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September 14: A Serious Menace to Business

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There was a great deal riding on the presidential election of 1900. The Philippine American War was in its third year and Americans were nervous about the state of the country’s economy.

Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan was running against Republican President William McKinley. Bryan was a well-known lawyer and orator. He emerged as a dominant force in the Democratic Party. He had run for president in 1896, losing to McKinley. In 1900, Bryan emerged as the Democratic candidate once again, setting up a replay of the 1896 election.

North Dakota was heavily Republican and Bryan did not find much support in the state. On this date in 1900, the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean ran articles that were typical of North Dakota sentiment. The newspaper echoed comments by Roswell Miller, the chairman of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. Miller expressed the opinion that Bryan would be a serious menace to business, predicting “woeful times in this country” if Bryan were elected. Miller said that he was not a fan of McKinley, but Bryan’s election would prove a sad blow to business interests and prosperity.

While concerned about the business climate of the country, North Dakotans had other matters on their minds as well. The First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry spent over a year in the Philippines, fighting first in the Spanish American War and then in the Philippine American War. Bryan was staunchly anti-war, opposing McKinley’s policies regarding the Philippines. He favored bringing the troops home. Having had so many of their boys serving in the Philippines, North Dakotans were sympathetic to that demand.

Running on the tickets of both the Democratic and Populist Parties, Bryan thought foreign policy would be the decisive issue. It turned out that the economy was first and foremost in the minds of the voters. McKinley beat Bryan by an even larger margin in 1900 than in 1896.

In spite of their strong desire to bring American boys home from the Philippines, North Dakota went for McKinley and his wildly popular vice-presidential candidate, Teddy Roosevelt. Sixty-two percent of North Dakota’s vote went for McKinley.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

  • Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Would Ruin Business.” Devils Lake ND. 9/14/1900. Page 4.
  • The Spanish American War Centennial Website. “William Jennings Bryan.” https://www.spanamwar.com/bryan Accessed 8/14/2022.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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