The Rise (and Fall) of the Populist Party
The Populist Party was the popular name of the People's Party. The rise of the Populist Party was the culmination of two decades of suffering among farmers of the South and West. The Populists supported policies to relieve the hardships of farmers and had an important impact on the politics of the 1890s.
After the Civil War, farmers all over the United States were hit with hard times. Although the growing industrial economy improved transportation, created new goods, increased farm production, and opened new markets to farmers, farmers were increasingly plagued by declining prices for their goods, high interest rates, economic depressions, ...view middle of the document...
Other regional alliances organized white farmers in the South and farmers in other parts of the country. The farmers' alliances represented the people, not the moneyed interests. They were neither Democrats nor Republicansâ€”they were populists.
In 1890, politicians representing the farmers' alliances won control of many state legislatures and some governorships in the South and West. The various farmers' alliances met in Ocala, Florida in 1890 and backed candidates in the 1890 elections. They elected five U.S. senators, six governors, and 46 congressional representatives.
With that success, the alliances decided to work together. Meeting in Omaha in 1892, they agreed on six demands: A permanent union of all working classes; wealth for the workers; government ownership of railroads; government ownership of all communications systems; more flexible and fair distribution of the national currency; and no more ownership of land by those who do not actually use it.
In 1892, farmer organizations and their leaders met in St. Louis and formed the People's Party. In that year's presidential election, the party ran James B. Weaver of Iowa as its candidate on an impressive platform that called for government ownership of railroads, a graduated income tax, and unlimited coinage of silver to increase the money supply. Weaver received more than 1 million popular votes and captured the electoral votes of four states, indicating to the major political parties that these issues were important to the public and therefore could not be ignored.
As if to justify the arguments of the Populists, a financial panic hit the nation in 1893, sparking the worst economic depression the United States had experienced up to that time. Crop prices dropped, banks collapsed, and unemployment increased for the nation as a whole; for farmers, already in unsafe financial situations, the depression caused serious economic problems. Many Americans began to embrace the idea of increasing the money supply by coining silver to ease the nation's financial hardshipâ€”a measure that the Populists had widely supported in their political campaigns.
The "money question" became a burning issue in the Presidential election of 1896, and the Populists, the major supporters of free silver (as the policy came to be called), joined forces with the Democratic Party in an attempt to wrest the presidency from the Republicans. In the period from 1860 to 1896, the Republican Party dominated American politics, especially at the presidential level, where the only Democratic president during this period was Grover Cleveland. The election of 1896 offered the Democrats the possibility of garnering working-class votes in northeastern urban areas and agrarian votes in southern and western areas to win the election. Unfortunately for the Democrats, there was a great deal of suspicion between those groups. Moreover, northern workingmen found that their interests were closely tied to the interests of...