The Populist Vision
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In the late nineteenth century, monumental technological innovations like the telegraph and steam power made America and the world a much smaller place. New technologies also made possible large-scale organization and centralization. Corporations grew exponentially and the rich amassed great fortunes. Those on the short end of these wrenching changes responded in the Populist revolt, one of the most effective challenges to corporate power in American history.
But what did Populism represent? Half a century ago, scholars such as Richard Hofstadter portrayed the Populist movement as an irrational response of backward-looking farmers to the challenges of modernity. Since then, the romantic notion of Populism as the resistance movement of tradition-based and pre-modern communities to a modern and commercial society has prevailed. In a broad, innovative reassessment, based on a deep reading of archival sources, The Populist Vision argues that the Populists understood themselves as--and were in fact--modern people, who pursued an alternate vision for modern America.
Taking into account both the leaders and the led, The Populist Vision uses a wide lens, focusing on the farmers, both black and white, men and women, while also looking at wager workers and bohemian urbanites. From Texas to the Dakotas, from Georgia to California, farmer Populists strove to use the new innovations for their own ends. They sought scientific and technical knowledge, formed highly centralized organizations, launched large-scale cooperative businesses, and pressed for reforms on the model of the nation's most elaborate bureaucracy - the Postal Service. Hundreds of thousands of Populist farm women sought education, employment in schools and offices, and a more modern life. Miners, railroad workers, and other labor Populists joined with farmers to give impetus to the regulatory state. Activists from Chicago, San Francisco, and other new cities provided Populism with a dynamic urban dimension
This major reassessment of the Populist experience is essential reading for anyone interested in the politics, society, and culture of modern America.
necessity of professionalizing the public schools in a lecture before the Bell County, Texas, Alliance. "Appreciate] the supreme importance of the public school system and its relation to the advancement of the great body of farmers," Smith implored her fellow Alliance members. "I cannot too strongly urge you to direct such attention to this question as will guarantee to the youth of your land the advantage of a thorough education. Secure if possible persons of high intellectual ability, combined
PREFACE The global economy of the early twenty-first century has brought speculative booms, spectacular busts, and much questioning about what it all means. One thing is certain: the wrenching changes of the "new" economy bear a striking resemblance to changes Americans have experienced in the past. This is a book about how Americans responded to the traumas of technological innovation, expansion of corporate power, and commercial and cultural globalization in the 1880s and 1890s. The advent of
to living in town than in the farming districts. In that regard, her career and that of other leading women of the Alliance resembled those of Macune, Polk, Peffer, and other male editors and leaders of the farmers' movement, and for similar reasons these women proved well suited to deliver the Alliance message of rural modernization. Their professionalism and erudition provided examples for less eminent women of the reform movement, especially for the rural schoolteachers, postmistresses,
for the Grain Belt farmers of northern Kansas? In part, it involved the smallscale trade in coffee, tobacco, butter, and eggs that business agents of local alliances conducted both close to home and as far away as Colorado and Missouri. Cooperation meant building warehouses, creameries, grain elevators, supply stores, and other local ventures.32 But above all, cooperation meant experiments in large-scale enterprise. There were no local or small-scale solutions for Kansas wheat farmers, who had
Alliance education. "The day for slush and nonsense has passed," Davis and his Grimes County colleagues believed, "and the time for facts reasons and proper deduction has come." The Alliance had kindled within its ranks 137 138 POPULISTS a "general desire for information and almost universal effort at research." They poured over census data and reports from the Secretary of the Treasury and the Congressional Record. Their studies corresponded to a political understanding that prioritized the