William Jennings Bryan



A Conservative Progressive


“People often ask me why I can be a progressive in politics and a fundamentalist in religion.  The answer is easy.  Government is man made and therefore imperfect.  It can always be improved.  But religion is not a man made affair.  If Christ is the word, how can anyone be a progressive in religion?  I am satisfied with the God we have, with the Bible and with Christ.”

--William Jennings Bryan



William Jennings Bryan was the leader of the Democratic party from 1896 until the election Woodrow Wilson in 1912.  During this time, he made three unsuccessful bids for the presidency.  During this epoch of his life, politics monopolized the majority of his time, but his religious beliefs were always important to him and the convictions dictated his opinions on policy.  Religious convictions formed his opinions on Progressivism and world peace.  However, when he resigned from his last political post in 1915, Secretary of State under Wilson, he was able to shift his emphasis from politics to religion.  Bryan always maintained that the two spheres were of equal importance to him, and Bryan knew he could still make contributions to society without holding an office.  It is the period of life, from 1915-1925, which brought him the most fame, or infamy, for his religious beliefs.  In this ten year span he was associated with the radically conservative Fundamentalist movement, the Social Gospelers, and the anti-evolutionists due to his role of prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.  However, the forces which shaped his behavior during both periods of his life remained constant.  Bryan did not change into a religious radical.  Society was the dynamic that shifted.  Dominance was taken away from the moral types of small towns and frontiers and replaced by the capitalism of big business and the immorality of the youth of the roaring twenties.  Bryan was consistently dominated by desires for socially and religiously responsible government and fundamental religion.


William Jennings Bryan:  A Progressive Conservative

Early Life

The Progressive Politician

World War I:  The Destruction of Dream

Church and State:  Religion's Role in the Democratic System

Bryan's Downfall:  Evolution and the Scopes Monkey Trial


Return to HIS 338 Supplements


This page was created by Kristy Owens

Email any questions to:


This page was last updated on March 30, 2001