For many years Western farmers had been in a state of loud, though unsuccessful, revolt. While L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) was living in South Dakota not only was the frontier a thing of the past, but the Romantic view of benign nature had disappeared as well. The stark reality of the dry, open plains and the acceptance of man's Darwinian subservience to his environment served to crush Romantic idealism.
Baum's stay in South Dakota also covered the period of the formation of the Populist party, which Professor Russell B. Nye likens to a fanatic "crusade". Western farmers had for a long time sought governmental aid in the form of economic panaceas, but to no avail. The Populist movement symbolized a desperate attempt to use the power of the ballot. In 1891 Baum moved to Chicago where he was surrounded by those dynamic elements of reform which made the city so notable during the 1890's.
In Chicago Baum certainly saw the results of the frightful depression which had closed down up on the nation in 1893. Moreover, he took part in the pivotal election of 1896, marching in "torch-light parades for William Jennings Bryan". Martin Gardiner notes besides, that he "consistently voted as a democrat...and his sympathies seem always to have been on the side of the laboring classes." No one who marched in even a few such parades could have been unaffected by Bryan 's campaign. Putting all the farmers' hopes in a basket labeled "free coinage of silver," Bryan 's platform rested mainly on the issue of adding silver to the nation's gold standard. Though he lost, he did at least bring the plight of the little man into national focus.
Between 1896 and 1900, while Baum worked and wrote in Chicago , the great depression faded away and the war with Spain thrust the United States into world prominence. Bryan maintained Midwestern control over the Democratic party, and often spoke out against American policies toward Cuba and the Philippines . By 1900 it...