On July 17, 2008, Jim Potter -- senior historian at the Nebraska State Historical Society -- delivered a talk, "Running for President in 1908: William Jennings Bryan vs. William Howard Taft." William Jennings Bryans biographers and other scholars credit him with a leading role in transforming the Democratic Party from a conservative states rights party that believed in minimalist government to one that advocated social, political, and economic reform. Bryan was committed to popular democracy, but as time went on he became convinced that for democracy to work, government intervention was necessary to curb the excesses of an industrial market economy. Free coinage of silver was his major issue during his first campaign in 1896. Well before 1908, Bryan had dropped the money question and promoted a progressive agenda that included direct election of U.S. senators, guarantee of bank deposits, an income tax, regulation of corporations and railroads, womans suffrage, and fair labor laws. He lived to see most of these reforms enacted.
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