Electing the President, 1896

Edward Ranson on the house race that split and defined a fin-de-siecle US.


William McKinley, the Republican candidate, achieved a clear victory, though not a landslide, receiving 7,102,246 votes (51 per cent) to the 6,492,559 (46 per cent) cast for William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic standard-bearer, minor candidates sharing the remaining 3 per cent. Although McKinley carried only twenty-three states to Bryan's twenty-two he won in the electoral college 271-176 because his appeal was greatest in the most populous areas of the country; the demographic and economic trends of the 1890s were in the Republicans' favour. Urban and industrial America, the backbone of McKinley's support, was growing, and Bryan failed to attract the working classes in these areas. On the other hand, rural and agrarian America, the natural constituency of Bryan and the Democrats, was losing its economic and political influence.

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