His 356 (Populist Movement)



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HIS 356 (Populist Movement)

Yaolee Chen

Brett Flehinger
The Populist Party was much younger than the Democratic and Republican Parties. The earliest populists were found in the Southern and Western agricultural areas before the Industrial Era.1 In 1890s, the industrial workers shared the farmers’ views and organized the National People’s Party. The Omaha Platform in 1892 demanded a safe currency for the workers. In the election of 1896, the populists agreed with a gold standard by William Jennings Bryan. The economic policies by the populists, as a whole, were not consisted.

First, the first platform of the Populist Party in Omaha demand an economic policy by currency, which said in the Preamble:

The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bondholders; a vast public debt, payable in legal tender currency, has been funded into gold-beating bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.

Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor; and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once, it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.2

A factory of shoes maker, for example, the economic policy of currency distribute the wealth of machine owner to the labor workers: Let’s say, the owner spent $ 10.00 of green bill to buy the machines and labors. The machine produced 1,000 pairs of shoes. The price of each pairs was sold $1.00. So, the machine owner made $1,000 dollars of green papers in total. The government printed out the green bills and distributed them to the hands of the workers that the workers could afford to buy the shoes. The original $10.00 of green bill in the hand of the machine owner was devalued. By the green bills, the government redistributed the wealth of the machine owner to the labor workers; for it says, “We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued by the general government only…” Labor workers, as producers, received their wages with the protection from the economic policy of green bills.

The Gold standard was another economic policy, which did not distribute the wealth from the hand of machine owner to the labor workers. Using the same shoes factory for example, the machine owner spent $10.00 of gold money to buy the machines and labors. The factory produced 1,000 pairs of shoes. The sale price of each pairs would be $0.01 of gold money. It sounds like the price of shoes had dropped. But, the problem was that the original 10 dollars of gold money still in the hand of the machine owner. The labor workers simple had no money to buy the shoes. (the bankers may loan to the workers to buy the shoes, and the labor workers will be more in debts if you want). The government could not create gold money because gold is a limited natural resource. The result of using the policy of gold money was that the machine owner still had his $10.00 un-de-valuable gold money. Plus, the machine owner was adding his money by using the labors from workers. The gold standard fattened the usurers, people like, machine owners, landowners, farm owners, or Butler in the story of “Under the Lion’s Paw” by Hamlin Garland.

William J. Bryan was delivering a speech for gold standard, and not for the green bills. He said, “The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.” “With a zeal approaching the zeal which inspired the crusaders who followed Peter the Hermit, our silver Democrats went forth from victory unto Victory”. “The Miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb tow thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade.” “We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!” “If the gold standard is the standard of civilization, why, my friends, should we not have it?” “Our ancestors, when but three millions in number had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent less independent than our forefathers?” “You shall not press down of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”.

In the election of 1896, many labor workers were angry by Grover Cleveland and the railroad executive and had turned their votes for the Democratic Party for William J. Bryan. By simply look at the Omaha Platform and the Cross of Gold speech in The Cross of Gold Speech, the Populist Party did not hold a consisted economic policy.



1 Rebecca Edwards. “The Populist Party”. Vassar College, 2000. < http://projects.vassar.edu/1896/populists.html>.

2 http://www.nv.cc.va.us/home/nvsageh/Hist122/Part1/PopulistPlat1892.html


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