The Realignment of the 1890s
THE PRAIRIE FIRE that swept the frontier states in 1890 was bound to move eastward. As third-party politicians began their quadrennial efforts to organize for the presidential election two years away, they had a solid regional foundation to build on--by far the strongest political base any off-year election had constructed for them since the Civil War. The western victories energized and inspired reformers everywhere. The men and women who had been catapulted into national prominence by these victories found themselves in the vanguard of national third-party politics. And they assumed that role with missionary zeal.
To the West, the lesson was obvious: convert the whole Farmers' Alliance into a People's party, as had been successfully done in Kansas. The annual meeting of the Southern Alliance was scheduled for December 1890 in Ocala, Florida, and exultant Kansas Alliancemen entrained for Ocala determined to lead their southern brethren down the road they had followed. The delegates from Cowley County brought with them the draft of a call for a national convention to be held in Cincinnati in February 1891.1
At Ocala they met powerful resistance. Southern Alliancemen, fresh from their own series of victories, were now the proprietors (or coproprietors at least) of the Democratic party's machinery and had little interest in third-party adventures. But eventually they accepted compromise with the firebrand Kansans. Let a committee join with similar committees from other farm groups and from the Knights of Labor to call a great conference of producer groups in February 1892, with delegates to be newly chosen by the members. If the conference concluded that a third party was necessary, one could then be formed. The Kansans went____________________