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IN PUBLIC LIFE.
The young attorney prospered in his profession from the start, for he added to careful preparation all the energies and ambitions of youth, a cordial disposition, pleasing manners, and a most persuasive eloquence. He found at Jacksonville an attraction in the person of Miss Mary E. Baird, a young lady who had been a student in ■ the seminary there while he was attending college. He made her his wife, and the two lived happily at Jacksonville till the year 1887. Even before this date, Mr. Bryan had begun to indulge his rhetorical powers in the political discussions of his vicinity, and every one recognized in him a disputant of pre-eminent ability, considering his youth.
In the autumn of 1887, he went on a business trip to the State of Nebraska, and, while there, he became impressed with the greater opportunities, the newer and more rapidly developing West offered to a young man of his aspirations and qualifications. So, in the same year, he moved to the State, and settled at Lincoln, the Capital, where he opened a law office with Mr. Talbot, the firm name being Talbot & Bryan.
This move proved to be auspicious. It brought him a profitable clientage, and, at the same time, opened for him, almost as if by magic, a political career which, for speed and splendor, stands without parallel. In less than half a year after his advent in Lincoln, he entered on his first political effort as delegate to the Democratic State Convention, which met at Omaha, in May, 1888, to choose delegates to the National Convention at St. Louis. During an interlude in the proceedings, when something was needed to break monotony, some of his friends called on him for a speech, by way of advertisement. The call was sudden, and the opportunity was by no means a favorable one for forensic display, but the young orator made the most of the occasion. He soon awakened the tired and sleepy audience to a realizing sense of his magnetic powers, and, ere long, had it completely in his grasp. Devoting himself exclusively to the tariff, then, an allabsorbing issue with the Nebraska people, he brought the vast audience to its feet with responsive cheer after cheer. The strength of his logic and arguments, combined with his brilliancy and eloquence, was irresistible, and he, there and then, laid a firm foundation for a State reputation.
So commanding, indeed, were the talents of this remarkable young man, that the very next year he was offered the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant-Governor. This he declined, but he took an active part in the campaign, making in all more than fifty speeches.
Meantime J. Sterling Morton, at the election of 1888, had been defeated for Congress by his Republican opponent, W. J. Connell, by more than 3,000 majority, although the district, two years before, had given a Democratic Imajority of nearly 7,000. There was need of a new Moses, and the younger Democrats of the district decided that Bryan was the man to lead them.
When he was offered the Congressional nomination, in 1890, Connell being a candidate for re-election, Bryan said:
"Of course there is no show for an election, but I will make the race and do my best."
Only thirty years old at the time, he put all his might into the fight.
"I will advocate the Democratic principle of tariff reform on every stump in the district," he said, and he carried out his words. It was a herculean labor, for the district was made up of nine counties, and polled a total vote of more than 72,000.
The old-time politicians took no interest in the battle, as they looked upon it as lost at the outset, and they . were more than niggardly in furnishing the sinews of 'war. But the younger Democrats were more than zealous, and by their vigorous efforts fully made up for the lack of campaign funds.
Mr. Bryan was then, as now, a comparatively poor man, and his campaign expenses were limited to less than $400. But the greatest interest was aroused, and Mr. Bryan's tour became one long ovation. The Republicans had submitted a prohibition amendment to the State constitution, and the Democrats, in their platform, had declared against prohibition. Lincoln and Omaha, the largest cities in the State, were in the district, and, in them, the Republicans lost heavily on the temperance issue.
A striking feature of the campaign was the challenge issued by the Democratic Committee to Cornell to discuss the issues of the day in joint debate with Mr. Bryan. They did not really expect that Connell would be rash enough to accept, but hoped to make political capital out of his refusal. Connell, however, flattered by former successes in haranguing helpless juries, accepted the challenge.
Mr. Bryan then showed that he was not only his adversary's superior in oratory, but also his master in matters of fact. Thoroughly familiar with the subjects to be discussed, he was equipped with statistical and historical information, and was ever ready to meet the points of his opponent on economic as well as political grounds.
From the outset, his advantage was so marked that Connell's friends recommended him to find some excuse to draw out of the contest, but with more persistence than discretion, he refused to hearken to their advice, and when the votes were counted, it was found that he had been snowed under by a majority of nearly 7,000.
A winning so large as this, and accomplished so distinctly upon the issue of tariff-reform, made Mr. Bryan, when the House was organized, an eminently worthy man for recognition in the making up of the Ways and Means Committee, as a representative of the West. Although a new-comer in Congress, he was appointed without protest on the part of any one. The wisdom of Speaker Crisp's judgment was shown when Mr. Bryan made his first speech. It was a brilliant plea for tariffreform, and made the biggest hit of the debate.
The House was in confusion when he began speaking, but, in five minutes, every Democratic leader sat about him, listening intently. The Republicans soon paid the young orator the same compliment, the galleries began to fill up, and the crowd remained until he had finished.
Some of the Republicans sought to take advantage of his inexperience by interrupting him with questions that might have puzzled much older heads. But Mr. Bryan brightened under this friction, and forced one Republican after another into his seat, all of them finding the young Nebraskan more than their match. He argued his case with a dramatic directness that aroused not only the enthusiasm of the Democrats, but won the applause of the galleries.
He won his first cheers by a characteristic piece of wit.
"There was once a time in the history of Nebraska," he said, "when there was a sheep there for every person in the St;ite. But now, if every woman in Nebraska named Mary wanted a pet lamb, she would have to go out of the State to get it."
The peroration of that speech is worth quoting, for it shows tersely the stand Mr. Bryan has taken on the tariff question all through his public career. It is as follows:
"The country has nothing to fear from the Democratic policy upon the tariff question. It means a more equal distribution of the great advantages of this country. It means that the men who produce the wealth shall retain a larger share of it. It means that enterprise shall be employed in natural and profitable industries, not in unnatural and unsuitable industries. It means more constant employment for labor and better pay. It means the 'maximum of product for the minimum of toil.' It means commerce with other countries and ships to carry on that commerce. It means prosperity everywhere and not by piecemeal.
"It is for this reason that young men of this country are coming to the Democratic party, as Mr. Clarkson, that high Republican authority, declared. It is because we are right, and right will triumph. The day will come, and that soon, I trust, when wiser economic policies will prevail than those to which the Republican party is wedded; when the laws in this country will be made for all and not for a few; when those who annually congregate about this capital, seeking to use the taxing power