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William Jennings Bryan

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

For those restless Rock Islanders who might have felt cooped up after a long hard winter below the Mississippi River bluffs in March of 1907, Augustana College provided an antidote: a tour around the world with the Great Commoner, the Honorable William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan had been in Rock Island twice before during two losing Presidential campaigns, but this was a happier occasion. He and his family had just returned from a grand tour around the world, and he was here to report on how that world compared to America.

Augustana President Andreen introduced Bryan to a packed house at the Illinois Theater on the evening of March 27th. For those cooped-up Rock Islanders who might have been longing to see the seven wonders of the world, Bryan's message was comforting. "I left a pessimist," he told the crowd, "and I returned an optimist." Forget it; no place in the world could compare to the wonders of life here at home.

Bryan admitted that Stockholm, Sweden, was beautiful, Constantinople, amazing, the lakes of Ireland and Scotland haunting, and the Rhine and the Danube impressive, but why bother when America had the Columbia River and the Sierra Mountains?

When it came to culture, there was even less of a contest. Why, China may have invented printing two thousand years ago, but it took American journalists to make something out of it. Why? Because Confucius had the golden rule backwards: "Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you," Confucius said. That kind of negative thinking, Bryan told the crowd, "will make life a stagnant pool," while our Golden Rule makes life "a living spring." China had been at a standstill for two thousand years.

Other cultures had other limitations. Only in America were women really free. And the United States, Bryan concluded, "is doing more for humanity in a disinterested way than any other nation, past or present."

Rock Islanders were pleased to learn that they were cooped-up in the best coop in the world. It must have been especially comforting to the large Swedish population in Rock Island who may have longed to return to their roots. Like the rest of the world Bryan visited, Sweden was just another country to cross off your list.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.