UCLA History Populist Party Role Question

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The People’s party, more commonly known as the Populist party, was organized in St. Louis in 1892 to represent the
common folk—especially farmers—against the entrenched interests of railroads, bankers, processers, corporations, and
the politicians in league with such interests. At its first national convention in Omaha in July 1892, the party nominated
James K. Weaver for president and ratified the so-called Omaha Platform, drafted by Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota.
Assembled upon the 116th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the People’s Party of America, in their first
national convention, invoking upon their action the blessing of Almighty God, put forth in the name and on behalf of the
people of this country, the following preamble and declaration of principles:
The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of
moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even
the ermine of the bench.1
The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent
universal intimidation and bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business
prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.
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, and they are rapidly
degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for
a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger
liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.
The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders; a vast public debt payable in legal-tender
currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.
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. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been
organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it
forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.
We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and
plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences
dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to
prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in
the coming campaign, ever issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a
sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the
demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes,
lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the
Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who
established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the ”plain people,” with
which class it originated. 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 tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the
general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. . . .
Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is not precedent in the history of the world; 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; the existing currency supply is wholly
inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the
impoverishment of the producing class. We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils by
wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform. We believe that the power of government—
in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good
sense of an intelligent people and the teaching of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and
poverty shall eventually cease in the land. . . .
We declare, therefore—
First.—That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual;
may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the republic and the uplifting of mankind.
Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ”If any
will not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical.
Third.—We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the
railroads; and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an
amendment to the constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service
regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such
additional government employees.
FINANCE.—We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible issued by the general government only, a full legal tender
for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations; a just, equitable, and efficient means of
distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent, per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan
of the Farmers’ Alliance, or a better system; also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements.
We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
We demand that the amount of circulating medium2 be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
We demand a graduated income tax.
We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people,
and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of
the government, economically and honestly administered. We demand that postal savings banks be
established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.
TRANSPORTATION.—Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and
operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph and telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for
the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.
LAND.—The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for
speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in
excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual
settlers only.
Expressions of Sentiments
Your Committee on Platform and Resolutions beg leave unanimously to report the following: Whereas, Other questions
have been presented for our consideration, we hereby submit the following, not as a part of the Platform of the People’s
Party, but as resolutions expressive of the sentiment of this Convention.
RESOLVED, That we demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections and pledge ourselves to secure it to
every legal voter without Federal Intervention, through the adoption by the States of the unperverted
Australian or secret ballot system.
RESOLVED, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the
burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.
RESOLVED, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.
RESOLVED, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which
opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners; and we
denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of
undesirable emigration.
RESOLVED, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of
labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight-hour law on Government work, and ask that a
penalty clause be added to the said law.
RESOLVED, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the
Pinkerton system, as a menace to our liberties, and we demand its abolition. . . .
RESOLVED, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people and the reform press the
legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.
RESOLVED, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice-President to
one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
RESOLVED, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.
10. RESOLVED, That this convention sympathizes with the Knights of Labor and their righteous contest with the
tyrannical combine of clothing manufacturers of Rochester, and declare it to be a duty of all who hate tyranny
and oppression to refuse to purchase the goods made by the said manufacturers, or to patronize any
merchants who sell such goods.
1. A valuable white fur adorning the robes of some judges.
2. Currency and/or coin.
[From ”People’s Party Platform,” Omaha Morning World-Herald , 5 July 1892.]
HST Short Writing Assignment #1
Assignment Length: 300-450 words (Not a hard cap, but part of the goal of the assignment is to make
this roughly a 1.5-2 page reflection)
Prompt: What role does the Populist Party envision for the federal government in the 1890s? Why do
they believe that their vision of the government’s role will promote greater freedom?
Keys to Success
(1) You should point to specific examples from the Populist Party Platform, but successful papers will
make a broader, overarching interpretation (a thesis statement) that sets the stage for the specific
examples you will introduce.

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Explanation & Answer:
300 Words

Populist Party

Populist Party Platform

inhabitant39s rights at its inception

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