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The Populists Poop Out

December 5, 2001

Historian's Notes

Iím a big fan of the Populist Party and the Populist movement in general. In my opinion, these men and women were thinking light years ahead of their time. Their solutions for problems were so revolutionary, yet so practical, that very few people could open their minds far enough to realize the benefits of such a program. Today we live in a society that utilizes almost everyone of the planks on the Populist platform. Go figure! Though young, Oklahoma still had its fair share of Populist activity.

Resources

Chronicles of Oklahoma (Autumn 1965). 43 (3).

Much information also came from various Oklahoma history texts.

Almanac Transcript

The Populists poop out this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.

The Depression of the late eighteen-hundreds and the resulting dissatisfaction among voters, directly led to the most successful third party effort in the history of the United States. The Populist or "Peopleís Party," formed in St. Louis in 1892 as a direct challenge to the Democratic and Republican Parties who, so the Populist's felt, cared little about the small scale farmers and businessmen. The Populist Party garnered much support especially in the mid-western states including Oklahoma and Indian Territories. The Populist platform was reform oriented and involved, in general terms, increasing the size and involvement of the federal government.

The Populist felt that left to their own devices large powerful entities such as banks, corporations and railroads would always favor greed and personal interest over the general well being of society. As a solution Populists proposed that the federal government should take over ownership of the railroads and banks, while large industry would be heavily regulated. Perhaps the biggest plank in the Populist platform was the free silver issue, unlike the Goldbug Republicans, the Populist argued that both silver and gold should be used as money by the U.S. Treasury.

Early attempts by Populists in Oklahoma were very successful; by joining with like-minded Democrats, the Populist factions in the election of 1896 swept the local offices of a number of Oklahoma Territory counties. In the strongest Populist enclave, Payne County, all offices up for re-election in 1896 went to Populist candidates. The Populists it seemed at the time were unbeatable and on their way to achieving national victory. In Oklahoma, however, it was only their fusion with the Democrats that allowed the Populist candidates their victory.

Ultimately, the fusion with the Democrats eroded Populist autonomy and an increasing focus on the gold and silver issue blinded Party leaders to the other desires of voters. The Party in 1898 found itself lost without leadership or ideas, tied now forever to the Democrats and helpless to chart its own course. It was in this week of 1898 that state and local elections proved disastrous for Oklahoma Populists. One Oklahoma editor stated after the elections of 1898 that the Populist Party either needs to stand alone or cease to exist. Unfortunately for many Oklahoma farmers it was in this week of 1898 that the Populist Party as a real contender in Oklahoma politics ceased to exist.

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