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People's Party

Timeframe: 1891 - 1908

A product of the Populist movement, which had ignited the Agrarian west for decades previously, the People’s Party was the successor of the Greenback-Labor party which was formed in the 1880s. One of its chief organizers was the journalist Ignatius Donnelly who was the leader of the Farmer’s Alliance. Aggrieved farmers furnished the driving force and most of the votes; labor’s role was significant but only secondary.

A small group in the Southern Alliance called a convention, which met at Cincinnati on May 19, 1891, with fourteen hundred delegates present including labor representatives. Few Southerners came, for sentiment that the South was against a third party because of successes with the Democratic party. The convention formed the People’s party, but called a conference at St. Louis to secure the cooperation of farmer, labor, and other liberal groups. The conference in St. Louis adopted a platform, the nominating convention set for Omaha in July.

The platform that was adopted called for the free coinage of silver and the issuance of large amounts of paper currency as inflationary measures that it hoped would ease the financial burdens of the nation’s debt-ridden farmers. Its other demands included abolishing the national banking system, nationalizing the railroads, instituting a graduated income tax, electing senators by popular vote, and people participating in the government by means of a referendum. Two thirds of the platform was a bitter indictment of the American economic system and a condemnation of the two parties. Supplementary resolutions, not regarded as part of the platform, declared for the Australian ballot, further restriction of undesirable immigration and contract labor, rigid enforcement of the eight-hour law, abolition of the Pinkerton detective system, adoption of initiative, referendum, and recall, limitation of the Presidency to one term, and an end to subsidies.

In 1892, the party nominated James Baird Weaver for the presidency, over a choice of Colonel Polk, Walter Gresham, and Senator James Kyle. The spirit of the convention carried into the West, but not so much in the South, as Southern Alliance men refused to leave the Democratic party. With the Democrats taking a lot of their issues, Weaver lost but received more than a million votes and 22 electoral ones, and several Populist candidates made it to Congress. In the West, a coalition with the Democrats on electoral tickets resulted in a victory of five and a number of state and Congressional successes.

However, the next election gave the Populists a hard choice, as the Democrats under William Jennings Bryan stole much of their thunder. They managed to win control of the Democratic convention in St. Louis and secured Bryan’s nomination, who they supported and endorsed for the presidency, becoming "Popocrats." After Bryan was defeated, the People’s party split over the issue of continued alliance with the Democrats. In 1900 the Democrats renominated Bryan and the anti-Democrats nominated Wharton Barker. They reunited in 1904, but then its influence was declining and ceased to exist by 1908.

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