Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

Irving Ramsay Wiles (American, 1861-1948)
United States: New York: New York City
North American
oil on canvas
Overall: 59 1/4 in x 39 1/2 in; 150.495 cm x 100.33 cm
This portrait of William Jennings Bryan, which was painted from life in New York City in November 1916, was purchased by the Department of State from Mr. Wiles on March 10, 1917 with additional funding provided by Mr. Bryan.
Signed "Irving R. Wiles 1917"
Credit Line
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number


William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) was born in Salem, Illinois. He graduated from Illinois College and Union College of Law (now Northwestern University) and practiced law in Illinois prior to moving to Lincoln, Nebraska. Bryan won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1890 and served two terms, promoting Populist causes such as the free coinage of silver, national income tax, and direct election of senators. He returned to Nebraska and edited the Omaha World-Herald. In the 1896 presidential race, Bryan secured both the Populist Party and the Democratic Party nomination but lost the election to the Republican candidate, William McKinley. It was at the Democratic National Convention that he delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, attacking East Coast monied interests. The Democratic Party nominated Bryan again as its candidate for president in 1900 and 1908, but he lost both elections. Following the 1912 election, President Woodrow Wilson selected Bryan as his secretary of state.

Bryan’s major accomplishment as secretary was his negotiation of peace treaties that pledged the 30 signatories to refrain from hostilities during arbitration of disputes. He also negotiated the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty in 1914 (ratified in 1916) that permitted the United States to construct a canal across Nicaragua and secured rights to build naval bases in the region. Following the outbreak of World War I, Bryan hoped to negotiate a peace settlement but his position on the rights of neutrals placed him at odds with President Wilson, who did not at first recognize that submarine warfare—especially the German practice of attacking without warning—would make it impossible to protect U.S. citizens traveling in a war zone. When a German submarine sank the British passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915, killing 128 U.S. citizens, Wilson sent a strongly worded protest to the German government. But his refusal to warn Americans not to travel on British ships caused Bryan to resign.

Following his resignation, Bryan remained active in politics, advocating for the eight-hour day, minimum wage, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition. Famously, in 1925 he defended the Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution in the trial of John Scopes. Scopes was convicted under the law, and Bryan died suddenly, five days later.