William Jennings BRYAN was born in this home on the 19th of March, 1860, in Salem, Marion County, Illinois. He was born to the Hon. Silas Lillard BRYAN and wife Mariah Elizabeth JENNINGS BRYAN.
Billy, as he was called then, was born to one of the prominent citizens of Salem. His father had been born in Culpeper County, Virginia on the 4th of November, 1842, the son of John and Nancy (LILLARD) BRYAN. John was the son of William BRYAN, immigrant from Ireland of Scott-Irish and English descent. Nancy was from an old American family of British descent. Silas was a graduate of McKendree College in Lebanon (the oldest college in Illinois); had been elected Supt. of Marion County Schools in 1850; was admitted to the bar in 1851; elected Illinois State Senator as a democrat in 1852 and re-elected in 1856. The year following Willie's birth, his father became Judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit, re-elected in 1867 and holding that position through 1873. His father was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1869. Willie's mother was born the 24th of May 1834 in Walnut Hill, Marion County, Illinois, daughter of Charles W. and Maria JENNINGS. Silas died in 1880 and Mariah in 1896. They are buried in East Lawn Cemetery in Salem, Illinois.
By the time Billy had reached the age of six, he had three ambitions: a Baptist minister; a pumpkin farmer; a lawyer. He would attain the last one. He would go to the court and sit on the step listening to his father conduct trials.
Billy was taught by his mother until he reached the age of 10. He attended the Salem Academy that was located at 531 North College in Salem, Illinois. One of his favorite teachers was Mary Rand (PUTNAM) LEMEN, the wife of Rev. Benjamin F. LEMEN, who were friends of Abramham LINCOLN. Mary was the founder of the academy. She had also been one of the founders of McKendree College. The Salem Academy was destroyed by a tornado and never re-built. The Salem Armory and National Guard is now located there.
As Billy's father prospered and his family grew, he built a new home on the northwest edge of Salem. (See photo following) This was the house Billy grew up in. Unfortunately, the house burned down. There is a beautiful new home in the same location today, at the end of Bryan Lane, off of North Franklin. The circle drive in front of the house is made of brick from the original Bryan Home.
And again in 1900, Bryan was the Democratic choice for president and again he was defeated by President William McKINLEY. In 1908, Bryan was chosen once again by the Democratic party as their candidate for president. He was defeated by Republican, William Howard TAFT
In 1898, Bryan became a Colonel of the Third Nebraska Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish American War, after volunteering his services to President William McKINLEY. After the war ended, Bryan resigned his commission.
In 1901, established his own newspaper, The Commoner, from which he furthered his political views.
In 1912, after Bryan had worked to get Woodrow WILSON as President of the United States, President WILSON appointed Bryan Secretary of State. Bryan negotiated treaties with 30 countries. Bryan resigned as Secretary of State in June 1915 in protest to President WILSON's actions concerning the German sinking of the Lusitania.
In 1925, Bryan became the prosecuting attorney at the "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee. John Thomas SCOPES was hired to teach evolution in the school at Dayton, knowing that there would bring national attention to Dayton. It just so happened that Bryan was the keynote speaker at Scopes' high school graduation in Salem, Illinois in 1919. Bryan told Scopes that he would pay the fine if he were found guilty. The behind the scenes were not much like what the media made it out to be. Bryan's son, William Jennings BRYAN, Jr. and Scopes would go out and swim every day after the trial. Clarence DARROW was the defence attorney. He tried his best to make Bryan look foolish, with no luck, unlike what the movie about the trial showed. Bryan was a good attorney and also was quite funny. The people attending the trial loved him. Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100.00.
On Sunday the 26th of July, 1925, only five days following the trial, William Jennings BRYAN died during an afternoon nap at the age of 65. He was still in Dayton, Tennessee.