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The People's Party (also known as the Populist Party or the Populists) was a left-wing, political party in the United States. The Populist Party emerged in the early 1890s as an important force in the Southern United States and the Western United States, but the party collapsed after it nominated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 United States presidential election. A rump faction of the party continued to operate into the first decade of the 20th century, but never matched the popularity of the party in the early 1890s.

The roots of the Populist Party lay in Farmers' Alliance, an agrarian movement that promoted collective economic action by farmers, as well as the , an earlier third party that had advocated for . The success of Farmers' Alliance candidates in the 1890 United States elections, along with the conservatism of both major parties, encouraged leaders of the Farmers' Alliance to establish a full-fledged third party prior to the 1892 United States elections. The laid out the Populist platform, calling for collective bargaining, federal regulation of railroad rates, an expansionary monetary policy, and a Sub-Treasury Plan that required the establishment of federally-controlled warehouses to aid farmers. Other Populist-endorsed measures included , a graduated , direct election of Senators, a shorter workweek, and the establishment of a postal savings system. These measures were collectively designed to curb the influence of corporate and financial interests and empower small farmers and laborers.

In the 1892 presidential election, the Populist ticket of James B. Weaver and James G. Field won 8.5 percent of the national popular vote and carried four Western states, becoming the first third party since the end of the American Civil War to win electoral votes. Despite the support of labor organizers like Eugene V. Debs and Terence V. Powderly, the party largely failed to win the vote of urban laborers in the Midwest and the Northeast. Over the next four years, the party continued to run state and federal candidates, building up powerful organizations in several Southern and Western states. Prior to the 1896 presidential election, the Populists became increasingly polarized between "fusionists," who wanted to nominate a joint presidential ticket with the Democratic Party, and "mid-roaders," who favored the continuation of the Populists as an independent third party. After the 1896 Democratic National Convention nominated Bryan, a prominent bimetallist, the Populists nominated Bryan but rejected the Democratic vice presidential nominee in favor of party leader Thomas E. Watson. In the 1896 election, Bryan won much of the South and West, but was defeated by Republican .

After the 1896 presidential election, the Populist Party suffered a nationwide collapse. The party nominated presidential candidates in the three presidential elections following 1896, but none of those candidates came close to matching Weaver's performance in the 1892 election. Former Populist voters joined the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Socialist Party, but other than Debs and Bryan, few politicians associated with the Populists retained national prominence. Historians see the Populists as a reaction to the power of corporate interests in the , but they debate the degree to which the Populists were anti-modern and nativist. Scholars also continue to debate the influence of the Populists on later organizations and movements such as the progressives of the early 20th century, liberals, and right-wing Republicans like . In the United States, the term "populist" was originally associated with the Populist Party and related left-wing movements, but in the 1950s it began to take on a more generic meaning that describes any anti-establishment movement regardless of its position on the left–right political spectrum.


Third party antecedents
Ideologically, the Populist Party originated in the debate over monetary policy in the aftermath of the American Civil War. In order to fund that war, the U.S. government had left the by issuing paper currency known as Greenbacks. After the war, the Eastern financial establishment strongly favored a return to the gold standard for both ideological reasons (they believed that money must be backed by gold which, they argued, had intrinsic value) and economic gain (a return to the gold standard would make their government bonds more valuable). As part of their efforts to restore the gold standard, these "hard money" financial interests pressured the government to prevent an expansion of the country's money supply, causing and rising interest rates.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 10–12 As part of an effort to prevent inflation, these same interests also won passage of the Coinage Act of 1873, which barred the coinage of silver, thereby ending a policy of .Goodwyn (1978), pp. 16–17 The deflation caused by these policies affected farmers especially strongly, since deflation made it more difficult to pay debts and led to lower prices for agricultural products.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 12, 24

Angered by these developments, some farmers and other groups began calling for the government to permanently adopt fiat currency. These advocates of "soft money" were influenced by economist Edward Kellogg and Alexander Campbell, both of whom advocated for fiat money issued by a central bank.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 13–14 During the difficult economic conditions of the Panic of 1873, advocates of soft money formed the .Goodwyn (1978), pp. 16–18 Greenback nominee James B. Weaver won over three percent of the vote in the 1880 presidential election, but the Greenback Party was unable to build a durable base of support, and it collapsed in the 1880s.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 18–19 Many former Greenback Party supporters joined the Union Labor Party, but it also failed to win widespread support.

Though soft money forces were able to win some support in the West, launching a third party proved difficult in the rest of the country. The United States was deeply polarized by the sectional politics of the post-Civil War era; most Northerners remained firmly attached to the Republican Party, while most Southerners identified with the Democratic Party.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 18–19 Despite fierce partisan rivalries, the two major parties were both closely allied with business interests and supported largely similar economic policies, including the gold standard.

Farmer's Alliance
A group of farmers formed the Farmers' Alliance in Lampasas, Texas in 1877, and the organization quickly spread to surrounding counties. The Farmers' Alliance promoted collective economic action by farmers in order to cope with the , which left economic power in the hands of a mercantile elite that furnished goods on credit.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 24–26 The movement became increasingly popular throughout Texas in the mid-1880s, and membership in the organization grew from 10,000 in 1884 to 50,000 at the end of 1885. At the same time, the Farmer's Alliance became increasingly politicized, with members attacking the "money trust" as the source and beneficiary of both the crop lien system and deflation.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 32–34 In the hopes of cementing an alliance with labor groups, the Farmer's Alliance supported the Knights of Labor in the Great Southwest railroad strike of 1886.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 35–41 Later that year, a Farmer's Alliance convention issued the , a series of resolutions that called for, among other things, collective bargaining, federal regulation of railroad rates, an expansionary monetary policy, and a national banking system administered by the federal government.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 46–49 In 1887, the Farmer's Alliance merged with the Louisiana Farmers Union and expanded into the South and the .Goodwyn (1978), pp. 57–59, 63 In 1889, launched the National Economist, which became the national paper of the Farmer's Alliance.Goodwyn (1978), p. 90

Macune and other Farmer's Alliance leaders helped organize a December 1889 convention in St. Louis; the convention met with the goal of forming a confederation of the major farm and labor organizations.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 91–92 Though a full merger was not achieved, the Farmer's Alliance and the Knights of Labor jointly endorsed the St. Louis Platform, which included many of the long-standing demands of the Farmer's Alliance. The Platform added a call for Macune's "Sub-Treasury Plan," under which the federal government would establish warehouses in agricultural counties; farmers would be allowed to store their crops in these warehouses and borrow up to 80 percent of the value of their crops.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 107–110, 113 The movement began to expand into the Northeast and the Great Lakes region, while Macune led the establishment of the National Reform Press Association, a network of newspapers sympathetic to the Farmer's Alliance.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 116–117

The Farmer's Alliance had initially sought to work within the two-party system, but by 1891 many party leaders had become convinced of the need for a third party that could challenge the conservatism of both major parties.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 127–128 In the 1890 elections, the Farmer's Alliance successfully elected several individuals to the 52nd United States Congress and won numerous state-level elections.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 136–138, 143–144 Many of these individuals were elected in coalition with Democrats; Nebraska, the Farmer's Alliance forged an alliance with newly-elected Congressman William Jennings Bryan, while in Tennessee, local Farmer's Alliance leader John P. Buchanan was elected governor on the Democratic ticket.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 143–144 As most leading Democrats refused to endorse the Sub-Treasury, many leaders of the Farmer's Alliance remained dissatisfied with both major parties.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 147–148, 159 In December 1890, a Farmer's Alliance convention re-stated the organization's platform with the ; Farmer's Alliance leaders also agreed to hold another convention in early 1892 to discuss the possibility of establishing a third party if Democrats failed to adopt their policy goals.Goodwyn (1978), p. 151 Among those who favored the establishment of a third party were Farmer's Alliance president Leonidas L. Polk, Georgia newspaper editor Thomas E. Watson, and former Congressman Ignatius L. Donnelly of Minnesota.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 163–165

The February 1892 Farmer's Alliance convention was attended by current and former members of the Greenback Party, Prohibition Party, Anti-Monopoly Party, Labor Reform Party, Union Labor Party, United Labor Party, Workingmen Party, and dozens of other minor parties. Delivering the final speech of the convention, Ignatius L. Donnelly, stated, "We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. ... We seek to restore the government of the republic to the hands of the 'plain people' with whom it originated. Our doors are open to all points of the compass. ... The interests of rural and urban labor are the same; their enemies are identical."Kazin (1995), pp. 27–29 Following Donnelly's speech, delegates agreed to establish the People's Party and hold a presidential nominating convention on July 4 in Omaha, Nebraska.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 167–168, 171 Journalists covering the fledgling party began referring to it as the "Populist Party," and that term quickly became widely popular.

1892 election
The initial front-runner for the Populist Party's presidential nomination was Leonidas Polk, who had served as the chairman of the convention in St. Louis. However, Polk died of an illness weeks before the Populist national convention. The party instead turned to former Union General and 1880 Greenback presidential nominee James B. Weaver of Iowa, nominating him on a ticket with former Confederate army officer James G. Field of Virginia.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 169–172 The convention agreed to a known as the , which proposed the implementation of the Sub-Treasury and other long-time Farmer's Alliance goals.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 172–173 The platform also called for a graduated , direct election of Senators, a shorter workweek, the establishment of a postal savings system, and government control of and communication lines.

The Populists appealed most strongly to voters in the South, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains.Holmes (1990), p. 37 In the Rocky Mountains, Populist voters were motivated by support for (bimetallism), opposition to the power of railroads, and clashes with large landowners over water rights.Holmes (1990), pp. 30–31 In the South and the Great Plains, Populists had a broad appeal among farmers, but they had relatively little support in cities and towns. Businessmen and, to a lesser extent, skilled craftsmen were appalled by the perceived radicalism of Populist proposals. Even in rural areas, many voters resisted casting aside their long-standing partisan allegiances.Holmes (1990), pp. 35–38, 46 Turner concludes that Populism appealed most strongly to economically distressed farmers who were isolated from urban centers.Turner (1980), pp. 358, 364–367

One of the central goals of the Populist Party was the creation of a coalition between farmers in the South and West and urban laborers in the Midwest and Northeast. In the latter regions, the Populists received the support of officials like Knights of Labor leader Terrence Powderly and railroad organizer Eugene V. Debs, as well as influential author 's Nationalist Clubs. However, the Populists lacked compelling campaign planks that appealed specifically to urban laborers, and the party was largely unable to mobilize support in urban areas. Corporate leaders had largely been successful in preventing labor from organizing politically and economically, and union membership did not rival that of the Farmer's Alliance. Some unions, including the fledgling American Federation of Labor, refused to endorse any political party.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 174–179 Populists were also largely unable to win the support of farmers in the Northeast and the more developed parts of the Midwest.Holmes (1990), pp. 38–39

In the 1892 presidential election, Democratic nominee , a strong supporter of the gold standard, defeated incumbent Republican President Benjamin Harrison.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 200–201 Weaver won over one million votes, carried , , , and , and received electoral votes from and . Weaver was the first third party candidate since the Civil War to win electoral votes, while Field was first Southern candidate to win electoral votes since the 1872 election. The Populists performed strongly in the West, but many party leaders were disappointed by election outcomes in parts of the South and the entire Great Lakes Region.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 186–187, 199–200

Between presidential elections, 1893–1895
Shortly after Cleveland took office, the country fell into a deep recession known as the Panic of 1893. The Populists denounced the Cleveland administration's continued adherence to the gold standard, and they angrily attacked the administration's decision to purchase gold from a syndicate led by J. P. Morgan. Millions fell into unemployment and poverty, and groups like Coxey's Army organized protest marches in Washington, D.C.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 207–208 Party membership grew in several states; historian Lawrence Goodwyn estimates that in the mid-1890s the party had "a following of anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of the electorate in twenty-odd states."Goodwyn (1978), p. 233 The Populists faced challenges from both the established major parties and the "Silverites," who generally disregarded the Omaha Platform in favor of bimetallism. These Silverites, who formed groups like the and the Silver Republican Party, became particularly strong in Western mining states like Nevada and Colorado. In Colorado, Populists elected Davis Hanson Waite as governor, but the party divided over the Waite's refusal to break the Cripple Creek miners' strike of 1894.Holmes (1990), p. 50 Silverites were also strong in Nebraska, where Democratic Congressman William Jennings Bryan continued to enjoy the support of many Nebraska Populists. A coalition of Democrats and Populists elected Populist William V. Allen to the Senate.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 215–218, 221–222

The 1894 elections were a massive defeat for the Democratic Party throughout the country, and a mixed result for Populists. The party performed poorly in the West and Midwest, where Republicans dominated, but they won elections in Alabama and other states. In the aftermath of the elections, some party leaders, particularly those outside of the South, became convinced of the need to fuse with Democrats and adopt bimetallism as the party's key issue. Herman Taubeneck, the chairman of the Populist Party, declared that the party should abandon the Omaha Platform and "unite the reform forces of the nation" behind bimetallism.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 227–229 Meanwhile, leading Democrats increasingly distanced themselves from President Cleveland's gold standard policies in the aftermath of the party's disastrous performance in the 1894 elections.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 238–239

The Populists became increasingly polarized between moderate "fusionists" like Taubeneck and radical "mid-roaders" (named for their desire to take a middle road between Democrats and Republicans) like Tom Watson.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 230–231 Fusionists believed that the perceived radicalism of the Omaha Platform limited the party's appeal, whereas a platform based on free silver would resonate with a wide array of groups.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 233–234 The mid-roaders believed that free silver did not represent serious economic reform, and they continued to call for government ownership of railroads, major changes to the financial system, and resistance to the influence of large corporations.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 234–235 One Texas Populist wrote that free silver would "leave undisturbed all the conditions which give rise to the undue concentration of wealth. The so-called silver party may prove a veritable if we are not careful."Goodwyn (1978), pp. 249–250 In an attempt to get the party to repudiate the Omaha Platform in favor of free silver, Taubeneck called a party convention in December 1894. Rather than repudiating the Omaha Platform, the convention expanded it to include a call for the municipal ownership of public utilities.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 241–242

Populist-Republican fusion in North Carolina
In 1894-96 the Populist wave of agrarian unrest swept through the cotton and tobacco regions of the South. The most dramatic impact came in North Carolina, where the poor white farmers who comprised the Populist party formed a working coalition with the Republican Party, then largely controlled by blacks in the low country, and poor whites in the mountain districts. They took control of the state legislature in both 1894 and 1896, and the governorship in 1896. Restrictive rules on voting were repealed. In 1895 the legislature rewarded its black allies with patronage, naming 300 black magistrates in eastern districts, as well as deputy sheriffs and city policemen. They also received some federal patronage from the coalition congressman, and state patronage from the governor.Helen G. Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901 (1951). pp 97-136

Women and African Americans
Due to the prevailing racist attitudes of the late 19th century, any political allianece of Southern blacks and Southern whites was difficult to construct, but shared economic concerns allowed some cross-racial coalition building.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 121–122 After 1886, black farmers started organizing local agricultural groups along the lines advocated by the Farmer's Alliance, and in 1888 the national Colored Alliance was established.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 118–120 Some southern Populists, including Thomas E. Watson of Georgia, openly talked of the need for poor blacks and poor whites to set aside their racial differences in the name of shared economic self-interest. The Populists followed the Prohibition Party in actively including women in their affairs. Regardless of these rhetoric appeals, however, racism did not evade the People's Party. Prominent Populist Party leaders such as at least partially demonstrated a dedication to the cause of , and there appears to have been some support for this viewpoint among the rank-and-file of the party's membership.Hunt (2003), pp. 3–7 After 1900 Watson himself became an outspoken white supremacist.

Conspiratorial tendencies
Historians continue to debate the degree to which the Populists were bigoted against foreigners and .Turner (1980), pp. 355–356 Populists saw the Panic of 1893 as confirmation that evil global conspiracies and big city villains were to blame. Historian says:
Some Populists believed that Jews made up a class of international financiers whose policies had ruined small family farms, they asserted, owned the banks and promoted the gold standard, the chief sources of their impoverishment. Agrarian radicalism posited the city as antithetical to American values, asserting that Jews were the essence of urban corruption.
(2019). 9780520227736, U. of California Press. .

Presidential election of 1896
In the lead-up to the 1896 presidential election, mid-roaders, fusionists, and free silver Democrats all maneuvered to put their favored candidates in the best position to win. Mid-roaders sought to ensure that the Populists would hold their national convention before that of the Democratic Party, thereby ensuring that they could not be accused of dividing "reform" forces.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 247–248 Defying those hopes, Taubeneck arranged for the 1896 Populist National Convention to take place one week after the 1896 Democratic National Convention.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 247–248 Mid-roaders mobilized to defeat the fusionists; the Southern Mercury urged readers to nominate convention delegates who would "support the Omaha Platform in its entirety."Goodwyn (1978), pp. 251–252 As most of the party's high-ranking officeholders were fusionists, the mid-roaders faced difficulty in uniting around a candidate.Goodwyn (1978), p. 257

The 1896 Republican National Convention nominated , who defended the gold standard. Meeting later in the year, the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan for president after Bryan's Cross of Gold speech galvanized the party behind free silver. For vice president, the party nominated conservative shipping magnate .Goodwyn (1978), pp. 254–256 When the Populist convention met, fusionists proposed that the Populists nominate the Democratic ticket, while mid-roaders organized to defeat fusionist efforts. As Sewall was objectionable to many within the party, the mid-roaders successfully moved a motion to nominate the vice president first. Despite a telegram from Bryan indicating that he would not accept the Populist nomination if the party did not also nominate Sewall, the convention chose Tom Watson as the party's vice presidential nominee. The convention also reaffirmed the major planks of the 1892 platform and added support for initiatives and referendums.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 256–259

When the convention's presidential ballot began, it was still unclear whether Bryan would be nominated for president and whether Bryan would accept the nomination if offered. Mid-roaders put forward their own candidate, obscure newspaper editor S. F. Norton, but Norton was unable to win the support of many delegates. After a long and contentious series of roll call votes, Bryan won the Populist presidential nomination, taking 1042 votes to Norton's 321 votes.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 259–262 Despite his earlier proclamation, Bryan accepted the Populist nomination. After the convention, Marion Butler, the newly-elected party chairman, ran the Populist campaign on a tiny budget. Watson, ostensibly Bryan's running mate, campaigned on a platform of "Straight Populism" and frequently attacked Sewall as an agent for "the banks and railroads." He delivered several speeches in Texas and the Midwest before returning to his home in Georgia for the remainder of the election.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 274–278

Bryan's strength was based on the traditional Democratic vote (minus the middle class and German Catholics); he swept the old Populist strongholds in the West and South, and added the silverite states in the West, but did poorly in the industrial heartland. He lost to McKinley by a margin of 600,000 votes. Historians believe this was partly attributable to the tactics Bryan used; he had aggressively "run" for president, while traditional candidates would use "front porch campaigns." R. Hal Williams, Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896 (2010) Bryan also faced a massive financial and organizational disadvantage.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 279–200

The Populist movement never recovered from the failure of 1896, and national with the Democrats proved disastrous to the party. In the Midwest, the Populist Party essentially merged into the Democratic Party before the end of the 1890s.Goodwyn (1978), pp. 285–286 In the South, the National alliance with the Democrats sapped the ability of the Populists to remain independent. Tennessee's Populist Party was demoralized by a diminishing membership, and puzzled and split by the dilemma of whether to fight the state-level enemy (the Democrats) or the national foe (the Republicans and ). By 1900 the People's Party of Tennessee was a shadow of what it once was.Lester (2007) A similar pattern was repeated elsewhere throughout the South, where the Populist Party had previously sought alliances with the Republican Party against the dominant state Democrats, including in Watson's Georgia.

In North Carolina, the state Democratic-party orchestrated propaganda campaign in newspapers across the state, and created a brutal and violent white supremacy election campaign to defeat the North Carolina Populists and GOP, the Fusionist revolt in North Carolina collapsed in 1898, and white Democrats returned to power. The gravity of the crisis was underscored by a major race riot in Wilmington, in 1898, two days after the election. Knowing they had just retaken control of the state legislature, the Democrats were confident they could not be overcome. They attacked and overcame the Fusionists; mobs roamed the black neighborhoods, shooting, killing, burning buildings, and making a special target of the black newspaper.Andrea Meryl Kirshenbaum, "'The Vampire That Hovers Over North Carolina': Gender, White Supremacy, and the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898," Southern Cultures 4#3 (1998) pp. 6-30 online There were no further insurgencies in any Southern states involving a successful black coalition at the state level. By 1900, the gains of the populist-Republican coalition were reversed, and the Democrats ushered in disfranchisement:Eric Anderson, Race and Politics in North Carolina, 1872-1901 (1981) practically all blacks lost their vote, and the Populist-Republican alliance fell apart.

In 1900, while many Populist voters supported Bryan again, the weakened party nominated a separate ticket of and Ignatius L. Donnelly, and disbanded afterwards. Populist activists either retired from politics, joined a major party, or followed Eugene Debs into the Socialist Party.

In 1904, the party was re-organized, and Thomas E. Watson was their nominee for president in 1904 and in 1908, after which the party disbanded again.

In A Preface to Politics, published in 1913, wrote, "As I write, a convention of the Populist Party has just taken place. Eight delegates attended the meeting, which was held in a parlor."Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics, New York and London: Mitchell Kennerley, 1913, p. 275. This may record the last gasp of the party organization.


Debate by historians
Since the 1890s historians have vigorously debated the nature of Populism.For a summary or how historians approach the topic see Worth Robert Miller, "A Centennial Historiography of American Populism." Kansas History 1993 16(1): 54-69. Some historians see the populists as forward-looking liberal reformers. Others view them as reactionaries trying to recapture an idyllic and utopian past. For some they were radicals out to restructure American life, and for others they were economically hard-pressed agrarians seeking government relief. Much recent scholarship emphasizes Populism's debt to early American republicanism.See Worth Robert Miller, "The Republican Tradition," in Miller, Oklahoma Populism: A History of the People's Party in the Oklahoma Territory (1987) online edition Clanton (1991) stresses that Populism was "the last significant expression of an old radical tradition that derived from Enlightenment sources that had been filtered through a political tradition that bore the distinct imprint of Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and Lincolnian democracy." This tradition emphasized human rights over the cash nexus of the Gilded Age's dominant ideology.Clanton (1991), p. xv

Frederick Jackson Turner and a succession of western historians depicted the Populist as responding to the closure of the frontier. Turner explained:

The Farmers' Alliance and the Populist demand for government ownership of the railroad is a phase of the same effort of the pioneer farmer, on his latest frontier. The proposals have taken increasing proportions in each region of Western Advance. Taken as a whole, Populism is a manifestation of the old pioneer ideals of the native American, with the added element of increasing readiness to utilize the national government to effect its ends.Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History, (1920) p. 148; online edition

The most influential Turner student of Populism was John D. Hicks, who emphasized economic pragmatism over ideals, presenting Populism as interest group politics, with have-nots demanding their fair share of America's wealth which was being leeched off by nonproductive speculators. Hicks emphasized the drought that ruined so many Kansas farmers, but also pointed to financial manipulations, deflation in prices caused by the gold standard, high interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, and high railroad rates. Corruption accounted for such outrages and Populists presented popular control of government as the solution, a point that later students of republicanism emphasized.Martin Ridge, "Populism Revolt: John D. Hicks and The Populist Revolt," Reviews in American History 13 (March 1985): 142-54.

In the 1930s C. Vann Woodward stressed the southern base, seeing the possibility of a black-and-white coalition of poor against the overbearing rich. Georgia politician Tom Watson served as Woodward's hero.C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (1938); Woodward, "Tom Watson and the Negro in Agrarian Politics," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1938), pp. 14-33 in JSTOR

In the 1950s, however, scholars such as Richard Hofstadter portrayed the Populist movement as an irrational response of backward-looking farmers to the challenges of modernity. Though Hofstadter wrote that the Populists were the "first modern political movement of practical importance in the United States to insist that the federal government had some responsibility for the common weal," he criticized the movement as anti-Semitic, conspiracy-minded, nativist, and grievance-based. The antithesis of anti-modern Populism was modernizing Progressivism according to Hofstadter's model, with such leading progressives as Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette Sr., George Norris and pointed as having been vehement enemies of Populism, though William Jennings Bryan did cooperate with them and accepted the Populist nomination in 1896.Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (1955)

Goodwyn (1976) and Postel (2007) reject the notion that the Populists were traditionalistic and anti-modern. Quite the reverse, they argue, the Populists aggressively sought self-consciously progressive goals. Goodwyn criticizes Hofstadter's reliance on secondary sources to characterize the Populists, working instead with the material generated by the Populists themselves. Goodwyn determined that the farmers' cooperatives gave rise to a Populist culture, and their efforts to free farmers from lien merchants revealed to them the political structure of the economy, which propelled them into politics. The Populists sought diffusion of scientific and technical knowledge, formed highly centralized organizations, launched large-scale incorporated businesses, and pressed for an array of state-centered reforms. Hundreds of thousands of women committed to Populism seeking a more modern life, education, and employment in schools and offices. A large section of the labor movement looked to Populism for answers, forging a political coalition with farmers that gave impetus to the regulatory state. Progress, however, was also menacing and inhumane, Postel notes. White Populists embraced social-Darwinist notions of racial improvement, Chinese exclusion and separate-but-equal.Postel (2007)

Influence on later movements
Populist voters remained active in the electorate long after 1896, but historians continue to debate which party, if any, absorbed the largest share of these voters. In a case study of California Populists, historian Michael Magliari found that Populist voters influenced reform movements in California's Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, but had a smaller impact on California's Republican Party.Magliari (1995), pp. 394, 411–412 Writing in 1990, historian William F. Holmes wrote that "an earlier generation of historians viewed Populism as the initiator of twentieth-century liberalism as manifested in Progressivism, but over the past two decades we have learned that fundamental differences separated the two movements."Holmes (1990), p. 58 Most of the leading progressives (except Bryan himself) fiercely opposed Populism. For example, Theodore Roosevelt, George W. Norris, Robert La Follette Sr., William Allen White and all strongly opposed Populism. It is debated whether any Populist ideas made their way into the Democratic party during the New Deal era. The New Deal farm programs were designed by experts (like Henry Wallace) who had nothing to do with Populism. 's The Populist Persuasion (1995) argued that Populism reflected a rhetorical style that manifested itself in spokesmen like in the 1930s and Governor in the 1960s.

Long after the dissolution of the Populist Party, other third parties, including a People's Party founded in 1971 and a Populist Party founded in 1984, took on similar names. These parties were not directly related to the Populist Party.

Populism as a generic term
In the United States, the term "populist" originally referred to the Populist Party and related left-wing movements of the late nineteenth century that wanted to curtail the power the corporate and financial establishment. Beginning in the 1950s, populism took on a more generic meaning, as scholars such as Richard Hofstadter traced the anti-elitism and "paranoid style" of conservative Republicans like to the Populist Party. Although not all historians accepted that comparison, the term "populist" began to apply to any anti-establishment movement. One definition of the term describes populists as "a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people." In the 21st century, politicians as diverse as and have been labeled as populists.

Electoral history and elected officials

Presidential tickets
James B. Weaver

James G. Field
1,026,595 (8.5%)
22 EV
The ticket won 5 states; its best showing was Nevada where it received 66.8% of the vote.
William Jennings Bryan

Thomas E. Watson
222,583 (1.6%)
27 EV
The Populists nominated Bryan, the Democratic nominee, but nominated Watson for Vice President instead of Democratic nominee . Bryan and Sewall received an additional 6,286,469 (45.1%) and 149 electoral votes. Bryan's best showing was Mississippi, where he received 91.0% of the vote.

Ignatius L. Donnelly
50,989 (0.4%)
0 EV
The ticket's best result was Texas, where it received 5.0% of the vote.
Thomas E. Watson

114,070 (0.8%)
0 EV
The ticket's best result was Georgia, where it received 17.3%.
Thomas E. Watson

Samuel Williams
28,862 (0.2%)
0 EV
The ticket's best result was Georgia, where it received 12.6%.

Seats in Congress
+Seats in Congress

  • Colorado: Davis Hanson Waite, 1893–1895
  • Idaho: Frank Steunenberg, 1897–1901 ( of Democrats and Populists)
  • Kansas: Lorenzo D. Lewelling, 1893–1895
  • Kansas: John W. Leedy, 1897–1899
  • Nebraska: Silas A. Holcomb, 1895–1899 (fusion of Democrats and Populists)
  • Nebraska: William A. Poynter, 1899–1901 (fusion of Democrats and Populists)
  • North Carolina: Daniel Lindsay Russell, 1897–1901 (coalition of Republicans and Populists)
  • Oregon: Sylvester Pennoyer, 1887–1895 (fusion of Democrats and Populists)
  • South Dakota: Andrew E. Lee, 1897–1901
  • Tennessee: John P. Buchanan, 1891–1893
  • Washington: John Rogers, 1897–1901 (fusion of Democrats and Populists)

Members of Congress
Approximately forty-five members of the party served in the U.S. Congress between 1891 and 1902. These included six United States Senators:

The following were Populist members of the U.S. House of Representatives:

52nd United States Congress

  • Thomas E. Watson, Georgia's 10th congressional district
  • Benjamin Hutchinson Clover, Kansas's 3rd congressional district
  • John Grant Otis, Kansas's 4th congressional district
  • John Davis, Kansas's 5th congressional district
  • William Baker, Kansas's 6th congressional district
  • , Kansas's 7th congressional district
  • , Minnesota's 5th congressional district
  • William A. McKeighan, Nebraska's 2nd congressional district
  • Omer Madison Kem, Nebraska's 3rd congressional district

53rd United States Congress

  • , Minnesota's 7th congressional district
  • , California's 6th congressional district
  • , Colorado's 1st congressional district
  • John Calhoun Bell, Colorado's 2nd congressional district
  • Thomas Jefferson Hudson, Kansas's 3rd congressional district
  • John Davis, Kansas' 5th congressional district
  • William Baker, Kansas' 6th congressional district
  • Jerry Simpson, Kansas' 7th congressional district
  • William A. Harris, Kansas Member-at-large
  • William A. McKeighan, Nebraska's 5th congressional district
  • Omer Madison Kem, Nebraska's 6th congressional district
  • Alonzo C. Shuford, North Carolina's 7th congressional district

54th United States Congress

  • Albert Taylor Goodwyn, Alabama's 5th congressional district
  • Milford W. Howard, Alabama's 7th congressional district
  • William Baker, Kansas' 6th congressional district
  • Omer Madison Kem, Nebraska's 6th congressional district
  • , North Carolina's 1st congressional district
  • William F. Strowd, North Carolina's 4th congressional district
  • Charles H. Martin (1848–1931), North Carolina's 6th congressional district
  • Alonzo C. Shuford, North Carolina's 7th congressional district

55th United States Congress

  • Albert Taylor Goodwyn, Alabama's 5th congressional district
  • Charles A. Barlow, California's 6th congressional district
  • Curtis H. Castle, California's 7th congressional district
  • James Gunn, Idaho's 1st congressional district
  • Mason Summers Peters, Kansas's 2nd congressional district
  • Edwin Reed Ridgely, Kansas's 3rd congressional district
  • William Davis Vincent, Kansas's 5th congressional district
  • Nelson B. McCormick, Kansas's 6th congressional district
  • Jerry Simpson, Kansas's 7th congressional district
  • Jeremiah Dunham Botkin, Kansas Member-at-large
  • , Nebraska's 3rd congressional district
  • William Ledyard Stark, Nebraska's 4th congressional district
  • Roderick Dhu Sutherland, Nebraska's 5th congressional district
  • William Laury Greene, Nebraska's 6th congressional district
  • Harry Skinner, North Carolina's 1st congressional district
  • John E. Fowler, North Carolina's 3rd congressional district
  • William F. Strowd, North Carolina's 4th congressional district
  • Charles H. Martin, North Carolina's 5th congressional district
  • Alonzo C. Shuford, North Carolina's 7th congressional district
  • John Edward Kelley, South Dakota's 1st congressional district
  • Freeman T. Knowles, South Dakota's 2nd congressional district

56th United States Congress

  • William Ledyard Stark, Nebraska's 4th congressional district
  • Roderick Dhu Sutherland, Nebraska's 5th congressional district
  • William Laury Greene, Nebraska's 6th congressional district
  • John W. Atwater, North Carolina's 4th congressional district

57th United States Congress

  • Thomas L. Glenn, Idaho's 1st congressional district
  • , Montana's 1st congressional district
  • William Ledyard Stark, Nebraska's 4th congressional district
  • , Nebraska's 6th congressional district

See also
  • Left-wing populism
  • List of political parties in the United States
  • Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • Bryant W. Bailey, Louisiana Populist
  • Annie Le Porte Diggs (1853-1916), Populist advocate
  • Leonard M. Landsborough, California Populist


Secondary sources
  • (2019). 9781604737806, University Press of Mississippi.
  • (2019). 9780813162003, University Press of Kentucky.
  • (2019). 9781604733242, University Press of Mississippi.
  • (2019). 9781607320067, University Press of Colorado.
  • (1991). 9780805797442, Twayne Publishers.
  • (2019). 9780813162652, University Press of Kentucky.
  • (2019). 9780807831724, University of North Carolina Press.
  • (1978). 9780199736096, Oxford University Press.
  • (1971). 9780316336901, Little, Brown.
  • Hicks, John D. "The Sub-Treasury: A Forgotten Plan for the Relief of Agriculture". Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Dec., 1928), pp. 355–373. in JSTOR.
  • Hicks, John D. The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers' Alliance and the People's Party Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1931.
  • (2019). 9780820328973, University of Georgia Press.
  • (2019). 9780807862506, University of North Carolina Press.
  • (2019). 9780700624645, University Press of Kansas.
  • (1995). 9780465037933, Basic Books.
  • (2019). 9780375411359, Knopf.
  • Knoles, George Harmon. "Populism and Socialism, with Special Reference to the Election of 1892," Pacific Historical Review, vol. 12, no. 3 (Sept. 1943), pp. 295–304. In JSTOR
  • (2019). 9780820327624, University of Georgia Press.
  • (1993). 9780374522643, Macmillan.
  • Miller, Worth Robert. "A Centennial Historiography of American Populism." Kansas History 1993 16(1): 54-69. online edition
  • Miller, Worth Robert. "Farmers and Third-Party Politics in Late Nineteenth Century America," in Charles W. Calhoun, ed. The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America (1995) online edition
  • (2019). 9780226054117, University of Chicago Press.
  • (1980). 9780807814277, University of North Carolina Press. .
  • Peterson, James. "The Trade Unions and the Populist Party," Science & Society, vol. 8, no. 2 (Spring 1944), pp. 143–160. In JSTOR.
  • (1976). 9780674690516, Harvard University Press.
  • (2019). 9780199758463, Oxford University Press.
  • (2019). 9780817311063, University of Alabama Press.
  • (2019). 9781501714054, Cornell University Press.
  • (2019). 9780190619060, Oxford University Press.
  • (2019). 9781787202566, Pickle Partner's Publishing.
    online edition
  • Woodward, C. Vann. "Tom Watson and the Negro in Agrarian Politics," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1938), pp. 14–33 in JSTOR

Contemporary accounts

External links

Party publications and materials

Secondary sources

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