The Rise (and Fall) of the Populist Party
The Populist Party was the popular name of the People's Party. The rise of the Populist Party was the culmination of two decades of suffering among farmers of the South and West. The Populists supported policies to relieve the hardships of farmers and had an important impact on the politics of the 1890s.
After the Civil War, farmers all over the United States were hit with hard times. Although the growing industrial economy improved transportation, created new goods, increased farm production, and opened new markets to farmers, farmers were increasingly plagued by declining prices for their goods, high interest rates, economic depressions, land speculation, bad crop years, chronic debt, and increased unpredictability of national and international markets for farm products. All of these factors contributed to make farming less profitable.
Farmers responded in three ways to their predicament. First, they criticized banks and railroads, the businesses that they depended on for credit and transportation to markets. Second, they banded together in alliances and formed cooperative ventures for storing and marketing their crops. Third, they organized for political action and advocated policies designed to ease their debt, including regulation of railroad shipping prices, low-interest federal loans, and inflation of the money supply.
In response to these problems, farmers began to organize themselves. First came the Patrons of Husbandry, commonly known as the Grange, started in Minnesota. The Grange started cooperatives that allowed farmers to pool their money to get better prices on machinery and supplies. It also pushed for regulation of railroads and grain elevators.
After 1880, the Grange gave way to regional farmers' alliances. The Colored Farmers Alliance organized black farmers, and a few white farmers, in the South. Other regional alliances organized white farmers in the South and farmers in other parts of...