In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout reviewed the intriguing new CD Debate '08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph, a collection of 22 speeches recorded in 1908 by presidential candidates William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. As Teachout notes,
Bryan and Taft were the first political candidates to make commercially recorded campaign speeches on their own behalf, and the records they made were frequently played in alternation at public meetings in order to create the illusion of an actual debate. One enterprising nickelodeon operator in New York City even set up wax dummies of the candidates standing behind a pair of flag-draped podiums that flanked the door to his store.
There's also this bit of timeliness:
Most of what they have to say is now of purely academic interest, though once in a while their comments make you sit up and take notice. It's startling, for instance, to hear Taft, who at the time was Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, state unapologetically that "Christianity and the spread of Christianity are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government," or to listen to Bryan, the Great Commoner, castigate the evils of American imperialism: "Instead of profit it has brought loss. Instead of strength it has brought weakness. Instead of glory it has brought humiliation. It has more than doubled our standing army, and there is talk of further increase."
Read the rest here, complete with audio clips from both candidates.