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The Agrarian Crusade, A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics by Solon J. Buck

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which would secure to labor its just reward. Other planks called
for the coinage of silver on the same basis as that of gold,
reservation of the public lands for actual settlers, legislative
reduction of the hours of labor, establishment of labor bureaus,
abolition of the contract system of employing prison labor, and
suppression of Chinese immigration. It is clear that in this
platform the interests of labor received full consideration. Just
before the conference adjourned it adopted two additional
resolutions. One of these, adopted in response to a telegram from
General B. F. Butler, denounced the silver bill just passed by
Congress because it had been so modified as to limit the amount
of silver to be coined. The other, which was offered by "Brick"
Pomeroy, declared: "We will not affiliate in any degree with any
of the old parties, but in all cases and localities will organize
anew . . . and . . . vote only for men who entirely abandon old
party lines and organizations." This attempt to forestall fusion
was to be of no avail, as the sequel will show, but Pomeroy and
his followers in the Greenback clubs adhered throughout to their

In the elections of 1878, the high-water mark of the movement,
about a million votes were cast for Greenback candidates.
Approximately two-thirds of the strength of the party was in the
Middle West and one-third in the East. That the movement, even in
the East, was largely agrarian, is indicated by the famous
argument of Solon Chase, chairman of the party convention in
Maine. "Inflate the currency, and you raise the price of my
steers and at the same time pay the public debt." "Them steers"
gave Chase a prominent place in politics for half a decade. The
most important achievement of the movement at this time was the
election to Congress of fifteen members who were classified as
Nationals--six from the East, six from the Middle West, and three
from the South. In most cases these men secured their election
through fusion or through the failure of one of the old parties
to make nominations.

Easily first among the Greenbackers elected to Congress in 1878
was General James B. Weaver of Iowa. When ten years of age,
Weaver had been taken by his parents to Iowa from Ohio, his
native State. In 1854, he graduated from a law school in
Cincinnati, and for some years thereafter practiced his
profession and edited a paper at Bloomfield in Davis County,
Iowa. He enlisted in the army as a private in 1861, displayed
great bravery at the battles of Donelson and Shiloh, and received
rapid promotion to the rank of colonel. At the close of the war
he received a commission as brigadier general by brevet. Weaver
ran his first tilt in state politics in an unsuccessful attempt
to obtain the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in
1865. Although an ardent advocate of prohibition and of state
regulation of railroads, Weaver remained loyal to the Republican
party during the Granger period and in 1875 was a formidable
candidate for the gubernatorial nomination. It is said that a
majority of the delegates to the convention had been instructed
in his favor, but the railroad and liquor interests succeeded in
stampeding the convention to Samuel J. Kirkwood, the popular war
governor. In the following year Weaver took part in the
organization of the Independent or Greenback party in Iowa and
accepted a position on its state committee. Though resentment at
the treatment which he had received from the Republicans may have
influenced him to break the old ties, he was doubtless sincerely
convinced that the Republican party was beyond redemption and
that the only hope for reform lay in the new party movement.

Weaver was gifted with remarkable talent as an orator. His fine
face and soldierly bearing, his rich sympathetic voice and vivid
imagination, made him a favorite speaker at soldiers' reunions
and in political campaigns. Lacking the eccentricities of so many
of his third party associates and never inclined to go to
extremes in his radicalism, he was one of the ablest and, from
the standpoint of the Republicans, the most dangerous of the
Greenback leaders. In Congress Weaver won the respect of his
colleagues. Always ready to promote what he believed to be the
interests of the common people and especially of the farmers, he
espoused the cause of the Oklahoma "boomers," who were opposed by
a powerful lobby representing the interests of the "cattle
barons." He declared that, in a choice between bullocks and
babies, he would stand for babies, and he staged a successful
filibuster at the close of a session in order to force the
consideration of a bill for the opening of part of Oklahoma to

The preliminaries of the campaign of 1880 were vexed by
dissension within the ranks of the Greenbackers. In March the
radical faction led by Pomeroy held a convention in St. Louis
which claimed to speak for ten thousand Greenback clubs and two
million voters. After Stephen D. Dillaye of New York had refused
the presidential nomination at the hands of this convention, it
adjourned to meet in Chicago on the 9th of June the place and
time already selected for the regular convention of the National
party. One reason for the attitude of this faction appears to
have been the fear of fusion with the Democrats. The Chicago
convention finally succeeded in absorbing these malcontents, as
well as a group of socialist delegates and representatives of
various labor organizations who asked to be admitted. Dennis
Kearney, the notorious sand-lot agitator of California was made
chief sergeant at arms, and Susan B. Anthony was allowed to give
a suffrage speech. The platform differed from earlier Greenback
documents in that it contained no denunciation of the Resumption
Act. That was now a dead issue, for on January 1, 1879,
resumption became an accomplished fact, and the paper currency
was worth its face value in gold. Apart from this the platform
was much the same as that adopted at Toledo in 1878, with the
addition of planks favoring women's suffrage, a graduated income
tax, and congressional regulation of interstate commerce. On the
first ballot, General Weaver received a majority of the votes for
presidential nominee; and B. J. Chambers of Texas was nominated
for Vice-President.

General Weaver in his letter of acceptance declared it to be his
intention "to visit the various sections of the Union and talk to
the people." This he did, covering the country from Arkansas to
Maine and from Lake Michigan to the Gulf, speaking in Faneuil
Hall at Boston and in the Cooper Union at New York, but spending
the greater part of his time in the Southern States. He declared
that he traveled twenty thousand miles, made fully one hundred
speeches, shook the hands of thirty thousand people, and was
heard by half a million. Weaver was the first presidential
candidate to conduct a campaign of this sort, and the results
were not commensurate with his efforts. The Greenback vote was
only 308,578, about three per cent of the total. One explanation
of the small vote would seem to be the usual disinclination of
people to vote for a man who has no chance of election, however
much they may approve of him and his principles, when they have
the opportunity to make their votes count in deciding between two
other candidates. Then, too, the sun of prosperity was beginning
at last to dissipate the clouds of depression. The crops of corn,
wheat, and oats raised in 1880 were the largest the country had
ever known; and the price of corn for once failed to decline as
production rose, so that the crop was worth half as much again as
that of 1878. When the farmer had large crops to dispose of at
remunerative prices, he lost interest in the inflation of the

After 1880 the Greenback party rapidly disintegrated. There was
no longer any hope of its becoming a major party, in the near
future at least, and the more conservative leaders began to drift
back into the old parties or to make plans for fusion with one of
them in coming elections. But fusion could at best only defer the
end. The congressional election of 1882 clearly demonstrated that
the party was moribund. Ten of the Congressmen elected in 1880
had been classified as Nationals; of these only one was reelected
in 1882, and no new names appear in the list. It is probable,
however, that a number of Congressmen classified as Democrats
owed their election in part to fusion between the Democratic and
Greenback parties.

The last appearance of the Greenbackers in national politics was
in the presidential election of 1884. In May of that year a
convention of "The Anti-Monopoly Organization of the United
States," held in Chicago, adopted a platform voicing a demand for
legislative control of corporations and monopolies in the
interests of the people and nominated General Benjamin F. Butler
for President. The convention of the Greenback or National party
met in Indianapolis, and selected Butler as its candidate also.
General Weaver presided over the convention. The platform
contained the usual demands of the party with the exception of
the resolution for the "free and unlimited coinage of gold and
silver," which was rejected by a vote of 218 to 164. It would
appear that the majority of the delegates preferred to rely upon
legal-tender paper to furnish the ample supply of money desired.
General Butler was at this time acting with the Democrats in
Massachusetts, and his first response was noncommittal. Although
he subsequently accepted both nominations, he did not make an
active campaign, and his total popular vote was only 175,370.
Butler's personal popularity and his labor affiliations brought
increased votes in some of the Eastern States and in Michigan,
but in those Western States where the party had been strongest in
1880 and where it had been distinctly a farmers' movement there
was a great falling off in the Greenback vote.

Though the forces of agrarian discontent attained national
political organization for the first time in the Greenback party,
its leaders were never able to obtain the support of more than a
minority of the farmers. The habit of voting the Republican or
the Democratic ticket, firmly established by the Civil War and by
Reconstruction, was too strong to be lightly broken; and many who
favored inflation could not yet bring themselves to the point of
supporting the Greenback party. On the other hand there were
undoubtedly many farmers and others who felt that the old parties
were hopelessly subservient to capitalistic interests, who were
ready to join in radical movements for reform and for the
advancement of the welfare of the industrial classes, but who
were not convinced that the structure of permanent prosperity for
farmer and workingman could be built on a foundation of fiat
money. Although the platforms of the Greenbackers contained many
demands which were soundly progressive, inflation was the
paramount issue in them; and with this issue the party was unable
to obtain the support of all the forces of discontent,
radicalism, and reform which had been engendered by the economic
and political conditions of the times. The Greenback movement was
ephemeral. Failing to solve the problem of agricultural
depression, it passed away as had the Granger movement before it;
but the greater farmers' movement of which both were a part went


An English observer of agricultural conditions in 1893 finds that
agricultural unrest was not peculiar to the United States in the
last quarter of the nineteenth century, but existed in all the
more advanced countries of the world:

"Almost everywhere, certainly in England, France, Germany, Italy,
Scandinavia, and the United States, the agriculturists, formerly
so instinctively conservative, are becoming fiercely
discontented, declare they gained less by civilization than the
rest of the community, and are looking about for remedies of a
drastic nature. In England they are hoping for aid from councils
of all kinds; in France they have put on protective duties which
have been increased in vain twice over; in Germany they put on
and relaxed similar duties and are screaming for them again; in
Scandinavia Denmark more particularly--they limit the aggregation
of land; and in the United States they create organizations like
the Grangers, the Farmers' Leagues, and the Populists."*

*The Spectator, Vol. LXX, p. 247.

It is to general causes, indeed, that one must turn before trying
to find the local circumstances which aggravated the unrest in
the United States, or at least appeared to do so. The application
of power--first steam, then electricity--to machinery had not
only vastly increased the productivity of mankind but had
stimulated invention to still wider activity and lengthened the
distance between man and that gaunt specter of famine which had
dogged his footsteps from the beginning. With a constantly,
growing supply of the things necessary for the maintenance of
life, population increased tremendously: England, which a few
centuries before had been overcrowded with fewer than four
million' people, was now more bountifully feeding and clothing
forty millions. Perhaps, all in all, mankind was better off than
it had ever been before; yet different groups maintained unequal
progress. The tillers of the soil as a whole remained more nearly
in their primitive condition than did the dwellers of the city.
The farmer, it is true, produced a greater yield of crops, was
surrounded by more comforts, and was able to enjoy greater
leisure than his kind had ever done before. The scythe and cradle
had been supplanted by the mower and reaper; horse harrows,
cultivators, and rakes had transferred much of the physical
exertion of farming to the draft animals. But, after all, the
farmer owed less to steam and electricity than the craftsman and
the artisan of the cities.

The American farmer, if he read the census reports, might learn
that rural wealth had increased from nearly $4,000,000,000 in
1850 to not quite $16,000,000,000 in 1890; but he would also
discover that in the same period urban wealth had advanced from a
little over $3,000,000,000 to more than $49,000,000,000. Forty
years before the capital of rural districts comprised more than
half that of the whole country, now it formed only twenty-five
per cent. The rural population had shown a steady proportionate
decrease: when the first census was taken in 1790, the dwellers
of the country numbered more than ten times those of the city,
but at the end of the nineteenth century they formed only about
one-third of the total. Of course the intelligent farmer might
have observed that food for the consumption of all could be
produced by the work of fewer hands, and vastly more bountifully
as well, and so he might have explained the relative decline of
rural population and wealth; but when the average farmer saw his
sons and his neighbors' sons more and more inclined to seek work
in town and leave the farm, he put two and two together and came
to the conclusion that farming was in a perilous state. He heard
the boy who had gone to the city boast that his hours were
shorter, his toil less severe, and his return in money much
greater than had been the case on the farm; and he knew that this
was true. Perhaps the farmer did not realize that he had some
compensations: greater security of position and a reasonable
expectation that old age would find him enjoying some sort of
home, untroubled by the worry which might attend the artisan or

Whether or not the American farmer realized that the nineteenth
century had seen a total change in the economic relations of the
world, he did perceive clearly that something was wrong in his
own case. The first and most impressive evidence of this was to
be found in the prices he received for what he had to sell. From
1883 to 1889 inclusive the average price of wheat was
seventy-three cents a bushel, of corn thirty-six cents, of oats
twenty-eight cents. In 1890 crops were poor in most of the grain
areas, while prosperous times continued to keep the consuming
public of the manufacturing regions able to buy; consequently
corn and oats nearly doubled in price, and wheat advanced 20 per
cent. Nevertheless, such was the shortage, except in the case of
corn, that the total return was smaller than it had been for a
year or two before. In 1891 bumper crops of wheat, corn, oats,
rye, and barley drove the price down on all except wheat and rye,
but not to the level of 1889. Despite a much smaller harvest in
1892 the decline continued, to the intense disgust of the farmers
of Nebraska and Minnesota who failed to note that the entire
production of wheat in the world was normal in that year, that
considerable stores of the previous crop had been held over and
that more than a third of the yield in the United States was sent
forth to compete everywhere with the crops of Argentine, Russia,
and the other grain producing countries. No wonder the average
farmer of the Mississippi basin was ready to give ear to any one
who could suggest a remedy for his ills.

Cotton, which averaged nearly eleven cents a pound for the decade
ending in 1890, dropped to less than nine cents in 1891 and to
less than eight in 1892. Cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, and mules
brought more in the late than in the early eighties, yet these,
too, showed a decline about 1890. The abnormal war-time price of
wool which was more than one dollar a pound in October, 1864,
dropped precipitately with peace, rose a little just before the
panic of 1873, and then declined with almost no reaction until it
reached thirty-three cents for the highest grade in 1892.

The "roaring eighties," with all their superficial appearance of
prosperity, had apparently not brought equal cheer to all. And
then came the "heart-breaking nineties." In February, 1893, the
Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company failed, a break in the
stock market followed, and an old-fashioned panic seized the
country in its grasp. A period of hitherto unparalleled
speculative frenzy came thus to an end, and sober years followed
in which the American people had ample opportunity to contemplate
the evils arising from their economic debauch.

Prices of agricultural products continued their downward trend.
Wheat touched bottom in 1894 with an average price of forty-nine
cents; corn, two years later, reached twenty-one cents. All the
other grains were likewise affected. Middling cotton which had
sold at eight and a half cents a pound in 1893, dropped below
seven cents the following year, recovered until it reached nearly
eight cents in 1896, and was at its lowest in 1898 at just under
six cents. Of all the marketable products of the farm, cattle,
hay, and hogs alone maintained the price level of the decade
prior to 1892. Average prices, moreover, do not fully indicate
the small return which many farmers received. In December, 1891,
for instance, the average value of a bushel of corn was about
forty cents, but in Nebraska, on January 1, 1892, corn brought
only twenty-six cents. When, a few years later, corn was worth,
according to the statistics, just over twenty-one cents, it was
literally cheaper to burn it in Kansas or Nebraska than to cart
it to town, sell it, and buy coal with the money received; and
this is just what hundreds of despairing farmers did. Even crop
shortage did little to increase the price of the grain that was
raised. When a drought seriously diminished the returns in Ohio,
Indiana, and Michigan in 1895, the importation from States
farther west prevented any rise in price.

Prices dropped, but the interest on mortgages remained the same.
One hundred and seventy-four bushels of wheat would pay the
interest at 8 per cent on a $2000 mortgage in 1888, when the
price of wheat was higher than it had been for ten years and
higher than it was to be again for a dozen years. In 1894 or 1895
when the price was hovering around fifty cents, it took 320
bushels to pay the same interest. Frequently the interest was
higher than 8 per cent, and outrageous commissions on renewals
increased the burden of the farmer. The result was one
foreclosure after another. The mortgage shark was identified as
the servant of the "Wall Street Octopus," and between them there
was little hope for the farmer. In Kansas, according to a
contemporary investigator,* "the whole western third of the State
was settled by a boom in farm lands. Multitudes of settlers took
claims without means of their own, expecting to pay for the land
from the immediate profits of farming. Multitudes of them
mortgaged the land for improvements, and multitudes more expended
the proceeds of mortgages in living. When it was found that the
proceeds of farming in that part of the State were very
uncertain, at best, the mortgages became due. And in many
instances those who had been nominally owners remained upon the
farms as tenants after foreclosure. These are but the natural
effects in reaction from a tremendous boom." In eastern Kansas,
where settlement was older, the pressure of hard times was
withstood with less difficulty. It was in western Kansas, by the
way, that Populism had its strongest following; and, after the
election of 1892, a movement to separate the State into two
commonwealths received serious consideration.

* G. T. Fairchild, Pol. Se. Q., vol. 11, p. 614.

Even more inexorable than the holder of the mortgage or his agent
was the tax collector. It was easy to demonstrate that the
farmer, with little or nothing but his land, his stock, and a
meager outfit of implements and furniture, all readily to be seen
and assessed, paid taxes higher in proportion to his ability to
pay than did the business man or the corporation. Although his
equity in the land he owned might be much less than its assessed
value, he was not allowed to make any deduction for mortgages.
The revenue of the Federal Government was raised wholly by
indirect taxes levied principally upon articles of common
consumption; and the farmer and other people of small means paid
an undue share of the burden in the form of higher prices
demanded for commodities.

Low prices for his produce, further depressed by the rapacity of
the railroads and the other intermediaries between the producer
and the consumer, mortgages with high interest rates, and an
inequitable system of taxation formed the burden of the farmer's
complaint during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
These grievances and all sorts of remedies proposed for them were
discussed in farmers' gatherings, in agricultural weeklies, even
in city dailies, and ultimately in legislative chambers.
Investigations demonstrated that, even when reduced to a minimum,
the legitimate grounds for complaint were extensive; and the
resultant reports suggested a variety of remedies. Generally,
however, popular sentiment swung around again to the tack it had
taken in the late seventies: the real cure for all the evils was
more money. Wall Street and the national banks could suck the
blood from the western community because of their monopoly of the
money supply. According to one irate editor, "Few people are
aware of the boundless advantages that the national banks have
under our present accursed system. They have usurped the credit
of the people and are fattening a thousand-fold annually from the
unlimited resources at their command." Another editor wrote:

We find the following printed card on our desk: "The last report
of the Secretary of the Treasury shows the banks as loaning
$1,970,022,687"! Four times the amount of money there is to loan.
Four interests in every dollar! They are drawing from the people
enough to run the National Government. How long will it take them
to gather in all the money of the nation? This does not include
the amounts loaned by state, private, and savings banks. Add to
this the billions of dollars of other loans and think if it is
any wonder times are hard. Will the American people never wake up
to the fact that they are being pauperized? Four people are
paying interest upon each dollar you have in your pocket--if you
have any. Wake up! Wake up!

Whatever the ultimate effects of an inflated and consequently
depreciated currency might be, the debtor class, to which a large
portion of the Western farmers belonged, would obviously benefit
immediately by the injection of large quantities of money into
the circulating medium. The purchasing power of money would be
lower; hence the farmer would receive more in dollars and cents
and would be in a better position to pay his standing debts.
Whether or not the rise in the prices of his products would be
offset or more than offset by the increased prices which he would
have to pay for the things he purchased would depend upon the
relative rate at which different commodities adjusted themselves
to the new scale of money value. In the end, of course, other
things being equal, there would be a return of old conditions;
but the farmers did not look so far ahead. Hence it was that less
attention was paid to taxation, to railroad rates and
discriminations, to elevator companies, to grain gamblers, or to
corporations as such; and the main force of the agrarian
movements from 1875 onward was exerted, first for an increased
paper currency and then for free silver.


The hope of welding the farmers into an organization which would
enable them to present a united front to their enemies and to
work together for the promotion of their interests--social,
economic, and political--was too alluring to be allowed to die
out with the decline of the Patrons of Husbandry. Farmers who had
experienced the benefits of the Grange, even though they had
deserted it in its hour of trial, were easily induced to join
another organization embodying all its essential features but
proposing to avoid its mistakes. The conditions which brought
about the rapid spread of the Grange in the seventies still
prevailed; and as soon as the reaction from the Granger movement
was spent, orders of farmers began to appear in various places
and to spread rapidly throughout the South and West. This second
movement for agricultural organization differed from the first in
that it sprang from the soil, as it were, and, like Topsy, "just
grooved" instead of being deliberately planned and put into
operation by a group of founders.

A local farmers' club or alliance was organized in 1874 or 1875
in the frontier county of Lampasas, Texas, for mutual protection
against horse thieves and land sharks and for cooperation in the
rounding up of strayed stock and in the purchase of supplies.
That it might accomplish its purposes more effectively, the club
adopted a secret ritual of three degrees; and it is said that at
first this contained a formula for catching horse thieves.
Affiliated lodges were soon established in neighboring
communities, and in 1878 a Grand State Alliance was organized.
Some one connected with this movement must have been familiar
with the Grange, for the Declaration of Purposes adopted by the
State Alliance in 1880 is but a crude paraphrase of the
declaration adopted by the earlier order at St. Louis in 1874.
These promising beginnings were quickly wrecked by political
dissension, particularly in connection with the Greenback
movement, and the first State Alliance held its last meeting in
1879. In that year, however, a member of the order who removed to
Poolville in Parker County, Texas, organized there a distinctly
non-partisan alliance. From this new center the movement spread
more rapidly; a second Grand State Alliance was organized; and
the order grew with such rapidity that by 1886 there were nearly
three thousand local lodges in the State. The social aspect was
prominent in the Alliance movement in Texas from the beginning.
Women were admitted to full membership, and negroes were
excluded. In 1882 the three degrees of the ritual were combined
into one so that all members might be on the same footing.

The early minutes of the State Alliance indicate that the
rounding up of estrays was the most important practical feature
of the order at that time, but in a few years this was
overshadowed by cooperation. Trade agreements were made with
dealers, joint stock stores and Alliance cotton-yards were
established, and finally a state exchange was organized with a
nominal capital of half a million dollars to handle the business
of the members. All the difficulties which the Grange had
encountered in its attempts at cooperation beset the Alliance
ventures: dissension was spread by merchants and commission men
fighting for their livelihood; mistakes were made by agents and
directors; too much was attempted at once; and in a few years the
house of cards tumbled to the ground.

While its business ventures were still promising, the Texas
Alliance came near being wrecked once more on the shoals of
politics. The state meeting in August, 1886, adopted an elaborate
set of "Demands," which included higher taxation of lands held
for speculative purposes, prohibition of alien land ownership,
laws to "prevent the dealing in futures of all agricultural
products," full taxation of railroad property, "the rapid
extinguishment of the public debt of the United States, by
operating the mints to their fullest capacity in coining silver
and gold, and the tendering of the same without discrimination to
the public creditors," the issue of legal tender notes on a per
capita basis and their substitution for bank notes, a national
bureau of labor statistics, an interstate commerce law, and the
abolition of the contract system of employing convicts. Provision
was made for a committee of three to press these demands upon
Congress and the State Legislature. At the close of the meeting,
some of the members, fearing that the adoption of this report
would lead to an attempt to establish a new political party, held
another meeting and organized a rival State Alliance.

Considerable confusion prevailed for a few months; the president
and vice-president of the regular State Alliance resigned, and
the whole order seemed on the verge of disruption. At this point
there appeared on the stage the man who was destined not only to
save the Alliance in Texas but also to take the lead in making it
a national organization--C. W. Macune, the chairman of the
executive committee. Assuming the position of acting president,
Macune called a special session of the State Alliance to meet in
January, 1887. At this meeting the constitution was amended to
include a declaration that it was the purpose of the order "to
labor for the education of the agricultural classes in the
science of economical government, in a strictly nonpartisan
spirit"; and attention was then directed to a plan for "the
organization of the cotton belt of America." The first step in
this direction was taken in the same month when the Texas
Alliance joined with the Farmers' Union of Louisiana and formed
the National Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union of America.*

* The Farmers' Union was the outgrowth of an open farmers' club
organized in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, in 1880. In 1885 this was
transformed into a secret society with a ritual modeled after
that of the Grange and with a constitution adapted from the
constitution used by the Texas alliances. Before the year was
over the order spread into the adjoining parishes and a state
union was established.

Macune, who was elected president of the national body, at once
sent organizers into most of the Southern States; and local
alliances, followed rapidly by state organization, appeared in
State after State. When the next meeting was held in October,
1887, delegates were present from nine Southern States.* The
"Demands" adopted at this meeting were very like those which had
split the Texas Alliance in the preceding year, with the addition
of sections calling for the reduction of the tariff to a revenue
basis, a graduated income tax, promotion of industrial and
agricultural education, restriction of immigration, and popular
election of United States senators.

* By December, 1888, it was claimed that there were 10,000
alliances in 16 States with a total membership of about 400,000.
It was evident that the organization of the farmers of the cotton
belt was rapidly being consummated.

As the Alliance spread into Arkansas and some of the adjoining
States, it encountered another farmers' association of a very
similar character and purpose. The Agricultural Wheel, as it was
known, originated in a local club in Prairie County, Arkansas, in
1882, and soon expanded into a state-wide organization. After
amalgamating with another agricultural order, known as the
Brothers of Freedom, the Wheel began to roll into the adjoining
States. In 1886 delegates from Tennessee and Kentucky attended
the meeting of the Arkansas State Wheel and took part in the
organization of the National Agricultural Wheel.* When the
National Wheel held its first annual meeting in November, 1887,
eight state organizations had been established, all in the
Southwest, with a total membership of half a million.

* Some difficulty was occasioned at this meeting by the question
of admitting negroes to the order, but this was finally settled
by making provision for separate lodges for colored members.

With two great orders of farmers expanding in much the same
territory and having practically identical objects, the
desirability of union was obvious. The subject was discussed at
meetings of both bodies, and committees of conference were
appointed. Both organizations finally convened in December, 1888,
at Meridian, Mississippi, and appointed a joint committee to work
out the details of amalgamation. The outcome was a new
constitution, which was accepted by each body acting separately
and was finally ratified by the state organizations. The combined
order was to be known as the Farmers' and Laborers' Union of

While this development had been going on in the South, another
movement, somewhat different in character and quite independent
in origin, had been launched by the farmers of the Northwest. The
founder of the National Farmers' Alliance, or the Northwestern
Alliance, as it was called to distinguish it from the Southern
organization, was Milton George, editor of the Western Rural of
Chicago, who had been instrumental in organizing a local alliance
in Cook County. This Alliance began issuing charters to other
locals, and in October, at the close of a convention in Chicago
attended by about "five hundred, representing alliances, granges,
farmers' clubs, etc.," a national organization was formed. The
constitution adopted at this time declared the object of the
order to be "to unite the farmers of the United States for their
protection against class legislation, and the encroachments of
concentrated capital and the tyranny of monopoly; . . . to
oppose, in our respective political parties, the election of any
candidate to office, state or national, who is not thoroughly in
sympathy with the farmers' interests; to demand that the existing
political parties shall nominate farmers, or those who are in
sympathy with them, for all offices within the gift of the
people, and to do everything in a legitimate manner that may
serve to benefit the producer." The specific measures for which
the promoters of the Northwestern Alliance intended to work were
set forth in a platform adopted at the second annual meeting in
Chicago, October 5, 1881, which demanded: equal taxation of all
property, including deduction of the amount of mortgages from
assessments of mortgaged property; "a just income tax"; reduction
of salaries of officials and their election instead of
appointment, so far as practicable; regulation of interstate
commerce; reform of the patent laws; and prevention of the
adulteration of food. "The combination and consolidation of
railroad capital . . . in the maintenance of an oppressive and
tyrannical transportation system" was particularly denounced, and
the farmers of the country were called upon to organize "for
systematic and persistent action" for "the emancipation of the
people from this terrible oppression."

The Northwestern Alliance did not attempt cooperation in business
so extensively as did its Southern contemporaries, but a number
of Alliance grain elevators were established in Minnesota and
Dakota, cooperative creameries flourished in Illinois, and many
of the alliances appointed agents to handle produce and purchase
supplies for the members. It was in the field of politics,
however, that the activity of the order was most notable. The
methods by which the farmers of the Northwest attempted to use
their organizations for political ends are well illustrated by
the resolutions adopted at the annual meeting of the Minnesota
State Alliance in 1886 which declared that "the Alliance, while
not a partisan association, is political in the sense that it
seeks to correct the evils of misgovernment through the
ballot-box," and called upon all the producers of the State "to
unite with us at the ballot-box next November to secure a
legislature that will work in the interests of the many against
the exactions of the few." The specific demands included state
regulation of railroads, free coinage of silver, reduction of the
tariff to a revenue basis, revision of the patent laws, high
taxation of oleomargarine, and reduction of the legal rate of
interest from 10 to 8 per cent. The secretary was directed to
forward copies of these resolutions to federal and state officers
and to the delegation of the State in Congress; and the members
of local alliances were "urged to submit this platform of
principles to every candidate for the legislature in their
respective districts, and to vote as a unit against every man who
refuses to publicly subscribe his name to the same and pledge
himself, if elected, to live up to it."

The resolutions adopted by the National Alliance in 1887 show
that the political purposes of the order had become considerably
more comprehensive than they were when it was getting under way
in 1881. First place was now given to a plank favoring the free
coinage of silver and the issuance of "all paper money direct to
the people." The demand for railroad regulation was accompanied
by a statement that "the ultimate solution of the transportation
problem may be found in the ownership and operation by the
Government of one or more transcontinental lines"; and the
immediate acquisition of the Union Pacific, then in financial
difficulties, was suggested. Other resolutions called for
government ownership and operation of the telegraph, improvement
of waterways, restriction of the liquor traffic, industrial
education in the public schools, restoration of agricultural
colleges "to the high purpose of their creation," and popular
election of Senators. The national body does not appear to have
attempted, at this time, to force its platform upon candidates
for office; but it urged "farmers throughout the country to aid
in the work of immediate organization, that we may act in concert
for our own and the common good."

The culmination of this general movement for the organization of
the farmers of the country came in 1889 and 1890. The Farmers'
and Laborers' Union and the Northwestern Alliance met at St.
Louis on December 3, 1889. The meeting of the Southern
organization, which was renamed the National Farmers' Alliance
and Industrial Union, was attended by about a hundred delegates
representing Indiana, Kansas, and every Southern State from
Maryland to Texas, with the exception of West Virginia. The
purpose of the two orders in holding their meetings at the same
time and place was obviously to effect some sort of union, and
committees of conference were at once appointed. Difficulties
soon confronted these committees: the Southern Alliance wanted to
effect a complete merger but insisted upon retention of the
secret features and the exclusion of negroes, at least from the
national body; the Northwestern Alliance preferred a federation
in which each organization might retain its identity.
Arrangements were finally made for future conferences to effect
federation but nothing came of them. The real obstacles seem to
have been differences of policy with reference to political
activity and a survival of sectional feeling.

With the failure of the movement for union, the Southern Alliance
began active work in the Northern States; and when the Supreme
Council, as the national body was now called, held its next
meeting at Ocala, Florida, in December, 1890, delegates were
present from state alliances of seven Northern and Western
States, in addition to those represented at the St. Louis
meeting. The Farmers' Mutual Benefit Association, a secret order
with about two hundred thousand members, had a committee in
attendance at this meeting, and the Colored Farmers' Alliance,
which had been founded in Texas in 1886 and claimed a membership
of over a million, held its national meeting at the same time and
place. Plans were formulated for a federation of these three
bodies, and of such other farmers' and laborers' associations as
might join with them, to the end that all might work unitedly for
legislation in the interests of the industrial classes.

Signs of approaching dissolution of the Alliance movement were
already apparent at the Ocala meeting. The finances of the
Southern Alliance had been so badly managed that there was a
deficit of about $6000 in the treasury of the Supreme Council.
This was due in part to reckless expenditure and in part to
difficulties in collecting dues from the state organizations.
Discord had arisen, moreover, from the political campaign of
1890, and an investigating committee expressed its disapproval of
the actions of the officers in connection with a senatorial
contest in Georgia. The decline of the Southern Alliance after
1890 was even more rapid than that of the Grange had been. The
failure of many of the cooperative ventures contributed to this
decline; but complications and dissensions resulting from the
establishment of a new political party which took over the
Alliance platform, were principally responsible. The Northwestern
Alliance continued for a few years, practically as an adjunct to
the new party but it, too, lost rapidly in membership and
influence. With the year 1890 interest shifts from social to
political organization, from Alliances to Populism.


Alliances, wheels, leagues--all the agrarian organizations which
multiplied during the eighties gave tangible form to the
underlying unrest created by the economic conditions of that
superficially prosperous decade. Only slowly, however, did there
develop a feeling that a new political party was necessary in
order to apply the remedies which, it was believed, would cure
some if not all the ills of the agricultural class. Old party
ties were still strong. Only with reluctance could the Republican
or Democrat of long standing bring himself to depart from the
familiar fold. Then, too, the recent ignominious failures of the
Greenback party might well cool the ardor of all but the most
sanguine advocates of a third party movement. Among the leaders
of the agrarian organizations were many, moreover, who foresaw
that to become involved in partisan politics could mean nothing
less than the defeat of all their original purposes.

One disappointment after another, however, made it apparent that
little was to be expected from the Republican or the Democratic
party. Trust in individual politicians proved equally vain, since
promises easily made during a hot campaign were as easily
forgotten after the battle was over. One speaker before a state
convention of the Northwest Alliance put into words what many
were thinking: "There may be some contingencies when you may have
to act politically. If other parties will not nominate men
friendly to your interest, then your influence will have to be
felt in some way or you may as well disband. If all parties
nominate your enemies, then put some of your own friends into the
race and then stand by them as a Christian stands by his
religion." In other words, if nothing was to be gained by
scattering votes among the candidates of the old parties,
independent action remained the only course. Hence it was that
the late eighties saw the beginnings of another party of protest,
dominated by the farmers and so formidable as to cause the
machine politicians to realize that a new force was abroad in the

After the Greenback party lost the place it had for a fleeting
moment obtained, labor once more essayed the role of a third
party. In 1886, for instance, the Knights of Labor and the trades
unions, for once cooperating harmoniously, joined forces locally
with the moribund Greenbackers and with farmers' organizations
and won notable successes at the polls in various parts of the
Union, particularly in the Middle Atlantic and Western States.
Emboldened by such victories, the discontented farmers were
induced to cast in their lot with labor; and for the next few
years, the nation saw the manifestoes of a party which combined
the demands of labor and agriculture in platforms constructed not
unlike a crazy-quilt, with Henry George, James Buchanan, and
Alson J. Streeter. presiding at the sewing-bee and attempting to
fit into the patchwork the diverse and frequently clashing shades
of opinion represented in the party. In 1888, Streeter,
ex-president of the Northwestern Alliance, was nominated for
President on the Union Labor ticket and received 146,935 votes in
27 of the 38 States. Despite its name and some support from the
Eastern workers, the new party was predominantly Western: more
than half of its total vote was polled in Kansas, Texas,
Missouri, and Arkansas. In the local elections of 1889 and 1890
the party still appeared but was obviously passing off the stage
to make way for a greater attraction.

The meager vote for Streeter in 1888 demonstrated that the
organized farmers were yet far from accepting the idea of
separate political action. President Macune of the Southern
Alliance probably voiced the sentiments of most of that order
when he said in his address to the delegates at Shreveport in
1887: "Let the Alliance be a business organization for business
purposes, and as such, necessarily secret, and as secret,
necessarily nonpolitical."* Even the Northwestern Alliance had
given no sign of official approval to the political party in
which so many of its own members played a conspicuous part.

* At the next annual meeting, in December, 1888, no change in
policy was enunciated: the plan for a national organ, unanimously
adopted by the Alliance, provided that it should be "strictly
non-partisan in politics and non-sectarian in religion."

But after the election of 1888, those who had continued to put
their trust in non-political organizations gradually awoke to the
fact that neither fulminations against transportation abuses,
monopolies, and the protective tariff, nor the lobbying of the
Southern Alliance in Washington had produced reforms. Even Macune
was moved to say at the St. Louis session in December, 1889: "We
have reached a period in the history of our Government when
confidence in our political leaders and great political
organizations is almost destroyed, and estrangement between them
and the people is becoming more manifest everyday." Yet the
formation of a new party under the auspices of the Alliance was
probably not contemplated at this time, except possibly as a last
resort, for the Alliance agreed to "support for office only such
men as can be depended upon to enact these principles into
statute laws, uninfluenced by party caucus." Although the demands
framed at this St. Louis convention read like a party platform
and, indeed, became the basis of the platform of the People's
Party in 1892, they were little more than a restatement of
earlier programs put forth by the Alliance and the Wheel. They
called for the substitution of greenbacks for national bank
notes, laws to "prevent the dealing in futures of all
agricultural and mechanical productions," free and unlimited
coinage of silver, prohibition of alien ownership of land,
reclamation from the railroads of lands held by them in excess of
actual needs, reduction and equalization of taxation, the issue
of fractional paper currency for use in the mails, and, finally,
government ownership and operation of the means of communication
and transportation.

The real contribution which this meeting made to the agrarian
movement was contained in the report of the committee on the
monetary system, of which C. W. Macune was chairman. This was the
famous sub-treasury scheme, soon to become the paramount issue
with the Alliance and the Populists in the South and in some
parts of the West. The committee proposed "that the system of
using certain banks as United States depositories be abolished,
and in place of said system, establish in every county in each of
the States that offers for sale during the one year $500,000
worth of farm products--including wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye,
rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, and sugar, all together--a
sub-treasury office." In connection with this office there were
to be warehouses or elevators in which the farmers might deposit
their crops, receiving a certificate of the deposit showing the
amount and quality, and a loan of United States legal tender
paper equal to eighty per cent of the local current value of the
products deposited. The interest on this loan was to be at the
rate of one per cent per annum; and the farmer, or the person to
whom he might sell his certificate, was to be allowed one year
in which to redeem the property; otherwise it would be sold at
public auction for the satisfaction of the debt. This project was
expected to benefit the farmers in two ways: it would increase
and make flexible the volume of currency in circulation; and it
would enable them to hold their crops in anticipation of a rise
in price.

The Northwestern Alliance also hesitated to play the role of a
third party, but it adopted a program which was virtually a party
platform. In place of the sub-treasury scheme as a means of
increasing the volume of currency in circulation and at the same
time enabling the farmer to borrow money at low rates of
interest, this organization favored the establishment of a land
loan bureau operated by the Government. Legal tender currency to
the amount of $100,000,000 or more if necessary, was to be placed
at the disposal of this bureau for loans upon the security of
agricultural land in amounts not to exceed one-half the value of
the land and at an interest rate of two per cent per annum. These
loans might run for twenty years but were to be payable at any
time at the option of the borrower.

With two strong organizations assuming all the functions of
political parties, except the nomination of candidates, the stage
was set in 1890 for a drama of unusual interest. One scene was
laid in Washington, where in the House and Senate and in the
lobbies the sub-treasury scheme was aired and argued. Lending
their strength to the men from the mining States, the Alliance
men aided the passage of the Silver Purchase Act, the nearest
approach to free silver which Congress could be induced to make.
By the familiar practice of "log-rolling," the silverites
prevented the passage of the McKinley tariff bill until the
manufacturers of the East were willing to yield in part their
objections to silver legislation. But both the tariff and the
silver bill seemed to the angry farmers of the West mere bones
thrown to the dog under the table. They had demanded FREE silver
and had secured a mere increase in the amount to be purchased;
they had called for a downward revision of the duties upon
manufactured products and had been given more or less meaningless
"protection" of their farm produce; they had insisted upon
adequate control of the trusts and had been presented with the
Sherman Act, a law which might or might not curb the monopolies
under which they believed themselves crushed. All the unrest
which had been gathering during the previous decade, all the
venom which had been distilled by fourteen cent corn and ten
per cent interest, all the blind striving to frustrate the
industrial consolidation which the farmer did not understand but
feared and hated, found expression in the political campaign of

The Alliance suited its political activities to local
necessities. In many of the Southern States, notably Florida,
Georgia, and the Carolinas, Alliance men took possession of the
Democratic conventions and forced both the incorporation of their
demands into the platforms and the nomination of candidates who
agreed to support those demands. The result was the control of
the legislatures of five Southern States by members or supporters
of the order and the election of three governors, one United
States Senator, and forty-four Congressmen who championed the
principles of the Alliance. In the West the Alliance worked by
itself and, instead of dominating an old party, created a new
one. It is true that the order did not formally become a
political party; but its officers took the lead in organizing
People's, Independent, or Industrial parties in the different
States, the membership of which was nearly identical with that of
the Alliance. Nor was the farmer alone in his efforts. Throughout
the whole country the prices of manufactured articles had
suddenly risen, and popular opinion, fastening upon the McKinley
tariff as the cause, manifested itself in a widespread desire to
punish the Republican party.

The events of 1890 constituted not only a political revolt but a
social upheaval in the West. Nowhere was the overturn more
complete than in Kansas. If the West in general was uneasy,
Kansas yeas in the throes of a mighty convulsion; it was swept as
by the combination of a tornado and a prairie fire. As a
sympathetic commentator of later days puts it, "It was a
religious revival, a crusade, a pentecost of politics in which a
tongue of flame sat upon every man, and each spake as the spirit
gave him utterance."* All over the State, meetings were held in
schoolhouses, churches, and public halls. Alliance picnics were
all-day expositions of the doctrines of the People's Party. Up
and down the State, and from Kansas City to Sharon Springs, Mary
Elizabeth Lease, "Sockless" Jerry Simpson, Anna L. Diggs, William
A. Peffer, Cyrus Corning, and twice a score more, were in
constant demand for lectures, while lesser lights illumined the
dark places when the stars of the first magnitude were
scintillating elsewhere.

* Elizabeth N. Barr, "The Populist Uprising", in William E.
Connelly's "Standard History of Kansas and Kansans", vol. II, p.

Mrs. Lease, who is reported to have made 160 speeches in the
summer and autumn of 1890, was a curiosity in American politics.
Of Irish birth and New York upbringing, she went to Kansas and,
before she was twenty years old, married Charles L. Lease. Twelve
years later she was admitted to the bar. At the time of the
campaign of 1890 she was a tall, mannish-looking, but not
unattractive woman of thirty-seven years, the mother of four
children. She was characterized by her friends as refined,
magnetic, and witty; by her enemies of the Republican party as a
hard, unlovely shrew. The hostile press made the most of popular
prejudice against a woman stump speaker and attempted by ridicule
and invective to drive her from the stage. But Mrs. Lease
continued to talk. She it was who told the Kansas farmers that
what they needed was to "raise less corn and more HELL!"

Wall Street owns the country [she proclaimed]. 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
.... Money rules, and our Vice-President is a London banker. Our
laws are the output of a system that clothes rascals in robes and
honesty in rags. The parties lie to us, and the political.
speakers mislead us. We were told two years ago to go to work and
raise a big crop and that was all we needed. We went to work and
plowed and planted; the rains fell, the sun shone, nature smiled,
and we raised the big crop that they told us to; and what came of
it? Eight-cent corn, ten-cent oats, two-cent beef, and no price
at all for butter and eggs--that's what came of it . . . . The
main question is the money question . . . . We want money, land,
and transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks,
and we want the power to make loans directly from the Government.
We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out. Land equal to
a tract 30 miles wide and 90 miles long has been foreclosed and
bought in by loan companies of Kansas in a year . . . . The
people are at bay, and the blood-hounds of money who have dogged
us thus far beware!

A typical feature of this campaign in Kansas was the contest
between Jerry Simpson and Colonel James R. Hallowell for a seat
in Congress. Simpson nicknamed his fastidious opponent "Prince
Hal" and pointed to his silk stockings as an evidence of
aristocracy. Young Victor Murdock, then a cub reporter, promptly
wrote a story to the effect that Simpson himself wore no socks at
all. "Sockless Jerry," "Sockless Simpson," and then "Sockless
Socrates" were sobriquets then and thereafter applied to the
stalwart Populist. Simpson was at this time forty-eight years
old, a man with a long, square-jawed face, his skin tanned by
exposure on shipboard, in the army, and on the farm, and his
mustache cut in a straight line over a large straight mouth. He
wore clerical eyeglasses and unclerical clothes. His opponents
called him clownish; his friends declared him Lincolnesque.
Failing to make headway against him by ridicule, the Republicans
arranged a series of joint debates between the candidates; but
the audience at the first meeting was so obviously partial to
Simpson that Hallowell refused to meet him again. The supporters
of the "sockless" statesman, though less influential and less
prosperous than those of Hallowell, proved more numerous and
triumphantly elected him to Congress. In Washington he acquitted
himself creditably and was perhaps disappointingly conventional
in speech and attire.

The outcome of this misery, disgust, anger, and hatred on the
part of the people of Kansas focused by shrewd common sense and
rank demagogism, was the election of five Populist Congressmen
and a large Populist majority in the lower house of the state
legislature; the Republican state officers were elected by
greatly reduced majorities. In Nebraska, the People's Independent
party obtained a majority of the members of the legislature and
reduced the Republican party to third place in the vote for
governor, the victory going to the Democrats by a very small
plurality. The South Dakota Independent party, with the president
of the state Alliance as its standard bearer, was unable to
defeat the Republican candidates for state offices but obtained
the balance of power in the legislature. In Indiana, Michigan,
and Minnesota, the new party movement manifested considerable
strength, but, with the exception of one Alliance Congressman
from Minnesota and a number of legislators, the fruits of its
activity were gathered by the Democrats.

Among the results of the new party movements in the Western
States in 1890 should be included the election of two United
States Senators, neither of whom was a farmer, although both were
ardent advocates of the farmers' cause. In South Dakota, where no
one of the three parties had a majority in the legislature, the
Reverend James H. Kyle, the Independent candidate, was elected to
the United State Senate, when, after thirty-nine ballots, the
Democrats gave him their votes. Kyle, who was only thirty-seven
years old at this time, was a Congregational minister, a graduate
of Oberlin College and of Alleghany Theological Seminary. He had
held pastorates in Colorado and South Dakota, and at the time of
his election was financial agent for Yankton College. A radical
Fourth of July oration which he delivered at Aberdeen brought him
into favor with the Alliance, and he was elected to the state
senate on the Independent ticket in 1890. Prior to this election
Kyle had been a Republican.

The other senatorial victory was gained in Kansas, where the
choice fell on William A. Peffer, whose long whiskers made him a
favorite object of ridicule and caricature in Eastern papers. He
was born in Pennsylvania in 1831, and as a young man had gone to
California during the gold boom. Returning after two years with a
considerable sum of money, he engaged in farming first in Indiana
and then in Missouri. When the Civil War began, his avowed
Unionist sentiments got him into trouble; and in 1862 he moved to
Illinois, where after a few months he enlisted in the army. At
the close of the war he settled in Tennessee and began the
practice of law, which he had been studying at intervals for a
number of years. He removed in 1870 to Kansas, where he played
some part in politics as a Republican, was elected to the state
senate, and served as a delegate to the national convention of
1880. After a number of newspaper ventures he became the editor
of the Kansas Farmer of Topeka in 1880 and continued in that
position until he was elected to the United States Senate. He was
a member of the Knights of Labor and was an ardent prohibitionist
and, above all, an advocate of currency inflation.

After the elections of November, 1890, came definite action in
the direction of forming a new national party. The Citizens'
Alliance, a secret political organization of members of the
Southern Alliance, held a convention with the Knights of Labor at
Cincinnati on May 19, 1891. By that time the tide of sentiment in
favor of a new party was running strong. Some fourteen hundred
delegates, a majority of whom were from the five States of Ohio,
Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, and Nebraska, attended the convention
and provided for a committee to make arrangements, in conjunction
with other reform organizations if possible, for a convention of
the party to nominate candidates for the presidential election of
1892. To those who were anxious to have something done
immediately the process of preparing the ground for a new third
party seemed long and laborious. Seen in its proper perspective,
the movement now appears to have been as swift as it was
inevitable. Once more, and with greater unanimity than ever
before, the farmers, especially in the West, threw aside their
old party allegiance to fight for the things which they deemed
not only essential to their own welfare but beneficial to the
whole country. Some aid, it is true, was brought by labor, some
by the mining communities of the mountain region, some 'by
various reform organizations; but the movement as a whole was
distinctly and essentially agrarian.


The advent of the Populists as a full-fledged party in the domain
of national politics took place at Omaha in July, 1892. Nearly
thirteen hundred delegates from all parts of the Union flocked to
the convention to take part in the selection of candidates for
President and Vice-President and to adopt a platform for the new
party. The "Demands" of the Alliances supplied the material from
which was constructed a platform characterized by one
unsympathetic observer as "that furious and hysterical
arraignment of the present times, that incoherent intermingling
of Jeremiah and Bellamy." The document opened with a general
condemnation of national conditions and a bitter denunciation of
the old parties for permitting "the existing dreadful conditions
to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them."
Then followed three declarations: "that the union of the labor
forces of the United States this day consummated shall be
permanent and perpetual"; that "wealth belongs to him who creates
it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is
robbery"; and "that the time has come when the railroad
corporations will either own the people or the people must own
the railroads." Next came the demands. Heading these were the
monetary planks: "a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible,
issued by the general Government poly, a full legal tender for
all debts," with the subtreasury system of loans "or a better
system; free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the
present legal ratio of sixteen to one"; and an increase in the
circulating medium until there should be not less than $50 per
capita. With demands for a graduated income tax, for honesty and
economy in governmental expenditures, and for postal savings
banks, the financial part of the platform was complete. The usual
plank declaring for government ownership and control of railroads
and telegraphs now included the telephone systems as well, and
the land plank opposed alien ownership and demanded the return of
lands held by corporations in excess of their actual needs. Other
resolutions, adopted but not included in the platform, expressed
sympathy with labor's demands for shorter hours, condemned the
use of Pinkerton detectives in labor strife, and favored greater
restriction of immigration, the initiative and referendum, direct
election of United States senators, and one term for the
President and Vice-President.

The platform, according to a news dispatch of the time, was
"received with tremendous enthusiasm . . . and was read and
adopted almost before the people knew it was read. Instantly
there was enacted the mightiest scene ever witnessed by the human
race. Fifteen thousand people yelled, shrieked, threw papers,
hats, fans, and parasols, gathered up banners, mounted shoulders.
Mrs. Lease's little girl was mounted on Dr. Fish's shoulders--he
on a table on the high platform. The two bands were swamped with
noise . . . . Five minutes passed, ten minutes, twenty, still the
noise and hurrahs poured from hoarse throats." After forty
minutes the demonstration died out and the convention was ready
to proceed with the nomination of a presidential candidate.

No such unanimity marked this further procedure, however. Just
before the convention the leaders of the People's Party had
thrown the old parties into consternation by announcing that
Judge Walter Q. Gresham, of Indiana, would be offered the
nomination. Judge Gresham, a Republican with a long and honorable
public record, had been urged upon the Republican party in 1884
and 1888, and "Anti-Monopolists" had considered him with favor on
account of his opinions and decisions regarding the operation and
control of railroads. Just after the adoption of the platform a
telegram from the judge announced that he would accept a
unanimous nomination. Since unanimity was unobtainable, however,
his name was withdrawn later in the day.

This left the field to General James B. Weaver of Iowa and
Senator James H. Kyle of South Dakota. Weaver represented the
more conservative of the Populists, the old Alliance men. His
rival had the support of the most radical element as well as that
of the silver men from the mountain States. The silverites were
not inclined to insist upon their man, however, declaring that,
if the platform contained the silver plank, they would carry
their States for whatever candidate might be chosen. The old
campaigner proved the stronger, and he was nominated with General
James G. Field of Virginia for Vice-President. Unprejudiced
observers viewed Weaver's nomination as a tactical error on the
part of the Populist leaders: "Mr. Weaver has belonged to the
group of third-party 'come-outers' for so many years that his
name is not one to conjure with in either of the old camps; . . .
his name suggests too strongly the abortive third-party movements
of the past to excite much hope or enthusiasm. He is not exactly
the sort of a Moses who can frighten Pharaoh into fits or bring
convincing plagues upon the monopolistic oppressors of Israel.
The wicked politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties
breathed easier and ate with better appetites when the Gresham
bogie disappeared and they found their familiar old enemy,
General Weaver, in the lead of the People's movement."

It may be suspected, however, that even with Weaver at its head
this party, which claimed to control from two to three million
votes, and which expected to draw heavily from the discontented
ranks of the old-line organizations, was not viewed with absolute
equanimity by the campaign managers of Cleveland and of Harrison.
Some little evidence of the perturbation appeared in the
equivocal attitude of both the old parties with respect to the
silver question. Said the Democratic platform: "We hold to the
use of both gold and silver as the standard money of the country,
and to the coinage of both gold and silver without discrimination
against either metal or charge for mintage." The rival Republican
platform declared that "the American people, from tradition and
interest, favor bimetallism, and the Republican party demands the
use of both gold and silver as standard money." Each party
declared for steps to obtain an international agreement on the
question. The Republicans attempted to throw a sop to the labor
vote by favoring restriction of immigration and laws for the
protection of employees in dangerous occupations, and to the
farmer by pronouncements against trusts, for extended postal
service--particularly in rural districts--and for the reclamation
and sale of arid lands to settlers. The Democrats went even
further and demanded the return of "nearly one hundred million
acres of valuable land" then held by "corporations and
syndicates, alien and domestic."

The directors of the Populist campaign proved to be no mean
political strategists. General Weaver himself toured the country,
accompanied by General Field when he was in the South and by Mrs.
Lease when he went to the Pacific coast. Numerous other men and
women addressed the thousands who attended the meetings, great
and small, all over the country. One unique feature of the
Populist campaign on the Pacific coast was the singing of James
G. Clark's People's Battle-Hymn, and other songs expressing the
hope and fears of labor in the field and factory. Everywhere it
was the policy of the new party to enlist the assistance of the
weaker of the old parties. In the South, the Populists, as a
rule, arrayed themselves with the Republicans against the old
Democracy. This provoked every device of ridicule, class
prejudice, and scorn, which the dominant party could bring to
bear to dissuade former Democrats from voting the People's
ticket. One Louisiana paper uttered this warning:

"Oily-tongued orators, in many cases the paid agents of the
Republican party, have for months been circulating among the
unsophisticated and more credulous classes, preaching their
heresies and teaching the people that if Weaver is elected
president, money may be had for the asking, transportation on the
railroad trains will be practically free, the laboring man will
be transferred from his present position and placed upon a throne
of power, while lakes filled with molasses, whose shores are
fringed with buckwheat cakes, and islands of Jersey butter rising
here and there above the surface, will be a concomitant of every
farm. The "forty-acres-and-a-mule" promises of the reconstruction
era pale into insignificance beside the glowing pictures of
prosperity promised by the average Populist orator to those who
support Weaver."

The Pensacola Address of the Populist nominees on September 17,
1892, which served as a joint letter of acceptance, was evidently
issued at that place and time partly for the purpose of
influencing such voters as might be won over by emphasizing the
unquestioned economic distress of most Southern farmers. If the
new party could substantiate the charges that both old parties
were the tools of monopoly and Wall Street, it might insert the
wedge which would eventually split the "solid South." Even before
the Pensacola Address, the state elections in Alabama and
Arkansas demonstrated that cooperation of Republicans with
Populists was not an idle dream. But, although fusion was
effected on state tickets in several States in the November
elections, the outcome was the choice of Cleveland electors
throughout the South.

As the Populists tried in the South to win over the Republicans,
so in the North and more especially the West they sought to
control the Democratic vote either by fusion or absorption. The
effort was so successful that in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada,
and North Dakota, the new party swept the field with the
assistance of the Democrats. In South Dakota and Nebraska, where
there was no fusion, the Democratic vote was negligible and the
Populists ran a close second to the Republicans.

That the tide of agrarianism was gradually flowing westward as
the frontier advanced is apparent from the election returns in
the States bordering on the upper Mississippi. Iowa and Missouri,
where the Alliance had been strong, experienced none of the
landslide which swept out the Republicans in States further west.
In Minnesota the Populists, with a ticket headed by the veteran
Donnelly, ran a poor third in the state election, and the entire
Harrison electoral ticket was victorious in spite of the
endorsement of four Populist candidates by the Democrats. In the
northwestern part of the State, however, the new party was strong
enough to elect a Congressman over candidates of both the old
parties. In no Northern State east of the Mississippi were the
Populists able to make a strong showing; but in Illinois, the
success of John P. Altgeld, the Democratic candidate for
governor, was due largely to his advocacy of many of the measures
demanded by the People's party, particularly those relating to
labor, and to the support which he received from the elements
which might have been expected to aline themselves with the
Populists. On the Pacific coast, despite the musical campaign of
Clark, Mrs. Lease, and Weaver, California proved deaf to the
People's cause; but in Oregon the party stood second in the lists
and in Washington it ran a strong third.

More than a million votes, nearly nine per cent of the total,
were cast for the Populist candidates in this election--a record
for a third party the year after its birth, and one exceeded only
by that of the Republican party when it appeared for the first
time in the national arena in 1856. Twenty-two electoral votes
added point to the showing, for hitherto, since 1860, third-party
votes had been so scattered that they had affected the choice of
President only as a makeweight between other parties in closely
contested States.

A week after the elections General Weaver announced that the
Populists had succeeded far beyond their expectations. "The
Republican party," he asserted, "is as dead as the Whig party was
after the Scott campaign of 1852, and from this time forward will
diminish in every State of the Union and cannot make another
campaign . . . . The Populist will now commence a vigorous
campaign and will push the work of organization and education in
every county in the Union." There were those, however, who
believed that the new party had made a great mistake in having
anything to do with either of the old parties, that fusion,
particularly of the sort which resulted in combination tickets,
was a compromise with the enemy, and that more votes had been
lost than won by the process. This feeling found characteristic
expression in an editorial in a Minnesota paper:

Take an audience of republican voters in a schoolhouse where a
county fusion has taken place--or the press is full of the
electoral deal--and the audience will applaud the sentiments of
the speaker--but they wont vote a mongrel or democratic ticket! A
wet blanket has been thrown!

"Oh," says someone, "but the democratic party is a party of
reform!" Well, my friend, you better go down south and talk that
to the peoples party where they have been robbed of their
franchises by fraud and outrage!

Ah, and there the peoples party fused the republicans!!!

Oh whitewash! Where is thy lime-kiln, that we may swab off the
dark blemishes of the hour!! Aye,and on the whited wall, draw
thee a picture of power and beauty Cleveland, for instance,
thanking the peoples party for all the favors gratuitously
granted by our mongrel saints in speckled linen and green

As time gave perspective, however, the opinion grew that 1892 had
yielded all that could possibly have been hoped. The lessons of
the campaign may have been hard, but they had been learned, and,
withal, a stinging barb had been thrust into the side of the
Republican party, the organization which, in the minds of most
crusaders, was principally responsible for the creation and
nurture of their ills. It was generally determined that in the
next campaign Populism should stand upon its own feet; Democratic
and Republican votes should be won by conversion of individuals
to the cause rather than by hybrid amalgamation of parties and
preelection agreements for dividing the spoils. But it was just
this fusion which blinded the eyes of the old party leaders to
the significance of the Populist returns. Democrats, with a clear
majority of electoral votes, were not inclined to worry about
local losses or to value incidental gains; and Republicans felt
that the menace of the third party was much less portentous than
it might have been as an independent movement.


A remarkable manifesto, dated February 22, 1895, summarized the
grievances of the Populists in these words:

"As early as 1865-66 a conspiracy was entered into between the
gold gamblers of Europe and America to accomplish the following
purposes: to fasten upon the people of the United States the
burdens of perpetual debt; to destroy the greenbacks which had
safely brought us through the perils of war; to strike down
silver as a money metal; to deny to the people the use of Federal
paper and silver--the two independent sources of money guaranteed
by the Constitution; to fasten upon the country the single gold
standard of Britain, and to delegate to thousands of banking
corporations, organized for private gain, the sovereign control,
for all time, over the issue and volume of all supplemental paper

Declaring that the "international gold ring" was summoning all
its powers to strike at the prosperity of the country, the
authors of this address called upon Populists to take up the
gauntlet and meet "the enemy upon his chosen field of battle,"
with the "aid and cooperation of all persons who favor the
immediate free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16-1, the issue of
all paper money by the Government without the intervention of
banks of issue, and who are opposed to the issue of
interest-bearing government bonds in the time of peace."

There was nothing new in this declaration of hostility to bank
issues and interest-bearing bonds, nor in this demand for
government paper money, for these prejudices and this
predilection had given rise to the "Ohio idea," by force of which
George H. Pendleton had hoped to achieve the presidency in 1868.
These same notions had been the essence of the platforms of the
Greenback party in the late seventies; and they had jostled
government ownership of railroads for first place in
pronunciamentos of labor and agricultural organizations and of
third parties all during the eighties. Free silver, on the other
hand, although not ignored in the earlier period, did not attain
foremost rank among the demands of the dissatisfied classes until
the last decade of the century and more particularly after the
panic of 1898.

Prior to 1874 or 1875 the "silver question" did not exist. In
1873 Congress, moved by the report of a commission it had
authorized, had demonetized silver; that is, it had provided that
the gold dollar should be the standard of value, and omitted the
standard silver dollar from the list of silver coins.* In this
consisted the "Crime of '73." At the time when this law was
enacted it had not for many years been profitable to coin silver
bullion into dollars because silver was undervalued at the
established ratio of sixteen to one. In 1867 the International
Monetary Conference of Paris had pronounced itself in favor of a
single gold standard of currency, and the principal countries of
Europe had preceded the United States in demonetizing silver or
in limiting its coinage. In 1874 as a result of a revision of the
statutes of the United States, the existing silver dollars were
reduced to the basis of subsidiary coins with only limited legal
tender value.

* The only reference to the dollar was to "the trade dollar" of
heavier weight, for use in the Orient.

The Act of 1873 was before Congress for four sessions; every
section, including that which made gold the sole standard of
value, was discussed even by those who later claimed that the Act
had been passed surreptitiously. Whatever opposition

developed at this time was not directed against the omission of
the silver dollar from the list of coins nor against the
establishment of a single standard of value. The situation was
quickly changed, however, by the rapid decline in the market
price of silver. The bimetallists claimed that this decline was a
result of the monetary changes; the advocates of the gold
standard asserted that it was due to the great increase in the
production of silver. Whatever the cause, the result was that,
shortly after silver had been demonetized, its value in
proportion to gold fell below that expressed by the ratio of
sixteen to one. Under these circumstances the producers could
have made a profit by taking their bullion to the mint and having
it coined into dollars, if it had not been for the Act of 1873.
It is not strange, therefore, that the people of those Western
States whose prosperity depended largely on the silver mining
industry demanded the remonetization of this metal. At the same
time the stringency in the money market and the low prices
following the panic of 1873 added weight to the arguments of
those who favored an increase in the quantity of currency in
circulation and who saw in the free and unlimited coinage of
silver one means of accomplishing this end. So powerful was the
demand, especially from the West, that in 1878 the Bland-Allison
Act, passed over the veto of President Hayes, provided for the
restoration of the silver dollar to the list of coins, with full
legal tender quality, and required the Treasury to purchase in
the open market from two to four million dollars' worth of
bullion each month. This compromise, however, was unsatisfactory
to those who desired the free coinage of silver, and it failed to
please the champions of the single standard.

For ten years the question of a choice between a single standard
or bimetallism, between free coinage or limited coinage of
silver, was one of the principal economic problems of the world.
International conferences, destined to have no positive results,
met in 1878 and again in 1881; in the United States Congress read
reports and debated measures on coinage in the intervals between
tariff debates. Political parties were split on sectional lines:
Western Republicans and Democrats alike were largely in favor of
free silver, but their Eastern associates as generally took the
other side. Party platforms in the different States diverged
widely on this issue; and monetary planks in national platforms,
if included at all, were so framed as to commit the party to
neither side. Both parties, however, could safely pronounce for
bimetallism under international agreement, since there was little
real prospect of procuring such an agreement. The minor parties
as a rule frankly advocated free silver.

In 1890, the subject of silver coinage assumed new importance.
The silverites in Congress were reenforced by representatives
from new States in the far West, the admission of which had not
been unconnected with political exigencies on the part of the
Republican party. The advocates of the change were not strong
enough to force through a free-silver bill, but they were able by
skillful logrolling to bring about the passage of the Silver
Purchase Act. This measure, frequently called the Sherman Law,*
directed the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase, with legal
tender Treasury notes issued for the purpose, 4,500,000 ounces of
pure silver each month at the market price. As the metal was
worth at that time about a dollar an ounce, this represented an
increase, for the time being, over the maximum allowed under the
Bland-Allison Act and more than double the minimum required by
that measure, which was all the Treasury had ever purchased. But
the Silver Purchase Act failed to check the downward trend in the
value of the metal. The bullion in a silver dollar, which had
been worth $1.02 in 1872, had declined to seventy-two cents in
1889. It rose to seventy-six in 1891 but then declined rapidly to
sixty in 1898, and during the next three years the intrinsic
value of a "cartwheel" was just about half its legal tender

* John Sherman, then Secretary of Treasury, had a large share in
giving final form to the bill, which he favored only for fear of
a still more objectionable measure. See Sherman's Recollections,
pp. 1069, 1188.

Even under the Bland-Allison Act the Treasury Department had
experienced great difficulty in keeping in circulation a
reasonable proportion of the silver dollars and the silver
certificates which were issued in lieu of part of them, and in
maintaining a sufficient gold reserve to insure the stability of
the currency. When the Silver Purchase Act went into operation,
therefore, the monetary situation contributed its share to
conditions which produced the panic of 1893. Thereupon the silver
issue became more than ever a matter of nation-wide discussion.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific the country was flooded with
controversial writing, much of it cast in a form to make an
appeal to classes which had neither the leisure nor the training
to master this very intricate economic problem. W. H. Harvey's
Coin's Financial School was the most widely read campaign
document, although hundreds of similar pamphlets and books had an
enormous circulation. The pithy and plausible arguments of "Coin"
and his ready answers to questions supposedly put by prominent
editors, bankers, and university professors, as well as by J. R.
Sovereign, master workman of the Knights of Labor, tickled the
fancy of thousands of farmers who saw their own plight depicted
in the crude but telling woodcuts which sprinkled the pages of
the book. In his mythical school "the smooth little financier"
converted to silver many who had been arguing for gold; but--what
is more to the point--he also convinced hundreds of voters that
gold was the weapon with which the bankers of England and America
had slain silver in order to maintain high interest rates while
reducing prices, and that it was the tool with which they were
everywhere welding the shackles upon labor. "Coin" harped upon a
string to which, down to the time of the Spanish War, most
Americans were ever responsive--the conflict of interests between
England and the United States. "If it is claimed," he said, "we
must adopt for our money the metal England selects, and can have
no independent choice in the matter, let us make the test and
find out if it is true." He pointed to the nations of the earth
where a silver standard ruled: "The farmer in Mexico sells his
bushel of wheat for one dollar. The farmer in the United States
sells his bushel of wheat for fifty cents. The former is proven
by the history of the world to be an equitable price. The latter
is writing its history, in letters of blood, on the appalling
cloud of debt that is sweeping with ruin and desolation over the
farmers of this country."

When many men of sound reputation believed the maintenance of a
gold standard impossible what wonder that millions of farmers
shouted with "Coin": "Give the people back their favored primary
money! Give us two arms with which to transact business! Silver
the right arm and gold the left arm! Silver the money of the
people, and gold the money of the rich. Stop this legalized
robbery that is transferring the property of the debtors to the
possession of the creditors. . . Drive these money-changers from
our temples. Let them discover your aspect, their masters--the

The relations of the Populist party to silver were at once the
result of conviction and expediency; cheap money had been one,
frequently the most prominent, of the demands of the farming
class, not only from the inception of the Greenback movement, as
we have seen, but from the very beginning of American history.
Indeed, the pioneer everywhere has needed capital and has
believed that it could be obtained only through money. The
cheaper the money, the better it served his needs. The Western
farmer preferred, other things being equal, that the supply of
currency should be increased by direct issue of paper by the
Government. Things, however, were not equal. In the Mountain
States were many interested in silver as a commodity whose
assistance could be counted on in a campaign to increase the
amount of the metal in circulation. There were, moreover, many
other voters who, while regarding Greenbackism as an economic
heresy, were convinced that bimetallism offered a safe and sound
solution of the currency problem. For the sake of added votes the
inflationists were ready to waive any preference as to the form
in which the cheap money should be issued. Before the actual
formation of the People's Party, the farmers' organizations had
set out to capture votes by advocating free silver. After the
election of 1892 free silver captured the Populist organization.

Heartened by the large vote of 1892 the Populist leaders prepared
to drive the wedge further into the old parties and even hoped to
send their candidates through the breach to Congress and the
presidency. A secret organization, known as the Industrial League
of the United States, in which the leaders were for the most part
the prominent officials of the People's Party, afforded for a
time through its lodges the machinery with which to control and
organize the silverites of the West and the South.

The most notable triumph of 1898 was the selection of Judge
William V. Allen, by the Democrats and Independents of Nebraska,
to represent that State in the United States Senate. Born in
Ohio, in a house which had been a station on the "underground
railroad" to assist escaping negroes, Allen at ten years of age
had gone with his family to Iowa. After one unsuccessful attempt,
he enlisted in the Union Army at the age of fifteen and served
from 1862 to the end of the War. When peace came, he resumed his
schooling, attended college, studied law, and in 1869 was
admitted to the bar. In 1884 he went to Madison County, Nebraska,
where seven years later he was elected district judge by the
Populists. Reared in a family which had been Republican, he
himself had supported this party until the campaign of 1890. "I
have always," said he, "looked upon a political party simply as a
means to an end. I think a party should be held no more sacred
than a man's shoes or garments, and that whenever it fails to
subserve the purposes of good government a man should abandon it
as cheerfully as he dispenses with his wornout clothes." As
Senator, Allen attracted attention not only by his powers of
physical endurance as attested by a fifteen-hour speech in
opposition to the bill for the repeal of the Silver Purchase Act,
but also by his integrity of character. "If Populism can produce
men of Senator Allen's mold," was the comment of one Eastern
review, "and then lift them into positions of the highest
responsibility, one might be tempted to suggest that an epidemic
of this Western malady would prove beneficial to some Eastern
communities and have salutary results for the nation at large."

In this same year (1893) Kansas became a stormcenter in national
politics once more by reason of a ,contest between parties for
control of the lower house of the legislature. The returns had
given the Republicans a majority in the assembly, but several
Republican seats had been contested on suspicion of fraud. If the
holders of these seats were debarred from voting, the Populists
could outvote the Republicans. The situation itself was fraught
with comedy; and the actions of the contestants made it nothing
less than farce. The assembly convened on the 10th of January,
and both Republican and Populist speakers were declared duly
elected by their respective factions. Loftily ignoring each
other, the two speakers went to the desk and attempted to conduct
the business of the house. Neither party left the assembly
chamber that night; the members slept on the benches; the
speakers called a truce at two in the morning, and lay down,
gavels in hand, facing each other behind the desk, to get what
rest they could. For over two weeks the two houses continued in
tumultuous session. Meanwhile men were crowding into Topeka from
all over the State: grim-faced Populist farmers, determined that
Republican chicanery should not wrest from them the fruits of the
election; equally determined Republicans, resolved that the
Populists should not, by charges of election fraud, rob them of
their hard-won majority. Both sides came armed but apparently
hoping to avoid bloodshed.

Finally, on the 15th of February, the Populist house retreated
from the chamber, leaving the Republicans in possession, and
proceeded to transact business of state in the corridor of the
Capitol. Populist sympathizers now besieged the assembly chamber,
immuring the luckless Republicans and incidentally a few women
who had come in as members of the suffrage lobby and were now
getting more of political equality than they had anticipated.
Food had to be sent through the Populist lines in baskets, or
drawn up to the windows of the chamber while the Populist mob sat
on the main stairway within. Towards evening, the Populist
janitor turned o$ the heat; and the Republicans shivered until
oil stoves were fetched by their followers outside and hoisted
through the windows. The Republican sheriff swore in men of his
party as special deputies; the Populist governor called out the

The situation was at once too absurd and too grave to be
permitted to continue. "Sockless" Jerry Simpson now counseled the
Populists to let the decision go to the courts. The judges, to be
sure, were Republican; but Simpson, ever resourceful, argued that
if they decided against the Populists, the house and senate could
then impeach them. Mrs. Lease, however, was sure that the
Populists would not have the courage to take up impeachment
proceedings, and the event proved her judgment correct. When the
struggle was finally brought to an end with the assistance of the
judicial machinery, the Republicans were left in control of the
house of representatives, while the Populists retained the
senate. In joint session the Republicans could be outvoted; hence
a silver Democrat, John Martin, was sent to Washington to work
with Peffer in the Senate for the common cause of silver.

The congressional and state elections of 1894 revealed the
unstable equilibrium of parties, and at the same time the total
Populist vote of nearly a million and a half reflected the
increasing popular unrest. In the West, however, the new party
was not so successful in winning elections as it had been in 1892
because the hostile attitude, sometimes of the Populists and
sometimes of the Democrats, made fusion impossible in most cases.
A few victories were won, to be sure: Nebraska elected a
free-silver Democrat-Populist governor, while Nevada was carried
by the silver party; but Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, and
North Dakota. returned to the Republican fold. In the South, the
fusion between Populists and Republicans against the dominant
Democrats was more successful. From several States, Congressmen
were elected, who, whether under the name of Populist or
Republican, represented the radical element. In South Carolina
the Democratic party adopted the Farmers' Alliance platform,
swept the State in the elections, and sent "Pitchfork" Tillman to
the United States Senate as an anti-administration Democrat.
Tillman admitted that he was not one of those infatuated persons
who believed that "all the financial wisdom in the country is
monopolized by the East," and who said, "'Me, too,' every time
Cleveland grunts." "Send me to Washington," was his advice to
cheering crowds, "and I'll stick my pitchfork into his old ribs!"

Every political move in 1895 was calculated with reference to the
presidential election of 1896. Both old parties were inoculated
with the free-silver virus; silver men could have passed a free
coinage bill in both houses of Congress at any moment but were
restrained chiefly by the knowledge that such a measure would be
vetoed by President Cleveland. The free coinage of silver, which
was the chief demand of Populism, was also the ardent desire of a
majority of the people west of the Alleghanies, irrespective of
their political affiliations. Nothing seemed more logical, then,
than the union of all silver men to enforce the adoption of their
program. There was great diversity of opinion, however, as to the
best means of accomplishing this union. General Weaver started a
movement to add the forces of the American Bimetallic League and
the silver Democrats to the ranks of the People's Party. But the
silver Democrats, believing that they comprised a majority of the
party, proceeded to organize themselves for the purpose of
controlling that party at its coming national conventions; and
most of the Populist leaders felt that, should this movement be
victorious, the greatest prospect of success for their program
lay in a fusion of the two parties. Some there were, indeed, who
opposed fusion under any conditions, foreseeing that it would
mean the eventual extinction of the People's Party. . Prominent
among these were Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, "General" J. S.
Coxey of Ohio, and Senator Peffer of Kansas. In the South the
"middle-of-the-road" element, as the opponents of fusion were
called, was especially strong, for there the Populists had been
cooperating with the Republicans since 1892, and not even
agreement on the silver issue could break down the barrier of
antagonism between them and the old-line Democrats.

It remained, then, for the political events of 1896 to decide
which way the current of Populism would flow--whether it would
maintain an independent course, receiving tributaries from every
political source, eventually becoming a mighty river, and, like
the Republican party of 1856 and 1860, sweeping away an older
party; or whether it would turn aside and mingle with the stream
of Democracy, there to lose its identity forever.


When the Republicans met in convention at St. Louis in the middle
of June, 1896, the monetary issue had already dwarfed all other
political questions. It was indeed the rock on which the party
might have crashed in utter shipwreck but for the precautions of
one man who had charted the angry waters and the dangerous shoals
and who now had a firm grasp on the helm. Marcus A. Hanna, or
"Uncle Mark," was the genial owner of more mines, oil wells,
street railways, aldermen, and legislators than any other man in
Ohio. Hanna was an almost perfect example of what the Populists
denounced as the capitalist in politics. Cynically declaring that
"no man in public life owes the public anything," he had gone his
unscrupulous way, getting control of the political machine of
Cleveland, acquiring influence in the state legislature, and now
even assuming dictatorship over the national Republican party.
Because he had found that political power was helpful in the
prosecution of his vast business enterprises, he went forth to
accumulate political power, just as frankly as he would have gone
to buy the machinery for pumping oil from one of his wells. Hanna
was a stanch friend of the gold standard, but he was too clever
to alienate the sympathies of the Republican silverites by
supporting the nomination of a man known to be an uncompromising
advocate of gold. He chose a safer candidate, a man whose
character he sincerely admired and whose opinions he might
reasonably expect to sway--his personal friend, Major William
McKinley. This was a clever choice: McKinley was known to the
public largely as the author of the McKinley tariff bill; his
protectionism pleased the East; and what was known of his
attitude on the currency question did not offend the West. In
Congress he had voted for the Bland-Allison bill and had
advocated the freer use of silver. McKinley was, indeed, an
ideally "safe" candidate, an upright, affable gentleman whose
aquiline features conferred on him the semblance of commanding
power and masked the essential weakness and indecision which
would make him, from Mark Hanna's point of view, a desirable
President. McKinley would always swim with the tide.

In his friend's behalf Hanna carried on a shrewd campaign in the
newspapers, keeping the question of currency in the background as
far as possible, playing up McKinley's sound tariff policy, and
repeating often the slogan--welcome after the recent lean
years--"McKinley and the full dinner pail." McKinley prudently
refused to take any stand on the currency question, protesting
that he could not anticipate the party platform and that he would
be bound by whatever declarations the party might see fit to
make. Even after the convention had opened, McKinley and Hanna
were reticent on the silver question. Finally, fearing that some
kind of compromise would be made, the advocates of the gold
standard went to Mr. Hanna and demanded that a gold plank be
incorporated in the platform. Hanna gracefully acceded to their
demands and thus put them under obligation to repay him by
supporting McKinley for the nomination. The platform which was
forthwith reported to the convention contained the unequivocal
gold plank, as Hanna had long before planned. Immediately
thereafter a minority of thirty-four delegates, led by Senator
Teller of Colorado, left the convention, later to send out an
address advising all Republicans who believed in free coinage of
silver to support the Democratic ticket. The nomination of
William McKinley and Garret A. Hobart followed with very little

There was nothing cut and dried about the Democratic convention
which assembled three weeks later in Chicago. The Northeastern
States and a few others sent delegations in favor of the gold
standard, but free silver and the West were in the saddle. This
was demonstrated when, in the face of all precedent, the nominee
of the national committee for temporary chairman was rejected in
favor of Senator John W. Daniel of Virginia, a strong silver man.
The second day of the convention saw the advantage pushed
further: each Territory had its representation increased
threefold; of contesting delegations those who represented the
gold element in their respective States were unseated to make way
for silverites; and Stephen M. White, one of the California
senators, was made permanent chairman.

On the third day of the convention the platform, devoted largely
to the money question, was the subject of bitter debate. "We are
unalterably opposed to monometallism, which has locked fast
the prosperity of an industrial people in the paralysis of hard
times," proclaimed the report of the committee on resolutions.
"Gold monometallism is a British policy, and its adoption has
brought other nations into financial servitude to London . . . .
We demand the free and unlimited coinage of both gold and silver
at the present legal ratio of sixteen to one without waiting for
the aid or consent of any other nation." A minority of the
committee on resolutions proposed two amendments to the report,
one pronouncing in favor of a gold standard, and the other
commending the record of Grover Cleveland, a courtesy always
extended to a presidential incumbent of the same party. At the
name of Cleveland, Senator Tillman leaped to his feet and
delivered himself of characteristic invective against the
President, the "tool of Wall Street," the abject slave of gold.
Senator David B. Hill of New York, who had been rejected for
temporary chairman, defended the gold plank in a logical analysis
of monetary principles. But logical analysis could not prevail
against emotion; that clamorous mass of men was past reasoning
now, borne they hardly knew whither on the current of their own
excitement. He might as well have tried to dam Niagara.

Others tried to stem the onrushing tide but with no better
success. It seemed to be impossible for any one to command the
attention and respect of that tumultuous gathering. Even Senator
James K. Jones of Arkansas, a member of the majority group of the
committee on resolutions, failed equally with Tillman to give
satisfactory expression to the sentiments of that convention,
which felt inchoately what it desired but which still needed a
leader to voice its aspirations. This spokesman the convention
now found in William Jennings Bryan, to whom after a few
sentences Senator Jones yielded the floor.

Bryan appeared in Chicago as a member of the contesting silver
delegation from Nebraska. A young man, barely thirty-six years
old, he had already become a well-known figure in the West, where
for years he had been expounding the doctrine of free silver. A
native of Illinois, whither his father had come from Culpeper
County, Virginia, Bryan had grown up on a farm. His father's
means had been ample to afford him a good education, which he
completed, so far as schooling was concerned, at Illinois
College, Jacksonville, and at the Union College of Law in
Chicago. While in Chicago Bryan was employed in the law office of
Lyman Trumbull, one of the stanchest representatives of
independence in politics--an independence which had caused him to
break with the Democratic party over the slavery issue, and
which, as expressed in his vote against the impeachment of
President Johnson, had resulted in his retirement to private
life. To the young law student Trumbull took a particular fancy,
and his dominating personality exerted an abiding influence over
the character and career of his protege.

After a brief period of law practice in Jacksonville, Illinois,
Bryan removed with his family to Lincoln, Nebraska. The legal
profession never held great attraction for him, despite the
encouragement and assistance of his wife, who herself took up the
study of law after her marriage and was admitted to the bar.
Public questions and politics held greater interest for the young
man, who had already, in his college career, shown his ability as
an orator. Nebraska offered the opportunity he craved. At the
Democratic state convention in Omaha in 1888 he made a speech on
the tariff which gave him immediately a state-wide reputation as
an orator and expounder of public issues. He took an active part
in the campaign of that year, and in 1889 was offered, but
declined, the nomination for lieutenant governor on the
Democratic ticket. In 1890 he won election to Congress by a
majority of seven thousand in a district which two years before
had returned a Republican, and this he accomplished in spite of
the neglect of party managers who regarded the district as
hopeless. In Congress he became a member of the Committee on Ways
and Means. On the floor of the House his formal speeches on the
tariff, a topic to which nothing new could be brought, commanded
the attention of one of the most critical and blase audiences of
the world. The silver question, which was the principal topic
before Congress at the following session, afforded a fresher
field for his oratory; indeed, Bryan was the principal aid to
Bland both as speaker and parliamentarian in the old leader's
monetary campaign. When Bryan sat down after a three-hour speech
in which he attacked the gold standard, a colleague remarked, "It
exhausts the subject." In 1894 a tidal wave of Republicanism
destroyed Bryan's chances of being elected United States Senator,
a consummation for which he had been laboring on the stump and,
for a brief period, as editor of the Omaha World-Herald. He
continued, however, to urge the silver cause in preparation for
the presidential campaign of 1896.

Taller and broader than most men and of more commanding presence,
Bryan was a striking figure in the convention hall. He wore the
inevitable black suit of the professional man of the nineties,
but his dress did not seem conventional: his black tie sat at too
careless an angle; his black hair was a little too long. These
eccentricities the cartoonists seized on and exaggerated so that
most people who have not seen the man picture Bryan, not as a
determined looking man with a piercing eye and tightset mouth,
but as a grotesque frock-coated figure with the sombrero of a
cow-puncher and the hair of a poet. If the delegates at the
convention noticed any of these peculiarities as Bryan arose to
speak, they soon forgot them. His undoubted power to carry an
audience with him was never better demonstrated than on that
sweltering July day in Chicago when he stilled the tumult of a
seething mass of 15,000 people with his announcement that he came
to speak "in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of
liberty--the cause of humanity," and when he stirred the same
audience to frenzy with his closing defiance of the opponents of
free silver:

"If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it
until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a
gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism,
and then let England have bimetallism because the United States
has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the
gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the
uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation
and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the
laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer
their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not
press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall
not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Meeting Senator Hill's careful arguments with a clever retort,
blunting the keenness of his logic with a well-turned period,
polished to perfection by numerous repetitions before all sorts
of audiences during the previous three or four years, Bryan held
the convention in the hollow of his hand. The leadership which
had hitherto been lacking was now found. The platform as reported
by the committee was adopted by a vote of more than two to one;
and the convention, but for the opposition of Bryan himself,
would have nominated him on the spot. The next day it took but
five ballots to set aside all the favorite sons, including the
"Father of Free Silver"himself, Richard P. Bland, and to make
Bryan the standard bearer of the party. Far different in
character and appearance from the Republican group which had
assembled in the same building a few weeks before, was the
Populist convention which met in St. Louis late in July. Many of
the 1300 delegates were white-haired and had grown old in the
service of reform in the various independent movements of
preceding years; some of them had walked long distances to save
railroad fare, while others were so poor that, having exhausted
their small store of money before the long-drawn-out convention
adjourned, they suffered from want of regular sleeping places and
adequate food. All were impressed with the significance of the
decision they must make.

Gone were the hopes of the past months; the Populist party would
not sweep into its ranks all anti-monopolists and all
silverites--for one of the old parties had stolen its loudest
thunder! It was an error of political strategy to place the
convention after those of the two great parties in the
expectation that both would stand on a gold platform. Now it was
for these delegates to decide whether they would put their
organization behind the Democratic nominee with a substantial
prospect of victory, or preserve intact the identity of the
Populist party, split the silver vote, and deliver over the
election to a gold Republican.

The majority of the delegates, believing that the Democratic
party had been inoculated with the serum of reform, were ready
for the sake of a principle to risk the destruction of the party
they had labored so hard to build. Senator William V. Allen of
Nebraska summed up the situation when he said:

"If by putting a third ticket in the field you would defeat free
coinage; defeat a withdrawal of the issue power of national
banks; defeat Government ownership of railroads, telephones and
telegraphs; defeat an income tax and foist gold monometallism and
high taxation upon the people for a generation to come, which
would you do? . . . When I shall go back to the splendid
commonwealth that has so signally honored me beyond my merits, I
want to be able to say to the people that all the great doctrines
we have advocated for years, have been made possible by your
action. I do not want them to say that the Populists have been
advocates of reforms when they could not be accomplished, but

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