Here is the story of the People's Party, aka the Populist Party, that sparked a movement that continues to this day. Music by Electric Needle Room http://electricneedleroom.net
All images in the public domain.
Today’s video is dedicated to Jesse and everyone else in Mr. Steve Lynch’s history classes. Thanks for watching!
What is popular? No seriously. What is popular? I really don’t know.
My name is Mr. Beat. Today, the term “populist” is thrown around a lot. Whether it’s someone who supports the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street or another movement, my modern definition of “populist” is: someone who is a supporter of a movement seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people.
But who were the original Populists? Well, here’s the story of the Populist Movement.
Once upon a time, in the late 1800s, the United States experienced huge growth in industrialization. Factories began to pop up all over the place, and more and more people were making more money thanks to the increase in the mass production of goods. It was later called The Gilded Age, a time which caused John D. Rockefeller to eventually become the nation’s first billionaire. However, not all Americans benefited from this newfound prosperity. In particular, many farmers across the American South and the Great Plains struggled. Inflation was low due to the country’s limited supply of money. Because of this, farmers suffered because their crops were selling at lower and lower prices, and therefore they weren’t making as much money anymore. Not only that, loans for equipment and land had ridiculously high interest rates (some were as high as 345 percent) and farmers could not pay them back.
These farmers, who were understandably angry and frustrated, blamed these plutocrats, or people who get their power from becoming rich. They particularly blamed the bankers who were taking advantage of them and the giant corporations who were hurting competition in the marketplace.
In the 1870s, groups like the Grangers and the Farmers’ Alliances called for lower railroad rates. They also argued that corporations and the wealthy should pay more taxes. These groups, along with the Greenbackers and various Labor political parties, began to unite against the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties. By the late 1880s, many of these like-minded groups began to merge. The National Agricultural Wheel, the Southern Farmer’s Alliance, and Knights of Labor (a group credited for further popularizing the 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek) consolidated to become the Farmers and Laborers’ Union of America. With the urban labor organizations and rural farmers organizations now joining forces, the Democratic Party and Republican Party began to have a legitimate threat.
Although the People’s Party (also called the Populist Party) wasn’t officially created until 1891, people across the Midwest and South had already been elected as Populists the year before. Populism was more uh, popular, in Kansas, probably more so than any other place in the country. The Populists there took control of the legislature after 92 of them were elected. Kansas was also home of some of the most famous and earliest adopters of Populism.
Jerry Simpson, elected in 1890 to the U.S. House of Representatives, became nationally-known as the party's congressional leader. William Peffer was the first Populist to serve as U.S. senator. Another Kansan, Mary Elizabeth Lease, became nationally famous for her passionate speeches calling for racial and gender equality. She also talked trash about the plutocrats. “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street, ” she said.
By 1892, the Populist Movement had quickly spread across the country. On July 2, 1892, the Populists had a national convention in Omaha, Neb., to nominate James B. Weaver of Iowa for President and James G. Field of Virginia for Vice-President. It also adopted an official party platform:
the free and unlimited coinage of silver to create inflation
getting rid of the national banking system
the printing of more cash, with the ability for people to borrow cash more easily
national ownership of all public communication and transportation
a progressive income tax (in other words, the more money you make, the higher percentage of your income is taxed)
the popular election of United States Senators (at the time state legislatures voted them in)
more direct democracy on specific acts of legislation
making it illegal for foreigners to own land in the United States