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


William Jennings Bryan’s resignation from the position of Secretary of State effectively ended his political career.  Additionally, society as a whole was moving left of Bryan, causing him to be an anachronistic figure with little political influence.  The conventions of 1920 assured Bryan of this shift, as he realized that his ideas no longer coincided with the leadership or general majority of either political party.  Therefore, he appealed to the churches for support of his reforms.  The fundamentalist leader encouraged the churches to become more morally responsible.  Bryan was convinced that the church’s role should reach beyond instruction of the individual and enlighten society about its immoralities.  He questioned, “What is a church for if it is not to stand for morality in all things and everywhere.”[1]

          Bryan encouraged the churchgoers to become more active in politics.  He espoused the election of godly men and support of moral legislation as another method of Christian service.  “Whenever God is as faithfully served at the ballot box as He is in the church, it may be depended upon that the era of trusts, of imperialism, of spoliation, and of corruption will be at an end, and the probability of evils in public life will be reduced to the minimum.”[2]   However, the excesses of the Guilded Age did not result in many victories for Bryan and his causes.  His position in society continued to deteriorate in this era as his fundamentalism compromised his position in society.  By the time of his death in 1925, he was seen as a failure and religious radical due to the Scopes Monkey Trial.


William Jennings Bryan:  A Conservative Progressive

Early Life

The Progressive Politician

World War I:  The Destruction of a Dream

Church and State:  Religion's Role in a 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

[1] Willard H. Smith, “William Jennings Bryan and the Social Gospel,” The Journal of American History 53 (June 1966):  52.

[2] Ibid., 54.