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

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when the first ray of light appeared and the people were looking
with expectancy and with anxiety for relief, the party was not
equal to the occasion; that it was stupid; it was blind; it kept
"the middle of the road," and missed the golden opportunity."

Although most of the members of the convention were ready to
cooperate with the Democrats, there was a very strong feeling
that something should be done, if possible, to preserve the
identity of the Populist party and to safeguard its future. An
active minority, moreover, was opposed to any sort of fusion or
cooperation. This "middle-of-the-road" group included some
Western leaders of prominence, such as Peffer and Donnelly, but
its main support came from the Southern delegates. To them an
alliance with the Democratic party meant a surrender to the
enemy, to an enemy with whom they had been struggling for four
years for the control of their state and local governments.
Passionately they pleaded with the convention to save them from
such a calamity. Well they knew that small consideration would be
given to those who had dared stand up and oppose the ruling
aristocracy of the South, who had even shaken the Democratic grip
upon the governments of some of the States. Further, a negro
delegate from Georgia portrayed the disaster which would
overwhelm the political aspirations of his people if the Populist
party, which alone had given them full fellowship, should
surrender to the Democrats.

The advocates of fusion won their first victory in the election
of Senator Allen as permanent chairman, by a vote of 758 to 564.
As the nomination of Bryan for President was practically a
foregone conclusion, the "middle-of-the-road" element
concentrated its energies on preventing the nomination of Arthur
Sewall of Maine, the choice of the Democracy, for Vice-President.
The convention was persuaded, by a narrow margin, to take the
unusual step of selecting the candidate for Vice-President before
the head of the ticket was chosen. On the first ballot Sewall
received only 257 votes, while 469 were cast for Thomas Watson of
Georgia. Watson, who was then nominated by acclamation, was a
country editor who had made himself a force in the politics of
his own State and had served the Populist cause conspicuously in
Congress. Two motives influenced the convention in this
procedure. As a bank president, a railroad director, and an
employer of labor on a large scale, Sewall was felt to be utterly
unsuited to carry the standard of the People's Party. More
effective than this feeling, however, was the desire to do
something to preserve the identity of the party, to show that it
had not wholly surrendered to the Democrats. It was a compromise,
moreover, which was probably necessary to prevent a bolt of the
"middle-of-the-road" element and the nomination of an entirely
independent ticket.

Even with this concession the Southern delegates continued their
opposition to fusion. Bryan was placed in nomination, quite
appropriately, by General Weaver, who again expressed the sense
of the convention: "After due consideration, in which I have
fully canvassed every possible phase of the subject, I have
failed to find a single good reason to justify us in placing a
third ticket in the field . . . . I would not endorse the
distinguished gentleman named at Chicago. I would nominate him
outright, and make him our own, and then share justly and
rightfully in his election." The irreconcilables, nearly all from
the South and including a hundred delegates from Texas, voted for
S. F. Norton of Chicago, who received 321 votes as against 1042
for Bryan.

Because of the electoral system, the agreement of two parties to
support the same candidate for President could have no effect,
unless arrangements were made for fusion within the States. An
address issued by the executive committee of the national
committee of the People's Party during the course of the campaign
outlined the method of uniting "the voters of the country against
McKinley," and of overcoming the "obstacles and embarrassments
which, if the Democratic party had put the cause first and party
second," would not have been encountered: "This could be
accomplished only by arranging for a division of the electoral
votes in every State possible, securing so many electors for
Bryan and Watson and conceding so many to Bryan and Sewall. At
the opening of the campaign this, under the circumstances, seemed
the wisest course for your committee, and it is clearer today
than ever that it was the only safe and wise course if your votes
were to be cast and made effective for the relief of an oppressed
and outraged people. Following this line of policy your committee
has arranged electoral tickets in three-fourths of the States and
will do all in its power to make the same arrangements in all of
the States."

The committee felt it necessary to warn the people of the danger
of "a certain portion of the rank and file of the People's Party
being misled by so-called leaders, who, for reasons best known to
themselves, or for want of reason, are advising voters to rebel
against the joint electoral tickets and put up separate electoral
tickets, or to withhold their support from the joint electoral
tickets." Such so-called leaders were said to be aided and
abetted by "Democrats of the revenue stripe, who are not yet
weaned from the flesh-pots of Egypt," and by Republican
"goldbugs" who in desperation were seizing upon every straw to
prevent fusion and so to promote their own chances of success.

In the North and West, where the Populist had been fusing with
the Democrats off and on for several years, the combinations were
arranged with little difficulty. In apportioning the places on
the electoral tickets the strength of the respective parties was
roughly represented by the number of places assigned to each.
Usually it was understood that all the electors, if victorious,
would vote for Bryan, while the Democrats would cast their second
place ballots for Sewall and the Populists for Watson.

In the South much more difficulty was experienced in arranging
fusion tickets, and the spectacle of Populists cooperating with
Republicans in state elections and with Democrats in the national
election illustrated the truth of the adage that "politics makes
strange bedfellows." Only in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Missouri, and North Carolina, of the Southern States, were joint
electoral tickets finally agreed upon. In Tennessee the Populists
offered to support the Democratic electors if they would all
promise to vote for Watson, a proposal which was naturally
declined. In Florida the chairman of the state committee of the
People's Party, went so far on the eve of the election as to
advise all members of the party to vote for McKinley; and in
Texas there was an organized bolt of a large part of the
Populists to the Republican party, notwithstanding its gold
standard and protective tariff platform.

No campaign since that of 1860 was so hotly and bitterly
contested as the "Battle of the Standards" in 1896. The
Republicans broke all previous records in the amount of printed
matter which they scattered broadcast over the country. Money was
freely spent. McKinley remained at his home in Canton, Ohio, and
received, day after day, delegations of pilgrims come to harken
to his words of wisdom, which were then, through the medium of
the press, presented to similar groups from Maine to California.
For weeks, ten to twenty-five thousand people a day sought "the
shrine of the golden calf."

In the meantime Bryan, as the Democrat-Populist candidate, toured
the country, traveling over thirteen thousand miles, reaching
twenty-nine States, and addressing millions of voters. It was
estimated, for instance, that in the course of his tour of West
Virginia at least half the electorate must have heard his voice.
Most of the influential newspapers were opposed to Bryan, but his
tours and meetings and speeches had so much news value that they
received the widest publicity. As the campaign drew to a close,
it tended more and more to become a class contest. That it was so
conceived by the Populist executive committee is apparent from
one of its manifestoes:

"There are but two sides in the conflict that is being waged in
this country today. On the one side are the allied hosts of
monopolies, the money power, great trusts and railroad
corporations, who seek the enactment of laws to benefit them and
impoverish the people. On the other side are the farmers,
laborers, merchants, and all others who produce wealth and bear
the burdens of taxation. The one represents the wealthy and
powerful classes who want the control of the Government to
plunder the people. The other represents the people, contending
for equality before the law, and the rights of man. Between these
two there is no middle ground."

When the smoke of battle cleared away the election returns of
1896 showed that McKinley had received 600,000 more popular votes
than Bryan and would have 271 electoral votes to 176 for the
Democrat-Populist candidate. West of the Mississippi River the
cohorts of Bryan captured the electoral vote in every State
except California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Oregon. The
South continued its Democratic solidity, except that West
Virginia and Kentucky went to McKinley. All the electoral votes
of the region east of the Mississippi and north of Mason's and
Dixon's line were Republican. The old Northwest, together with
Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, a region which had been the
principal theater of the Granger movement a generation before,
now joined forces with the conservative and industrial East to
defeat a combination of the South with the newer agrarian and
mining frontiers of the West.

The People's Party had staked all on a throw of the dice and had
lost. It had given its life as a political organization to
further the election of Bryan, and he had not been elected. Its
hope for independent existence was now gone; its strength was
considerably less in 1896 than it had been in 1892 and 1894.* The
explanation would seem to be, in part at least, that the People's
Party was "bivertebrate as well as bimetallic." It was composed
of men who not long since had other political affiliations, who
had left one party for the sake of the cause, and who
consequently did not find it difficult to leave another for the
same reason. In the West large numbers of former Populists
undoubtedly went over completely to the Democracy, even when they
had the opportunity of voting for the same Bryan electors under a
Populist label. In the South many members of the party, disgusted
at the predicament in which they found themselves, threw in their
lot with the Republicans. The capture of the Democracy by the
forces of free silver gave the death blow to Populism.

* Of the 6,509,000 votes which Bryan received, about 4,669,000
were cast for the fusion electoral tickets. In only seven of the
fusion States is it possible to distinguish between Democrat and
Populist votes; the totals here are 1,499,000 and 93,000
respectively. The fusion Populist vote of 45,000 was essential
for the success of the Bryan electors in Kansas; and in
California the similar vote of 22,000, added to that of the
Democrats, gave Bryan one of the electors. In no other State in
this group did the Populist vote have any effect upon the result.
The part played by the People's party in the other twenty-two of
the fusio-States is difficult to determine; in some cases,
however, the situation is revealed in the results of state
elections. The best example of this is North Carolina, where the
Democrat-Populist electors had a majority of 19,000, while at the
same election Fusion between Republicans and Populists for all
state officers except governor and lieutenant governor was
victorious. The Populist candidate for governor received about
31,000 votes and the Republican was elected. It is evident that
the third party held the balance of power in North Carolina. The
Populist votes were probably essential for the fusion victories
in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Washington; but, as there was
fusion on state tickets also, it is impossible to estimate the
part played by the respective parties. The total Populist vote in
the ten States in which there were independent Democratic and
Populist electoral tickets was 122,000 (of which 80,000 were cast
in Texas and 24,000 in Alabama) and as none of the ten were close
States the failure to agree on electoral tickets had no effect on
the result. The "middle-of-the-road" Populist votes, in States
where there were also fusion tickets amounted to only 8000--of
which 6000 were cast in Pennsylvania and 1000 each in Illinois
and Kansas.

The Populist vote as a whole was much larger than 223,000--the
total usually given in the tables---for this figure does not
include the vote in the twenty-two fusion States in which the
ballots were not separately counted. This is apparent from the
fact that the twenty-seven electoral votes from ten States which
were cast for Watson came, with one exception, from States in
which no separate Populist vote was recorded. It is evident,
nevertheless, from the figures in States where comparisons are
possible, that the party had lost ground.


The People's Party was mortally stricken by the events of 1896.
Most of the cohorts which had been led into the camp of Democracy
were thereafter beyond the control of their leaders; and even the
remnant that still called itself Populist was divided into two
factions. In 1900 the radical group refused to endorse the
Fusionists' nomination of Bryan and ran an independent ticket
headed by Wharton Barker of Pennsylvania and that inveterate
rebel, Ignatius Donnelly. This ticket, however, received only
50,000 votes, nearly one-half of which came from Texas. When the
Democrats nominated Judge Alton B. Parker of New York in 1904,
the Populists formally dissolved the alliance with the Democracy
and nominated Thomas E. Watson of Georgia for President. By this
defection the Democrats may have lost something; but the
Populists gained little. Most of the radicals who deserted the
Democracy at this time went over to Roosevelt, the Republican
candidate. In 1908 the Populist vote fell to 29,000; in 1912 the
party gave up the ghost in a thinly-attended convention which
neither made nominations of its own nor endorsed any other
candidate. In Congress the forces of Populism dwindled rapidly,
from the 27 members of 1897 to but 10 in 1899, and none at all in

The men who had been leaders in the heyday of Populism retired
from national prominence to mere local celebrity. Donnelly died
in 1901, leaving a picturesque legacy of friendships and
animosities, of literary controversy and radical political
theory. Weaver remained with the fusion Populists through the
campaign of 1900; but by 1904 he had gone over to the Democratic
party. The erstwhile candidate for the presidency was content to
serve as mayor of the small town of Colfax, Iowa, where he made
his home until his death in 1912, respected by his neighbors and
forgotten by the world. Peffer, at the expiration of his term in
the Senate, ran an unsuccessful tilt for the governorship of
Kansas on the Prohibition ticket. In 1900 he returned to the
comfort of the Republican fold, to become an ardent supporter of
McKinley and Roosevelt.

But the defection and death of Populist leaders, the collapse of
the party, and the disintegration of the. alliances could not
stay the farmers' movement. It ebbed for a time, just as at the
end of the Granger period, but it was destined to rise again. The
unprecedented prosperity, especially among the farmers, which
began with the closing years of the nineteenth century and has
continued with little reaction down to the present has removed
many causes for agrarian discontent; but some of the old evils
are left, and fresh grievances have come to the front. Experience
taught the farmer one lesson which he has never forgotten: that
whether prosperous or not, he can and must promote his welfare by
organization. So it is that, as one association or group of
associations declines, others arise. In some States, where the
Grange has survived or has been reintroduced, it is once more the
leading organ of the agricultural class. Elsewhere other
organizations, sometimes confined to a single State, sometimes
transcending state lines, hold the farmers' allegiance more or
less firmly; and an attempt is now being made to unite all of
these associations in an American Federation of Farmers.

Until recently these orders have devoted their energies
principally to promoting the social and intellectual welfare of
the farmer and to business cooperation, sometimes on a large
scale. But, as soon as an organization has drawn into its ranks a
considerable proportion of the farmers of a State, especially in
the West, the temptation to use its power in the field of
politics is almost irresistible. At first, political activity is
usually confined to declarations in favor of measures believed to
be in the interests of the farmers as a class; but from this it
is only a short step to the support of candidates for office who
are expected to work for those measures; and thence the gradation
is easy to actual nominations by the order or by a farmers'
convention which it has called into being. With direct primaries
in operation in most of the Western States, these movements no
longer culminate in the formation of the third party but in
ambitious efforts to capture the dominant party in the State.
Thus in Wisconsin the president of the state union of the
American Society of Equity, a farmers' organization which has
heretofore been mainly interested in cooperative buying and
selling, was recently put forward by a "Farmers and Laborers
Conference" as candidate for the nomination for governor on the
Republican ticket and had the active support of the official
organ of the society. In North Dakota, the Non-Partisan League, a
farmers' organization avowedly political in its purposes,
captured the Republican party a few years ago and now has
complete control of the state government. The attempt of the
League to seize the reins in Minnesota has been unsuccessful as
yet, but Democratic and Republican managers are very much alarmed
at its growing power. The organized farmers are once more a power
in Western politics.

It is not, however, by votes cast and elections won or by the
permanence of parties and organizations that the political
results of the agrarian crusade are to be measured. The People's
Party and its predecessors, with the farmers' organizations which
supported them, professed to put measures before men and
promulgated definite programs of legislation. Many of the
proposals in these programs which were ridiculed at the time have
long since passed beyond the stage of speculation and discussion.
Regulation of railroad charges by national and state government,
graduated income taxes, popular election of United States
Senators, a parcels post, postal savings banks, and rural free
delivery of mail are a few of these once visionary demands which
have been satisfied by Federal law and constitutional amendment.
Antitrust legislation has been enacted to meet the demand for the
curbing of monopolies; and the Federal land bank system which has
recently gone into operation is practically the proposal of the
Northwestern Alliance for government loans to farmers, with the
greenback feature eliminated. Even the demand for greater volume
and flexibility of currency has been met, though in ways quite
different from those proposed by the farmers.*

* In July, 1894, when the People's Party was growing rapidly, the
editor of the Review of Reviews declared: "Whether the Populist
party is to prove itself capable of amalgamating a great national
political organization or whether its work is to be done through
a leavening of the old parties to a more or less extent with its
doctrines and ideas, remains to be seen. At present its influence
evidently is that of a leavening ingredient." The inclusion of
the income tax in the revenue bill put through by the Democratic
majority in Congress was described as "a mighty manifestation of
the working of the Populist leaven"; and it was pointed out that
"the Populist leaven in the direction of free silver at the ratio
of 16 to 1 is working yet more deeply and ominously." The truth
of the last assertion was demonstrated two years later.

In general it may be said that the farmers' organizations and
parties stood for increased governmental activity; they scorned
the economic and political doctrine of laissez faire; they
believed that the people's governments could and should be used
in many ways for promoting the welfare of the people, for
assuring social justice, and for restoring or preserving economic
as well as political equality. They were pioneers in this field
of social politics, but they did not work alone. Independent
reformers, either singly or in groups, labor organizations and
parties, and radicals everywhere cooperated with them. Both the
old parties were split into factions by this progressive
movement; and in 1912 a Progressive party appeared on the scene
and leaped to second place in its first election, only to vanish
from the stage in 1916 when both the old parties were believed to
have become progressive.

The two most hopeful developments in American politics during
recent years have been the progressive movement, with its program
of social justice, and the growth of independent voting--both
developments made possible in large part by the agrarian crusade.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of the farmers'
movement to American politics has been the training of the
agricultural population to independent thought and action. No
longer can a political party, regardless of its platform and
candidates, count on the farmer vote as a certainty. The
resolution of the Farmers' Alliance of Kansas "that we will no
longer divide on party lines and will only cast our votes for
candidates of the people, by the people, and for the people," was
a declaration of a political independence which the farmers
throughout the West have maintained and strengthened. Each
successive revolt took additional voters from the ranks of the
old parties; and, once these ties were severed, even though the
wanderers might return, their allegiance could be retained only
by a due regard for their interests and desires.


The sources for the history of the agrarian crusade are to be
found largely in contemporary newspapers, periodical articles,
and the pamphlet proceedings of national and state organizations,
which are too numerous to permit of their being listed here. The
issues of such publications as the "Tribune Almanac", the "Annual
Cyclopedia" (1862-1903), and Edward McPherson's "Handbook of
Politics" (1868-1894) contain platforms, election returns, and
other useful material; and some of the important documents for
the Granger period are in volume X of the "Documentary History of
American Industrial Society" (1911), edited by John R. Commons.

When each wave of the movement for agricultural organization was
at its crest, enterprising publishers seized the opportunity to
bring out books dealing with the troubles of the farmers, the
proposed remedies, and the origin and growth of the orders. These
works, hastily compiled for sale by agents, are partisan and
unreliable, but they contain material not elsewhere available,
and they help the reader to appreciate the spirit of the
movement. Books of this sort for the Granger period include:
Edward W. Martin's (pseud. of J. D. McCabe) "History of the
Grange Movement" (1874), Jonathan Periam's "The Groundswell"
(1874), Oliver H. Kelley's "Origin and Progress of the Order of
he Patrons of Husbandry" (1875), and Ezra S. Carr's "The Patrons
of Husbandry on the Pacific Coast" (1875). Similar works induced
by the Alliance movement are: "History of the Farmers' Alliance,
the Agricultural Wheel", etc., compiled and edited by the "St.
Louis Journal of Agriculture" (1890), "Labor and Capital,
Containing an Account of the Various Organizations of Farmers,
Planters, and Mechanics" (1891), edited by Emory A. Allen, W.
Scott Morgan's "History of the Wheel and Alliance and the
Impending Revolution" (1891), H. R. Chamberlain's "The Farmers'
Alliance" (1891), "The Farmers' Alliance History and Agricultural
Digest" (1891), edited by N. A. Dunning, and N. B. Ashby's "The
Riddle of the Sphinx" (1890). Other contemporary books dealing
with the evils of which the farmers complained are: D. C. Cloud's
"Monopolies and the People" (1873), William A. Peffer's "The
Farmer's Side" (1891), James B. Weaver's "A Call to Action"
(1891), Charles H. Otken's "The Ills of the South" (1894), Henry
D. Lloyd's "Wealth against Commonwealth" (1894), and William H.
Harvey's "Coin's Financial School" (1894).

The nearest approach to a comprehensive account of the farmers'
movement is contained in Fred E. Haynes's "Third Party Movements
Since the Civil War, with Special Reference to Iowa" (1916). The
first phase of the subject is treated by Solon J. Buck in "The
Granger Movement" (1913), which contains an extensive
bibliography. Frank L. McVey's "The Populist Movement" (1896) is
valuable principally for its bibliography of contemporary
material, especially newspapers and magazine articles. For
accounts of agrarian activity in the individual States, the
investigator turns to the many state histories without much
satisfaction. Nor can he find monographic studies for more than a
few States. A. E. Paine's "The Granger Movement in Illinois"
(1904 University of Illinois Studies, vol. I, No. 8) and Ellis B.
Usher's "The Greenback Movement of 1875-1884 and Wisconsin's Part
in It" (1911) practically exhaust the list. Elizabeth N. Barr's
"The Populist Uprising", in volume II of William E. Connelley's
"Standard History of Kansas" (1918), is a vivid and sympathetic
but uncritical narrative. Briefer articles have been written by
Melvin J. White, "Populism in Louisiana during the Nineties", in
the Mississippi "Valley Historical Review" (June, 1918), and by
Ernest D. Stewart, "The Populist Party in Indiana" in the
"Indiana Magazine of History" (December, 1918). Biographical
material on the Populist leaders is also scant. For Donnelly
there is Everett W. Fish's "Donnelliana" (1892), a curious eulogy
supplemented by "excerpts from the wit, wisdom, poetry and
eloquence" of the versatile hero; and a life of General Weaver is
soon to be issued by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
William J. Bryan's "The First Battle" (1896) and numerous
biographies of "the Commoner" treat of his connection with the
Populists and the campaign of 1896. Herbert Croly's "Marcus A.
Hanna "(1912) should also be consulted in this connection.

Several of the general histories of the United States since the
Civil War devote considerable space to various phases of the
farmers' movement. The best in this respect are Charles A.
Beard's "Contemporary American History" (1914) and Frederic L.
Paxson's "The New Nation" (1915). Harry Thurston Peck's "Twenty
Years of the Republic", 1885-1905 (1906) contains an entertaining
account of Populism and the campaign of 1896. Pertinent chapters
and useful bibliographies will also be found in the following
volumes of the "American Nation": William A. Dunning's
"Reconstruction, Political and Economic", 1865-1877 (1907), Edwin
E. Sparks's "National Development", 1877-1885 (1907), and David
R. Dewey's "National Problems", 1885-1897 (1907).

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