The 19th century saw a great deal of political change for the United States. Numerous political parties emerged from the mid-late 1800s. One of such would be the People’s Party. This political party was formed because of farmers’ demands to solve the problem of the falling prices of their products. The People’s Party (or Populists, as they were known as) gained a lot of power and were able to elect many governors, representatives, and senators to Congress so that they could try and fix the problems of the farmers.
The growing power of the People’s Party worried many of the big political parties such as the Democrats and Republicans. They believed that this new party could significantly affect the election turnout, for the better or worse. To prevent this from happening, the mainstream political parties launched campaigns in an effort to diminish the growing power of the Populists. In doing so, they wanted to make the Populists look bad in the eyes of the public. They even compared them to socialists.
Even if the major political parties made the People’s Party look bad, the Populists had many noble goals in mind when electing their leaders. According to Keene, these included a strengthened democracy, elimination of monopolies, protecting small producers, and promotion of fairness (Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Page 123). In order to eliminate monopolies, the Populists aimed to abolish the national banks and government ownership of railroads and telegraphs. The Populists wanted to protect small producers by allowing for free coinage of silver. They wanted to promote fairness by making the rich pay a greater income tax than that of the poor. This way, the poor wouldn’t have to give as much of their income to the government and could use that money for more useful things.
Even with their goals and dreams, the People’s Party was still considered to be a third party, and third parties have never won an election before. Even so, the Populist candidate received over one million votes in the election. Although they didn’t win the presidential election, they still managed to elect a large number of state legislatures. Governors, senators, and representatives from the People’s Party were also elected to Congress. Unfortunately, the Populists didn’t win the favor of farmers in the Midwest. Also, when Populists attacked white supremacy in the South, their support in the region was weakened.
In conclusion, the Populists tried their best to secure more rights for farmers, and that can be seen in the 1896 election. As was mentioned before, no third party has ever won an election. Even so, the Populists definitely affected the results of one. Considering everything that they have done, it is safe to assume that the Populists made progress towards their goals. It is evident that they worked hard and reached at least some of them.
Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: A History of the United States. Pearson, 2013.