After the Panic of 1873 and the collapse of agriculture prices, the farmers’ revolt rose. The Populist party grew out from this revolt and through the collective economic actions that they promoted, the party became popular in the South states. In this excerpt from the Populist Party Platform, also known as the Omaha Platform, the Populists propose many different economic reforms that would help relaunching the economy especially in the agrarian sector. Consequently, we can wonder how does the Populist Party define itself against the two major parties.
In order to answer that question we will first see that the People’s Party wants to create a government by the people and for the people. And in a second time we will discuss the collective economic actions that they offer in order to help the crisis. According to the Populists, the Government was led by richer classes and capitalists. They want to give more importance and power to the people. Indeed, Populists believed that people were not fairly represented by their government mainly composed of rich men of higher classes.
These men did not act in the interest of the people and took advantage of the poor classes whom they controlled by force and corruption (“Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. ”). This explains why the Populists wanted to change the election system, using direct election of the Senators by the people, and the Secret ballot in order to avoid pressure by the government.
They also complained about the lack of labor Unions (“The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down”). Populists were very keen on defending workers’ rights and wanted to reform, among other things, the weekly hours of labor. They consider that the lower class are being stolen by the rich and therefore a huge gap is created between the fewer who own all the riches and the very poor lower classes. “The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few […]From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires”).
They want to go back to the very principles of the Constitution (“We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution; to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. )and they insist on the notion of a government made by the people, for the people (“We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded”). The People’s Party as we just saw, bears an appropriate name, and wants to create a stronger government also through strong economic actions. One of the reform of the Populist Party, was to give the government control over railroads, telegraphs and telephones. “We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service)”). They also wanted the money from the agriculture to be redistributed to the farmers and create federal loans to farmer (“our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months, be exchanged for billions of dollars’ worth of commodities consumed in their production”).
Moreover, they were against foreign workers and immigration which created a drop of their salaries (“imported pauperized labor beats down their wages”). And finally, the Populists were in favor of the coinage of silver to gold (“Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. ) To conclude, the Populist Party differentiates itself from the other parties by its politics that we could qualify as “liberal” or even “social” for that time. The party still managed to win over a million votes at the 1892 presidential election, they carried four states and received electoral votes from Oregon and North Dakota as well. Although it disappeared through the years, many of the Populist party reforms were later adopted by the American government.