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Populism and Politics

Populism and Politics: William Alfred Peffer and the People's Party

Peter H. Argersinger
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Populism and Politics
    Book Description:

    This study focuses attention of the People's party which existed for a short time in the 1890s. Despite its brief existence the party and the movement that brought it into being had a lasting effect on American politics and society.

    Populism originally developed outside the political system because the system had proved incapable of responding to real needs. As the movement was transformed into the People's party, however, much of its responsive nature was lost. The People's party became subject to the same influences that guided the old parties and it became more concerned with winning office than with promoting genuine reform. In finding this sharp distinction between Populism and the People's party, Mr. Argersinger portrays Populism not as a success but as a tragic failure, betrayed from within by politicians who followed political dictates rather than Populist principles.

    Mr. Argersinger studies the Populist predicament in organizing a national movement in a time of political sectionalism and discovers neglected phases of Populist activity in the crucial campaign of 1896. He suggests that there may have been some validity to the charge of Populist "conspiracy-mindedness."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6200-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Farmers and Politics
    (pp. 1-21)

    From their very beginnings, Kansas and the Republican party were inextricably related. The difficulties of the territorial years, the struggle of the Civil War, and the postwar influx of Union veterans sustained their mutual attraction. As a one-party state, however, Kansas still witnessed the political turmoil of the 1860s and 1870s, for all political positions found representation within an active Republican party. The state GOP, with its flexibility and responsiveness, largely controlled those reform impulses that culminated in Populism in the 1890s. Independent parties existed, but even during the economic collapse of the 1870s most reformers found it more convenient...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The People’s Rebellion
    (pp. 22-57)

    The failure of the agrarian reform program in the 1889 Kansas legislature revealed the political weakness of the state’s farmers and encouraged a movement among them to promote their own interests. William A. Peffer and other agrarian spokesmen had long agitated unsuccessfully for thorough agricultural organization, but in this period of political frustration exacerbated by deepening depression farmers began to organize spontaneously at the grassroots level. Farm organizations were not new to Kansas, but they had been weak and ineffective, and when Kansas farmers actively turned to one in 1889 they joined the militant National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union....

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Partisans of Politics
    (pp. 58-79)

    What kind of people were these Populists who so jolted and threatened the established order in 1890 and 1891? For most of the first half of the twentieth century, scholars regarded Populism with an approving eye and pen; as Walter T. K. Nugent has phrased it, the Populist was a Saint George in American historiography and his opposition was a dragon. Historians took their cues from such sympathetic students as Solon Buck and John D. Hicks and viewed Populism as a movement of economic and political protest in the rural areas of the West and South during the 1890s, and...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The National Crusade
    (pp. 80-103)

    Kansas Populists learned much from the turbulent campaign of 1890 and the subsequent senatorial election. To maintain momentum and deprive the Republican party of its major political argument, the Populists had to increase the scope of their activities. They had to launch a national third party, both to push their reform goals and to prevent Kansas Republicans from charging that their independent action would result only in the national triumph of an unregenerate Democracy, entrenched as it was in the Solid South, where political independence was not permitted. The Populist effort in 1891, then, had to be primarily an attempt...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Betrayal of the Promise
    (pp. 104-150)

    As the Kansas Populists confidently awaited the election of 1892, others were preparing to deliver a series of blows which would cause great changes in the composition and direction of the new party. Before beginning their campaign to gain full control of the state government, the Kansans turned their attention to Washington to observe proudly their representatives in the national government and to witness the expected signs from Southern alliancemen in Congress that the Populist Crusade had converted the South.

    Senator-elect William A. Peffer left the 1891 campaign circuit for Washington and recuperation in November. TheWashington Postannounced his...

  9. CHAPTER SIX That Iridescent Dream
    (pp. 151-191)

    The campaign and election of 1892 revealed serious weaknesses in the Populist strategy and grave disagreements over the direction the party should follow. Some Populists were tolerant of the infidelity of the South. Only the corrupt tactics and force of “the old bosses,” they believed, had prevented the true voice of the South from registering itself. Other Kansas Populists were less charitable toward the South. The postelection discovery that Charles W. Macune and J. F. Tillman, both on the National Executive Committee of the Farmers’ Alliance, had distributed Democratic campaign literature as official Alliance material in the South particularly incensed...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Silver Panacea Against Omaha Populism
    (pp. 192-232)

    As Populism underwent significant changes in the state of its birth, the national movement was also steadily transformed. There were some among the Populist national leadership, as in Kansas, who believed that the party could best succeed by suppressing the comprehensive reform aspirations expressed in its earlier days of enthusiasm and optimism and by then cooperating with those who were prepared to accept such limited objectives though they were hostile to the sense of the initial movement. Again as in Kansas, some of these accommodators were men of hoary reform credentials who thought they saw the main chance, but many...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Reaping the Whirlwind
    (pp. 233-275)

    As the Populists prepared for the election of 1896, the first matter they had to consider was the place and date of the national convention. While such decisions of the old parties were based on financial promises and geographical location, that of the People’s party held deep significance for the direction the party would take in the campaign, which both the Silver and the Omaha Populists recognized. As was clear from past experiences in state politics, a Populist convention held before either the Democrats or Republicans met would encourage an independent ticket or else cause any fusion to be on...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The Reward of the Faithful
    (pp. 276-301)

    After the election of 1896, the disintegration of the People’s party accelerated. Having lost both its independence and its strength by being absorbed into the Bryan silver campaign, the party divided into quarreling factions that agreed only on the fact that Populism had changed greatly since its birth. Members of the mid-road group recognized this explicitly and demanded a return to early Populism and an avoidance of fusion and silver; the larger group implicitly recognized the transformation of Populism but believed the hope of the party lay in a continuation of the policies that had already destroyed its future. The...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Populism and Politics
    (pp. 302-311)

    Whatever their views on the merits of Populism, scholars have frequently agreed that it was ultimately successful if originally rejected. To list the Populist demands, declared one historian, “is to cite the chief political innovations made in the United States during recent times.”¹ Many Populists in the first decade of the new century leaped eagerly and hopefully to the same conclusion. William Peffer expressed great pleasure that the principles which he had championed as a Populist and which were, he said, “laughed to death at that time are now considered respectable,” and that in 1907 “the country now hotly demands...

  14. Essay on Sources
    (pp. 312-324)
  15. Index
    (pp. 325-337)