The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America

By Lawrence Goodwyn | Go to book overview

3
The Cooperative Vision Building a Democratic Economy

"the foundation that underlies the whole superstructure. . . ."

To all appearances, the agrarian revolt developed in the South and West in a fashion that merged separate currents of reforming energy. The National Farmers Alliance seemed a powerful tributary of insurgency that conveyed sluggish Southerners toward the People's Party. There the mobilized reform energies of the South flowed into a raging Western torrent. That torrent had no apparent source; it seemed to have materialized from an unknown well-spring concealed somewhere in the Great Plains. The revolt in the West had simply "happened" -- times were hard. So the movement of the farmers appeared to the puzzled nation in 1892. Appearances, however, were misleading. The "tributaries" of the People's Party were not divergent; indeed, they were not even tributaries; the radical currents merely needed to be traced to their common headwaters.

The ideological course to the 1892 Omaha Platform of the People's Party ran back through the Ocala Demands of 1890, the St. Louis Platform of 1889, the Dallas Demands of 1888, and the Cleburne Demands of August 1886. For in 1886 the organizational impulses of hope and self-respect generated by farmer cooperatives, impulses that were to lead to the People's Party, identified themselves. Shaped by the tensions of organizing and expanding across the nation, the new culture of a people's politics that had materialized in Texas in 1886 became known to the nation in 1892 as "Populism."

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