Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel

By C. Vann Woodward | Go to book overview
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The Debacle of 1896

HARDLY ANYONE could be found who expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the St. Louis Convention-least of all the mid- roaders, and certainly not Tom Watson. The question naturally arises: why, of all people, should Tom Watson, the leading advocate of the middle-of-the-road policy, the staunchest opponent of fusion, have lent his name to this weak compromise with fusion? After six years of uncompromising resistance at costly sacrifice, why did he half-way yield at the crucial moment? Before passing judgment upon his own answer it might be well to inquire how other national leaders of radical and reform groups met the test of 1896.

Of the Single Taxers, Henry George himself publicly endorsed Bryan. Edward Bellamy, acknowledged leader of the more radical "Nationalists," proclaimed that the real issue lay "between men and money," and swung his support to the silver champion. W. D. P. Bliss, of the Christian Socialists, took the same attitude. More surprising was the attitude of Eugene V. Debs, a recent convert to Marxian socialism. Debs wired Darrow forbidding the use of his name as a candidate against Bryan at St. Louis, and advised union labor to support the Democratic nominee. Speaking as a Populist, Henry Demarest Lloyd called the Convention "the most discouraging experience of my life"; yet he confessed his own impotence in the face of circumstances at St. Louis. Twelve days before the Convention he stated the


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