The parole populism is coming back in a rush. The whole raft of references provokes another look at that phenomenon of the 1980 ’ second, the People ’ s Party of the United States—more generally known as the Populist Party—which has long seemed about angstrom apposite to contemporaneous affairs as buckboards, Lydia Pinkham pills, or President Benjamin Harrison .
In certain respects the narrative of the Populist Party can be simply and swiftly told. During the decades after the Civil War the farmers of the West grew increasingly irritated by low prices for their crops ; mounting costs for the manufactured goods they purchased ; tight money, which made their mortgages seem that much more burdensome. They found allies in the agrarian areas of the South, in a variety of reform movements in the cities, above all in the grinding natural depression of 1893 which made about any lower-income world curiosity whether he should not have dissident thoughts. Dominated by its western agrarian chemical element, the Populist Party gave its greatest push to free silver, the outright neologism of silver which would have cut mortgages by inflating the currentness. But catching up the demands of decades of dissidence within all kinds of groups in many parts of the state, the party went far beyond this .
It sought to break the power of railroads, middlemen, corporations, “ all entrenched money. ” To do this it urged “ democratizing ” political changes and sweeping government interposition in economic life : the secret ballot, the first step, the referendum, and the address election of United States senators ; a endlessly flexible currency system controlled by the union politics ; public possession of the dragoon, telephone, and cable companies ; the tone of regulative commissions like the Interstate Commerce Commission and the establishment of new ones ; a graduate income tax ; and an eight-hour sidereal day for parturiency.
Reading: Just Plain Folks
In 1892 the Populist Presidential candidate received more than eight per penny of the national vote, and the party became the first fresh one to carry a department of state since the initiation of the G. O. P. in 1856. Voters besides elected five Populist or populist-minded senators, ten representatives, three governors, and some 1,500 county officials or state legislators. In 1896 the Populists formed a alliance with the Democrats in backing William Jennings Bryan, and they not only aided well in his potent run for the Presidency but aggressively upped their own state and local victories .
suddenly, within the adjacent few years, the Populist boom subsided. General good times were returning ; the most goad grudge of farmers, tight money, was alleviated without legislation by a goodly increase in the gold provision. The Populist Party was torn by the incongruity of its factions—the agrarian and undertaking elements were largely indifferent to each other when they were not at each other ’ randomness throats. The early on tendency of the southern fender of the party to try to unite the poor, ashen and black, permitted it to be clobbered by oldline politicians as the fomite of the “ nigger lovers. ” By the early 1900 ’ s the Populists as an organized party had ceased to matter in american political life .
so far, when one looks back with the perspective of three quarters of a hundred, it is clear that the Populist Party proved a seedbed of twentiethcentury political and social changes. Most of the particular programs it urged have been written into law in whole or in part, or the objective has been achieved in another way ; the results are by and large accepted as necessary in a modern majority rule. evenly surely, it makes small sense in the America of the 1970 ’ S to look for a Populist in the iSgo ’ s sense of the password. however much the campaign reached out to other groups, it was basically agrarian, and a Populist of that vintage would be aggressively incongruous in a United States that has not merely become predominantly urban but is quickly passing beyond to the suburban. Many of the Populist leaders had about them the old-timer clamor of the boondocks, whether “ Sockless ” Jerry Simpson, wearing socks but adopting the dub as a royal poinciana political trademark ; Mary Elizabeth Lease, she of the rococo hats and the howl rhetoric, summoning the farmers to raise “ less corn and more Hell ” ; or the “ sage of Nininger, ” Ignatius Donnelly from Nininger, Minnesota, ardent recommend not only of economic change but of all kinds of doctrines that suggested besides many lonely nights on the prairie .
But the millions who marched with the “ Sage ” or with “ Sockless ” Simpson were not lone Populist Party men but populists—with a small p. Their ideals, prejudices, egoism, sentiments, and cussedness tied back into dozens of strands in the american by. populism with a little phosphorus has been far more inclusive and boundlessly more significant than the Populist Party ; even in the 1890 ’ s it touched bombastic numbers of men and women who did not follow the leadership of the Donnellys and Simpsons. No bare jell of legislative demands, which could be achieved and forgotten, or the habits of a particular time and region, which could become antique, populism has been a long-running temper, a creed, at times about a profane religion .
The heart of populism has been a glorification of “ the people, ” defined in a way that permitted them besides to be called “ ordinary folks ” or “ the average man. ” “ The people ” have been the uncompromising, hard-working pillars of majority rule, who ought to run the nation because of their “ true Americanism, ” sound common sense, moral force, and natural understanding of the needs of the little man. They are the best custodians of the nation not only in political and economic matters but in all parts of living ; they are not corrupted by the “ frills, ” “ wild spend, ” and “ decadent habits ” of the “ overeducated ” and “ overrich. ”
“ The people ” of the Populist Party, like those of most previous populisms, were basically white, Protestant, “ Anglo-Saxon. ” Since the 1890 ’ s assorted groups of the populist-minded have continually redefined who “ the people ” are, including in the late categories millions of decide non-Wasps. Because to be “ the people ” is to be the best, “ the people ” have normally turned out to be an single or largely exclusive group—the group of the person proclaiming “ the people ” and of his ardent sympathizers. And from this deification of “ the people ” has flowed a potent range of specific attitudes .
The populist-minded have not been the families most likely to send their children to college, or at least to the more prestigious institutions, and they have not produced a large act of intellectuals and experts. The whole doctrine of the wisdom of “ the people ” rebels against the idea that certain men and women, by virtue of extra talents or discipline, know better and can do better. In general, the democrat tradition has been markedly disbelieving of “ book learning ” and can be accurately called both philistine and antiexpertise .
The inclination has been accentuated just because populism, more than a sic of political and economic propositions, has been a religion shoot through with emotion. You discover what to advocate or whom to vote for more from the center than from the mind, particularly the beware when it has been warped by excessively many books and besides much hairsplitting— ” from the pouring out of the good in us equitable plain folks, ” in the words of Mary Elizabeth Lease .
consequently, the populist-minded have tended powerfully toward the simple, brush solution. At kernel, an Ignatius Donnelly staked his hopes on unblock ash grey, and this one plan would not entirely end economic woes but purify the integral liveliness of the nation. Before and after Donnelly many worshippers of “ the people ” have been evenly devoted to a series of one-shot cures, then dogmatically expressed and so expansive in promises that they can entirely be called panacea. This simplistic access has been most pronounce in extraneous affairs. At times the populist-minded have been for battleful statesmanship, or prowar ; during other periods they have been isolationist. But whatever the doctrine, it has been competitive, rampant, with no use for those who hesitated or proposed the in-between. The concept of a alien policy elaborately worked out, balancing national interests against national capabilities and recognizing that the safest road is much one full of curves, is simply alien to the democrat mentality .
Always there is the enemy. The temper has varied greatly in volume, but to the populist-minded, at any given time “ the people ” are being deprived of their deserve exponent and esteem. The control is being usurp, the recognition reduced to snickers by “ money men, ” “ big shots, ” “ blue bloods, ” “ pointy-headed intellectuals ” ; and these traducers must be recognized for what they are and battle if America is to remain a genuine majority rule. And the enemy is widely deployed : the deep or wellborn or well-placed in the local community, and the mighty far away in Washington or in early metropolises .
The growth of the United States early took a human body in which a good deal of the political, economic, and cultural clout was concentrated in cities, particularly the urban centers of the northeastern states, “ the East, ” as the Populists had called them. In the South and West populism has been not only an person but a regional feeling against “ the East. ” The abrasion has not been confined to the poor or barely comfortable, but has characterized many of the “ best people ” of communities, who have not liked the attitudes and customs being projected on them by inactive more “ overweening ” people someplace else. The feel has been sharpened by the fact that sol often the forces of evil have not seemed promptly apprehensible ; they were, to use the traditional phrases, “ inconspicuous ” and brought a feel of being “ put upon ” and “ squeezed ” by the ten thousand tentacles of an “ octopus. ” As the wholly nation has become urbanize, other sections have developed “ Easts ” of influence—Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta. Yet the old belligerence against the traditional “ East, ” if softened, has surely not disappeared .
“ The people, ” furthermore, must act like the people, showing their down-to-earth quality and their contemn for the ways of those who claim sophistication. All Americans, swept along by the standardization of taste, have more and more dress, furnished their homes, eaten, even played alike. But the history of populism has been a floor of a dogged nose-thumbing at “ illusion dans, ” “ ultras, ” and the “ new-fangled ” in general. The history goes on in the millions of post-World War 11 Americans who have taken an pungent pleasure in not raising or lowering their skirts at the rule of New York, spurned button-down shirts because Ivy Leaguers wore them, denounced public consumption for the “ wayout ” ideas of symphony orchestras or sex education in the schools, or pronounced anathema on professors, commentators, and anyone else who told them that the ways of american exist were changing and changing for the better .
In the United States of 1972 none of the leaders and few of the masses represent all the major attitudes of populism. But in late decades many up and down the line have shown broad streaks of certain of its thoughts and emotions, often in potent combination.∗
∗As 1972 goes on, “ populism ” is being used thus much and in so many unlike ways that an undertake to generalize about all the meanings and connotations given to it would produce bedlam—for exemplar, the Philadelphia Bulletin applying the give voice to the law-and-order mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, and Mayor John Lindsay of New York applying it to himself and associating it with his touch for the “ street people. ” The rest of this article confines itself to discussing the “ populism ” of late decades only insofar as the ideas and attitudes fit into the broader, long-running national tradition .
not surprisingly, the South, with its large inadequate, uneducated population and its historic hostility to “ Eastern ” economic and cultural baron, has kept producing a politics that most resembles traditional populism. Sometimes the drive has been racist, sometimes not. Without peculiarly using Negro-baiting, in the 1930 ’ s Senator Huey Long of Louisiana seized absolute master of his state and extended his entreaty through the South and lower Midwest by combining actual serve to lower-income people of Louisiana—free school textbooks, improved roads, tax breaks, a munificence of statejobs—with a jeer of the “ nabobs ” in New Orleans and in Washington. His “ Share-the-Wealth ” program was the unblock silver of its day. His dappled face, his Just-us-nobodies speeches, and his brogan theatrics ( he was quite able of sweeping his place setting at a lunch to the floor and shout, “ Give me a tongue and fork—I don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate know how to handle all this ! ” ) were the average people being identical ordinary indeed.
In 1968 and 1972 Presidential campaigner George Wallace, from neighboring Alabama, has depended largely on the anti-integrationist theme but placed it within his general declarations of speaking for “ us actual Americans, down-to-earth Americans, in my state of matter and throughout this great nation of sensible people. ” Wallace ’ s dramatic defiances of civil-rights actions by the federal courts or the White House have the authentic call of the ace of the obviously people against enclosing enemies in the “ East, ” who are “ trying to maneuver their plagues down our throat. ” Venturing north, campaigning during his 1968 Presidential feat in the steel town of Gary, Indiana, Wallace was classic. His lawsuit carefully implicative of Sears Roebuck, his naturally clear and sharp English skillfully mangled, he talked of “ all those experts and bureaucrats and professors from Harvard and Princeton and what-have-you, who tell us how to run this country. We did reasonably well without them for a long meter. Don ’ thymine you think we ought to take back the dominance ? ” The applause was brassy and long .
The anti-Communist splurge of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the i95o ’ mho was a hit exemplify of the ageless flexibility of populism. McCarthy was barely a Wasp bespeaking the ancient discontents of the backcountry. He was an irish Catholic of the irish Catholics ; his attract was stronger in the cities than in rural areas ; his political stamp ground was one undreamed of in the iSgo ’ sulfur, the Cold War. Different as things might be, McCarthy had the bushy manner, the one-two-three, across-the-board issue, communism, and sneers and the shillelagh for “ Communists on college faculties and in big skyscrapers, who tell us we are speechless and that Communism and world affairs are so complicated we don ’ thymine understand them. I ’ ll tell you how to understand Communism : hit it ! ” With inerrable instinct the senator chose as a prime target Secretary of State Dean Acheson, son of a Connecticut Episcopal bishop and of an heiress ; Groton, ’ 11, Yale, ’ 15, Harvard Law School, ’ 18 ; partner in the distinguished Washington law firm Covington and Burling ; elegant with his wrinkle red mustache, his London-draped cut, and his hundred-acre horse farm, Harewood, outside the capital .
During his ascend in national politics, Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas often said that “ they ” would never permit a Southerner to be the democratic campaigner for President. Once Chief Executive, he was in many ways a broad-based national leader, but he was besides hush the son of a none-too-successful farmer-realtor-politician in Johnson City, and he had made his room to power against the persistent reject of the big northern fly of the Democratic Party. As President, he retained a thoroughgoing suspicion of “ Eastern ” publications like the New York Times and Time magazine ( “ They would never treat F.D.R. and Kennedy like they treat me ! ” ), tried halfheartedly to woo intellectuals and then turned rancorously against them. Aides told him that, functioning in the shadow of John Kennedy, he ought to show more of his own sophistication, which was considerable. once in a while he did. Mostly, out of pride and out of—to use his words— “ my palpate for the means to get to the very people, ” he went bellowing and sentimentalizing across the state in traditional just-us-ordinary-fellows style .
In some bill the L.B.J. foreign policy was a product of very eastern “ Easterners ” feeding facts and arguments to the President. But the ultimate decisions were made and the final tone set in the Oval Office. The lunge into the Dominican Republic and the headfirst Vietnam war were both in the spirit of the serviceman who said of the Dominican interposition, “ By God, the Marines are coming ! ” and who went to Asia and proclaimed, “ Let ’ s hang the coonskin cap on the wall. ” When the criticism of his Vietnam policy mounted, Lyndon Johnson remarked again and again, “ They ’ ll never approve of what I do, because I didn ’ t go to their fancy colleges. ”
One of the independent reasons for the Populist Party successes in the 1890 ’ second had been the fact that the decade marked a transition in american life from an agrarian to an urban civilization, and such periods of dislocation have always accentuated the democrat climate. It is spurred in the 1970 ’ s by a passage from a New Deal to a post-New Deal, an urban to a suburban, a machine to a technical club .
arduous efforts to lift the general criterion of living have resulted in a massive new center class, living much better than its parents but continually jab, concern, annoyed. daily these newly comfortable are discomfited by the attendant black revolution ; by ostentation ; by a technology become so knock-down that it has a good deal to do with determining everything from who goes into political office to what the children eat ; by bearded, beaded, and blatant scholar dissidents ; by intellectuals who tell middle America that they should want Negroes in their schools and neighborhoods ; by the mass media, most of whose leading figures are on the slope of onrushing modernity and well appear to be calling other attitudes cloddish—in unretentive, by a whole universe that refuses to settle down into sensible middleclass ways. The definition of “ the people ” is shifting, but the reaction is familiar. The fresh “ people, ” the center classes caught in a radically changing club, feel condescended to, thwarted, buffeted, beleaguered .
In 1971 United States Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma, not yet withdrawn from the Presidential race, was announcing that he would crusade “ democrat style. ” Formerly president of the democratic National Committee, anything but a George Wallace racist, and a politician of considerable urbanity, Harris caught what he called the “ democrat frustration ” of middle America when he went on to say : “ ordinary people feel just indeed left out. They feel their global is going under and they fumble to do something about it, but decisions are being made which affect their hale lives that they don ’ triiodothyronine seem to have any master over. … ”
Richard M. Nixon, thus becoming, coming to the presidency from Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander, & Mitchell of New York City, and from years of identification with the conservative annex of the conservative Republican Party—Richard Nixon, a world of sealed democrat tendencies ? At first thought the proposition seems absurd. Yet both he and his wife grew up function of a perturb, yearning center or lower middle classify in small-town California, with precipitously developed feelings against what Mrs. Nixon, in her only outburst in about three decades of public life, called “ the snob. … I never had time to think about things like that—who I wanted to be, or who I admired, or to have ideas. .. . I had to work. I ’ megabyte not like … all those people who had it easy. ” Recalling his years at Duke University Law School, Richard Nixon has remarked on assorted occasions that he was “ not as slick or arsenic well up on things as the easterly men ” but that he had “ staying baron, ” a set to “ work, actually study, ” and a “ sound sense of values—what very counts. ” Battling hard up the political agate line, he found merely skittish support and frequent aggression in the “ Eastern Establishment ” of the Republican Party. Since his first years in Congress Nixon had been a care for target of intellectuals throughout the state, and most particularly in the Ivy League universities .
His coming to the Presidency has coincided with the populist-minded edginess of the middle classes, and —granted the convolutions of an intensely political politician—he has been in considerable measure its spokesman. If the 1968 Republican crusade had one prevailing composition, it was that Nixon stood for the “ disregarded homo, ” for the middle classes. As Chief Executive, his actions and attitudes have been close attuned to their economic, sociable, and psychological urges, whether expressed as the White House aloofness toward the black revolution, Presidential vetoes of federal funds for the deprived of deviate types, or the celebrate presidency attacks on the “ decadent snob ” of the “ Eastern ” communications industry and universities .
A White House touched by middle-class populism can besides express itself by a general atmosphere of a disgust against revolts and by what President Nixon calls “ the daily living of the good, regular life. ” The tone is there in the Sunday services at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in Julie ’ s heads-up announcement that she and her conserve are “ squares, ” in the earphone calls that keep going out from the President of the United States to the football bus, the bowler, the golfer who wins .
In her old historic period, retired if not subdued in Brooklyn, Mary Elizabeth Lease declared : “ The party we fought for is good a memory. Our spirit marches on. ” It has and it will. In the american democracy the attitudes and the emotions of populism are a permanent character of the home life, whatever forms they take .
And their long-running influence—for good or for bad ? With its implicit in tendencies, populism has been a persistent beginning of setting off one “ people ” against another ; of snappish and unproductive sectionalism ; of deprecation of a majority rule ’ s supreme resource, the marshal of facts and the heedful analysis of them ; of a kind of crab antipathy for endowment, resource, the reach to the richer nuances of live. In alien affairs populism ’ randomness force has frequently been decidedly inauspicious. The populace merely will not march to the holier-than-thou “ common sense ” of annoy farmers, rabid McCarthyites, or self-appointed savants of the new suburbs .
Yet the obverse of the coin is important. The Populist Party of the 1890 ’ mho became a herald of future decades because it expressed actual needs for change if the United States was to go on continue and expanding economic and social opportunities. The needs are always there, constantly shifting, constantly requiring the affirmation of a new “ people ” ; the middle classes of the 1970 ’ randomness do have identical real problems requiring very real solutions. If the foreign policies urged by the populist-minded have been something less than sagacious, they must be measured against the deficiencies of the actual international stance adopted by the United States during most of the twentieth century—in large part the creation of upper-educated, upper-income men. The populist-minded pressure for a “ people ’ s ” extraneous policy has often amounted to a call for more control over international affairs by the Congress rather than the White House. An America with its present foreign woes, after years of post-World War n foreign policy making about entirely by Presidents, can barely be excessively sniffish about such an argument .
Populism ’ s anti- “ Eastern ” prejudice is a prejudice ; it besides points up the fact that America would be a good manage more healthy civilization if its resources were spread so as to develop all regions and all classes more evenly. The democrat quest for the good, elementary life easily turns into a bear. Yet indeed do the patterns promulgated by a number of advanced thinkers, who seem to have a flair for devising doctrines that remove all mean from know in a anticlimax of indulgence and delusion.
Those magicians who wrote the Constitution of the United States—and they seem more prescient with each passing decade—recognized the potential for good in all groups and set up a governmental system to give it outlet. They besides faced the selfinterest and purblindness of every cabal, and in the end depended less on the good of valet than on restraining his evil. warily, they constructed a government of checks and balances .
The long war between the established classes and populism has proved a nongovernmental, unofficial accessory to these checks and balances. The clash has been helterskelter, frequently bitter, at times nonsense, but it has checked and balanced. Over the centuries the populist-minded have aided notably in blasting the established from their certitudes and opportunism, and the established have precisely as surely been helping to save “ the people ” from themselves .
THE POPULIST PLATFORM