September 30, 1992|By Theo Lippman Jr.

This is the 52nd presidential election.

The 28th was held in 1896. The Republicans were relatively united and nominated Gov. William McKinley of Ohio on the first ballot. While in Congress, he had drafted the highly protectionist tariff of 1890. This had hurt consumers and was an issue in the campaign, but was subordinated to the fight over the currency. McKinley and the Republicans favored a hard, gold-backed dollar; the Democrats, especially Westerners and laborers, favored easy money based on silver.

The issue was dramatized by the fiery oratory of a little known 36-year-old Nebraskan, William Jennings Bryan, at the convention. On the strength of his speech in the platform debate -- in which he uttered the since oft-quoted line: ''You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!'' -- he was swept to the nomination. He also swept the nation on an unprecedented campaign speaking tour.

McKinley stayed home and met thousands of supporters who came in well-organized, staged pilgrimages. This style was dubbed ''the front-porch campaign.'' He won by a comfortable margin.

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