William Jennings Bryan at Glens Falls in 1921

Orator William Jennings Bryan spoke at Glens Falls, as he turned from politics to stumping for Christian Fundamentalist theology in 1921, a four-year crusade that would culminate in his role at prosecutor at the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Teaching of evolution and atheism at colleges was threatening the “mainspring” of Christianity, Bryan, in a speech at Glens Falls armory on Oct. 30, 1921.

“When the mainspring is broken a watch ceases to be useful as a timekeeper. A handsome case may make it still an ornament and the parts may have a market value, but it cannot prove the purpose of the watch,” Bryan said, speaking at the Sunday afternoon session of the three-day Baraca-Philathea state convention.

Baraca-Philathea was a Protestant Bible study movement that began in the late 19th century.

Baraca means happy, and Philathea means lovers of truth.

A capacity crowd of about 2,000 packed the armory to listen to Bryan, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1896, 1900, and 1908, and Secretary of State in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet.

Hundreds waiting outside could not get into Bryan’s speech, so he spoke again at the evening session.

“Mr. Bryan, perhaps the greatest orator on the American platform today, gave an address speaking with wit and humor at times only to have this vein of thought change quickly into one of denunciation of theories advanced against the Holy Bible that man is a descendant of man,” The Post-Star reported the next day.

Bryan disputed Darwin’s theory of evolution point by point.

“The hypothesis to which the name of Darwin has been given — the hypothesis that links man to the lower forms of life and makes him a lineal descendant of the brute — is obscuring God and weakening all the virtues that rest upon the religious tie between God and man.”

Bryan said science has a place, but not when it contradicts fundamental theology.

“Science, as well as the Sabbath, was made for man,” he said. “It is better to trust in the Rock of Ages than to know the age of the rocks. It is better for one to know that he is close to the Heavenly father than to know how far the stars in the heavens are apart.”

In an interview with a Post-Star reporter, Bryan predicted enforcement of Prohibition would be stepped up.

“Mr. Bryan predicted that the time will come that the United States will say in effect to Canada that practices which tend to aid ‘boot leggers’ in securing and bringing spiritous liquors into this country is considered an unfriendly act.”

While at Glens Falls, Bryan, a Democrat, was a guest at the home of Addison B. Colvin, former publisher of The Glens Falls Times and a Republican political leader.


Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY

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Maury Thompson

Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY