Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Goodwyn - Populist Moment

Goodwyn, Lawrence. The Populist Moment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

The populist movement was the largest democratic mass movement in American history. Democratic is the key word for Goodwyn. Populism arose from grassroots organizing by farmers to overcome the downward economic spiral posed by the capitalists they borrowed from and sold to. It's growth was fostered through the efforts of ideologues who spread the populist message from community to community. Its significance was that it was the last major attempt to destroy the association between private capitalist businesses and the government - the corporate state.

Key Items
Sectionalism - Late 1800s politics were divided by sectionalism, with Republicans dominating the North East and business and Democrats dominating the South.
Contraction - To counter the inflation of the Civil War and revert to the gold standard, the federal government allowed a prolonged period of contraction, thus decreasing the money supply to get it back in line with the perceived value of the currency. This was the key cause of farmers' woes in this period.
Greenback Movement - A political party from 76-84, their ideas for a paper currency floating untethered from a hard currency standard were influential to the populists, and anathema to popular economic theory, which elevated a hard currency (either gold or gold and silver) as both economically and morally sound.
Farmers Alliance - (Southern, out of Texas) Fused with the Greenback Movement to become the Populist Party of the 1890s. Lecturers, such as S.O. Daws and William Lamb spread the agrarian message to organize cooperatives to try and break the stranglehold of capitalists on farmers. Goodwyn disputes older analysis (Hicks) that believed populism arose out of the Northwestern Alliance (Wisc, Minne, etc), which he says were actually hostile to populism.
Tom Watson - Typical populist leader. Argued for unity of poor farmers - black and white - against the capitalist forces oppressing them, before turning to racism after the movement's failure.
Omaha Platform - July 4, 1892. Sums up the populist program, particularly in its greenback doctrine, which merged with agrarian concerns.
Sub-treasury scheme - Populist idea to create a national source of finance for farmers, allowing them to circumvent the crop lien system and prevent them from being tied to market forces that were effectively killing them.
St. Louis Convention 1896 - Populists, fighting for political legitimacy, fused with the Democratic party and its candidate, Bryan. In fact, this would prove to be the end of the populist movement.

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