The last presidential campaign of the nineteenth century was remarkable in a number of ways.
·It marked the beginning of the use of the news media in a modern manner.
·It saw the Democratic Party shift toward the more liberal position it occupies today.
·It established much of what we now consider the Republican coalition: Northeastern, conservative, pro-business.
It was also notable for the rhetorical differences of its two candidates. In what is often thought of as a single-issue campaign, William Jennings Bryan delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech but lost the election. Meanwhile, William McKinley addressed a range of topics in more than three hundred speeches—without ever leaving his front porch.
The campaign of 1896 gave the public one of the most dramatic and interesting battles of political oratory in American history, even though, ironically, its issues faded quickly into insignificance after the election.
In From the Front Porch to the Front Page, author William D. Harpine traces the campaign month-by-month to show the development of Bryan’s rhetoric and the stability of McKinley’s. He contrasts the divisive oratory Bryan employed to whip up fervor (perhaps explaining the 80 percent turnout in the election) with the lower-keyed unifying strategy McKinley adopted and with McKinley’s astute privileging of rhetorical siting over actual rhetoric.
Beyond adding depth and detail to the scholarly understanding of the 1896 presidential campaign itself (and especially the “Cross of Gold” speech), this book casts light on the importance of historical perspective in understanding rhetorical efforts in politics.
About the author
William D. Harpine is a professor of communication at the University of Akron. The author of articles in a number of scholarly journals, he has concentrated on the 1896 election for several years. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.
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