Why were farmers so angry before 1890?
- Life was hard, lonely and only made worse by climatic threats, e.g severe droughts
- Dramatic falls in prices, e.g wheat (per bushel) 1870 - $1.06, 1897 - 63c
- Overseas competition - high tariffs
- Increase in domestic production due to mechanisation
- Railroads - high charges to use (higher than big businesses)
- Credit was tight/low commodity prices = difficult to obtain loans
- Hard to get a good price for their crops
- Gold standard favoured big business
- "Bonanza Farms" -owned by companies
- Government hostile to the interests of farmers
The rise of the Populist Party
- National Farmers Alliance, Southern Alliance & Patrons of Husbandry set up to voice the concerns of the farmers.
- By working with existing political parties, by 1890 they were able to field several candidates for state/national office.
- In 1892 the Populist Party was born with James Weaver as candidate
- DEMANDS - government ownership and operation of the railroad/telephone/telegraph.
- Appealed to "fellow producers" in the cities and work togetehr against Big Business.
- Terrified the businessmen/conservative politicians
1892 ELECTION - LITTLE TO FEAR - Made very little headway against industrial workers, despite winning a million votes. In the South, even amongst farmers, the Democratic party ruled supreme.
Clevelands Second Term
- Dominated by financial issues
- "Panic of 1893" - economic depression caused by a drain on gold reserves
- Cleveland "government interference would only make things worse, careful money supply managment would help rather than high spending"
- Silver Purchase Act 1890 (increased the amount of silver to back currency) was then repealed by Cleveland and he then negotiated with JP Morgan, a deal for a $62 million loan and refused to alter the tariff.
- Overall it was thought that Cleveland did very little
These measures by Cleveland convinced people that the President was just a tool of big business and did not care about ordinary citizens.
The 1896 Campaign
- The Republicans chose William Mckinley - a friend of big business who was closely associated with the 1890 Tariff and called for an increase in the tariff and a deflationary economic policy.
- The Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan - stood for lower tariffs, free unlimited coinage of gold & silver, enlargment of the powers of the Interstate Commerce. (split the party as many who favoured the gold standard would not support him)
- The Populists - Democrats were too similar!! If they supported the Democrats they'd only achieve some of their aims but if they had an individual candiate they'd split the vote!
- In the end they put forward Tom Watson for Vice and supported Bryan.
THE END - Mckinley won every state east of the Mississippi/north of the Ohio whilst Bryan won the south and most of the west. McKinley triumphed.
The Democrats & Populists had won the rural vote but failed to convince enough people from the urban areas.
What ever happened to the Populists?
- 1896 election - highest tide of Populist influence
- McKinleys Administration continued to support business
- 1897 Tariff - highest ever, 1900 Currency Act put USA firmly on Gold Standard
- From the 1896 Election followed a period of prosperity and a run of Republican dominance.
- Gold discovery meant the Gold Standard was no longer deflationary
- Agricultural problems somewhere else helped farmers
- The Populist were gradually absorbed by other parties and new ideas