The Rise and Fall of Populism
The Farmer’s Alliance
In the 1880s, as drought hit the wheat-growing areas of the Great Plains and prices for Southern cotton sunk to new lows, many tenant farmers fell into deep debt. Lenders, grain-elevator owners, and others with whom farmers did business were angered. Depression worsened in the early 1890s, and some industrial workers shared different views on labor, trust, and monopolies.
If the various alliances between the North and South were able to unite, they would’ve created an astonishing mighty political force. Unfortunately, sectional differences and personality clashes quickly halted this idea. The Saint Louis meeting in 1889 formed a clear idea where certain alliances existed. Clearly, white southerners feared reprisals from landowners, and objected participation by blacks. They also rejected proposals that would have ended secret whites-only activities. Northerners also feared domination by more experienced southern leaders.
The Republican Party mostly consisted of Northern farmers who wanted protective tariffs to keep out foreign grain. Democrats, who were mostly white southerners, wanted low tariffs to hold down the costs of foreign manufactured goods. Despite these differences, both parties did favor the governmental regulation of transportation and
communications, liberal credit policies, equitable taxation, prohibition of landownership, by foreign investigators, and currency reform. Due to this confidence, the alliances drew more deeply into politics. Farmers had elected a number of officeholders in 1890. Alliance members controlled four governorships, eight state legislatures, forty-four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and three seats in the U.S. Senate. The Populist movement arose as a revolt against the special privileges of industrialism and the American banking system.
The Rise of Populists
In the Midwest, Alliance candidates often ran on the independent third-party tickets and achieved some success in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. During the summer of 1890, the Kansas Alliance held a “convention of the people” Formation of the People’s party eventually began to call themselves “Populists” which derives from the Latin word populus meaning people. This American movement primarily stared to improve conditions for farmers and laborers.
The Election of 1892
As the populists won over the state legislature of Kansas in 1890, William Peffer became the party's first U.S. Senator. Due to Peffer’s humorous figure, Easter journalists and politicians viewed the party as a joke. Despite their opinion, the party gained popularity and support. By 1892, the party was ready for independent action. They
summoned a People’s party convention in Omaha on July 4 to draft a platform and nominate a presidential candidate.
The new party’s platform was one of the most comprehensive reform documents in American history. Corruption dominated the ballot box. More importantly, corruption fostered inequality that threatened to split American society. The Omaha platform claimed “wealth belongs to him that created it”, and addressed the three central sources of unrest: transportation, land, and money. Populists demanded government ownership of telegraph lines and railroads and urged the federal government to reclaim all land owned for speculative purposes by railroads and foreigners. Others advocated a graduated income tax, postal savings banks, direct election of the U.S. senators, and shorter hours for workers.
The party nominated an official founder through a merger of the Farmers' Alliance and the Knights of Labor. James B. Weaver of Iowa was a former Union general and supporter of a liberally increased money supply. The Populist campaign roared of colorful speeches from “Sockless Jerry” Simpson, an unschooled rural reformer, and of Mary Ellen Lease, who...
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