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American Populism, 1876-1896 | Northern Illinois University Digital Library

American Populism, 1876-1896

by Charles Postel, San Francisco State University

Table of Contents

In the early 1890 s, a coalition social security calculator by age
farmers, laborers, và middle class activists founded an independent political buổi tiệc nhỏ named the People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party. This tiệc ngọt was the hàng hóa of a broad mạng xã hội movement that emerged in response lớn wrenching changes in the American economy & society .

Populist Origins – The Farmers’ Alliance

The People’s Party had roots in the organization of the nation’s farmers. Following the Civil War, American agriculture expanded rapidly into hot nhất terrain, opening mới ra cốt tông lands in the South, và hot nhất acreage for wheat và other grains across the Great Plains và beyond. From 1860 bự 1890, farmers opened up 421 million mới nhất acres phệ the plow, more than doubling the acreage of America’s farms, và the number of people working the land nearly tripled. The pace of agricultural expansion would not keep up with the tốc độ of industrial growth và, as with industry, farming went through cycles of boom & bust. Nonetheless, the hungry markets in the urban Northeast & Europe promised good opportunities in American agriculture. Farmers, however, were soon caught in the double bind of falling farm prices và heavy debt payments on their land và farm machinery. Farmers responded by building large-scale organizations phệ strengthen their hand in kinh doanh farm goods, và in lobbying government for more favorable terms of credit và trade .
More than any other organization, the National Farmers ‘ Alliance và Industrial Union laid the foundations of the Populist movement. Often referred béo as simply the Farmers ‘ Alliance, the organization began in the midst of a speculative land boom on the central Texas plains during the 1870 s & early 1880 s. Originally, it had worked Khủng attract mới ra settlers, Khủng bring in mới ra railroad lines, và lớn boost the value of farmland. But as the land boom turned lớn bust, the Farmers ‘ Alliance sought bự rescue distressed farmers through kinh doanh cooperatives, government regulation, và currency reform. In doing so sánh, it drew from the previous experience of the Patrons of Husbandry ( the Grange ), as well as the legacy of the Greenback-labor movement & the Knights of Labor .

Charles MacuneUnlike previous rural associations, however, the Farmers’ Alliance sought to organize from a strictly “business standpoint.” The architect of this policy was Dr. Charles Macune (at left), a Texas physician who believed that the cause of rural poverty lay in the farmers’ lack of organization. His message was that farmers had to employ the same professional and business methods that other commercial interests employed to gain political influence and bargaining strength in the national economy. As the national president of the Farmers’ Alliance Macune’s message resonated in rural districts across much of the country. By 1890, the Farmers’ Alliance claimed 1.2 million members in twenty-seven states. Farmers’ Alliance leaders such as Macune, Leonidas Polk of North Carolina, William Peffer of Kansas, and Marion Cannon of California, were prominent rural citizens, whereas most of the rank-and-file members were small landholding and poor farmers. What they shared in common was a vision of rural improvement.

Dr. Macune & the Farmers ‘ Alliance unfolded a series of bold plans. This included large-scale cooperative enterprises, such as the Texas Farmers ‘ Alliance Exchange, an effort Khủng pool the entire Texas cốt tông crop, eliminate the middlemen, & gain direct access bự Thành Phố New York, London, & other trading centers. The Alliance also pioneered efforts at building an effective farm lobby in politics. The Farmers ‘ Alliance worked with state legislatures, and Macune himself moved mập Washington, D.C., where he mix up an office Khủng direct the national lobbying efforts of the organization. The most innovative legislative proposal of the Farmers ‘ Alliance was known as the “ subtreasury, ” a federal system of warehousing crops & farm credits .
Besides the Farmers ‘ Alliance, several other organizations had similar names or similar purposes. The reform editor Milton George led the Chicago-based National Farmers ‘ Alliance, also known as the Northwestern or Northern Famers ‘ Alliance, with a following across the upper Midwest. Based in downstate Illinois, Herman Taubeneck’s Farmers ‘ Mutual Benefit Association also organized in several Midwestern states. In the South, African Americans organized the Colored Farmers ‘ Alliance. In Dr. Macune’s vision, farmers ‘ organizations, as with the other modern business enterprise of the day, should be strictly segregated by race, & accordingly the Farmers ‘ Alliance only allowed White members. The Colored Farmers ‘ Alliance had a trắng president và other officers, & despite having several hundred thousand members, suffered from a poverty of resources .
Never in history had rural Americans been so sánh organized or so sánh determined mập improve their position within the commercial & mạng xã hội order. Officially, the Farmers ‘ Alliance & similar groups were non-partisan & worked for reform through the existing parties. But when that policy failed, by the early 1890 s many farm reformers took the fateful step of building an independent, third các buổi party movement. The Populist Party rose on the shoulders of the Farmers ‘ Alliance và the organized power of American farmers .

The Populist Education Campaign

In today’s political language, the term populism is applied Khủng the politics of rage instead of reason, of the gut instead of the head, invoking images of pitchforks & torches brandished by an angry mob. But such images have little relation bự historical Populism. At the ground cấp độ, Populism was first & foremost a grass-roots movement of rural education. The Farmers ‘ Alliance adopted the Enlightenment watchword “ Knowledge Is Power. ” And in that spirit Populism built up a remarkable intellectual enterprise that brought hundreds of thousands of men và women into classrooms, lectures, và seminars. The People’s Party was known as a “ reading buổi tiệc nhỏ ” & a “ biên tập & talking tiệc ngọt. ” Through their schooling in the Populist movement, as the historian C. Vann Woodward put it, men & women at the lower rungs of society began “ béo think as well as lớn throb. ”
The Populists believed that education was the most effective means for closing the gap between poverty in the rural districts & middle-class prosperity in the towns. Education would put farming on a professional và business footing, & break the monopoly on “ business intelligence ” that gave corporate elites a commercial advantage. Education was also seen as essential for applying more scientific farming methods & modernizing rural life. Here it should be noted that we know today that the development of modern scientific agriculture, especially the advent of the tractor và combine, has resulted in driving tens of millions of farmers off the land. But late nineteenth century farm reformers did not have this hindsight, & hoped that mới nhất techniques would help agriculture keep pace with industry .
The key idea of the Populist educational chiến dịch was empowerment. Farmers và other ordinary citizens needed bự gain mastery of how the machinery of modern society worked, because only then would they have the power Khủng move the levers of that machinery so sánh that it better served their needs. Toward that over, the Farmers ‘ Alliance undertook bự transform itself into “ the most powerful và complete educator of modern times. ” It built up a national chiến dịch for adult education. This included extensive lecturing circuits, a national network of hundreds of reform newspapers, large quantities of inexpensive books và pamphlets, lending libraries, & book clubs. The local neighborhood suballiances that met in rural lodges & schoolhouses provided classroom instruction in a broad array of topics. History, literature, agricultural technique, và the latest discoveries in the natural sciences were educational staples. But more than any other topic the focus was on the study of political economy : commerce và regulation, taxes & policy, và especially financial và monetary systems. As the members of one Texas suballiance explained, the educational chiến dịch had inspired “ a general desire for information và almost universal effort at research. ”
Meanwhile, the Populist movement provided a powerful constituency for improving the public common schools. Many rural districts lacked proper schoolhouses, & had underpaid & untrained teachers. The crisis was especially acute in the rural South, where many children không bao giờ attended school, or only sporadically as dictated by the cycles of the cốt tông crop. The Farmers ‘ Alliance & the People’s Party provided much of the impulse for building up a modern school system in the rural districts of the former Confederate states. This was a racially segregated system, separate và unequal in resources, leaving illiteracy rates among African Americans in the South at end sixty percent. Even more than their Trắng counterparts, the members of the Colored Farmers ‘ Alliance devoted themselves mập improving the schools by pooling dues money phệ pay teachers ‘ salaries, fix school buildings, và extend the months of instruction .
As for higher education, from North Carolina Khủng California, Populism provided an effective lobby for setting up và expanding teachers ‘ colleges, agricultural colleges, và state universities. The Populist movement also pushed for rural extension services, farmers ‘ institutes, và state và federal funding for research & development Khủng serve the nation’s farmers .
Populist reform was driven by the idea that an educated & informed citizenry could refashion the institutions of modern society. With education, they believed, the citizens would understand how lớn purge government of corporate influence, regulate the railroads & banks in the public interest, fix a broken monetary & financial system, và make a more enlightened và just society. In all of their efforts, perhaps the Populists ‘ most telling success was their educational chiến dịch, which built up the public schools in rural districts & made higher education more accessible béo the sons và daughters of rural people .

Why Did So Many Women Join the Populist Cause?

Women joined the Populist movement in unprecedented numbers. By 1890, 250,000 women had enrolled in the Farmers ‘ Alliance, và many other women would later tư vấn the People’s Party. The novelist Hamlin Garland observed at the giây phút that “ no other movement in history ” had “ appealed Khủng the women ” as much as Populism did. But why did women choose Khủng join the Populist movement ? The partial answer is that women joined for the same reasons men joined ; they shared the work và the woes of the farm, và sought the same reforms Khủng relieve rural poverty. As a women lecturer for the Kansas Farmers ‘ Alliance put it, “ all things that are of interest bự men are of lượt thích interest béo women. ” But Populism also provided a means for women béo take steps towards independence, & lớn define và claim their rights as women .
The Farmers ‘ Alliance offered women the same membership rights that men enjoyed, including the right bự vote & stand for office within the organization. This stood in contrast phệ virtually every other major institution in American life. Notably, political parties barred women altogether, & the churches excluded women from being officers or serving in positions of authority. In practice, the Farmers ‘ Alliance did not fully live up Khủng its promise of equality between the sexes, as a woman was often viewed as the “ helpmeet ” of her husband, và relegated lớn providing refreshments at Alliance meetings. Nonetheless, women served as secretaries, treasurers, và other officers. Luna Kellie served as the secretary of the Nebraska Farmers ‘ Alliance, và Bettie Gay held a prominent place in the Texas Alliance. The Populists also recruited a remarkable nhóm of talented women as lecturers, writers, & newspaper editors. This included Marion Todd of Illinois và Annie Diggs of Kansas. Another Kansan, Mary Elizabeth Lease – who according Khủng reporters called on farmers phệ “ raise less corn & more hell ” – gained national prominence with her speeches before Farmers ‘ Alliance & People’s Party audiences .
Many women saw the Populist movement as a way bự thắng voting rights. At the state cấp độ, the Farmers ‘ Alliances in the Midwest và West supported women’s suffrage, & under Populist state governments women won the right Khủng vote in Colorado in 1893 & in Idaho in 1896. But some Populists, mainly in the South, objected lớn women entering politics & the national People’s Party refrained from endorsing a women’s suffrage plank .
Although they may have disagreed about women gaining the vote, Populist women shared much in common when it came béo discussing “ emancipating women ” from the harsh burdens of traditional farm life. Many women agreed that it was preferable Khủng work in the home page or the garden rather than doing heavy work under the sun in the cốt tông patch or cornfield. But the trang chính và garden needed phệ be better managed with modern methods và appliances béo break the drudgery of daily chores. Populist women were especially interested in acquiring the skills bự be teachers, dentists, photographers, accountants, telegraph operators, và other careers then opening up béo women. The bottom line was education. “ Educate your daughters that they may be independent, ” urged one Texas farmwoman .
The combination of education và economic independence would lead bự a “ better womanhood, ” the Populists believed, which in turn would lead phệ freer và therefore better choices in marriage & a more culturally elevated farm life. The latest discoveries in biology và evolutionary thinking also led béo speculations among Populist women about how better mothers would produce stronger và more intelligent children. Mary Elizabeth Lease was among those who saw women’s improvement as a matter of racial mạng xã hội engineering, protecting the “ gifted Trắng race ” from hereditary failure. By embracing such ideas, Populist women showed that their movement suffered from similar limitations as the urban & middle class women’s movement. Indeed, Populist women made up what might be best understood as the rural women’s movement, which had a profound impact on the making a more modern và equitable society .

Market Populism: Farmers and Cooperative Enterprise

The majority of farmers who supported the Populist cause owned small or middle-sized operations. They eked out a living by the sweat of their own brow và that of their family & perhaps that of several tenants or hired hands. That is why in historical memory, the Populist farmer is often perceived representing the little people in a nation increasingly dominated by great railroad, industrial, & banking enterprises. In many ways, they were indeed the Lilliputians confronting the corporate giants. But this has lead lớn the historical misconception that the Populists mainly wanted Khủng return bự a past of a small-scale, local, & decentralized institutions. In reality, far from rejecting centralization & giant economies of scale, Populist farmers embraced these principles for their own business purposes .
Farming in late nineteenth century America was a commercial business. Crops from cốt tông và wheat Khủng lima beans và citrus were sold on national & global markets. Farmers faced a two-fold dilemma : the prices of their crops steadily declined ; but their costs steadily grew, especially the price of credit phệ pay for land, machinery, & supplies. To escape this dilemma, Charles Macune believed that farming, lượt thích every other commercial interest, needed bự make use of the modern business methods of combination và advantages of kích thước. What worked for industry would also work for agriculture. As Nelson Dunning, a publicist for the Farmers ‘ Alliance, explained, “ nothing could withstand ” the power of the farmers if they “ would organize as intelligently & solidly as the Standard Oil Company has. ”
In previous decades farmers had experimented with cooperative stores, packing plants, cốt tông gins, và other businesses. But being small & local, farmers realized that such local cooperatives were incapable of countering the larger market forces buffeting the rural economy. In the 1880 s và 1890 s, farmers across the spectrum of American agriculture launched experiments in large-scale cooperative enterprise with the aim of controlling regional và national markets. Such efforts involved dairy farmers, fruit và vegetable growers, & cốt tông, wheat & other staple crop producers. Some of these experiments, such as those by Thành Phố New York state grape growers or Minnesota dairy farmers, had no particular connection béo Populism. But Populist reformers, including California raisin growers, southern Illinois wheat & corn farmers, Georgia & Florida fruit growers, và North Carolina vegetable producers also launched efforts at large-scale kinh doanh systems .
One of the most celebrated of these experiments was the Texas Farmers ‘ Alliance Exchange, which Charles Macune organized in 1887. The kế hoạch for the Exchange was mập establish an effective monopoly kết thúc the entire cốt tông crop in the state of Texas. Controlling và regulating all cốt tông sales would cut out dealers và middlemen, allowing the Dallas headquarters of the Exchange lớn negotiate higher prices with purchasers in Thành Phố New York, Liverpool, & London. The Exchange would make available bự farmers cheap credit và centralize purchasing of farm supplies. Everything a farmer in the state of Texas might need, from coffee và cook stoves, bự plows và harness, would be supplied from the same Dallas headquarters. No private corporation would match the Exchange in terms of economy of scale. Centralized & technically elaborate, the Exchange represented a giant system designed lớn lift Texas farmers out of poverty. =
The Texas Farmers ‘ Alliance Exchange failed. Almost all of the efforts Khủng control và regulate markets in cốt tông, wheat, or other staple crops succumbed lớn the pressures of global markets, & the hostility of merchants và bankers. Dairy farmers, citrus growers, và other specialty crop producers were more successful at establishing effective monopolies. Some of these cooperative monopolies we know today as pillars of agri-business : Land-O-Lakes, Sunkist, Sun-Maid, & Diamond Brand. But at the thời gian, the Populists viewed such cooperative systems as a Model for the future : combining modern technique, centralization, và economies of scale mập serve the kinh doanh và credit needs of large as well as many medium & even small farmers .

Populist Politics: The Business of Government

The Populist organizations such as the Farmers ‘ Alliance were avowedly non-political & above các buổi tiệc nhỏ politics. In practice this meant that they worked for reform by way of influencing the two major parties, the Democrats và the Republicans. However, by the early 1890 s many members of the Farmers ‘ Alliance & kindred groups came phệ the conclusion that the traditional parties were too attached béo corporate interests và the perks of political office mập be effective agents of reform. This led bự the “ industrial conferences ” held in Cincinnati, Ohio ( May 1891 ) và St. Louis, Missouri ( February 1892 ) that launched the mới ra People’s Party or Populist Party. The national People’s Party convention held in July 1892 in Omaha, Nebraska produced the Omaha Platform, the manifesto celebrated by the Populists as “ The Second Declaration of Independence. ”

Ignatius DonnelleyDrafted by the Minnesota reformer Ignatius Donnelly, the preamble of the Omaha platform echoed the original Declaration of Independence with its warning that American liberty was threatened. Corrupted by the corporations, banks, and trusts, government policy bred “the two great classes – tramps and millionaires.” The Omaha Platform was not only a cry of protest, as it was also a set of positive demands to make sure that the government would serve the needs of the farmer-labor majority. These demands amounted to an innovative and massive expansion of the role of government in the national economy.

The Populist platform called for the nationalization of the railroads, the telegraphs, và other “ natural monopolies. ” It demanded that the federal government stimulate the economy, raise farm prices, và relieve debt burdens by inflating the dollar with a policy of printing paper money & coining silver at the ration bự gold of 16 ounces Khủng one. It endorsed the subtreasury proposal of the Farmers ‘ Alliance that would provide federal loans at two percent interest on the crops that farmers stored in a national system of federal warehouses. To finance a more active federal government, và béo achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth, the platform also demanded the adoption of a federal income tax lớn be paid by the wealthiest Americans .
In the literature on the Populists one will see references béo Populist hostility béo the bureaucracy of big government. But this characterization makes little sense in regard lớn the original Populists of the 1890 s. At the giây phút, the federal government was quite small & the Populists wanted Khủng make it much bigger và more effective. They also had a highly favorable opinion of the one large federal bureaucracy of that era : the U.S. Post Office. As compared béo the abusive và arbitrary practices of the railroad và telegraph corporations, the Populists viewed the Post Office as the Model of efficient & equitable business practices. The expansion of government, they believed, should be on the same Mã Sản Phẩm. As the Omaha Platform stated : “ We believe that the power of government – in other words of the people – should be expanded ( as in the case of the postal service ) as rapidly và as far as the good sense of an intelligent people & the teaching of experience shall justify. ”
While demanding a larger role for government, the Populists also wanted cheap government. They believed that the people’s business should be conducted in the spirit of business efficiency. This meant purging the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists, & breaking the power of political bosses in state legislatures và đô thị và town councils. The Populists wanted mập bởi away with the personal và partisan politics of parties in favor of impersonal & business-like administration. The clean government proposals in the Omaha Platform included civil service laws, the direct election of senators, & the secret ballot, as well as direct legislation through the initiative & referendum. Populist education in “ the science of government ” would ensure that the vote rested in the hands of an informed citizenry .
The People’s Party had an encouraging start at the polls. In 1892, James B. Weaver of Iowa won kết thúc a million votes as the Populist candidate for president. Colorado, Kansas, và North Dakota elected Populist governors. The Populist blocs in California, North Carolina, và other states held the balance of power in the legislatures. This was the most promising third buổi tiệc ngọt movement since the rise of the Republican Party in the decade before the Civil War .
Yet the Populists remained far from gaining national power. To the extent that they appealed béo voters against partisan politics, they undercut their own ability lớn conduct political warfare. And everywhere the realities of the winner-take-all political system worked against the success of a third tiệc ngọt. In the Northeastern states, powerful Republican và Democratic machines effectively froze out a Populist challenge. Elsewhere, when the two traditional parties faced each other in competitive elections, one of the parties would adopt reforms attractive mập Populist-minded voters, again freezing out the third buổi tiệc ngọt. The People’s Party scored its major victories in Republican Western states & Democratic Southern states, where the Populists emerged as the reform opposition. But even then, whether in North Carolina or Kansas, Populist electoral victories were almost always the result of so-called “ fusion ” agreements with either the Democrats in the West or the Republicans in the South .
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a young congressman from Nebraska captured the Democratic nomination for the presidency on the platform of silver inflation & other reforms that rural voters wanted. Bryan’s nomination split the People’s Party, as some Populists wanted “ fusion ” with the Democratic ticket while “ middle of the road ” Populists wanted an independent People’s Party ticket. The electoral defeat of Bryan at the hands of the Republican William McKinley proved a mortal blow béo the People’s Party from which it không bao giờ recovered .

Populism and Race: Separate and Unequal

The People’s Party confronted a racial & sectional dilemma. The traumas of the Civil War, the Reconstruction experiments in bi-racial government in the former Confederate states, và the violent destruction of those experiments were fresh in memory. In the South, most White voters supported the Democratic Party of White supremacy, while most Black voters had little choice but Khủng vote for a Democratic candidate or a weak Republican opposition. The Populists had Khủng parlay Democratic charges that the third tiệc ngọt represented treason bự the trắng race. In much of the Midwest và West, farmers voted for Republicans, và the Populists had bự grapple with Republican accusations that they were a stalking horse for the Democratic Party of secession .
A common misunderstanding is that Populism responded phệ these challenges by efforts phệ unite poor đen và White farmers in a common cause. But the reality was more complex. The Farmers ‘ Alliance provided the foundation for the People’s Party, & enforcing segregation was a reform backed by the Alliance movement. Charles Macune và the other leaders of the Farmers ‘ Alliance argued that a whites only clause was an essential feature of a modern business organization. And as the Alliance expanded north và west it made segregation a principle of farm organization. At the same giây phút, the Farmers ‘ Alliance và the People’s Party appealed for reconciliation between the former Confederate và Union states on the basis of a common nationalism, including tư vấn for Trắng supremacy & Chinese exclusion .
In the South, the Farmers ‘ Alliance mobilized béo push legislators in several Southern states béo adopt Jim Crow laws segregating railroads và other public accommodations. The Colored Farmers ‘ Alliance was tolerated by the trắng Farmers ‘ Alliance, but only within the framework of strict segregation & inequality. That tolerance evaporated, however, when in the summer of 1891 Black cốt tông pickers attempted Khủng go on strike against White farm owners .
In the South, most of the leadership và membership of the People’s Party had come out of the Democratic Party. No less than the Democrats the Trắng Populists promised béo abide by the Trắng supremacist ideal that “ this is a trắng man’s country. ” At the same thời gian, as đen men continued béo vote into the 1890 s, both Democrats và Populists competed for African American votes. Both trắng Democrats & trắng Populists made election promises lớn African Americans of economic opportunity và other reforms. Black Populists, such as John B. Rayner of Texas, saw this as an opportunity bự press for increased school funding for Black children, placing blacks on juries, & other rights .
The emergence of Populism had split the Trắng vote, opening up a limited space for African Americans political mobilization. This was especially the case in North Carolina, where mainly đen Republicans made a political alliance with White Populists lớn turn out the Democrats from state offices. This was a chất lượng defeat for the Democratic Party in the post-Reconstruction South. In 1898, the Democrats mounted a violent “ Trắng supremacy chiến dịch ” that destroyed the Republican-Populist alliance. In the aftermath, White Democrats, most often with the tư vấn of trắng Populists, disfranchised Đen voters across the South by way of poll taxes, literacy tests, & whites-only primaries .
Finally, what of Populist attitudes towards Catholics, Jews, & other religious minorities ? Most Populists were born in the United States, spoke English, và read the Protestant Bible. Many of them supported prohibition of alcoholic beverages, a measure favored by many Protestants but opposed by many Irish, German, và other Catholic groups. The People’s Party tried Khủng avoid the pitfalls of such ethnic divisions. Despite the personal preferences of most of its members, it refused bự endorse prohibition laws so sánh as lớn not alienate Catholic voters .
In the main, the Populists had a similarly open policy towards the Jews as well. But there were exceptions. Populist literature, for example, occasionally employed the anti-Semitic stereotype of Shylock lớn stand in for the greedy banker. Of course, such stereotypes were widely employed in the United States during those years, và the academic & corporate elite often embraced a more virulent strand of anti-Semitism. As for the Populists, in all but rare cases their references mập Shylock were metaphorical & did not address actual Jews. Whereas they demanded segregated train cars for African Americans và the enforcement of exclusion laws against Chinese immigrants, the Populists sought no similar measures against the Jewish population. Indeed, generosity towards religious & ethnic minorities – at least those deemed lớn be Trắng – was more often than not a hallmark of Populist nationalism .

A Populist Confederation: Labor and Middle Class Reform

Unlike a traditional political các buổi party, the People’s Party was founded as a “ confederation ” of a wide array of reform organizations. The largest of these were the Farmers ‘ Alliance & other farm-based movements. But labor organizations also played a major part in the Populist coalition. So too did groups of middle class activists, including tax reform clubs, currency leagues, urban reform associations, và utopian societies. Labor và middle class tư vấn meant that, especially in the Midwest & West, Populism represented an urban-rural alliance .
The Knights of Labor was a prominent thành viên of the Populist coalition, although by the 1890 s it was no longer the powerful national organization that it was during the previous decade. The leadership of the American Federation of Labor was divided end whether or not mập tư vấn the mới nhất các buổi tiệc nhỏ, but several important unions within the AFL did tư vấn the Populists. This included John McBride’s United Mine Workers. Eugene V. Debs, president of the American Railway Union, was another prominent labor Populist. In much of the upper Midwest và in the Populist strongholds of the Rocky Mountain States, miners & railway employees formed the base of tư vấn for the People’s Party. Labor Populists supported public ownership of the railways và the expansion of government power in the economy for similar reasons farmer Populists did. They also had their own demands such as an eight-hour day law và the outlawing of the use of Pinkertons & other private security agencies in labor disputes .
In the fall of 1893, the nation’s economy slid into a deep depression. The next spring on the West Coast, unemployed workers banded together béo travel lớn Washington. They made common cause with the Ohio Populist Jacob Coxey who led a ” petition in boots ” – a march of the unemployed mập Washington seeking a federal program bự improve roads và mập stimulate the economy through dollar inflation. ” Coxey’s Army ” as it was known, along with a strike wave in the nation’s coal mines, followed by the 1894 boycott by Eugene Debs & the American Railway Union of Pullman cars that shut lao dốc much of the nation’s railroads, showed the depths of discontent among American workers. But for many upper class Americans the Populist connection béo these developments made the Populism especially frightening .
Meanwhile, the People’s Party, from Cincinnati & Chicago, bự Denver & San Francisco, gathered urban coalitions of socialists, trade unionists, champions of women’s rights, & a variety of nonconformists & freethinkers. The most influential of the nonconformist movements were the Nationalist Clubs và the Single Tax Leagues. The Nationalists drew inspiration from a utopian vision of a cooperative future described in Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel Looking Backward. The single-tax idea was the brainchild of Henry George, the author of Progress và Poverty, one of the most widely read exposes of the inequities of Gilded Age America. According lớn George, a single-tax on land would restrict speculation in real estate và ensure a more just distribution of wealth. The famous Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow came bự Populism by way of the Single-Tax League. Indeed, the Illinois People’s Party was an alliance between downstate farmers, coal miners, railway employees, và urban radicals và nonconformists .

Populist Faith: Science and Religion

Many Populists were raised in rural Protestant homes where the family Bible was often the most read or perhaps only book. In their lectures & stump speeches, Populists often referenced biblical stories Khủng make their point, và in their educational campaigns the Populists made use of camp meetings và other techniques borrowed from evangelical revivals. Moreover, Populists spoke with a moral certainty & righteousness. Yet the Populists tended bự distance themselves from what might be considered as traditionalist religion. As in economics, politics, và other fields, in matters of faith many Populists embraced innovative và often unorthodox views. Most of all, the Populists believed in the power of science Khủng lead mập a more just, prosperous, và modern society .
In the decades after the Civil War, mới nhất developments in science had a profound impact on how many Americans understood their world. The Populists shared a strong belief in science’s authority. Whether an agnostic or a Baptist lay preacher, Populists tended Khủng agree that moral rights và wrongs must be judged by empirical evidence và scientific truth. In the Populist view, the laws of science made necessary the reforms they wanted. The Populist educational campaigns focused on the “ science of political economy ” và “ scientific government, ” along with the latest developments in the natural sciences. Their lessons included the work of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, và other evolutionary theorists .
Too often, Populist belief is seen through the prism of the Scopes Trial of 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, went on trial in Dayton, Tennessee for violating the mới nhất state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Clarence Darrow, the skeptical, agnostic, big thành phố Chicago lawyer argued for the defense. For the prosecution it was William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, who had been the Democratic-Populist presidential candidate in 1896. Bryan’s role in the trial forged a links in historical memory between Populism & fundamentalist religion .
But it is important bự keep in mind that it was Darrow, not Bryan, who was with the People’s Party in the 1890 s. At the thời gian, Populism was home page lớn a large number of people questioning religious orthodoxy. This included nonconformists outside of Christianity : Spiritualists, devotees of “ mental science ” and Eastern metaphysics, & freethinking agnostics such as Darrow. It also included many Populists who embraced a reform-minded mạng xã hội Christianity .
At the phút giây, the nation’s Protestant churches were wracked by controversies about the theory of evolution, the origins of the Bible, và the attitudes towards mạng xã hội reform. Populist Christians tended mập take a stand on the liberal side of the religious debates. Salvation, many Populists believed, meant working for a better life among the living. A new scientific age, as they understood it, meant aligning one’s faith with the latest discoveries in biology & physics. Urban middle class reformers called such liberal ideas “ the mạng xã hội gospel. ” Farm và labor Populists described their similar faith as “ the religion of humanity. ”

The Populist Legacy

At the 1896 Democratic Convention in Chicago, William Jennings Bryan ( below ), a young congressman from Nebraska, won the presidential nomination on a platform of silver inflation & other reforms. This put the Populists in a bind. Either the People’s Party could run their own independent candidate on the đầy đủ Omaha Platform of Populist demands, risking the possibility of draining votes from Bryan và ensuring the victory of the hated “ gold bug ” William McKinley. Or the People’s Party could endorse the Bryan và silver reform, posing the danger of watering xuống dốc the Populist program & even being swallowed by the Democratic Party. Led by Herman Taubeneck of Illinois, the Populist convention endorsed “ fusion ” with Bryan và the Democrats, whereas a determined minority demanded a “ middle-of-the-road ” policy of running an independent Populist candidate .

William Jennings Bryan The defeat of Bryan’s presidential campaign only intensified the factional warfare within the People’s Party. Each side accused the other of betraying core principles. But the truth was neither “mid-road” nor “fusionist” Populists had an answer to the fact that Democrats and Republicans were learning how to defeat the third party by adopting its reforms. A handful of the Populist faithful kept up the People’s Party flag into the first years of the twentieth century. But the great Populist farm and labor organizations had long faded. Most of the Populist activists returned to the traditional parties. For some Populists, however, such a return was out of the question, and they looked to other possibilities. A number of former Populists would follow Eugene Debs into the Socialist Party, making Kansas, Oklahoma, and other rural states into socialist strongholds.

Populism had represented a vision of modern society that was more inclusive & broad based than the corporate vision. It involved a much wider role for publicly owned và cooperative enterprise. And it involved a more active government và a more active & educated citizenry controlling the levers of political power. Many upper class Americans were horrified by the prospect of common farmers và laborers being so sánh mobilized. The corporate establishment saw an intolerable challenge lớn their prerogatives & power, & did what they could phệ bankroll the counterattack bự the third các buổi tiệc nhỏ challenge. Outspent, outmuscled, & where necessary counted out through ballot fraud, the impoverished People’s went lao dốc béo bitter defeat. By the turn of the century, the Populist movement as configured in the early 1890 s was chết .
Yet, Populism had a powerful legacy. Much of the Populist program was incorporated into the reform wings of both the Democratic và Republican Parties. The ensuing wave of Progressive legislation had a decidedly Populist stamp. The federal income tax & the Federal Reserve Bank, the National Weather Service, Rural Free Delivery, và the extension of agricultural education & research services, the mới nhất federal agencies mập regulate và subsidize farm credit và kinh doanh, & the direct election of senators & adoption of the referendum và the initiative by several states – all had Populist roots .
The thế giới populism has also lived on in the nation’s political language. In its present usage, populism is a synonym for anti-elitism. Any protest against political, economic, or cultural elites may be described as populist. But such protests often have little or perhaps nothing mập bởi vì with the intents or purposes of the Populist movement of the 1890 s. For example, journalists và commentators label critics of government intervention in the economy ( federal economic stimulus, healthcare, và so sánh forth ) as populists, even though the original Populists believed strongly in such expansion of the government’s role. The same journalists & commentators often define populism as the visceral politics of rage, of the gut instead of the head. Undoubtedly, such descriptions have the millions of men và women who took part in Populist education campaigns spinning in their graves .

Suggested Primary Sources

Documents in Books

Jerry Simpson, “ The Political Rebellion in Kansas, ” Farmers ‘ Alliance History & Agricultural Digest, Nelson A. Dunning, ed. Washington, D.C. : Alliance, 1891, pp. 280 – 83
R. M. Humphrey, “ History of the Colored Farmers ‘ National Alliance & Co-operative Union, ” Farmers ‘ Alliance History và Agricultural Digest, Nelson A. Dunning, ed. Washington, D.C. : Alliance, 1891, pp. 288 – 92
Bettie Gay, “ The Influence of Women in the Alliance, ” Farmers ‘ Alliance History & Agricultural Digest, Nelson A. Dunning, ed. Washington, D.C. : Alliance, 1891, pp. 308 – 12
Isom P. Langley, “ Religion in the Alliance, ” Farmers ‘ Alliance History và Agricultural Digest, Nelson A. Dunning, ed. Washington, D.C. : Alliance, 1891, pp. 313 – 17
“ Declaration of Purposes of the Farmers ‘ Alliance và Co-operative Union ( Shreveport, Louisiana, Oct. 12, 1887 ), ” William L. Garvin & S. O. Daws, History of the National Farmers ‘ Alliance và Cooperative Union of America. Jacksboro, Tex. : J. N. Rogers, Steam Printers, 1887, pp. 72-83 .
“ Co-operation và Exchange, ” William L. Garvin và S. O. Daws, History of the National Farmers ‘ Alliance và Cooperative Union of America. Jacksboro, Tex. : J. N. Rogers, Steam Printers, 1887, pp. 84-90
“ The Omaha Platform, ” July 1892, National Economist July 9, 1892 ( reprinted in Norman Pollack, ed., The Populist Mind. New York : Bobbs-Merrill, 1967, 59-66 .
“ Report of the Committee on the Monetary System, ” St. Louis Convention of the Southern Alliance, December 1889, George Brown Tindall, ed., A Populist Reader : Selections from the Works of American Populist Leaders. New York : Harper và Row, 1966, pp. 80-87 ( a reprint from “ The Sub-Treasury System as Proposed by the Farmers ‘ Alliance, ” Library of the National Economist Extras, I ( Washington, June 1981 ), pp. 9-14 ). This “ Report ” is also in W. Scott Morgan, History of the Wheel và Alliance, và the Impending Revolution, St. Louis, C. B. Woodward Co., 1891, pp. 175 – 84 .
Luna Kellie, “ Stand Up for Nebraska, ” A Prairie Populist : The Memoirs of Luna Kellie, ed. Jane Taylor Nelsen. Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1992, pp. 127 – 32 .


J. R. Detwiler, “ The St. Louis Conference, ” People’s Party Paper ( Atlanta ), April 7, 1892
Tom Watson, “ A Great Problem : The Negro Question in the South, ” People’s Party Paper ( Atlanta ), September 16, 1892
Tom Watson, “ Mr. Watston’s Sub-Treasury Bill, ” People’s Party Paper ( Atlanta ), January đôi mươi, 1893
“ First Populist Law, ” People’s Party Paper ( Atlanta ), March 17, 1893
G. T. Rhodes ( letter ), “ From the Lone Star State, ” People’s Party Paper ( Atlanta ), July 14, 1893
Mrs. Allie Marsh, “ Our Common Schools, ” The Progressive Farmer ( Raleigh ), January 22, 1889
“ Some Legislation Asked For, ” The Progressive Farmer ( Raleigh ), February 5, 1889
“ Meeting of Colored Alliance, ” The Progressive Farmer ( Raleigh ), August 26, 1890
“ What Are Politics, ” ( from the Dakota Ruralist ), in The Advocate ( Meriden, KS ), September 21, 1889
“ The Sub-Treasury Plan, ” The Advocate ( Meriden, KS ), January 16, 1890
“ The Suffrage Plank Satisfactory, ” The Advocate ( Meriden, KS ), June 10, 1891
“ Mrs. Mary E. Lease in Westmoreland, Kansas, ” The Advocate ( Meriden, KS ), July 29, 1891
Jennie Franc Kungle ( letter ), “ Woman’s Sphere, ” Kansas Farmer ( Topeka ), February 9, 1887
R. S. Phelps ( letter ), “ Wants Equal Rights, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Winfield, KS ), September 12, 1889
C. J. Lamb ( letter ), “ From Topolobampo, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Winfield, KS ), September 19, 1889
“ People’s Ticket Resolutions, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Winfield, KS ), October ba, 1889
Ignatius Donnelly, “ Donnelly’s Speech, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Indianapolis ), April 26, 1894
“ Nationalize the Railroads, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Indianapolis ), May 10, 1894
“ The Kansas Populists. The Suffrage Plank Adopted – Governor Lewelling Renominated, ” The American Non-Conformist ( Indianapolis ), June 21, 1894
“ Economist Educational Exercises. ” National Economist ( Washington, D.C. ), January 23, 1892
“ Prospects of the Caucasian, ” The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), March 14, 1889
“ The Editors Chair, ” ( editorial on “ the recent negro national convention ), The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), February trăng tròn, 1890
“ Topics of the Day. The Income Tax, ” The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), May 15, 1890
“ Opinion of Others which we Can Endorse on the Various Topics of the Day, ” ( editorial on the cốt tông pickers ‘ strike, citing Progressive Farmer ), The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), September 17, 1891
Editorial on “ the negro question, ” The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), August 25, 1892
Mary Elizabeth Lease, “ The World Will Wag. And Our Descendants Will Enjoy Great Advantages, ” The Caucasian ( Clinton, NC ), August 10, 1893
C. W. Macune, “ An Open Letter, ” Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), April 19, 1888
Elle’s Fisher, “ Bastrop County, ” ( letter ), Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), May ba, 1888
Mrs. J. Morton Smith, “ Essay Read Before the Bell county Alliance, ” Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), May 10, 1888
Ann Other, “ Ladies ‘ Department. Where Shall We Look for Help ?, ” Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), May 31, 1888
Ida H. “ Lavacca County, ” ( letter ), Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), June 7, 1888
Alex. “ Ben Franklin, Texas, ” ( letter ), Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), September 25, 1888
T. J. Cox, “ Exchange Support, ” ( letter ), Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), November 6, 1888
John McFall, “ From One Who Knows, ” ( letter ), Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), April 11, 1889

Evan Jones, “ President Jones ‘ Message, ” Southern Mercury ( Dallas ), August 22, 1889

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