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The Populists and Progressives

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 10 years, 1 month ago



































Some farmers would burn their crop as fuel due to the high cost  unlike the workers in the east – there were no “unions” to
look after the interest of the farmers –  so they got together and decided to make one



In July 1892, the members of the People's Party of America, also known as the Populists, gathered in Omaha to organize a national reform effort. Their platform, largely the work of Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, stated their main grievances and hopes for change. The party also nominated General James B. Weaver as their candidate for president. Weaver received more than a million votes and carried four western states. As you examine the Populist Party platform, think about the nation's economic and political situation in 1892.


Omaha Platform of 1892 
In 1890, farmers elected 5 United States senators, 6 governors, and 46 congressmen. Encouraged by this electoral success, farmers again set their sights on a national coalition. The three major farmers' organizations held a convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1892. Six principal demands emerged from this meeting:

  1. A permanent union of all working classes
  2. Wealth for the workers
  3. Government ownership of railroads
  4. Government ownership of all communications systems
  5. More flexible and fair distribution of the national currency
  6. No more ownership of land by those who do not actually use it

As it turned out, the Populists' less radical demands, such as their call for a secret ballot, a graduated income tax, and the direct election of Senators, became law within twenty years.



Grange – Farmer’s Alliance – Populist Party



"Farmers were by nature independent and individualistic— dead set against consolidation or regimentation."
American Pageant p 611


Republican laissez-faire policies that favored big business and allowed corporations to consolidate. These corporations were hard to regulate with an undefined government role. City, state, and federal governments added to this by gouging the farmers, ripping them off by making them pay painful taxes when they could least afford to do so.     



1867- Oliver Kelley started the first National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry AKA the Grange  it began as a non-political group whose goals were to stimulate farm families (social, educational, and fraternal)  Milton Grange

Farmers and Laborers' Union of America was a regional association in the Southwest. By 1890, it had 3 million members.

Northwest Farmers' Alliance began in Chicago and spread throughout the Midwest. By 1890, it had 2 million members.

Colored Farmers National Alliance addressed the needs of African-American farmers in the South and in the Midwest. By 1890, it had between 1 and 1.5 million members.




Munn v. Illinois (1877) – Railroad discrimination against farmers led to pro-farming legislation in the Grange Laws. These laws were challenged by large corporations, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of state regulation because it had a direct effect on the general public. In its ruling, the court upheld the right of state legislatures to regulate railroad rates. 


"Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite wrote the majority opinion. In it he stated that private property becomes subject to regulation by the government through its 'police powers' when the property is devoted to the public interest" Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, eds., The Reader's Companion to American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991) 759. 

"Common carriers exercise a sort of public office, and have duties to perform in which the public is    interested.... Their business is, therefore, 'affected with a public interest.'"-- (From the majority opinion of Chief Justice Waite.)

After this legal victory, the Grange backed away from political activism. In addition, improved agricultural conditions in the Midwest caused membership to drop.


Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific RR Co. v. IL (1886) – Reversal of 1877 decision, only the federal government was declared able to regulate interstate commerce



AP FOCUS: Progressives and “muckraker” writers attacked city corruption, corporate greed, poor living and working conditions, alcohol, and women’s right to vote. Each of these ills saw laws and/or Amendments passed to attempt to better the condition.




 The Targets of Progressive Reformers  (Optimism and possibility of  improving society) 


  1. Living and working conditions in the growing urban centers
  2. Transforming individuals – Indians (Dawes Act/Indian Schools and Immigrants/Settlement Houses)
  3. Racial Tensions and reactions to Jim Crow - Booker T Washington visits the White House 
    Ida Wells - Lynchings: Without Sanctuary Website   PBS Jim Crow Interactive Lynching Map
  4. Labor issues - Child Labor, Women’s Labor
  5. Extended voting rights women: Suffrage Image  and Suffrage Map
  6. Making government more responsive and less corrupt. This includes concern about concentrated power in government and the "organized corruption of the Boss system



The Geography of Progressivism  (where did the Progressive reformers do their work?)


Working within the Government  

Working outside the Government 

Mayors and Governors: Thomas Johnson, “Golden Rule” Jones, Hazen Pingree, Seth Low, Charles Evans Hughes, Robert LaFollette  Journalists, muckrakers, social scientists: Upton Sinclair, Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell , Ida Wells-Barnett, David PhillipsLincoln Steffens



Who were the "muckrakers" and how did they pressure for government reforms?
Editors and publishers were eager to provide support for muckrakers'  efforts as a way to boost circulation numbers and profits. Thus, the genre that emerged was a combination of investigation, advocacy, sensationalism and yellow journalism. 




 The Progressives in Government


AP FOCUS: Progressives and “muckraker” writers attacked city corruption, corporate greed, poor living and working conditions, alcohol, and women’s right to vote. Each of these ills saw laws and/or Amendments passed to attempt to better the condition.


City Reforms
Progressive reform began at the local or city level because it was easier to implement than at the vast state or national level. Urban corruption from political machines was a major focus, resulting in the reorganization of local government using the commissioner-and city-manager-styles of management.


City Commisioner Plan              Cities hired experts in different fields to run a single aspect of city government. For example, the sanitation commissioner would be in charge of garbage and sewage removal.  Connection  - City Commisioner Plan Galveston Texas
City Manager Plan 

 A professional city manager is hired to run each department of the city and report directly to the city council. Connection Troy - Michigan

Saratogian News Story on City Managers



State Reforms
Reform governors such as Theodore Roosevelt of New York, Robert LaFollete of Wisconsin, and Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, all helped get reforms passed in their respective states. In addition, reforms first proposed by the Populist Party were enacted in order to make state governments more responsive to the needs of the people. 

Secret Ballot   Privacy at the ballot box ensures that citizens can cast votes without party bosses knowing how they voted.
Initiative   Allows 5% of voters to petition state legislatures in order to consider a bill desired by citizens. Connections - ballot intiatives
Referendum  Allows voters to decide if a bill or proposed amendment should be passed. Connections - Ballston Facilities Referendum
Recall  Allows voters to petition to have an elected representative removed from office.  Connections - California Recall 2003
 Ensures that voters select candidates to run for office, rather than party bosses.








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