What Was the Importance of the 1896 Election?

The 1896 Presidential election demonstrated a movement in American society away from the extreme concentration on agriculture and toward a society that embraced industrialism. William Jennings Bryan ran as a Democrat with a progressive platform, and his Republican opponent was Ohio Governor William McKinley. One of the biggest issues of the election proved to be the Free Silver Movement.

The Free Silver Movement was popular among farmers and silver miners who believed an unlimited coinage of silver was beneficial to the economy. The Republicans and industrialists preferred the gold standard on which the United States already operated. The election of 1896, in large part, came down to Americans deciding which idea was best for the country. McKinley operated his campaign primarily from his house, letting others do the actual stumping for him, and he ultimately won the election.

Laborers backed their bosses, afraid of what a bimetallic standard meant for their wages and job security. Urban areas beat rural areas in this election, showing the power the cities were beginning to wield. Some of Bryan's other popular stances did not die with the election, however. The direct election of United States Senators, a graduated income tax and other progressive ideas took effect in later years.