Friday, November 03, 2006

The agrarian apogee of William Jennings Bryan

The Nebraska Cornhuskers do play other sports besides football
Agricultural Law and the Jurisdynamics Network send greetings from Lincoln, home of the mighty Cornhuskers, Anthony Schutz, and the University of Nebraska's reconsideration of the modern legacy of William Jennings Bryan.

Cross of Gold speechThe Great Commoner did many things in a public career that galvanized American politics and culture. Although contemporary culture may associate Bryan most readily with the Scopes trial of 1925, he would merit a place in American history -- and in the annals of rhetoric -- if he had done nothing besides address the Democratic National Convention on July 9, 1896.

For readers of Agricultural Law, perhaps no passage in the Cross of Gold speech echoes across the decades as Bryan's homage to agrarian supremacy:
You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
Great rhetoric, no doubt. But how did this passage from the Cross of Gold speech fare as prophecy? American demographic trends since 1896 have whittled the rural population to historic lows. The farm population in particular seems unlikely ever again to rise above 2 percent. We have, in any meaningful sense, "destroy[ed] our farms."

The question is whether grass is consequently "grow[ing] in the streets of every city in the country."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not necessarily a Wm Jennings Bryan point, although it does involve a politician. In light of Ms. Dutcher's unfortunate gaffe on E-85, I was wondering what any of you in the ag law field might have to say about the viability of E-85 as a wise alternative to regular gas. I've heard arguments both ways, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on whether ethanol is just an in with midwestern corn farmers or if it has the potential to really affect our dependence on foreign oil.

11/03/2006 10:43 AM  
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