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Biscoveanu 1 Sylvia Biscoveanu Dr. Freymiller Rhetoric and Civic Life 7 October 2013 Strategic Organization in William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” Speech William Jennings Bryan ran for President as the Democratic candidate three times and lost all three times. Despite this seeming failure, he was one of the most significant American politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and “one of the most important losers in American political history,” serving in the House of Representatives and as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson (Richman and Freemark). The “Cross of Gold” speech that he gave at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was the most successful rhetorical performance of his career. He was only 36 years old and had no expectation of being a leading candidate for the presidency at the beginning of the convention, but by the next day, he was chosen to be the Democratic candidate on the fifth ballot (Richman and Freemark). The issue at hand was whether or not the Democratic Party should endorse the free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16: 1, silver to gold. Bryan speaks to defend the free coinage of silver, and claims to represent the struggling masses. This measure would have caused inflation, putting more money into circulation and helping the debt- ridden farmers of the West (Bryan). While the political importance and effects of this speech have been widely addressed, its literary value has not been investigated as thoroughly, which is why I’ve chosen to analyze Bryan’s use of rhetorical appeals in this speech. He begins by introducing the topic and the role of the delegates in settling it, largely depending on ethos. He then maneuvers into an impassioned, pathos-filled defense of the laboring masses, citing them as the people that the Democratic Party represents. The largest section of the speech is devoted to refutation based on logical appeals. The closing arguments are the ideal blend of the three rhetorical appeals, leading to an uproarious reaction from his audience. Through
Biscoveanu 2 this carefully chosen organizational structure, Bryan manages to create a cogent argument and an unforgettable rhetorical performance that would catapult him to political prominence. Bryan begins with the humble statement that he would not have the audacity to present himself “against the distinguished gentlemen to whom [the audience had] listened if this were but a measuring of ability” (Bryan). This is intended to show that he is not speaking because he considers himself a great speaker, but because he feels he has something worthwhile to say, giving weight to his message. He emphasizes that the issue at hand is not a contest of individual preference or popularity, but of principle, which leaves an eternal impact on society. This ethical appeal again increases the validity of his argument by eliminating all doubt in the listener’s mind that he is in fact speaking solely for the purpose of defending the free coinage of silver and not for ingratiation. He