Republicans and the Bible

In the 1890, the majority of Americans were familiar with stories from the Old and New Testament, upon which many cartoonists drew. William Jennings Bryan was famous for his use of Christian religious imagery, including the "cross of gold" metaphor used in his famous convention speech. But Biblical images and stories--such as that of Sampson and Delilah--were equally prominent among Republicans. Many Eastern ministers exhorted their congregations to vote for McKinley; throughout the campaign, Bryan supporters argued that such ministers were violating the division of church and state set down in the U.S. Constitution.
Among the ministers who spoke for McKinley was
Reverend Thomas Dixon, a North Carolinian who had become pastor of the Twenty-third Street Baptist Church in New York. The Raleigh News and Observer commented on his Republican stance. On September 6, Dixon preached on "The Political Crisis," denouncing Bryan and the Chicago platform. According to the New York Times report on September 7, Dixon said 'that it was the duty of every patriotic citizen to support the Republican ticket, .... and that the election of Mr. Bryan would bring about civil war and 3,000,000 men would be thrown out of employment.' Some members of the congregation reportedly hissed or walked out, while many others applauded.

Dixon went on to become the author of The Clansman, a bestseller celebrating the Ku Klux Klan as a force for order and honor during Reconstruction. (This text, and more information about Dixon, are available online at the University of North Carolina website Documenting the American South.) In 1915, D. W. Griffith turned The Clansman into the famous (and notorious) film Birth of a Nation, whose depiction of heroic Klansman and brutal blacks prompted nationwide protests by civil rights groups, including the NAACP.

*** Thanks to Pam Epstein, Vassar '99, for her help with this page. ***

Opening Prayer of the GOP Convention
All merciful and most gracious Father, fountain of light and life. We seek Thy presence and implore Thy guidance in the toils and tasks of our earthly being. . . . Hearken unto Thy servants, the bondmen of freedom, and pour out on them who have come to do Thy bidding in the service of truth and honor, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Make righteousness the girdle of their loins and faithfullness the girdle of their hips, so that they may manfully discharge the sacred duties of their gathering, to further the well being of the people, and to safeguard the honor and integrity of the nation. O, kindle anew in the hearts of our generation the altar flam of devotion to the high aims that inspired the minds of the founders of our republic, and above all illumined and immortalized the life of the Father of his Country. . . . Prosper Thou the work of this council, convened in the cause of the people, and when its message goes forth over the land, may its golden ring bring to them the glad assurance that prosperity will brighten out homes, and the immediate jewel of our soul, the good name of our people, and the credit of our government shall remain untarnished forvere. May Thy grace, O God, come upon usm and do thou establish the work of our hands! Amen! --Rabbi Samuel Sale of St. Louis, from Official Proceedings of the Republican National Convention of 1896


The Sound Money Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, of this city, has received the following from a permanent cotton firm in Pine Bluff, Ark.:
"The nomination of Mr. Bryan fell flat among silver men in this part of the State: Mr. Bland was their ideal, and they looked upon his nomination as the crowning glory of their anticipations. Some speak of Mr. Bryan as the boy orator of Nebraska, while others say that he is undoubtedly the Moses to lead them out of this sin-cursed land of goldbugs through the Red Sea of trouble, across the wilderness of trains, over the Jordan of depression and into the land of free silver, unlimited, unrestricted, 16 to 1. This sounds pleasing to the ear, but history tells of only two of the first great crowds that started from Egypt to Canaan who reached there, and Moses was not among them."
--New York Tribune, July 18, 1896

Ministers Agree that This is a Contest for Supremacy of the Eighth Amendment.

It was a great day, a red-hot day, for politics in the pulpit. A score of religious teachers took up the theme of Bryan and his platform and scored them in most unmeasured language.
... At the First Baptist Church, Boulevard and Seventy ninth street, the Rev. I. M. Haldeman preached yesterday on subjects suggested by the present political situation:
... "As gold is the world's standard, as it is the symbol in the word of God of the divine character and the standard for that which is good and pure and clean universally: as it is the medium in which we have pledged our commercial obligations to one another and to other nations; then for the nation to set aside the supremacy of the better metal, to attempt to raise all silver into equality when God Himself has drawn the line--would be to dilute virtue, minimize honesty, and lacerate every hope of righteousness for which this country might stand."
... Rev. John L. Campbell, in the Lexington Avenue Baptist Church last night took as his text, "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight." Proverbs, xi., 1
... Rev. Dr. William Lloyd, of the Central Congregational Church, Fifty-seventh street, near Eighth avenue, preached last night on "National Righteousness Essential to National Prosperity."
"The Bible," said Dr. Lloyd, "contains the soundest principle of political economy which has ever been written. The Ten Commandments are at the root of all national greatness.... Mr. Bryan is very fond of quoting Scripture; so was Richard III. He is not always fortunate, however, in his choice of Scriptural illustrations.
When he compares all who favor the maintenance of a gold standard of value to Demetrius crying 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians' he forgets that Demetrius was a silverite and raised the mob because he feared that the metal in which he was dealing would cease to pass muster....
Mr. Bryan says that between Dives and Lazarus, he will cast his lot with Lazarus. But if Lazarus had tried to better his condition by robbing Dives of 50 per cent of his property I question if any angel would have carried him into Abraham's bosom. This present issue is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of patriotism versus demagogism, of Americanism versus Socialism and Anarchism, and honor versus dishonor. Can we leap into prosperity by unrighteousness? Not if there is any truth in the Bible."
--New York World, 21 September 1896

[Rev. Haldeman]

REV. I. HALDEMAN. "A nation or a people can no more set aside a law of the country and of responsibility in the affirs of the world than an individual can set aside the laws of society."
New York World
, 20 September, 1896

Cartoons on the Bible

(see also Bryan and Religion)

12 September, Ram's Horn
20 September, L.A. Times
25 September, Inter-Ocean
4 October, Raleigh News and Observer
20 October, L.A. Times
22 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Biblical Cartoon References

Jonah and the Whale
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.
. . . .And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
. . . . Then they said to him, "What she we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?" For the sea grew more and more tempetuous. He said to them, "Take me up and throw me into the sea, then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."
. . . . And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was inthe belly of the fish three days and three nights.
--Jonah 1:4-17

Sampson and Delilah
After this [Samson] loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, "Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, and we may bind him to subdue hum; and we will give you eleven hindred pieces of silver." And Delilah said to Samson, "Please tell me wherein your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you."
. . . . And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day and urged hum, his souls was vexed to death. And he told her all his mind, and said to her, "A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I be shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."
When Delilah saw that he had told her all his mind, she sent and called the lords of the Phillistines, saying, "Come up this once, for he has told me all his mind." . . . . She made him sleep upon her knees; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. . . . And this philistines siezed him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with bronze fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison.
--Judges 16:4-21

The Rev. "Dr." M'Chesney Makes Some Important Suggestions
To the Editor of the Tribune: ...It is to be feared that some of the preachers of our country have been caught in the meshes of Socialism. There has been altogether too muhc incoherent talk about "Christian Socialism," and in one way or another too much currency has been given to the notion that our existing social and political institutions are justly chargeable with the poverty and ignorance and crime that burden society. Far greater anxiety is shown by some to regenerate society in some wholesale manner than to regenerate the individuals who compose society. It should not surprise any one to find preachers of that kind taking up the silver fad. Its sham pretensions to being a movement of the masses against the moneyed class, and its utter failure to show how it will be able to fulfil its foggy promises of great prosperity for the people, make this the very fad for such preachers.

But well might they stop and inspect their company. They are keeping step with fanatics and Anarchists and the dangerous classes of society generally. It is to be believed that such preachers are not numerous. Probably the fact that this question was precipitated upon the country at the beginning of the vacation season, when large numbers of the preachers are absent from their pulpits, fully explains why many of them are still to be heard from. The only thing that should be expected is that they preachers of this country generally should utter the voice of the Church against this stupendous folly and proposed wrong. But this silver craze should be hit as soon and as hard as possible. We should keep on hitting it till it has disappeared forever. This preaching of honesty should not be left chiefly to the secular newspapers.

That the silver crusade in many parts of the country has attempted to invest itself with the sanctity of religion is one of the most serious symptoms of the times.

That the "Boy Orator" should be hailed as "a new Messiah" that it should be declared, with reference to this popular madness, that "this country has witnessed a new Pentecost and received a new baptism of fire," is enough to shock all who have any vestige of true reverence. But it should also awaken reflection. We must have in what is called Christianity in this country less emotionalism and sensationalism, and more of intelligence and true conscientiousness. The Church papers, as well as the pulpits, have a work set before them. To do the work that is now so urgent may give some offence and cost some subscriptions. But we must not be permitted to fancy that for any such reason the utterances that are needed will be postponed....

Ensign M'Chesney, White Plains, N.Y.
--New York Tribune, August 28, 1896


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College