuses, and prevent poverty among farming and working-class
families. They supported free silver and the proposed federal income tax.
- Students’ responses will vary depending on the cartoon they analyze.
- Students’ discussions and debates will vary.
Go To Student Web Activity