Bryan for President in 1920?

William Jennings Bryan. NSHS RG3198-47 (photograph at left).

Ninety years ago, in the summer of 1920, Lincoln hosted a national political convention, albeit that of a third party. “Dry Convention Comes to Order ‘to Bury Booze,’” reported the July 21, 1920, Lincoln Daily Star as the national Prohibition Party met in the city auditorium. One hundred and fifty delegates from around the country attended. Party leaders were reported to be “intent on going forward with plans to run William Jennings Bryan for the presidency regardless of his own wishes in the matter.”

Bryan had been the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful candidate for president in 1896, 1900, and again in 1908. Nevertheless, the temperance-minded Bryan (who was not present at the Prohibition Party convention) declined the offer of a chance to run again on a third-party ticket. His brother, Charles W. Bryan, informed the national executive committee and prohibition leaders that “the Commoner did not desire to be nominated or to run on the ticket.”

Due to Bryan’s refusal to run, the party selected Aaron S. Watkins as its presidential candidate in 1920. Watkins garnered less than 200,000 votes.

To read more about William Jennings Bryan and prohibition, see the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Publication column, posted with other Publication columns on the NSHS website.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

(Updated 8/11/2023)

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