The Forgotten Populists Who Had The Answer
From Dick Eastman
From: Ardeshir Mehta
To: Dick Eastman
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2010
Subject: Mehta's Law
While it's true that the government will almost always outgun the citizens, and that therefore the citizens would do well to forget about overthrowing the government with guns but rather do it with their brains, I don't think a single person, even one as influential as Gandhiji, is going to be sufficient to render the Money Power - which is the REAL government - ineffective. If that person were "eliminated", which the government could easily do, the rest of the people would be left with nobody. What's needed, I think, is to have a MASS MOVEMENT which will encourage people to become smarter than the government, and as a consequence, which will render the government impotent.
In the long run, brains will always win over brawn. Efforts spent at encouraging people to use their brains will always yield better dividends than efforts spent at getting them to arm themselves!
OK, then here is the answer!
Behold now the great secret: America's lost heritage of Mass Movement Populism. We know all about the bad guys and their victories -- but what about the good guys who fought them? How come for hundred years the story of their fight has been distorted, diminished and kept from us by a ruling oligarchy in terror of their unanswerable truth. Their efforts were supremely intelligent and aposite, their methods right for us to adopt. Nothing will better connect us in the common cause of the American people, than learning of the giants who fought for us, so we can take up their weapons that were so intelligent and fit for the job and so we can avoid their fatal mistake that deprived them of victory and left the problem of busting the Money Power to our generation. Here is that truth, stolen back from Money Power censorship, to light our way. I guarantee this history will completely overthrow your current understanding of American party politics and the the possibilities open to us in combating the Money Power today -- as much so as if you were just now hearing of Thomas Jefferson for the first time.
Populists were called "cranks" and "crackpots" by Republican and Democrat party machines then as today -- but what they did actually worked until they made the tragic error of fusion with the Democrats after which it all died.
The Forgotten Populists
Quoting from Page Smith, The Rise of Industrial America; A People's History of the Post-Reconstruction Era Vol. 6 of thePeople's History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 1984) Pp. 429-432, 449-51
Oliver Hudson Kelley
... Fiercely idiosyncratic and stubbornly individualistic by nature, the farmer came slowly and, on the whole, reluctantly to accept the necessity for common action to redress his grievances.
Farmers were notoriously hardworking, famously productive, pious, and God-fearing. From having been the exemplars of American democracy they now found themselves its victims. Small wonder they grew more rebellious with each passing year. Almost to a man they believed that their troubles stemmed from a rigid and inadequate money supply. The political response of farmers to their progressively deteriorating economic situation was a series of increasingly militant farmers' organizations, culminating in the most radical (and shortest lived) political party in our history. In the process the farmers developed a remarkably articulate group of leaders and produced a body of critical and exhortatory literature without precedent and without succession.
The revolt of the farmers was not long in coming. The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was started by Oliver Hudson Kelley with six others in December, 1867. Modeled on the Masonic Order, there were seven degrees and four categories: Laborer, Cultivator, Harvester, and Husbandman. The categories for women were Maid, Shepherdess, Gleaner, and Matron. The Pomona or hope degree was the fifth state for masters. Patrons of the sixth degree made up the National Council. The final degree was that of Demeter (Faith). The preamble of the constitution of Patrons read: "The soil is the source from which we derive all that constitutes wealth. . . ." Kelly was a man with a mission, and that mission carried him up and down the land, east, west, and south, until by 1874 local chapters counted a million and a half members.
Edward Martin's History of the Granger Movement; or, the Farmers' War Against Monopoly was a battle call to farmers who had endured the exactions of the railroads. "The Grange," he wrote, "seeks to array the agricultural class, nearly one half of our whole population, as a compact body against the evils." Soon there were numerous "front" organizations: the Producers Convention, the Railroad Committee, and the Anti-Monopoly Party. The farmers, through the legislatures of their states, proved formidable opponents of the railroads. For a decade the war raged in courts, in newspapers, in pamphlets, and even in literature. A farmer-poet, named Leonard Brown, active in the Granger movement, wrote a poem entitled "Iowa, Land of the Prophets," which called for a great uprising of the people:
The few grow rich the many poor
And tramps are dogged from door to door
The millionaire would have his word
And 'e'en his very whisper heard
And Congress bow before his not
And Presidents cry "Gold is God!"
When the capitalists were overthrown, when "grasping Greed and Avarice drown/ And War and Poverty go down":
Love, Equality and Peace
Shall bless for aye the human race
True Christianity restored,
Mammon no longer is adored --
All in one common brotherhood,
The good for all the greatest good.
Brown and militant farmers evoked the dream of the faithful community where Christian cooperation would take the place of competition. In the spirit of John Winthrop's "A Modell of Christian Charity," Brown called for the unions and the granges to educate Americans "up to a higher and truer level of brotherhood. . . . Societies and lodges will be merged into the great society -- the State -- of which all are members, and brethren; a society of mutual helpfulness, of mutual benefits, of mutual love and good will, wherein my neighbors' children will be as dear to me as my own . . . then will each man be indeed a very Christ of love, radiant with the spirit of the Divine Teacher." Money -- capital -- was the root of all injustices and inequality in American society. Those who had money used it not to help their brothers and sisters but to oppress them. "The laws," he wrote, "are framed to help the rich. . . . Money increases by its own growth, so to speak. . . . 'Ten percent interest will eat the world up.' this is a great wrong."
Dudley W. Adams
In Iowa Dudley W. Adams, master of the Union County Grange, declared in 1872 to an audience of receptive farmers: What we want in agriculture is a new Declaration of Independence. We have heard enough, ten times enough, about the hardened hand of honest toil, the supreme glory of the sweating brow, and how magnificent is the suit of coarse homespun which covers the from bent with overwork. . l. . I tell you, my brother tillers of the soil, here is something in this world worth living for besides work. We have heard enough of this professional blarney about the honest farmer, the backbone of the nation. We have been too much alone. We need to get together and rub off the rough corners and polish down the symmetry. We want to exchange views and above all we want to learn to think. . . ." The words ran back in a direct line to Shay's Rebellion and William Manning's Key to Liberty."
The struggle that followed was intense, bitter, and prolonged. Many of the state laws passed by farmer-dominated legislatures in the Midwest were hastily drafted and inequitable. The railroads fought them in the courts, and the courts after initial decisions supporting the so-called Granger Laws, began to retreat and return judgments favoring the railroads. In the mood of defiance the farmers generated a frenzy of cooperative activities: stores, marketing cooperatives, and even companies run on cooperative principles to manufacture farm equipment.
Most of the cooperatives failed, and under severe pressure from the railroads, which in some instances canceled train service to recalcitrant farm communities, the farmers were driven back, and the Patrons of Husbandry suffered a sharp decline in both its membership and its political clout. Brief as its heyday was, it nonetheless revived the tradition of Christian radicalism.
Congress always on track
The People "Railroaded"
Eleanor Marx Aveling and her husband were highly critical of the pragmatic orientation of the granges, which they described as endeavoring "to make farms self-sustaining, to diversity crops, to discountenance the credit and mortgage system, to dispense with a surplus of middle men, to oppose the tyranny of monopolies. . . . But," they complained, "there is an air of vagueness about laboring for the good of mankind, developing a better manhood, of fostering mutual understanding, suppressing prejudices." The Granger movement was a grass-roots organization which, if it waned almost as rapidly as it had waxed, laid the foundations for a new element in American politics, an aggressive farmers' political party. A host of successors sprang up to carry on the work: the Farmers' Alliance, the Farmers' Union, the Brothers of Freedom, the Farmers' Mutual Benefit Association, the Agricultural Wheel, the Greenbackers, and the Cooperative Union of America.
In the South the Texas Alliance, the Louisiana farmers' Union, and the Agricultural Wheel were organized in the 1870's and 1880's. A clue to their principal grievances can be found in the Cleburne Demands, issued by the convention of the Texas Alliance in 1886, designed, according to preamble, to "secure to our people freedom from the onerous and shameful abuses that the industrial classes are now suffering at the hands of arrogant capitalists and powerful corporations." The first demand was for "the recognition by incorporation of trade-unions, co-operative stores, and such other organizations as may be organized by the industrial classes to improve their financial condition, or to promote their general welfare." The tenth demand called for an increase in the coining of gold and silver "and the tendering of the same without discrimination to the public creditors of the nation. . . . " the same article called for a national currency controlled by the United States Treasury in such a manner as to give the country "a per capita circulation that shall increase as the population and business interests of the country expand."
Still another demand was for the passage of an interstate commerce law, that shall secure the same rates of freight to all persons for the same kind of commodities, according to the distance of the haul, without regard to the amount of shipment." Finally, the Texas Alliance recommended "a call for a national labor conference, to which all labor organizations shall be invited to send representative men, to discuss such measures as may be of interest to the laboring classes."
The National Agricultural Wheel assembled in 1887 at McKenzie, Tennessee, and laid out what were to become the general aims of the farmers' movement, starting with the demand that "The public land, the heritage of the people, be reserved for actual settlers only -- not another acre to railroads or speculators. . . . That measures be taken to prevent aliens from acquiring title to lands in the United States [it was estimated that British investors owned some 21,000,000 acres of land in the U.S.] . . . that Congress shall . . . prevent dealing in future of all agricultural and mechanical productions . . . a graduated income tax . . . the strict enforcement of all laws prohibiting the importation of foreign labor under the contract system . . . " and "that all means of public communication and transportation shall protect the Chickasaws and Choctaws, and other civilized Indians of the Indian Territory, in all of their inalienable rights, and shall prevent railroads, and other wealthy syndicates, from over-riding the law and treaties now in existence. . . "
By a process of consolidation the National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union took form in the late 1880's and came to be known as the Southern Alliance. An important adjunct was the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Co-operative Union. One of the measures popular with the Alliance was the so-called subtreasury plan in which the farmer, rather than surrender his crop to the bankers to speculate on, would store his nonperishable crops in government warehouses and receive low-interest loans on them. initially the Alliance turned to Democratic candidates to carry its proposals to Congress. But it was soon evident that Democrats, once in office, displayed little concern for Alliance objectives.
A major obstacle to reform in the Midwest generally was that, in the words of an Iowa Republican, J. P. Dolliver, the state "would go Democratic when hell went Methodist." In 1889 it went Democratic, but it might have saved itself the trouble as far as any improvement in farm conditions was concerned. The pleas for relief from farmers were met on the floor of Congress with the taunt "What you want is to talk less and work more." Charles A. Boutelle of Main we shouted at a farm state Congressman: "Quit howling and go to work."
W. Scott Morgan
One of the more remarkable works to emerge from the fever of populism was by a young farmer-journalist (how often the two went together) from Hardy, Arkansas. W. Scott Morgan, who had been active in the establishment of the Arkansas chapter of the Agricultural Wheel, wrote a vast work published in 1889 entitled History of the Wheel and Alliance, and the Impending Revolution. He began his book with an analysis of the relationship between capital and labor. "The natural law of labor," he wrote, "is that the laborer is entitled to all the fruits of his toil. There is no variation to this rule. It is fixed upon the universal law of nature. . . ." In any other political system "the selfishness of those who have unjustly . . . acquired capital . . ., [by] robbing labor of its profits, would have ere this produced a revolution," Morgan declared. But a "spirit of forbearance" inherited from the "fathers of the Revolution" had averted such a catastrophe. Nonetheless, the world was "approaching a crisis without a parallel, in some respects, in all its past history." Anyone who doubted its imminence must be "densely ignorant of the ominous import of such widespread dissatisfaction among the producing classes throughout the world. The fires of discontent are burning on both continents. . . To assume that there is no just cause for all this uprising on the part of labor would be equivalent to national suicide." *
But simply, Morgan's beliefs were as follows: "first -- Man is naturally disposed to take pleasure in remunerative employment. Second -- He is justly entitled to the fruits of his own labor. Third -- Any violation of this natural law will breed social disorder, and universal violation will bring national calamity."
Morgan described the tactics of the "regular" politicians. "Vote 'er straight. Don't kick. help us this time. If you don't see what you want in our platform, ask for it. Wait until we get there, and we'll show you how 'tis done. Whoop 'em up down in your neighborhood. Use dynamite and lay it on the other party. use whisky. Vote 'em wherever you find 'em, niggers and all. Cry negro domination; low tariff; high tariff; radical; reconstruction; Power Clayton [carpetbag governor of Arkansas]; rebel; liar; thief; scoundrel; anarchist; bloody shirt; war; rebellion; blood and thunder. Anything to get up excitement, and rouse men's passions. if you can't carry your point that way, buy voters, bribe judges, stuff, steal and burn ballot boxes. It's all right. The other fellows do it, and we must get there this time or the country will go to the dogs. . . . No country in the history of the world has ever been cursed with so many and such gigantic monopolies as free(?) America. Free, only in name. Free, only in the fact that we still have a glimmering hope of crushing this monstrous system of robbery by an intelligent use of the ballot; that failing, all hope is lost, except that last fearful resort, revolution. May the God of our fathers prevent it." The voters, especially farmers and laborers, must be made aware of the fact that the major parties were more interested in perpetuating their power than in responding to the real needs of the people. "On every vital issue of the day they occupy a position with the capitalist," Morgan wrote. "This condition must be changed. These policies must be dropped or the masses of the people will be forced into poverty, . . . " Morgan closed his book with a ringing appeal: Laboring men of America! The voice of Patrick Henry and the father of American Independence rings down through the corridors of time and tells you to strike. Not with glittering musket, flaming sword and deadly cannon; but with the silent, potent and all-powerful ballot, the only vestige of liberty left. Strike from yourselves the shackles of party slavery, and exercise independent manhood."
were ready for populism, but the Democrat machine
could win back whites with the charge that unity against the bankers would lead to black-white parity in economic competition.
Milford Howard, a Congressman from Alabama, was especially eloquent on the means by which the two established parties played off the poor voters of the North and West against their Counterparts in the South. "In the North the shibboleth has been, 'vote as you shot." In the South it has been, "down with the carpet-bagger and Yankee.'" By such tactics the politicians had tried to obscure the fact that the nation's poor had common cause against the capitalists. While the followers on one side "shout at the top of their voices, 'Nigger, nigger!" . . . the wily old plutocrats get together and determine which candidate must be elected, and at once go to manipulating and wire pulling. . . ."
Tom Watson *
Tom Watson of Georgia was another conspicuous leader of the farmers' movement in the South. Watson was an ardent supporter of close ties between farmers and industrial laborers. Speaking to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen at Augusta, Georgia, he detailed the steps by which the "evils of our present system" could be remedied: "By co-operation among laborers. You must organize, agitate and educate. Organize to get strength of unity; agitate the evils and cause thereof to arrest public opinion. . . ." Work for "a radical change in our laws . . . we must have legislation which either takes from the tyrannical power of capital or adds to the defensive strength of labor. We must make capital lay down its pistol, or we must give labor a pistol, too. When each man knows that the other has a 'gun' and will use it, they get exceedingly careful about fingering the trigger." There must also be a "change of public opinion, which will bring the irresistible power of moral support to the side of labor against the unreasonable exactions of capital. Every pulpit, every newspaper, every leader of thought in every profession, should give to this question earnest attention and then speak out. I dwell on this because I regard public opinion as omnipotent. . . The bravest man quails before the silent aversion of hostile public opinion. The stoutest leader weakens before its frowning face. It changes policies, customs, manners. It enforces an unwritten law, and the criminal who violates it swings from a limb. . . . You think you hold your life at the mercy of the law! You do nothing of the kind. You hold it at the mercy of public opinion." That opinion then must be reformed. Watson himself had known want and hunger. He had gone "weary up and down your streets asking for work and finding none. . . . The horror of that dreadful time I shall never forget. It has left its mark on my mind and on my heart. It has shaped my convictions and controlled my feelings."
Watson was equally eloquent about the conditions of workers in the mines of Pennsylvania, the mills of New England, and "those bent and feeble sewing men of New York City, crouched in dreary garrets and plying their needles":
In poverty, hunger and dirt;
Sewing at once with a double thread
A shroud as well as a shirt.
"The tell us the country is suffering from overproduction of food. Then why, asked Watson, "do men go hungry through your streets? Overproduction of goods? Then why do shrinking women and feeble children go shivering down icy sidewalks so scantily clad that suffering speaks in every line of pinched and haggard features? Over-production? I will tell you where overproduction is. It is in the cold-hearted and hard-hearted men who will not see anything which does not belong to their class. It is in the men who consider the mere getting of gold the gospel of life; it is the men who have grown proud and cruel because they possess capital (the thing which was labor yesterday), but utterly despise the labor of today."
John Swinton was a labor leader who pressed for an alliance between workers and farmers. "In recent years," he wrote inStriking for Life (1894), "the political ideas of the farmers of the West have been away ahead of those of the battered classes in our cities. They have acted with more independence than the denizens of the cities; they have displayed clearer judgment; they have been far less subservient to the old party hacks who domineer over the cities; they have not been afraid to elect Governors and Legislatures which represent them. . . . " They were far from being as radical as Swinton would have wished, but he was convinced that "we of the cities must clasp hands with the men of the fields in a new campaign for human rights and for freedom."
Among the labor leaders anxious to form a farm-labor alliance were the Vrooman brothers of Kansas City, who edited a labor newspaper. When the Avelings spoke there (and signed up forty new members for the Socialist Labor Party), they met Walter Vrooman, "the boy-orator," who was only seventeen but already a well-known public speaker. Once he was arrested after a speech the police considered subversive; a crowd gathered to free him, and the police, fearful of a riot, let him out of jail the back way. The Avelings found them "quiet boys still and with a keen sense of fun." In New York City Walter was a "huge sensation" as an orator.
Jeremiah "Sockless Jerry" Simpson
The path of the organizers of the farmers' movement was far from smooth. A rise in the price of grain in 1887 brought numerous defections, and Jeremiah ("Jerry") Simpson, a Kansas radical, was so disheartened by the collapse of the United Labor Party in 1888 that he wrote: "I know that for the man who sees the evils of the time -- the want, ignorance and misery caused by unjust laws -- who sets himself so far as he has the strength to right them, there is nothing in store but ridicule and abuse. The bitterest through, and the hardest to bear, is the hopelessness of the struggle, 'the futility of sacrifice.' But for us who have taken up the crusade, there shall be no halting; and as our ranks grow thin by death and desertion, we should close up, shoulder to shoulder, and show an unbroken battle line to the enemy."
The forty-six-year-old Simpson had been a farmer, rancher, local politician, Great Lakes sailor, and soldier in the Union Army. He settled in Kansas in 1879, attracted by the "boom." Like many others, he lost all his savings in the drought and bust of 1887 and found himself deeply in debt. but a new wind was stirring over the plains, and a few months later he wrote in an euphoric mood: "Our meetings are growing; at first they were held in country school houses while the other parties held theirs in open air; now ours are outside, and the other parties are never heard of at all." Simpson found that in his various adventures he had acquired a wealth of experience that now stood him in good stead as he went about the state, speaking to men and women who, like him, had seen their hopes vanish under a pile of debts.
William Allen White "deeply respected" Simpson. "He was smart," White wrote. "He had read more widely than I, and often quoted Carlyle in our conversations, and the poets and essayists of the seventeenth century. His talk, as we rode together on trains or sat in hotel lobbies, or loafed in hotel bedrooms, was full of Dickensian allusions, and he persuaded me to Thackeray, whom I had rejected until then. Jerry Simpson was not a sockless clown. He accepted the portrait which the Republicans made of him as an ignorant fool because it helped him to talk to the crowds that gathered to hear him. . . . He was Yankee to the core of his bones, a tough-skinned man, brown and bronzed with crow's-feet at the corner of his eyes. . . . He wore gold-rimmed glasses that fastened over his ears, and he beamed through them with benevolence and wisdom. His hands were big and gnarly, and he shook hands with warmth and sincerity." Simpson ran against a corporation lawyer, nicknamed Prince Hal for his elegant ways and lavish style of living. In the Kansas Seventh Congressional District, Sockless Simpson won comfortably. "The real Jerry Simpson," White added, "profited by the fame of his won effigy."
Tom Watson (again) *
As the movement gathered momentum, Tom Watson put out a handbook for stump speakers, full of damning facts about capitalists and capitalism. It was crammed with statistics listing the minimal taxes paid by tycoons, the interest rates they collected on dividends, the acres of public lands given to railroads, the nature of the "rings" and "pool," the activities of the "Standard Oil Magnates, Coal Barons, Rail Road Kings, Sugar Trust Operators, Steel and Iron Combiners." One section detailed the arguments in favor of income taxes, which "would discourage the accumulation of enormous fortunes and would afford a legal method of checking the growth of concentrated wealth." The handbook detailed the favors of the government to bondholders, adding. "Consider it a moment and then collapse and go to bed." The critical point was that control of the monetary system must be wrested from the bankers and their corporate allies. "Why is it," Tom Watson asked, "that in strikes and lockouts the military is always called out to protect the interests of capital, but never to protect the toilers? . . . We must . . . declare that it is treason for capitalistic combinations to hire armies and equip them with muskets and revolvers for the purpose of slaughtering our citizens. . . . There is only one government in the country that must and should be respected. The Pinkerton Government must be abolished and outlawed. It has no status under the Constitution of the United States. No corporation in its charter is clothed with power to declare war and raise armies."
Another section of Watson's handbook put forward the arguments for public ownership of the railroads, among them that "it would remove the cause of hatred of the people to the Roads and harmonize all interests" and "put into the hands of the people a weapon with which they could destroy any Combine among Capitalists in any Article of Commerce." Finally, "it would be a giant stride in the direction of equality and manhood rights the destruction of our Class System of Special Privilege, Shoddy Aristocracy based on Commercial Spoils and advancing through the dirty lanes and perils of bribery and corruption.
What was to be done? Watson did not hesitate to say that "we must give them the bayonet," although it was not clear whether he was speaking literally or metaphorically. "It is always the same. Petitions are rejected: remonstrances spurned complaints laughed aside; protests silenced: resistance stamped out with an iron heel. All these things are done as long as it is supposed they can be safely done. It is only when Tyranny sees danger that it hears reason. . . . The Congress now sitting is one illustration. Pledged to reform, they have not reformed. Pledged to economy, they have not economized. Pledged to Legislate, they have not legislated. . . Drunken members have reeled about the aisles -- a disgrace to the Republic. Drunken speakers have debated grave issues on the Floor and in the midst of maudlin ramblings they have been heard to ask, 'Mr. Speaker, where was I at?'" Undeserved suffering was a cruel burden. "As Noblemen said to the King, the night the Bastille fell, "No, sire, it is not a Revolt, it is a Revolution.' . . . To restore the liberties of the people, the rule of the people, the equal rights of the people is our purpose; and to do it, the revolution in the old system must be complete. We do not blindly seek to tear down. We offer the good Law for each Bad Law; the sound rail for every rotten rail. We work in no spirit of hate to individuals. We hate only the wrongs and the abuses and the special privileges which oppress us. . . . We call god above to aid us. For in the revolution we seek to accomplish, there shall be law and order preserved inviolate."
Thomas Nugent, the nominee of the People's Party for governor of Texas in 1892 and 1894, was a power in the state and one of the most engaging political figures of the era. A college graduate and an ex-district judge, he was an avowed Christian Socialist. Like many of his fellow Alliance members, he based his social criticism on the Scriptures and the writings of the Founding Fathers. Swedenborgian in his learnings, a student of Emerson, he had imbibed with his mother's milk those semi-mystical yearnings characteristic of the American psyche. In the words of one historian, "He looked upon the whole human race as being conjoined to the Lord -- and this conjunction he called the Divine Humanity. All things were to him One. Each part of the organic whole whose soul God is, and whose body is man." In one of his speeches during the gubernatorial campaign Nugent sounded what was a frequent note in his political addresses: "Great men no longer lead the old parties because great men are men of soul, of humanity, of genius, of inspiration. they are never machine men." *
In Nugent's rhetoric "Wall Street" was the symbolic villain, "the big bankers and moneylenders, the stock jobbers, the men who bull and bear the market." Nugent, while strongly opposed to protectionism, insisted that it was not the real issue. The advantages of low tariffs, like the advantages of high tariffs, would accrue not to the workingmen and women of the country but to the capitalists. The real problem was the "distribution of wealth." The tendency of men was always toward conservatism, Nugent argued. "We learn to love what we are accustomed to, and misguided affection makes us cling with death-like tenacity to social and political institutions long after they have ceased to be useful or serviceable to the human race -- yes, long after they have become the instruments of injustice and oppression." Only the appearance of the reformer had checked the downward movement of society: "whenever and wherever evil conditions have brought suffering and distress to earth's despairing multitudes, then and there the reformer has reappeared with the same devotion to the cause of humanity, the same self-abnegation, the same boundless confidence in his schemes of relief; and his reappearance has ever been signaled by the same outpouring of derision and contempt, the same misconstruction and opposition."
While Nugent praised Christian socialism, he was careful to distinguish that variety from, in this words, "those extreme socialistic schemes which seek by the outside pressure of mere enactments or systems, to accomplish what can only come from the free activities of men. . . . The social brotherhood is slowly growing among the people as breast after breast thrills responsively to the sound of that 'calling.' " If human selfishness were ever transcended, "glorified industries will arise in orderly unity and harmony like the 'City of God.' . . . Nugent was convinced that "the national banking system, like Carthage, must be destroyed, and the national government must no longer be permitted to farm out its credit to corporations to be used for private gain. . . The Populist favor the free and unlimited coinage of gold and silver at the present ratio, and the emission of incontrovertible paper to supply any lack of circulation, thus to make the entire volume of money sufficient to supply the demand of trade."
Of all the populist and radical leaders of the Midwest, none was more colorful or eccentric than Ignatius Donnelly iof Minnesota. A Shakespearean "scholar" who believed that Lord Bacon had written the plays attributed to Shakespeare, a seer and mystic the who wrote a book on the lost continent of Atlantis and speculated on the origin of the earth. Donnelly involved himself in every reform movement of the age and, in addition, wrote several antiutopian novels predicting an age of degeneration and destruction for the United States. His best known work, Caesar's Column (1891), carried on the title page a passage from Goethe:
"The true poet is only a masked-father-confessor, whose special function is to exhibit what is dangerous in sentiment and pernicious in action by a vivid picture of the consequences." *
He was not, Donnelly assured his readers, an advocate of the overthrow of the American civilization that he described; nor was he an anarchist. "I seek to preach into the ears of the able and rich and powerful the great truth that neglect of the sufferings of their fellows, indifference to the great bond of brotherhood which lies at the base of Christianity, and blind, brutal and degrading worship of mere wealth, must -- given time and pressure enough -- eventuate in the overthrow of society and the destruction of civilization. . . . " Addressing the churches on their mission, he wrote: "The world today clamors for deeds, not creeds! For bread, not dogma; for charity, not ceremony; for love, not intellect." Honest observers of modern civilization were forced to concede "that life is a dark and wretched failure for the great mass of mankind. The many are plundered to enrich the few. . . . The rich, as a rule, despise the poor; and the poor are coming to hate the rich. The face of labor grows sullen; the old tender Christian love is gone; standing armies are formed on one side, and great communistic organizations on the other. . . . They wait only for the drum-beat and trumpet to summon them to armed conflict." Donnelly's plea was "for higher and nobler thoughts in the souls of men; for wider love and ampler charity. . . . for a renewal of the bond of brotherhood between classes; for a reign of justice on earth that shall obliterate the cruel hates and passions which now divide the world."
There are notable passages in Caesar's Column, among them those that depict an increasingly hollow and meaningless society. Describing a modern metropolis, Donnelly wrote: "The truth is, that, in this vast, over-crowded city, man is a drug, -- a superfluity, -- and I think many men and women end their lives out of an overwhelming sense of their own insignificance; -- in other words, from a mere weariness of feeling that they are nothing, they become nothing." In the novel a public agency exists to help people, those weary of life, to commit suicide as painlessly as possible. Gabriel, the protagonist, accompanies his friend Maximilian into the "Under-World" of a modern city. Maximilian describes the city as "hollow and rotten to the core."
"What do you mean?" Gabriel asks, horrified.
"What I mean is that our civilization has grown to be a gorgeous shell; a mere mockery; a sham; outwardly fair and lovely, but inwardly full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. To think that Mankind is so capable of good, and now so cultured and polished, and yet all below is suffering, wretchedness, sin, and shame . . . civilization is a gross and dreadful failure for seven-tenths of the human family . . . seven-tenths of the backs of the world are insufficiently clothed; seven-tenths of the stomachs of the world are insufficiently fed; seven-tenths of the minds of the world are darkened and despairing and filled with bitterness against the Author of the universe."
Gabriel felt that he was "witnessing the resurrection of the dead; and that these vast, streaming, endless swarms were the condemned, marching noiselessly as shades to unavoidable and everlasting misery." When their wretched lives were over, they were disposed of in vast furnaces.
Gabriel, observing such human suffering, came to the conclusion that only the intervention of government could moderate the injustice. "Government, government -- national, state and municipal -- is the key to the future of the human race." the "city of the future" . . . "must take over the role of family and the small community. "The city . . . must furnish doctors for all; lawyers for all; entertainment for all; business guidance for all. It will see to it that no man is plundered, and no man starved, who is willing to work.
The Golden Bottle was another one of Donnelly's political tracts in the form of a novel. The hero is Ephraim Benezet, a Kansas farmer who discovers an alchemist's bottle and with the gold that he is able to make becomes president of the United States and sets out to put the Populist platform into effect. An era of cooperation and fellowship ensues, and the downtrodden of the world rise up against their oppressors.
World government is established, and universal peace follows. Underpinning all is a reawakened Christianity. The centerpiece of "The Golden Bottle is Benezet's inaugural address as president: "Keep the land in the hands of the many. [Cheers.] Limit the amount that any man may own. [Cheers.] See to it that the workingmen obtain homes. [Great Cheers.] Use the power of government for the good of the governed. [Cheers.]" Wealth is to be accumulated through a national system of savings and the capital so accumulated is to be lent out to "the farmers and workingmen on real estate security, at two percent per annum, to enable them to save or obtain homes . . . and prevent the transformation of this country from a republic into a despotism. [Tremendous applause.]" James B. Weaver
James B. Weaver
One of the earliest and most influential figures in the emerging People's Party was James B. Weaver. Weaver had been born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1833. A lawyer of abolitionist sentiment at the outbreak of the war, he had enlisted as a private in the 2nd Iowa Infantry. Charles Edward Russell, the reforming journalist, wrote of Weaver's Civil War career: "I think there never was a braver man. He rose to be second lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, and brigadier general, and each promotion was won by daring or skill, or both, on the battlefield. He was one of those strange birds, a Christian soldier." to Weaver the enemies of American democracy were "the swift advance of corporate power . . . "and the menace quite as great, that lay in the control of the world's finances by a group of bankers and large bond-holders. In the campaign of 1876 he had been denounced as a communist. "Nihilist" and "anarchist" were also common epithets applied to him by the conservative press. Russell described Weaver as "about the average height, notably erect and soldierly in his bearing, spare as an Indian, one fo those wiry, tireless, alert, but notably self-controlled men that seem to carry about them a certain inescapable aura of power and distinction. . . . His aquiline, high-bred features, commanding grey eyes, curling gray hair, closely trimmed military mustache were parts of the total impression of him. . . . He had an excellent voice, mellow and yet of great carrying power . . . here was a man essentially a Puritan, rigid in his iron faith . . . and yet having an exquisite sense of humor. He could cut and sting in debate; he was master of the sardonic and the absurd."
Weaver broke with the Republicans over the paper money issue and was elected to Congress from Iowa in 1878 as a Greenbacker. Growing more radical with each passing years and more disillusioned with the monetary policies of the two parties, he ran for president on the Greenback ticket in 1880, receiving 307,306 votes. The fruit of his political radicalism was "A Call to Action, a volume of more than 400 pages, devoted to scathing critique of American capitalism. It was Weaver's exegesis of the principles of populism, and as such it deserves a close reading. But also it stands on its own as one of the most thorough and thoughtful works of political economy produced by an American author, worthy of a place beside such classics as The Federalist Papers. In his introduction Weaver set the tone of his work. "We are nearing a serious crisis," he wrote. "If the present strained relations between wealth owners and wealth producers continue much longer they will ripen into a frightful disaster. The universal discontent must be quickly interpreted and its causes removed. It is the country's imperative Call to Action, and cannot be longer disregarded with impunity. . . . A bold and aggressive plutocracy has usurped the Government and is using it as a policeman to enforce its insolent decrees. . . . The public domain has been squandered, our coal fields bartered away, our forests denuded, our people impoverished, and we are attempting to build a prosperous commonwealth among people who are being robbed of their homes. . . . The corporation has been placed above the individual and an armed body of cruel mercenaries permitted, in times of public peril, to discharge police duties which clearly belong to the State." Weaver then went on to analyze the instruments of the plutocracy: the Senate; the courts; the legal fraternity. The Senate received the heaviest blows. It was crowded with millionaires and the lackeys of millionaires. there was "not a single great leader in the Senate . . . not one who is abreast of the times, or who can truthfully be said to be the exponent of American civilization or the active champion of reforms made necessary by the growth and changed relations of this century. . . . They are stifled by their surroundings and dwarfed by their parties. One and all, they stand dumb and aimless in the presence of the mighty problems of the age."
It seemed clear to Weaver that "the moral, intellectual and political leaders during the twenty years immediately following the war, with the single exception of Wendell Phillips, failed to comprehend the problems which confronted them." they had stopped with the overthrow of slavery, not realizing that labor was equally enslaved. Now there was a new class of "slave drivers" who "plied their cruel vocation among all the families of men. To overthrow them," Weaver wrote, "is the grand work of the new crusade." with the growth of corporations, "the relation of the legal profession to the people and to the administration of public justice has undergone a frightful change. . . ." The law, intended as a bulwark against oppression, had been subverted to the service of the plutocracy. Such was the opinion of own of the last liberal jurists of the Supreme Court, David Davis, appointed by Lincoln. "The rapid growth of corporate power of all classes and grades," Davis had told Weaver in the spring of 1880, "and their corruping influence at the Seat of Government . . . filled me with apprehension." Davis was convinced "that the corporations were maturing their plans to gain complete control of the Supreme Court. . . . "If he were blind, he could "still hear enough to alarm me. It is not lawful for me to utter many things which I have heard, because I get them in my private and confidential relations every day;; but this is my chief concern. If we lose the Courts, we lose all."
Davis's concern had proved to be well founded. As each justice of liberal persuasion died, he was replaced by a jurist with a background in corporate law. In the decade of the 1880s seven justices of the Supreme Court died or retired; no decade in our history has seen so many justices replaced. The transformation of the Court was thereby complete, and its reactionary decisions were anticipated. The corporations now held the nation in far severer thrall that the "slave power" had ever done.
Not all corporations were vicious, but the fact was that the corporate structure as it had evolved since the Civil War had "the power to do wrong . . . without the possibility of accompanying restraint," Weaver wrote. Human beings had, over the centuries, displayed the capacity to "evolve about all the evil that humanity can bear," and now there was a "supplementary harvest of injustice and wrong doing which results from the creation of a horde of artificial persons [corporation], who are void of the feeling of pity and the compunctions of conscience. . . . Are we still an asylum for the oppressed of all nations," weaver asked, "or are we about to become the policemen for the monarchs and despots of the old world -- a despicable international slave-catcher, under a world-wide fugitive slave law --engaged in the business of arresting and returning to their cruel task-masters the poor slaves who are fleeing hither? . . . A centruy of experiment has shown that our economic system is utterly unsuited to an increasing population, to the unerring laws of nature and to the fundamental wants of the human race. Think of the barbaric savagery of a system which permits a single generation to appropriate to itself the whole planet upon which it lives, in defraud of all who are to come after them!"
The rage and anger of the people, "which are daily manifesting themselves in strikes, lock-outs and incipient riots, "were simply the picket firing which precedes the general conflict, if the people of America refuse much longer to listen to the voice of reason. If our troubles of to-day are serious, what will be out peril twenty years from now with our population grown to a hundred millions?
It was a scandal; that, in Weaver's words, "Our supply of raw material is abundant, and our facilities for manufacturing without a parallel. We have every variety of climate with fruits and cereals ample to supply the wants of the world," but "instead . . . we find that discontent, debt and destitution exist throughout every state and territory in the Union. . . . We find millions of people homeless and out of employment; missions more in danger of losing their homes, and still more millions working for wages scarecly sufficient to sustain life and respectability and so meager as to shut out all hope for the future. . . . It is certainly the duty of statesmen, philosophers, philanthropists and Christian people to search out the real causes of these distressing evils."
The Alliance leaders made the constant analogy between the exploitation of labor and the institution of slavery. A Kansas farmer, writing to Ignatius Donnelly, urged that the unemployed by put to work clearing the slums of the great cities, "recognizing the Slums as a disgrace to the nation, the existence of which should mantle our brows with a deeper shame than ever did the institution of American Slavery."
What is striking about all the writings of the Populists is the breadth and range of their critiques. they are far more than mere inventories of farmers' grievances. Indeed, all of them devote as much, if not more, attention to the plight of the industrial worker as to that of the farmers, commonly seeing the farmers' distress as a kind of by-product of the exploitation of the industrial worker. W. Scott Morgan told his readers of Ann Fullmon of New York City, "who finishes pantaloons for a living, sews on buttons, makes button holes, puts on straps, buckles and presses them for 13 cents a pair; averages $2 a week for self and family," and of Kate Crowley, who "makes men's drawers at 10 cents for a dozen pair. She can finish two dozen pairs in a day by working from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M., and gets 20 cents for her day's labor."
Moreover, most of the works are written out of a remarkably sophisticated historical consciousness. They trace the changing economic conditions brought about by the rise of the industrial era; some go back to classical times to discuss the antecedents of the modern world. They are familiar with Adam Smith, Malthus, and Ricardo, with conditions in Britain and on the Continent, in Germany and Russia. Not surprisingly, a prophetic and evangelistic vein runs through their work, sometimes more and sometimes less explicitly Christian. Finally, the Populists were in general distinguished by an attitude toward black Americans far in advance of the time.
Tom Watson was determined to form an alliance between white and black farmers. He declared: "The Negro Question in the South has been for nearly thirty years a source of danger, discord, and bloodshed. It is an every-present irritant and menace." Both parties had raised the cry of "Negro domination . . . until they have constructed as perfect a "slot machine" as the world ever saw. Drop the old, worn nickel of the "party slogan' into the slot and the machine does the rest. you might beseech a Southern white tenant to listen to you upon questions of finance, taxation, and transportation, you might demonstrate with mathematical precision that therein lay his way out of poverty into comfort; you might have him "almost persuaded" to the truth, but if the merchant who furnished his farm supplies (at tremendous usury) or the town politician (who never spoke to him except at election times) came along and cried 'Negro rule!' the entire fabric of reason and common sense which you had patiently constructed would fall. . . ." It was in the South that the black man "is founding churches, opening schools, maintaining newspapers, entering the professions, serving on juries, deciding doubtful elections, drilling as a volunteer soldier, and piling up a cotton crop which amazes the world." If the South were ever to free itself from its exploiters, "there must be a new policy inaugurated, whose purpose is to allay the passions and prejudices of race conflict. . . . "
Watson did not stop with political rhetoric. On at least one occasion he offered sanctuary to a black politician pursued by a mob bent on lynching him. He was merciless in castigating the Democrats. "They have intimidated the voter," he declared in 1892 as the elections drew near, "assaulted the voter, murdered the voter. They have bought votes, forced votes and stolen votes. They have incited lawless men to the pitch of frenzy which threatens anarchy. they have organized bands of hoodlums of both high and low degree to insult our speakers, silence our speakers, rotten-egg our speakers, and put our lives in danger."
The same spirit was evident in the Louisiana People's party, meeting in convention in October, 1891. It produced an "Address to the People of Louisiana. . . . Irrespective of Class, Color, or Past Political Affiliation." Of the 171 delegates attending the party's nominating convention a few months later, 24 were black. Two were nominated for the state legislature but declined the nomination on the ground that they would hurt the ticket and were appointed tot he party's state executive committee. "We declare emphatically," one of the planks of the platform read, "that the interests of the white and colored races in the South are identical, but that both would suffer unless the undisputed control of our government were assured to the intelligent and educated portion of the population. Legislation beneficial to the white man must, at the same time, be beneficial to the colored man."
The same stand was taken by the People's Party in Alabama, where a Populist leader denounced the fact that black votes were persistently stolen or miscounted . . . with the excuse that it was for the security of the white man's government. Now the votes of both white and black are stolen in the interest of a white rascal's government. The whole moral tone of society from Statesman to rum seller is blighted with the curse of this crime."
In 1894 Watson was still pleading for political equality for blacks and denouncing intolerance: "No country ever thrived under it; no people ever improved under it. tyranny used it as a prop; malice uses it as a deadly weapon. Wherever its iron had has ruled, progress has been halted, mental achievement ceases and human happiness disappears. . . . Whenever any people has been cursed with intolerance, either political or religious, its ruinous effects can be traced in the history of national decay and death. . . . It takes brave men to make a country great. And to have brave men the community must not combine to crush the individual who dares to have personal independence."
The Ocala, Florida, convention of the Farmers' Alliance in December, 1890, was a landmark in the formation of a national farmers' movement by virtue of the fact that it brought together leaders of the agrarian organizations from all sections of the country under the leadership of Leonidas Lafayette Polk. It was Polk, a North Carolina farmer and newspaper editor, who took the lead in turning the Southern Alliance into a national organization. The Ocala Convention was not yet ready to try a third-party experiment, but a year later a convention in Cincinnati boldly declared that "the time has arrived for a crystallization of the political reform forces of the country and the formation of what should be known as the Poeple's Party of the United States of America." Added force was given to the declaration of the Cincinnati conference by the spread of hard times.
The Southern Alliance in 1890 drew up a program calling for the unlimited coinage of silver, subtreasuries to make credit easier for farmers to secure, lows prohibiting stock market speculation, strict regulation of railroads or government ownership, popular election of U.S. Senators, and a graduated income tax. While the East cried "socialism," the Grange, the Colored Alliance, and the Northern Alliance adopted similar platforms and vowed not to vote for any candidate for public office who did not endorse their demands.
Mary Elizabeth Lease
Kansas became a hotbed of agitation led by one of the most remarkable women of the age, Mary Lease. Mrs. Lease had been born in Pennsylvania in 1853, educated in New York, and gone to Kansas when she was nineteen. She studied to become a lawyer and was admitted to the bar in 1885. She soon discovered that she had a natural gift for public speaking that reminded the older generation of Anna Dickenson. She joined the Farmers' Alliance Lecture Bureau and during the winter and fall of 1890 made more than 160 speeches. "Mary Lease," William Allen White wrote, "was the complete antithesis of Jerry Simpson. I have never heard a lovelier voice, a deep rich contralto, a singing voice that had hypnotic qualities." Her speeches, White recalled, were often routine political harangues, "but she could recite the multiplication table and set a crowd hooting or hurrahing at her will." She was built like a tree, six feet tall with a small head set on her large body. "Her skin was a pasty white; her jowls . . . a little heavy," but her eyes were "capable of everything except spoken language." With her hair in a bun on the top of her head she was a formidable figure, the powerful expositor of the hopes and fears of her audiences.
" . . . We wiped out slavery and by our tariff laws and National Banks began a system of white wage slavery worse than the first. 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 the People by Wall Street and for Wall Street. the great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master. The West and South are bound and prostrate before the manufacturing East. . . . The parties lie to us and political speakers mislead us. . . . The people are at bay, let the blood-hounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware."
Such words had a splendid ring to them. Suddenly the farmers took hope; they mad it clear that they could indeed raise hell as well as corn. Ignatius Donnelly, who had served three terms in Congress as a Republican, had the enthusiasm of a covert. He was as inspiring a speaker as Mary Lease and drew large crowds wherever he spoke. In Nebraska the farmers joined forces with Terence Powderly's Knights of Labor to capture the state legislature. Kansas voted in five Congressmen and a Senator pledged to Alliance principles, and when the leading farm organizations and the Knights called a conference in Cincinnati in 1891, 1,400 delegates showed up in a militant mood. The spirit that hung over the hall where the delegates met was reminiscent of the exciting days of 1852, when the Republican Party was formed from all the miscellaneous elements of reform in the country. It was enough to frighten the business interests of the country half to death. This time the delegates organized the People's party, drew up a platform based largely on that of the Southern Alliance a year earlier, and adjourned, flushed with the conviction that the future belonged to them.
A fierce struggle no ensured in the farm states between the Cleveland or hard money Democrats and the increasingly radical free silver wing of the party. Eastern hard money men like Henry Villard worked closely with their Midwestern counterparts to stifle the insurgents. Villard, who had strong ties to German leaders, played skillfully upon the anxieties produced among the foreign-born by the activities of the American Protective Association, yet another manifestation of the nativism that seemed unsuppressible. Villard, who had extensive holdings in the Middle West, visited the region in 1891 and came home convinced that radical farmers were ruining the country. They had gained control of many state legislatures, he noted, and were creating "an epidemic of dishonesty . . . manifesting itself in the most outrageous legislative violence to railroads and the free coinage of silver infatuation."
In this spirit, with the depression deepening and with farmers and industrial workers joining in talk of revolution, the nation approached the presidential elections of 1892.
Just as historians have been disposed to depict the black politicians of the Reconstruction Era as illiterate and corrupt buffoons, they have been inclined -- with laudable exceptions, of course -- to treat the Populist leaders as colorful and somewhat clownish figures. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of them, it is true, used the techniques of the spellbinding public orator. James H. Davis was an Alliance speaker who often mounted the speakers' platform carrying ten volumes of Jefferson's collected works and quoted copiously from the, and Mary Lease told her farmer audiences to raise less corn and more hell. but their books (of which there were an extraordinary number) and their articles and speeches reveal a highly sophisticated grasp of social and economic fundamentals.
Populist Party Platform, 1892 (July 4, 1892)
The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box.... The people are demoralized;... public opinion silenced.... homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workman are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages... and [we] are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toils of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind.... From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes tramps and millionaires.
The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders....
Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonitized to add to the purchasing power of gold.... the supply of currency is purposely [limited] to fatten [creditors].... A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized... if not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization....
Controlling influences dominating both... parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise any substantial reform.... They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the alter of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires....
We seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the "plain people."
Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedence in the history of the world; our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months, be exchanged for billions of dollars worth of commodities consumed in their production; the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class. We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils....
We believe that the power of government in other words, of the people should be expanded... to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.
[We] will never cease to move forward until every wrong is righted and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country....
We declare, therefore
First That the union of the labor forces of the United States... shall be permanent and perpetual....
Second Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery.... The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies identical....
Third We believe the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads.... The government [should] enter upon the work of owning and managing all the railroads....
FINANCE We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible issued by the general government....
1. We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
2. We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased....
3. We demand a graduated income tax.
4. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we believe that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered....
5. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange....
TRANSPORTATION - Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph and telephone... should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.
LAND The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
EXPRESSION OF SENTIMENTS
1. Resolved, That we demand a free ballot, and a fair count in all elections... without Federal intervention, through the adoption by the states of the... secret ballot system.
2. Resolved, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.
3. Resolved, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.
4. Resolved, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system which opens our ports to [immigrants including] the pauper and the criminal classes of the world and crowds out our [American] wage-earners... and [we] demand the further restriction of undesirable immigration
5. Resolved, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor....
6. Resolved, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system as a menace to our liberties and we demand its abolition....
7. Resolved, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people... the initiative and referendum.
8. Resolved, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
9. Resolved, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.
People's Party Platform.
Adopted at St. Louis, July 24, 1896.
The People's party, assembled in National Convention, reaffirms its allegiance to the principles declared by the founders of the Republic, and also to the fundamental principles of just government as enunciated in the platform of the party in 1892. We recognize that, through the connivance of the present and preceding Administrations, the country has reached a crisis in its national life as predicted in our declaration four years ago, and that prompt and patriotic action is the supreme duty of the hour. We realize that, while we have political independence, our financial and industrial independence is yet to be attained by restoring to our country the constitutional control and exercise of the functions necessary to a people's government, which functions have been basely surrendered by our public servant to corporate monopolies. The influence of European money changers has been more potent in shaping legislation than the voice of the American people. Executive power and patronage have been used to corrupt our Legislatures and defeat the will of the people, and plutocracy has thereby been enthroned upon the ruins of Democracy. To restore the Government intended by the fathers and for the welfare and prosperity of this and future generations, we demand the establishment of an economic and financial system which shall make us masters of our own affairs and independent of European control by the adoption of the following:
Declaration of Principles.
FIRST. We demand a national money, safe and sound, issued by the General Government only, without the intervention of banks of issue, to be a full legal tender for all debts, public and private; a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people and through the lawful disbursements of the Government.
SECOND. We demand the free and unrestricted coinage of silver and gold at the present ratio of 16 to 1, without waiting for the consent of foreign nations.
THIRD. We demand the volume of circulating medium be speedily increased to an amount sufficient to meet the demands of the business and population and to restore the just level of prices of labor and production.
FOURTH. We denounce the sale of bonds and the increase of the public interest-bearing debt made by the present Administration as unnecessary and without authority of law, and demand that no more bonds be issued except by specific act of Congress.
FIFTH. We demand such legislation as will prevent the demonetization of the lawful money of the United States by private contract.
SIXTH. We demand that the Government, in payment of its obligations, shall use its option as to the kind of lawful money in which they are to be paid, and we denounce the present and preceding Administrations for surrendering this option to the holders of Government obligations.
SEVENTH. We demand a graduated income tax to the end that aggregated wealth shall bear its just proportion of taxation, and we regard the recent decision of the Supreme Court relative to the Income Tax law as a misinterpretation of the Constitution and an invasion of the rightful powers of Congress over the subject of taxation.
EIGHTH. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the Government for the safe deposit of the savings of the people and to facilitate exchange.
FIRST. Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the Government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people and on a non-partisan basis, to the end that all may be accorded the same treatment in transportation and that the tyranny and political power now exercised by the great railroad corporations, which result in the impairment if not the destruction of the political rights and personal liberties of the citizen, may be destroyed. Such ownership is to be accomplished gradually, in a manner consistent with sound public policy.
SECOND. The interest of the United States in the public highways built with public moneys and the proceeds of extensive grants of land to the Pacific Railroads should never be alienated, mortgaged, or sold, but guarded and protected for the general welfare as provided by the laws organizing such railroads. The foreclosure of existing liens of the United States on these roads should at once follow default in the payment thereof by the debtor companies; and at the foreclosure sales of said roads the Government shall purchase the same if it becomes necessary to protect its interests therein, or if they can be purchased at a reasonable price; and the Government shall operate said railroads as public highways for the benefit of the whole people and not in the interest of the few under suitable provisions for protection of life and property, giving to all transportation interests equal privileges and equal rates for fares and freights.
THIRD. We denounce the present infamous schemes for refuding these debts, and demand that the laws now applicable thereto be executed and administered according to their interest and spirit.
The telegraphic, like the Post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the Government in the interest of the people.
FIRST. True policy demands that the National and State legislation shall be such as will ultimately enable every prudent and industrious citizen to secure a home, and, therefore, the land should not be monopolized for speculative purposes. All lands now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, should by lawful means be reclaimed by the Government and held for natural settlers only, and private land monopoly as well as alien ownership should be prohibited.
SECOND. We condemn the frauds by which the land grant Pacific Railroad Companies have, through the connivance of the Interior Department, robbed multitudes of actual bona fide settlers of their homes and miners of their claims, and we demand legislation by Congress which will enforce the exception of mineral land from such grants after as well as before the patent.
THIRD. We demand that bona fide settlers on all public lands be granted free homes, as provided in the National Homestead law, and that no exception be made in the case of Indian reservations when opened for settlement, and that all lands not now patented come under this demand.
We favor a system of direct legislation, through the initiative and referendum, under proper constitutional safeguards.
FIRST. We demand the election of President, Vice-President, and United States Senators by a direct vote of the people.
SECOND. We tender to the patriotic people of the country our deepest sympathies in their heroic struggle for political freedom and independence, and we believe the time has come when the United States, the great Republic of the world, should recognize that Cuba is and of right ought to be a free and independent State.
THIRD. We favor home rule in the Territories and the District of Columbia, and the early admission of the Territories as States.
FOURTH. All public salaries should be made to correspond to the price of labor and its products.
FIFTH. In times of great industrial depression idle labor should be employed on public works as far as practicable.
SIXTH. The arbitrary course of the courts in assuming to imprison citizens for indirect contempt, and ruling them by injunction, should be prevented by proper legislation.
SEVENTH. We favor just pensions for our disabled Union soldiers.
EIGHTH. Believing that the elective franchise and an untrammelled ballot are essential to government of, for, and by the people, the People's party condemn the wholesale system of disfrachisement adopted in some of the States as unrepublican and undemocratic, and we declare it to be the duty of the several State Legislatures to take such action as will secure a full, free and fair ballot and honest count.
NINTH. While the foregoing propositions constitute the platform upon which our party stands, and for the vindication of which its organization will be maintained, we recognize that the great and pressing issue of the pending campaign, upon which the present election will turn, is the financial question, and upon this great and specific issue between the parties we cordially invite the aid and co-operation of all organizations and citizens agreeing with us upon this vital question.
"Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men" was the motto of the Populist Party
Books about the growth of the Money Power in America.
Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865 - 1900 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Liaqua Ahamed, Lords of Finance; The Bankers Who Broke the World (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009)
Charles R. Morris, The Tycoons; How John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the Supere