Bryan's first Presidential campaign occurred in 1896, when he ran as the candidate of both the Democratic Party and the nascent Populist or People's Party-arguably the most significant third party movement in American history. Despite his support for Populist reforms that were popular among farmers, Bryan was defeated by the Republican candidate William McKinley. While Bryan advocated inflationary measures that would benefit farmers and others who struggled with mortgage payments, McKinley claimed that moving America away from the gold standard would spell disaster for businesses.
Bryan helped secure Woodrow Wilson as the democratic nominee in 1912 and was subsequently appointed Secretary of State in 1913 and served in that position until 1915. Bryan is also well known for his role in the famous Scopes Trial. The state of Tennessee asked him to prosecute teacher William Scopes for teaching evolution in school. The trial quickly became a debate over evolution. Bryan's client won the case, however, the proceedings hurt Bryan's reputation and he passed away five days later.