The Patronage Battle Between Bryan and Hitchcock

Soon after William Jennings Bryan ‘s arrival in Nebraska from Illinois in the fall of 1887, his attacks upon the purveyors of patronage and the pampered monopolies and his defense of the common man won him the support of Gilbert M. Hitchcock of the Omaha World-Herald, who had been favoring the Independents (Populists). Hitchcock became a close personal friend of the Bryan family, predicted a remarkable career for Bryan and sincerely congratulated him when he became the second Democratic congressman chosen in the rock-ribbed Republican state. From 1894 to 1896, while Bryan was an editor of the World-Herald, his friendship with Hitchcock flourished, and Hitchcock gave him unstinted support in the campaign of 1896 even though he opposed free silver. By 1899, however, a decade of friendship began to wither because of Bryan ‘s opposition to Hitchcock’s desire to become a United States senator.

When Monroe Leland Hayward , Nebraska ‘s junior senator, died on December 5, 1899, the appointment of his successor fell to the Populist governor, William A. Poynter, who asked Bryan’s advice. Bryan said that “good faith” required the appointment of ex-Senator William V. Allen, Populist, and that the two other leading aspirants, Hitchcock and William H. Thompson, both Democrats, would be rewarded “if we win the presidential contest.” Hitchcock, who had been defeated as a Democratic-Populist fusionist candidate for Congress in 1898, became incensed and wired Bryan that ” If you insist on sacrificing me we part company forever.” He felt that Bryan’s saying that “good faith demands the appointment of Allen” branded him as unfaithful and nullified his influence for the future, and the “sting of ingratitude” letter he published upon the appointment of Allen marked a break in his friendship with Bryan which did not heal. Soon he was leading one Nebraska Democratic faction and Bryan another.

A situation similar to that of 1899 developed in 1900 when both Bryan and Allen strenuously fended off Republican redemption of the state. Republicans circulated the rumor that since Bryan’s chances of winning the Presidency were poor he would hedge by saving Nebraska in order to get himself elected to the Senate. The rumor jarred Hitchcock, who demanded that Bryan declare publicly that he would not accept the senatorship “under any circumstances.” Bryan obliged by stating that he would not even if defeated for the Presidency accept a senatorship ” under any circumstances.” Thereupon Hitchcock promised Bryan full support for the rest of the campaign.

Read the full article here.

William Jennings Bryan (right front) with Woodrow Wilson and the Wilson Cabinet.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The Woman on the White Horse

The Woman on the White Horse

The Silver Bugs of 1896

The Silver Bugs of 1896

Marker Monday: Japanese Balloon Bombs

Marker Monday: Japanese Balloon Bombs

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.