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The Elections of 1896 and 1900 Key Events Maps Transcript Webography

What can you discover in the geographical patterns that emerged in the elections of 1896 and 1900?


1896 and 1900 saw the same presidential candidates, Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan, but different campaign issues.

Compare the party strengths of Republicans and Democrats by state and region in these two presidential and congressional elections. What similarities do you see in the patterns of presidential and congressional preference? How much did regional patterns change between the two elections?

The Election of 1896
The election of 1896, according to Cleveland mayor Tom Johnson, was "the first great struggle of the masses in our country against the privileged classes." Currency was the key national issue. Democrats and Populists favored coinage of silver to gold at a ratio of 16 to 1, which would be a boon to western states where silver mining was an important industry.

Republicans supported high tariffs to help American industry and favored the gold standard as the basis of the U. S. monetary system. "Silver Republicans" in the West bolted their party over the silver issue and supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president. Democrats who opposed the coinage of silver, especially in eastern states, nominated their own presidential candidate, John M. Palmer of Illinois, and called themselves "Gold Democrats."

The Populist Party, which had been growing in strength in the West, suddenly found that William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats had taken most of their issues. The Populists ended up supporting Bryan for president. Republican William McKinley was lambasted by Democrats as a tool of big capitalists. Democrat-Populist Bryan was attacked by Republicans as a radical and a socialist.

The Presidential Election of 1896
McKinley won the election with 51% of the popular vote as opposed to Bryan's 47%. In the Electoral Vote, McKinley won 23 states to Bryan's 22. But McKinley won the most populated industrial states of the East and North, while Bryan was strong in the South and West. The Electoral Vote was 271 for McKinley and 176 for Bryan.

Map of the Presidential Election of 1896

The Congressional Election of 1896
In 1896, Republicans continued their majority, but Democrats and two minor parties gained representation in the House. Republicans lost 40 seats, from 244 to 204 of 357. Democrats increased from 105 to 113. But a surprising 40 seats were won by neither of the major parties: 22 Populists, one Silver Party, and 17 others who generally sided with the Democrats or the Populists.

Map of the Congressional Election of 1896


The Election of 1900
The election of 1900 was a rematch of the two major party candidates, Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan. The silver coinage issue, which had dominated the election four years earlier, was pushed to the background by new discoveries of gold in Alaska that eased the monetary crisis of the 1890s. Bryan insisted that the silver issue remain in the Democratic platform in 1900, which it did, but the issue was not as important as it was four years earlier.

McKinley's first term had seen the nation emerge from the depression of the 1890s into a state of prosperity. McKinley's campaign called for four more years of the "Full Dinner Pail," a reference to the prosperity of the nation in 1900.

William Jennings Bryan attacked McKinley and the Republicans as imperialist in their acquisition of new territory, including the Philippine Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as a result of the Spanish American War. Bryan wanted to see the former Spanish colonies, especially the Philippines, become independent nations rather than territories of the United States.

The Presidential Election of 1900
Republican McKinley won by a larger margin than he had four years earlier, garnering 52% of the popular vote to Democrat Bryan's 46%. In the electoral vote McKinley won 28 states to Bryan's 17.

The forces of American capitalism and American territorial expansion triumphed.

Map of the Presidential Election of 1900

The Congressional Election of 1900
In the House, Republicans benefited from President McKinley's good showing and gained 12 seats to bring their majority over the previous Congress to 197 of 257 seats. Democrats won 131 seats, and 9 seats were won by other parties, including 5 for the Populists, who were fading as an important third party movement in the United States.

Map of the Congressional Election of 1900


More about the Presidential Elections
In 1896 and 1900 there were 45 states in the United States.

The winner in a presidential election is the candidate who gets the most votes in the Electoral College, a count that is weighted according to the total number of Congressional representatives and senators from each state. Generally, the victor of the popular vote from each state gets the entire electoral count, but the electors can split their vote according to local results.

More about the Congressional Elections
In 1896 and 1900 there were 45 states in the United States.

Members of the House are elected from congressional districts within each state. There were 357 districts in Congress in the elections of 1896 and 1900 (Today there are 435 Congressional districts).

Note: Each state has two senators. In the elections of 1896 and 1900, senators were elected by the state legislatures. Direct election of senators by the voters in each state did not begin until after the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913.


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