Platform of the Populists

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Platform of the Populists


By: The Populist Party

Date: July 25, 1896

Source: The Populist Party

About the Author: The Populist Party formed in 1891 in the United States to create a more egalitarian world. Reflecting policies unusual for the era, the party counted women and black men among its leadership.


The Populist Party, also known as the People's Party, formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May 1891. The party arose in response to anger among farmers about falling commodity prices, high railroad rates, and heavy mortgage debt. It was part of the agrarian reform movement that swept through the South and Midwest in the years after the Civil War.

The Panic of 1873 struck especially hard at farmers and industrial workers. While the overall economic climate soon improved, hard times remained in agriculture. In response, farmers in the Midwest and South organized a wide variety of reform movements. The best known of these efforts was the Patrons of Husbandry, popularly called the Grange. Begun in 1867 as a group intent on improving educational and social opportunities for farm men and women, the Grange expanded in the 1870s to promote such economic and political initiatives as the cooperative movement. The inability of the Grange to influence politics led some members to form the Farmers' Alliance in the 1880s.

In the 1890 elections, supporters of the Alliance movement took control of the state governments in South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. With this success, Alliance members gathered in Ocala, Florida, to plan the future of the movement. The gathering included representatives from the Colored Farmers' Alliance, reflecting the populist idea that race should not be allowed to divide people. Alliance members from Kansas proposed the formation of a third political party to compete with the Democrats and Republicans. In 1891, the People's Party began. A reporter for a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper termed the group the Populists and the label stuck. The Populist Party platform, based on the Southern Alliance model, included government ownership of railroads, monetary reforms beneficial to small farmers and a subtreasury (a system by which farmers could turn over a staple crop to a government warehouse and receive a loan for 80 percent of its value at 2 percent interest per month).


The People's Party, assembled in National Convention, reaffirms its allegiances to the principles declared by the founders of the Republic and also to the fundamental principles of just government as enunciated in the platform of the party in 1892.

We recognize that through the connivance of the present and preceding Administrations, the country has reached a crisis in its National life, as predicted in our declaration four years ago, and that prompt and patriotic action is the supreme duty of the hour.

We realize that, while we have political independence, our financial and industrial independence is yet to be attained by restoring to our country the Constitutional control and exercise of the functions necessary to a people's government, which functions have been basely surrendered by our public servants to corporate monopolies. The influence of European moneychangers has been more potent in shaping legislation than the voice of the American people. Executive power and patronage have been used to corrupt our Legislatures and defeat the will of the people, and plutocracy has thereby been enthroned upon the ruins of democracy. To restore the Government intended by the fathers, and for the welfare and prosperity of this and future generations, we demand the establishment of an economic and financial system which shall make us masters of our own affairs and independent of European control, by the adoption of the following declaration of principles:

The Money Plank.—

  1. We demand a National money, safe and sound, issued by the General Government only, without the intervention of banks of issue, to be a full legal tender for all debts, public and private; a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution, direct to the people, and through the lawful disbursements of the Government.
  2. We demand the free and unrestricted coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of sixteen to one, without waiting for the consent of foreign nations.
  3. We demand that the volume of circulating medium be speedily increased to an amount sufficient to meet the demands of the business and population, and to restore the just level of prices of labor and production.
  4. We denounce the sale of bonds and the increase of the public interest-bearing debt made by the present Administration as unnecessary and without authority of law, and demand that no more bonds be issued, except by specific act of Congress.
  5. We demand such legislation as will prevent the demonetization of the lawful money of the United States by private contract.
  6. We demand that the Government, in payment of its obligations, shall use its option as to the kind of lawful money in which they are to be paid, and we denounce the present and preceding Administrations for surrendering this option to the holders of Government obligations.
  7. We demand a graduated income tax, to the end that aggregated wealth shall bear its just proportion of taxation, and we regard the recent decision of the Supreme Court relative to the income-tax law as a misinterpretation of the Constitution and an invasion of the rightful powers of Congress over the subject of taxation.
  8. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the Government for the safe deposit of the savings of the people and to facilitate exchange.

Railroads and Telegraphs.—

  1. Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the Government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people and on a non-partisan basis, to the end that all may be accorded the same treatment in transportation, and that the tyranny and political power now exercised by the great railroad corporations, which result in the impairment, if not the destruction of the political rights and personal liberties of the citizen, may be destroyed. Such ownership is to be accomplished gradually, in a manner consistent with sound public policy.
  2. The interest of the United States in the public highways built with public moneys, and the proceeds of grants of land to the Pacific railroads, should never be alienated, mortgaged, or sold, but guarded and protected for the general welfare, as provided by the laws organizing such railroads. The foreclosure of existing liens of the United States on those roads should at once follow default in the payment thereof by the debtor companies; and at a reasonable price; and the Government should operate said railroads as public highways for the benefit of the whole people, and not in the interest of the few, under suitable provisions for protection of life and property, giving to all transportation interests equal privileges and equal rates for fares and freights.
  3. We denounce the present infamous schemes for refunding these debts, and demand that the laws now applicable thereto be executed and administered according to their intent and spirit.
  4. The telegraph, like the Post Office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the Government in the interest of the people.

The Public Lands.—

  1. True policy demands that the National and State legislation shall be such as will ultimately enable every prudent and industrious citizen to secure a home; and therefore, the land should not be monopolized for speculative purposes. All lands now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs should, by lawful means, be reclaimed by the Government and held for actual settlers only, and private land monopoly, as well as alien ownership, should be prohibited.
  2. We condemn the frauds by which the land-grant Pacific railroad companies have, through the connivance of the Interior Department, robbed multitudes of actual, bona-fide settlers of their homes, and miners of the claims, and we demand legislation by Congress which will enforce the exemption of mineral land from such grants after, as well as before, the patent.
  3. We demand that bona-fide settlers on all public lands be granted free homes, as provided in the National homestead law, and that no exception be made in the case of Indian reservations when opened for settlement, and that all lands now patented come under this demand.

Direct Legislations.— We favor a system of direct legislation through the initiative and referendum, under proper Constitutional safeguards.

Elections by the People.— We demand the election of President, Vice President, and United States Senators by a direct vote of the people.

Sympathy for Cuba.— We tender to the patriotic people of the country our deepest sympathy in their heroic struggle for political freedom and independence, and we believe the time has come when the Untied States, the great Republic of the world, should recognize that Cuba is, and of right ought to be, a free and independent State.

Miscellaneous Declarations.—

  1. We favor home rule in the Territories and the District of Columbia, and the early admission of the Territories as States.
  2. All public salaries should be made to correspond to the price of labor and its products.
  3. In times of great industrial depression idle labor should be employed on public works as far as practicable.
  4. The arbitrary course of the courts in assuming to imprison citizens for indirect contempt and ruling them by injunction should be prevented by proper legislation.
  5. We favor just pensions for our disabled Union soldiers.
  6. Believing that the elective franchise and an untrammeled ballot are essential to government of, for, and by the people, the People's Party condemns the wholesale system of disfranchisement adopted in some of the States as unrepublican and undemocratic, and we declare it to be the duty of the several State Legislatures to take such action as will secure a full, free, and fair ballot and an honest count.
  7. While the foregoing propositions constitute the platform upon which our party stands, and for the vindication of which its organization will be maintained, we recognize that the great and pressing issue of the pending campaign, upon which the present election will turn, is the financial question, and upon this great and specific issue between the parties we cordially invite the aid and co-operation of all organizations and citizens agreeing with us upon this vital question.


The Populist Party found most of its support from cotton farmers in the South and wheat farmers in the North. Although the party tried to attract industrial workers, it remained chiefly an agrarian party. While African Americans were welcomed into the movement, most members were white. In 1892, the party nominated James B. Weaver of Iowa as its presidential candidate. Weaver carried only four states, all in the West. The Populists had better luck with the elections of 1894, but remained a weak third behind the Republicans and the Democrats.

In 1896, the Populists attempted to increase their strength, employing a tactic that ultimately destroyed the party. The Populists joined with the Democrats to support a fusion candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925). He lost to William McKinley (1843–1901). However, the biggest losers in the election turned out to be the Populists. On the national level, they polled less than 300,000 votes, over a million less than in the 1894 elections. Most Populists gradually drifted back into the Democratic Party. The People's Party remained active until 1908 but never again achieved the gains of the early 1890s. However, populist ideas such as the income tax and antitrust regulations were eventually adopted by the Republicans and the Democrats and became codified as laws in the twentieth century.



Kazin, Michael.The Populist Persuasion: An American History. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

McMath, Robert.American Populism: A Social History, 1877–1898. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Palmer, Bruce.The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.