Populism refers to a political approach aimed at obtaining popular support. The Populist Movement played an essential role in U.S. history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, a new party emerged willing to defend the U.S. farmers’ interests and improve the conditions for agrarian workers (Berkin et al. 481). This paper aims to discuss the three crucial attributes of the Populist Movement in the U.S, such as defending the agricultural sector’s interests, strengthening political democracy, and contributing to the Progressive Movement development.
The Populists stood up for the oppressed agrarian workers who faced unfavorable conditions and numerous obstacles caused by the industrialization process in the late 1800s. The Populist Movement began in response to growing debt rates of independent farmers and onerous loan terms set by the banking elite and led to the formation of the People’s Party in 1891 (Berkin et al. 482). It supported the idea of strengthening farm workers while eliminating the monopolistic power of banks, railroad corporations, and middle-sized businesses. In this regard, the Populist Movement believed in inflation, graduated income tax, and the government’s ownership of railroads. Such changes would allow for farmers’ equity with industry and business. Moreover, the People’s Party emphasized the need for the growth of the circulating currency, which could be accomplished through the Free Silver movement, a policy of unrestricted silver coinage (Berkin et al. 482). Therefore, the Populist Movement united farmers who opposed the Democratic and Republican Parties due to their neglect of the agricultural sector’s interests and problems.
Another essential aspect attributed to the Populist Movement is strengthening political democracy. The People’s Party served as a mobilizing factor for people to engage in political activity and develop democracy. In particular, the Populists believed in direct U.S. Senate elections (Berkin et al. 481). Such an approach would ensure that the government serves people’s interests instead of those of partisans. In addition, the graduated income tax would prevent the establishment of aristocracy in the U.S. The combination of the two policies would increase producing classes’ economic and political power. The Populist Movement had an essential role in the 1896 presidential election since its representatives supported Bryan, the Democrats’ candidate (Berkin et al. 484). Later, the People’s Party merged with the Democratic Party but remained rather influential in politics. Even though the Populist Movement did not manage to influence government policy in the long run and pass lasting legislation, its objectives set the direction for further improvements.
Finally, the Populists can be considered critical in the development of the Progressive Movement. These two parties shared many ideas on policy and the government’s role in business regulation (Berkin et al. 481). However, the Populist Movement raised concern about power allocation and became a forerunner to the Progressives. They took over the goals and values of Populism, such as private industry regulation and support for the U.S. agricultural and working classes. Therefore, the movement was important for the establishment of the Progressives’ ideas.
To conclude, the contribution to the development of the U.S. agricultural sector, political democracy, and the Progressive Movement constitute the three primary attributes of the Populist Movement. The Populists addressed industrialization effects on agrarian workers, supported democratic values, and demanded better conditions for farmers and laborers. Therefore, the Populist Movement can be considered influential in the U.S. political system in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Berkin, Carol, et al. Making America: A History of the United States, Volume II: Since 1865. 7th ed., Cengage Education, 2015.