History Nebraska Blog

William Jennings Bryan and the Russians

During his years in Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan welcomed many foreign visitors to the city and often entertained them at his home, Fairview. In 1907 his guests included two distinguished Russians who were giving public lectures to publicize unfavorable political conditions in their native country, then under czarist rule. Bryan was particularly interested in Russia, which he had visited several years earlier as part of his European tour in late 1903. While there, he received an audience with Czar Nicholas II and boldly reminded him of his promise to give a degree of self-government and free speech to his people. While in Russia, Bryan also visited author Leo Tolstoy, whose literary work he greatly admired.

“Two apostles of the society of ‘The Friends of Russian Freedom’ [English and American sympathizers with Russian anti-czarist groups] closed a whirlwind speaking tour of the city yesterday,” said the Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on May 16, 1907. “They were Alexis Alladin, member of the Russian douma, and Nicholai Tschikowsky [Nikolai Tchaikovsky], a student and representative of the laboring classes of Russia.”

While in Lincoln, the pair spoke at the University of Nebraska and at Wesleyan University during the day; lunched with Bryan, Lincoln mayor F. W. Brown, and Nebraska governor George Sheldon; and took dinner in the evening with Bryan at Fairview. Then it was on to St. Paul’s Methodist Church, where an expectant audience awaited.

Bryan introduced the two Russians at the church gathering and spoke briefly of the struggle of the Russian people for freedom. When Tchaikovsky was complimented on his excellent English, he revealed that he had lived for several years as a farmer in southern Kansas about thirty years before but had left the U.S. before he could become a naturalized citizen.

While at the church the Russians were presented with “two large bouquets . . . by the representatives of the Hebrew Relief association of this city. . . . Each bouquet had a card attached, with a message written on one side in Russian and on the other in English. The cards read: ‘The sympathizers of the cause of Russian freedom express their sympathy to the laboring class and to the peasants.’”

Bryan helped welcome many other foreign guests to Nebraska during his residence here, including the Japanese and 'Abdul-Baha Abbas, eldest son of Baha'i founder Baha'u'llah. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications



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