Populist Party

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The Populist Party, a third political party that originated in America in the latter part of the nineteenth century, derived as a result of farmer discontent and economic distress. This was caused by the country's shift from an agricultural American life to one in which industrialists dominated the nation's development. The public felt as if they were being cheated by these "robber barons," a term given to those who took advantage of the middle and lower classes by "boldly stealing the fruits of their toils" (Morgan, 30). These corporate tycoons' conduct was legal, however ethically dubious it was. Cornelius Vanderbilt, a well-known railroad baron, reportedly once said, "Law! What do I care about the law? Hain't I got the power?" (Morgan, 30) The change from agrarian to industrial had a profound effect on everyone's life. Ignatius Donnelly, a leader in the Populist Party wrote, "We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench . . . A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized" (Tindall, 957). As a result of this significant transformation, along with several different perspectives of peoples' mores, several reform movements were commenced, such as prohibition, socialism, and the Greenback Labor Party. Each of these movements was launched by different coalitions in hopes of making a difference either for themselves or for the good of the country. The farmers, specifically, were unhappy for four particular reasons: physical problems, social and intellectual concerns, economic difficulties, and political frustrations. The physical concerns the climate of the time period. Following 1885, there was a large drought on the American prairie, thus causing this land to become known as the "Dust Bowl." Furthermore, there were extreme blizzards resulting in innumerable deaths of cattle and livestock. Also, farms were very isolated causing the women and children to lead a life of solitude and boredom. They demanded change. In fact, the women were the ones to start libraries and other meeting places for themselves and their children. This isolation made schooling for children quite difficult. Most kids who lived on the farm did not receive a proper education, or one of any kind for that matter. Farmers' economic problems are more intricate. Events baffled the farmer. They believed that deflation was the cause of their problem. The farmers produced more at a lower price due to improved fertilizers and new machinery, yet was making less than previously. In fact, in 1894, growers received less income from 23 million acres of cotton than from nine million in 1873. The exorbitant prices of shipping their goods to markets worsened their situation. The railroads overcharged farmers so that they were able to grant large rebates to large industrialists to ensure the continuance of their business. These railroads united to form trusts that raised farmers' prices. One Kansan said in 1891: "At the age of 52 years, after a long life of toil and self-denial, I find myself and family virtually paupers. With hundreds of hogs, scores of good horses, and a farm that rewarded the toil of our hands with 16,000 bushels of golden corn we are poorer by many dollars than we were years ago. What once seemed a neat little fortune and a house of refuge for our declining years, by a few turns of the monopolistic crank has been rendered valueless" (Morgan, 157). Lastly, farmers are outraged at their own victimization by businessmen who utilize their wealth and influence to secure unfair fiscal advantages. As politicians increasingly paid more attention to industrial interests, the agrarians' resentment intensified. They recognized that their influence was dwindling. The politicians were ignoring them and their pleas for help. The Populist Party was the result of a movement that begun with the Granger...
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