The Populist Movement

The evolution of the United States into an industrialized nation decades after the civil war was marked by fast growing banks and strength of the railroads. The impact of mechanization on agriculture and other related practices further compounded the problem. These problems challenged the American farmer’s financial stability in a manner that they had not experienced before. This led to the birth of the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange) towards 1970. This organization’s dedication was the political and social uplift of the farmers. From this time through 1880s, the farmers grouped, both locally and nationally, into the Farmer’s Alliance. This organization worked to promote economic reforms to protect farmers’ interests (Scott, 2008). These two movements helped in the creation of the People’s Party. The populists influenced the election outcomes and reached the high mark in 1896.

The Populist movement's first convention was in 1982 when delegates who represented reform, farm and labor organizations met in Omaha. Its determination was to make a mark on the United States political system as they viewed it as corrupt. It represented the interests of the commercial and industrial trusts at the expense of the farmers. The major issues that the movement focused on were the unlimited coinage of silver, land, money and railroads. The movement recorded impressive advancement in the political front in the South and the West in the 1982 elections. As a result, the candidate that the movement had fielded for the presidency garnered more than one million votes (May, 2006). However, the issue of the currency overshadowed all other issues; while some people advocated for gold, others favored silver.

The spokesman for the Agrarian movement in the South and the West advised a return to the unrestricted silver coinage.  Out of conviction that the problems stemmed from a reduction of money in circulation, the populists argued that an increase in the amount of money in circulation would drive up the industrial wage and increase the prices of farm products. Consequently, this would allow the payment of debts with inflated dollars.   The populists’ proposals, according to the conservatives, were not realistic. They believed that the implementation of such policies would court disasters because it would be difficult to stop the inflation if they begun it. On the same note, the railroad bonds, which was an important financial tool, was only payable in gold.  Additional to this, setting of freight and fare rates in half-price dollars of silver would make the railroads go bankrupt in weeks. This would throw thousands of workers out of work and, subsequently, destroy the industrial economy. They further said that only the gold standard would offer stability.

The 1893’s financial panic heightened the debate’s tension. Banks failed in the West and South, crop prices went down badly, and unemployment soared. The president’s inability to solve this crisis compounded it, and this almost broke the party of the Democrats. As the 1986 election neared, the Democratic Party, which used to support free trade and silver, resolved to absorb the Populist movement’s remnants. This convention witnessed one of the greatest speeches in the history of America when President William Jennings asked them not to crucify mankind on gold’s cross. In spite of the Populist movement’s backing, President William Jennings lost the election to William McKinley, a republican (Barnes, 2009).

In conclusion, the Populist movement reiterated a significant question in the history of America. It questioned why some Americans were privileged to have resources while others were not. As the movement challenged the unbeatable power of the moneyed interest in the economy, they made a leeway for a broader movement; a movement for social reforms that would carry the nation through ought the dawn of the twentieth century.

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