The Populist Party and the Farmer Reform Movement

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Question: Detail the farmer reform movements of the Midwest and South in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Why did these groups emerge? What were the goals of these groups? Discuss each major group from this era and the reforms they inspired. Were their goals reasonable or too radical? The Populist Party had its origins in the agrarian West. A lengthy and devastating drought, followed by a depression, exacerbated the tensions between urban and rural interests and farmers began to unite under the Populist banner. "In the 1880s, as drought hit the wheat-growing areas of the Great Plains and prices for Southern cotton sunk to new lows, many tenant farmers fell into deep debt. This exacerbated long-held grievances against railroads, lenders, grain-elevator owners, and others with whom farmers did business. By the early 1890s, as the depression worsened, some industrial workers shared these farm families' views on labor and the trusts" (Edwards, "The People's Party," 2001). The Populists advocated a more radical platform than either of the two major parties of the time, demanding a 'free silver' platform, federal intervention to help farmers, greater restriction upon corporate monopolies and anti-poverty social support legislation. They also supported female suffrage, statehood for the District of Columbia, and Cuban independence. Although the Populists were often demonized as 'hayseeds' in the popular press, many of the issues they were concerned about became more, rather than
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