KC Johnson

Supplementary Readings: Weeks 2-5 (through the 1930s)

Alisa Harrison
Book Outline
9 February, 2011

Beckert, Sven. The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

• Drawn from Beckert’s dissertation, The Monied Metropolis seeks to explain the ways by which this elite—and diverse—group of New Yorkers acquired economic, social, and political power in order to solidify their social position and construct a new and powerful worldview.

• A primary focus is to explain the construction of New York City’s economic and entrepreneurial bourgeoisie class, and to assess the ways in which these individuals maintained and implemented power; in fact, Beckert argues that illuminating the lifestyle of these social elites allows the historian to better understand “the dynamics of economic, social, and political change between 1850 and 1900 and with it the emergence of modern America” (3).
• Beckert sees a distinct transition among elites from a universalistic worldview of a society without social divisions to one of a strict divide between the laboring masses and the bourgeoisie.
• By the 1870s and 1880s, Beckert argues, “bourgeois New Yorkers articulated a consciousness of separate class identity” (5).

• Beckert implements the Martins’ masquerade ball in 1897 as a vignette by which to demonstrate the trajectory of his book. Therefore, Beckert understands these economic elites as an unstable social class formulated largely upon social mobility, ostentatious displays, and conspicuous consumption.
• A primary theme of The Monied Metropolis is the solidification of the bourgeois class; by 1897, Beckert writes, “The ostentatious display of riches, the depth of class conflict, the national reach of social networks, and the unification of New York’s upper class across economic sectors evident at the ball symbolize a significant departure from antebellum times.” (2).

• New York City is selected as the focus of The Monied Metropolis because, as Beckert writes, “Nowhere else in the world did an economic elite emerge as powerful as that of New York City, effectively making the United States the most bourgeois of all nineteenth-century societies” (3).

• Beckert approaches the book’s subject through an emphasis on culture along with conflict, allowing the reader to “see the creation of a bourgeoisie as the result of an active process of class formation, not the automatic or necessary outcome of a shared position in the social structure” (9).
• Structurally, he relies upon a method of analysis termed “class-formation approach,” the understanding that conceptualizations of class occur exist upon distinct but interrelated levels.
• Beckert writes, “These levels, broadly speaking, are the structure of the economy and the place of bourgeois New Yorkers within it, the social organization and culture of the economic elite, their dispositions, and lastly, their collective actions” (12).

• Historiographically, the topic of the formation of a bourgeois class in the United States has received little attention.
• While early social historians focused in depth upon the development of a laboring class, they did not pay more than passing attention to American elites.
• Consensus and progressive school historians have noted the existence of a bourgeois class, but “failed, however, to go beyond economistic reductions of complex social, ideological, and political processes” (11).
• Beckert, therefore, relies heavily upon works of bourgeoisie class development authored by French, British, and German historians.

• The Monied Metropolis is divided into three predominantly chronological sections:
• Part I, “Fortunes, Manners, Politics,” the time period before the Civil War
• Part II, “Reluctant Revolutionaries,” the Civil War to 1873
• Part III, “A Bourgeois World”, from 1873 to 1896.
• Themes relating to class formation, business relationships, and power struggles carry throughout.

• Part I centers upon the time period leading up to the Civil War, deals largely with the interplay between early bourgeois class solidification and, simultaneously, the varying factors that created instability for elites. Although Beckert focuses nearly wholesale upon New York City, this section deals simultaneously with the system of slave labor in the South and the ways in which the northern bourgeoisie sought to maintain the Union in the pre-war years.
• Chapter 1 deals with the accumulation of capital for the elites, noting that their economic success emerged as a combination of both good fortune—New York’s prime location as a port city, for instance—and the hard work of the capitalists, who implemented social networks to grow economically.
• Simultaneously, however, urban diversity chipped slowly away at elite stability.
• Yet, Beckert argues that merchant specialization and the growth of a manufacturing elite allowed those of the bourgeoisie to respond to challenges “by creating new public institutions and new organizations that they hoped would protect their world and project their power over the city’s public spaces” (45).
• Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the methods by which the bourgeoisie solidified their social and economic success.
• The addition of a new social group—artisans turned manufacturers—and conflict between the merchants/bankers and industrialists threatened to fragment elites.
• Despite this, a majority of upper-class individuals worked together to create cultural institutions as a means to endow themselves with control and stability, simultaneously seeking to instill morality and a measure of sensibility in the laboring classes.
• Attempts to maintain political power in the era of “mass politics” led to a shift in new governmental strategies, including a heavy bourgeois influence through financial support and patronage with politicians in office.
• The biggest problem, however, was sectional tension; Beckert posits that a strong correlation existed between economic status and Republican Party support. He writes that supports were “overwhelmingly manufacturers, lawyers, and western merchants who had little to lose from a conflict with the South” (93).

• Part II deals with the years during the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. Beckert argues that the beginning of the Civil War proved to be an overwhelming defeat for upper-class New Yorkers, but, in the end, created enormous economic and industrial growth in the city upon which elites were able to successfully capitalize.
• Chapter 4 notes that elite New Yorkers began to propagate a rhetoric of unity as a reaction against fears of a southern radicalization of the economy and theories that secession would undermine economic power in the United States. This new political discourse, Beckert posits, allowed New Yorkers in 1861 to “come together and mobilize collectively as never before” (113).
• New York elites played a pivotal part in funding and equipping the war effort.
• Simultaneously, Beckert sees an increasing radicalization of the bourgeoisie over time as, in 1863, a majority of them embraced ideas of emancipation (135); this effectively removed most elite divisions over the issue of slavery.
• Beckert ends the chapter by arguing that the northern victory “can be considered one of the great triumphs of New York’s bourgeoisie, a triumph which gave them increased power and promised even more rapid economic development” (143).
• Chapters 5 and 6 center upon the aftermath of the war.
• Most elites found themselves in favor of a rapid end to federal involvement in the South and a rebuilding of economic ties
• However, economic elites largely linked together problems of proletarianization with issues of slavery.
• These ideologies shifted the focus of the bourgeoisie to acknowledge the ways in which workers’ collective action forced elites to adopt new attitudes, leading to an ideological crisis for manufacturers, merchants, bankers, and professionals.
• Failing of paternalist strategies.
• Insufficiency of free labor ideology.

• Part III focuses upon successful class solidification following the 1873 economic collapse; Beckert notes that, following the depression, bourgeois New Yorkers “would abandon support for the reconstruction of the southern states, would become ever more ambivalent about democracy, and would formulate important elements of an identity as a class distinct from other social groups” (195).
• Chapter 7 posits that elites moved closer together through an ideological reorientation in favor of “unfettered rights of property” and the “social or even racial superiority of the holders of wealth” (211).
• Elites began to embrace private charity and to implement a program of government retrenchment.
• Yet, the final chapters of The Monied Metropolis note that, despite consolidation of the “economic, social, and political power of the city’s upper class,” no stability exists in terms of social and political relations (236).
• Loss of influence for merchants and local manufacturers due to the rise of a more nationally-oriented economy.
• Bureaucratization and consolidation of business in the city allowed for the ascendancy of a new social group within the upper classes, that of the professional elites (253).
• Challenges at the hands of members of the lower class who disapproved of elite conspicuous consumption and political power; yet, these attacks force elites to solidify closer together as a class in response.
• Beckert writes that the “weakening of divisions between different factions of the upper class, along with the absence of competing elites, both of which were substantial departures from prior decades, enabled bourgeois New Yorkers to shape the state in ways conducive to their interests and inclinations” (301).
• In fact, by the end of the nineteenth century, Beckert boldly argues, “the United States was the most bourgeois of all nineteenth-century societies” (334).


Laura Ping

Morton Keller – Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1977)

I. 2 Major Themes of Book:
A. Structure of Politics, law and gov’t between the years 1865 and 1900.
B. Looks at ways in which different generations understood their political culture/polity. Makes it possible to look at public life as it relates to rapidly changing social experiences.
1. polity – system of governmental organization that reacts to the people and their political and civil rights.
2. 3 Generations in Public Life of the U.S.
A. Civil War and Reconstruction to 1876
1. Era of ideology, belief in nat’l gov’t and goals. Struggle between nat’l gov’t and state gov’ts.
B. Industrialization in the 1880’s
1. Era of organization, focuses on politics
C. Political and social crisis of 1890’s
1. Concerned w/ depression, and social/economic effects of industrialization. Populism.
3. Conclusion
A. 1865-1900 characterized by conflicts between individualism vs. social order, localism vs. centralism, laissez-faire vs. the active state, and broad vs. restrictive views of American citizenship.

Part I – The Postwar Polity, 1865-1880:

I. The Civil War and Reconstruction

● Historical view point: The Civil War creates contradiction in postwar public life b/c there was no change to Nat’lsm or political pwr of North. Only slowed pace.
● for people of Civil War generation there were extreme changes. This contradiction between social change but no political change sets tone for postwar public life.
● War causes Union to believe in nat’lsm and unified nation.
● What about South and sectional tensions during Reconstruction?
● CSA gov’t and law remained based on Union gov’t and law w/ exception of slavery.

● The Civil War had expansive effect on the power of the state
● Before 1861 army was neglected part of the gov’t.
● War also created new possibilities for civilians.
● War reorganized credit and currency systems.
● After the war economy experienced
○ business failures
○ cessation of Southern trade
○ Western banks have their own currencies
● This created a need for taxation, nat’l bank system, and nationalized currency.

● Party politics also consolidated, centralized and polarized ideals.
● Politics of Reconstruction: Postwar polity was a relationship between war born ideas of strong central gov’t and civil rights for African Americans and traditional American belief in localism, limited gov’t and racial inequality.
● Democrats – called for state’s rights and centralized gov’t. Conservatives feared African American emancipation resulting in white supremacy
● Republicans – Lincoln’s wartime Republicans were a mix of War Democrats, Conservative and Moderate Republicans and Radical Republicans. All agreed on goals of preserving Union and ending slavery.
● Post War = more Radical Republicans.

● 3 types of political conflict between Congress and Johnson over Reconstruction
○ Ideological – clash between Radicals and Conservatives in postwar South over African American suffrage, social and economic reconstruction and Confederate disenfranchisement.
○ Political – break up of wartime coalitions. Change in party affiliations. 1866 Congressional election – Republican victory.
○ Institutional – struggle between legislative vs. executive branches. Congress vs. President on pwr.

● Impact of Civil War on American Polity – effected every level of gov’t
● Fed. gov’t had new powers and responsibilities
● States shared in quickened pace of public life.

● Postwar expansion of gov’t limited by counter-values:
○ localism
○ cultural diversity
○ belief in laissez faire

● Gov’t of 1870’s was dominated by localism and laissez faire economics.
● As cities grew new problems arose: Housing, welfare, urban development, harbor use.
● Demonstrates quickened pace of local gov’t
● Cities want to centralize gov’t. Loosen pwr. of local politicans.
● Also expansion of local cities increased debt. Debt from public improvements.
● Debt also from ideological need to bring efficiency, intelligence, and expertise to running city.

● Radical Republicans want to see greater role in foreign affairs
● does not happen b/c despite rhetoric about expansion and America as a world pwr, foreign policy is limited by
○ popular hostility to military adventurism
○ demands on capital
○ ideological objections to empire building
○ American traditions of individualism, localism, and xenophobia.
● City gov’t and foreign gov’t is good example of how polity is NOT moving forward = gov’t is dominated by localism and laissez-faire.

Social Reform
● Civil War trauma also reinforced social reform. Ideology to create a better society, preserve society, reclaim a utopian past.
● Reforms:
○ health
○ poverty
○ temperance
○ women
○ race
○ crime
○ prison reform
○ education
○ religion

● postwar ideology supported social reform as unified egalitarian nation then countered with 19th C. values.
○ laissez faire
○ individualism
○ assumptions of racial and gender inferiority

Postwar northern economy had 2 features:
● new readiness to call on gov’t to assist economic development.
● perception of economy as a nat’l fusion of harmonious compatible interests

The South:
● Public life in the south closely matched the rest of society.
● Reconstruction was a policy shared between North and South
● But Southern laws initial reflected refusal to let war end i.e. Black Codes.
● South had more dramatic “war born” legacies of gov’t and civil rights.
● Dominant white cultures also reflected hostility to gov’t, racism, localism
● in larger view Reconstruction can seen as a sectional manifestation common to postwar policy`

● Triumph of organizational politics is final rejection of Civil War Legacy
● growth of public buildings
● corruption of politics i.e. language of political “bosses”
● movement away from idealized politics
● demonstrates postwar polity b/c politics of organization rather than ideology met demands of society that was committed to localism and hostile to large public policy,

Part II – The Industrial Polity: 1880-1900

● Civil War issues such as relationship between state and nation and emancipation became less impt.
● Polity began to deal with economic and social effects of industrialism
● Congress and executive branch became less important in policy making that state legislatures, the courts and political parties.
● Polity struggled between old values of localism and suspicion of government and new values brought by industrialization i.e. specialization, increased organization, technical society.

I. Industrialization

● Government stuck between old and new values. traditional vs. modern
● radical intellectuals attacked corrupt government and mass elctorate.
● genteel reformers proposed different models of gov’t to try to recapture an imagined glorious past.
● rise of “political science:” stressing of historical and social context of politics and government proposed by intellectuals.
● results in challenge to laissez-faire

● New views of gov’t had little effect on the role of the President
● But as century progressed role of president began to change and by 20th C. had become more powerful.

● Congress was also transitioning.
○ Early and Mid 19th C. Congress was deliberative and legislative
○ By 20th C. had become less of a forum for debate and more of an administrative body.
○ Reason: amount of congressional work expanded, chance that both houses would be the same party diminished, chance that politician would change parties diminished. Does this mean politics are a more stable body?
○ Allowed government procedure to become more stable.
● Congress was also in charge of committee work, but as work load increased committees became more decentralized.
● Increasing number of committees demonstrates ways that gov’t was becoming more complicated.
● Congress also demonstrates how U.S. was changing. Compare to Parliament : P was still based on debate, fewer committees, membership more stable. Most public laws in U.S. were pasdsed by state gov’t as opposed to how Parliament worked.
● Conclusion : Congress was still a reaction to localism – state gov’ts still have a lot of pwr.

● Fed. gov’t also stuck in the middle of change.
● Bureaucracy changed little in late 19th C.
● Question as to what the role of gov’t should be since prevailing concepts were localism and laissez faire.
● Fighting these old traditions plus bias against ruling elites.
● gov’t expected to distribute revenue quickly to partisan political groups.

● States activism was halted by depression of 1870’s.
● But traditional views of localism continued
● states forced to increase taxes to efficiently run gov’ts.

● Municipal gov’t becomes focused on reducing dependency on state.
● administration, taxation, and public services all became structured to meet needs of socioeconomic change.


● corrupt political machines, tension over ethnicity, religion, and class, hostility toward gov’t, and cities still having to answer to states limited success of gov’ts in meeting needs of industrialized society.

● Industrialization and growing economy increased society’s (polity) need for conflict resolution by courts.
● Responses of the legal system unreliable/unable to keep up with need.
● Law profession grows in response
● But same conflict between private rights and individuality challenges new need for nat’l development.

● Late 19th C. characterized by increased agriculture and industrialization ( corporations, distribution, domestic market for comsumer goods. Created ground work for 20th C.
● Agriculture went through the same phase a business – new marketing, increased productivity drove down costs and prices – but differed b/c small producers continued to participated in ag. economy, ag. was more dependent on overseas markets, and regional characteristics distinguished each type of agriculture.

● Industrial Polity was forced to respond to this rapid economic change. Land and labor became key factors in ag. and industrialization and this led to issues concerning tariffs and nat’l currency based on gold standard.
● Labor issues are brought to courts but since courts are overwhelmed they are forced to uphold state laws about labor.

● New industrialization attacks laissez faire economics as well.
● Polity was spit into two factions
○ One arguement was that existing interests should be protected from economic change.
○ the other argument suggested a new, national economy.
● Judges were committed to laissez faire but more complicated economy warranted exceptions further complicating system
● Gas, electric, street railway, telephone, and water companies were regulated.
● Professions such as doctors required licensing – complicates laissez faire and concept of free competitors.
● Foods such as margarine were regulated to protect dairy farmers, meat inspected.
● Brings up problems of old policy vs. new policy.

● Social changes take place as nationality, citizenship rights, segregation divorce rights and children’s rights, Indian all develop. Works to define status.
● Americans also tried to regulate social behavior ( also textbooks and attendance) in schools, violence ( whipping as punishment, capital punishment), social welfare ( poor or insane), privacy rights (danger of slander).

● voting rights expanded right after the Civil War and voting numbers increased. By the end of the 19th C. numbers had fallen as a result of minorities being pressured by elites and the rise of organizational politics.
● Politics marked by political machines and bosses who committed fraud and corruption.
● Third party politics challenged this. Didn’t actually hurt Democrats or Republicans in poles but demonstrates continuing evolution of party politics.
● 1890’s sees rise of Populism – impt. 3rd party challenge.

● 20th C. saw same social anxieties as 19th. but polity presented greater effort toward controlling corporations, political corruption, and working class conditions.
● But politics bean taking on very different tone. Life for African Americans became worse. Nat’l prohibition and immigration restrictions were supported and Wm. McKinley was assinated. American polity revolved around these restrictions.
● As century progressed, however, ways in which social anxieties were expressed changed.



McMath, American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898 (Hill and Wang, 1992)


– end of Reconstruction; emergence of class conflict as major fault line (Railroad Strike)
– would there be a Paris Commune in the US?

what Populist movements around the US had in common
– born in crisis; emerge in response to changes in American capitalism during the traumatic 1870s
– draw upon existing mobilization techniques (churches and other voluntary organizations)
– loosely defined ideology of antimonopolism, “producerism” and republicanism
– political dilemma: how to remain nonpartisan and how to be heard when both major parties ignore you

explanations for Populism – who joined, and why?
– keep regional differentiation in mind
– scholars have often read the motives for Populist agitation through the lens of their own time; eg. the first major histories of Populism were produced during the Depression
– in the 1930s scholars focused on economic distress, which many thought could overcome both divisions between North and South and between white and black (eg. Woodward)
– in the 1950s scholars looked at the “dark side” of Populism – the racism, status anxiety and volkish irrationalism that reminded them of fascism and McCarthyism (eg. Hofstadter)
– scholars influenced by the experience of the civil rights movement looked at Populism through a “resource mobilization” lens, focusing on the organizations and institutions that nourished Populist sentiment, whereby individual farmers entered a snowballing process of increasing radicalization / political consciousness

McMath’s interpretation incorporates each of these three perspectives, connecting it with what social historians have learned about the economic and social networks that blanketed rural America (16-17)

CHAPTER 1 – Rural Life in the New West and New South

keep in mind that the farmers we will see are not isolated yeoman of myth and legend; they are integrated into the growing capitalist economy – commerce, finance, transportation

western land boom of the 1880s
– dependent on institutions of modern capitalism (railroads, eastern finance capital, farm machinery)
– settlements in relatively compact grid, and many settlers came in groups
– “family farm” – both kinship network and producer of commodities (grain and livestock) for market
– older cooperative traditions (“swap-work,” threshing rings, machine-sharing, etc) retained in many instances – “habits of mutuality” part of their cultural tradition

the postbellum south – “a low-wage region in a high-wage country”
– cotton, tobacco
– introduction of capitalist labor relations (sharecropping, crop liens)
– transition of blacks from slaves to labor-sellers with power to withhold that labor
– war, railroads, merchants, fertilizer availability break upcountry isolation, draw many into commercial farming
– growing incorporation of poor whites into sharecropping, market relations
– livelihood subject to price fluctuations, boom-and-bust from afar
– are the fortunes of blacks and poor whites converging under the strictures of capitalist organization?

the south and west met on the Texas frontier; from there sprang one of the most important Populist organizations, the Farmers’ Alliance

most farmers lived in communities; think of community as local space and as human network that spans individual locales
– local communities (families, “visiting” custom, churches, fraternal organizations)
– ties with wider world (transportation, communication, trade, credit)

mixed feelings regarding these new linkages
– railroad freight rates set and manipulated from afar
– standardized commodity markets benefit speculators with capital
– rural/urban conflict

– western drought of 1889-90; decline in wheat and corn prices; speculative bubble burst
– cotton and tobacco prices falling, concentration of ownership in tobacco manufacturing, rise in cost of cotton packaging, rising freight rates due to monopoly

many people begin to feel they’ve been tricked

CHAPTER 2 – Cultures of Protest, 1867-86

argument: these farmers possessed “cultures of protest” – “patterns of thought and action growing out of their own history on the land” (50)

“producerism” (related to radical or agrarian republicanism) – the idea that labor creates value and that laborer is entitled to fruits of his or her labor
– this idea also encompasses equal opportunity to labor
– cooperative labor practices affirm this vision
– what threatens this vision? monopoly or special privileges
– the culture of protest “begins with social relationships on the land” (53)

rural vigilantism
– against the enclosure movement – a redefinition of space, rights, and power – the fence issue was a class issue
– support for railroad bandits (Jesse James & co.)

the Grange
– voluntary organization in the American tradition
– social/educational
– cooperative purchasing and marketing
– nominal avoidance of political partisanship but in practice a different story
– in the south, some Granges are controlled by Redeemers – the Grange’s message is not immune to “cooperation” on the basis of race and control from above

see also the Union League and other black cooperative organizations

influence of urban and eastern labor radicalism (Knights of Labor)
– cooperatives, greenbackism

what was radicalism?
– an alternative to wage slavery, to the control of labor by capital, to usury
– an assertion of local prerogative against the control of life by far-away monopolies
– American radicalism did not develop into the kind of hard-edged proletarian class-consciousness that you see in Europe

in general, the prospect of a farmer-labor coalition went unrealized

CHAPTER 3 – The Farmers’ Alliance

would urban and rural protest groups consolidate into a unified cooperative movement / labor party?

Farmers’ Alliance (southern version, begins in Texas)
– effort to organize supply purchasing and cotton sales on statewide basis
– boycott jute trust (jute is the material that you wrap cotton bales in) that had jacked up prices
– 1887-88 mobilization – recruiters fan out, attempt to unite farmers across the cotton belt, organize suballiances
– political activism – demand loans from federal government to enable farmers to hold crop for best prices
– genteel (planter) vs dirt (poor) farmers within the Alliance – the former, when they control local Alliances, mitigate against more radical activity and against connection with the labor movement
– blacks explicitly excluded from membership; there was a parallel Colored National Farmers’ Alliance
– at first, the Alliances received support from southern trade boosters, but once they began to make specific militant political demands, that support ended

Farmers’ Alliance (northern version, run out of Chicago)
– revitalized in response to collapse in agricultural and real estate booms and drought of late 1880s
– cooperative economics, antimonopoly political agenda, with an added emphasis on third-party politics
– bypass middlemen, advocate public ownership of railroads and grain elevators

elements of a successful alliance
– corps of traveling lecturer-organizers
– subsidized newspapers and pamphlets
– tight-knit structure of neighborhood, county and state alliances
– expertise in cooperative purchasing and marketing

could north and south coalesce into a national agrarian movement with a two-fold strategy of economic cooperation and political antimonopolism?? this was their aim going into 1889-90

CHAPTER 4 – Farmers, Laborers, and Politics: Interest Groups and Insurgency, 1890

the two Alliances failed to merge in 1890 (institutional, sectional, partisan issues), but they agreed on a program of land, finance, and transportation reform and to press the federal government to adopt it – a foray into national politics (109)
– the implied argument here is that deprivation of farmers and workers is not a state of nature, but can and should be remedied by action on the part of the government

roots of a shared language of protest
– critique of industrial capitalism emerging from many sources at this time
– Henry George, Edward Bellamy – imaginative schemes to reform society
– why the drastic income inequality? (remind you of today?) – the fundamental principles of the republic are being undermined
– role of women in reform movement (Boston, California)

mountain populism – farmers, railroad workers, miners – like southern and western populism with a stronger dose of labor radicalism tossed in
– mining conditions were so bad as to prompt quick and radical organization
– view themselves as victims of a colonial economy run from London and New York

far western populism – California and the Pacific Northwest
– Calif fruit and vegetable production – the future of American agriculture is taking shape here
– Central Valley land situation similar to great plains land boom – monopolization, enclosure, Southern Pacific Railroad (“The Octopus”)
– joining of Alliance and Bellamy’s Nationalists
– in Pacific Northwest anti-Chinese racism is a staple of populist sentiment; mob violence

Alliance as intentional community; creation of alternative institutions
– weekly meetings; secret rituals; initiation; instruction; exhortation; organizational business
– suballiance as “seedbed of culture of protest” (123)
– public manifestations of Alliance power: parades, burials, picnics, meetings
– unique and active role of women

move into politics – existing parties or third party??
– different strategies tried in different locales
– in the mountain and pacific west, third party candidates are run
– in the south, they go through democratic party, holding its candidates to the “Alliance yardstick,” ultimately they are paid lip service while the pols don’t move on any real issues; Alliance is competing with democratic party and white solidarity for allegiance
– in the midwest, Alliance breaks with the dominant Republican party and runs its own candidates – independent political movement; great success in Kansas 1890 with People’s Party

constraints on nascent movement
– western and southern strategies both produced gains, but did rank-and-file’s mobilization extend beyond anger into political consciousness and knowledge of the movement’s platform and what it would mean to have it enacted?
– suspicion of political parties, of politics in general, deal-making, lack of “principle”

national conference 1890 – form a third party? western and southern divide and put the issue off but agree on need for political education program

CHAPTER 5 – Creating a Political Culture: The People’s Party, 1891-92

germ of People’s Party at Cincinnati convention 1891- the name “Populist” is coined to refer to its adherents
– the south is still absent, its Alliance members still employing the “yardstick” strategy – it is soon proven wanting; but it’s hard to convince stalwart Democrats of the logic of the third-party strategy

Alliance as educational institution
– political re-education; alternative to the Whiggish view presented by the “textbook trust” that celebrated industrial capitalism and dismissed farm and labor grievances
– reform books, tracts, new printing technologies allow communities to have own newspapers
– National Reform Press Association – an “internal communications agency” – distribute boilerplate to local papers as well as lesson plans on history and political economy to suballiances
– trained traveling lecturers, religious-style camp meetings

ensuing political “war of maneuver” between People’s Party and state and local Republican and Democratic organizations, different in each state

1892 convention St. Louis; reformers of all stripes (farmers, labor, women, temperance) present
– Donnelly’s preamble a succinct and stirring statement of Populist belief (161)
– third party endorsed, nominating convention for national People’s Party set up
– populists fan out to their respective states to try and organize

national convention at Omaha July 1892; a climax of decades of agrarian and radical thinking, reworking the antebellum principles of producerism and republicanism; Jackson’s slogan “equal rights for all, special privileges for none” has a new meaning and new political implications in the age of industry – government is the people and its powers should be expanded to protect their welfare

the platform:
– Donnelly’s preamble
– greenbackism, no banks, govt control of money system, income tax
– public ownership of railroads, telephone and telegraph, end to land monopoly, secret ballot
– labor protection, end use of private armies to break strikes (Homestead is occurring at this moment)
– no plank on women suffrage

unfortunately the presidential candidates they end up with are less than impressive (Polk, the presumptive nominee, had died of cancer)

obstacles to national unity: cleavages over prohibition, female suffrage, race

– the conventional story is that Democrats used racist attacks but also manipulated black votes to snuff out a courageous and biracial Populist coalition
– but the prospects of this coalition were circumscribed from the beginning (173-4)

should the People’s Party collaborate with one of the major parties?
– on this issue the logic of populism as an ideology collides with its emerging character as a political movement
– split between “fusionists” and “mid-roaders” (those who don’t want to align)

1892 election
– populists do terrible in south, pretty good in west, no showing in north (industrial workers go with Dems)
– the Knights of Labor and the Farmers Alliances are declining – the momentum is now with the organized People’s Party and the character of the movement had changed

has the People’s Party lost its base, origin, true principles during the process of conversion into a viable national political organization?

CHAPTER 6 – The Crisis of Populism, 1893-98

depression beginning 1893; many blamed Cleveland and the Democrats and the Populists’ message resonates with those affected

the silver issue – remonetarize?
– increase money supply, reduce deflation and therefore the real indebtedness of farmers, miners, but just the free silver issue isn’t enough for radical antimonopolists as it does not entail structural reform
– Cleveland argues for and gets repeal of Sherman Silver Act of 1890 which allowed the government to purchase silver again – a defeat for populists
– many now see free silver as a red herring propagated by opportunists that distracted and split the populist movement

industrial army movement – unemployed march on washington
– Populist congressmen are mobilized and focus to directly combat the depression that actually resemble New Deal programs somewhat – public works, a social security-like pension system
– the idea that the federal government has a role to play in shielding people from the impact of industrial capitalism – they had this idea earlier than most and pushed it

Pullman labor struggle in Illinois (Debs) presents new opportunity for Populist-labor coalition (188-92)
– Clarence Darrow argued this case before the supreme court
– Henry Lloyd – a central figure for broad coalition of reformers – a new, non-Marxian socialism
– they failed to have a serious effect on state politics in the election; republicans are the big winners, as they were across the plains states as well
– demonstrates ultimate implausibility of farmer-labor alliance

Populist government was not a great success in Colorado, Dakotas, Kansas (sloppiness, infighting)
– in Kansas, populism was “dead” – it died so fast – ?

in the south, democrats angry at Cleveland flocked to the populists
– Populists lose fraudulent elections in GA
– fusion in NC – they did not, as many believe, intend to establish racial equality – it was a cynical-ish arrangement

in general, Populists seek to dampen democratic attacks by moderating on race, abandoning commitment to equal rights; they win more votes, but the identity and vitality of the party are in question

difficulty of affecting national politics
– institutionalization of two-party system through new rules in congress
– a choice: fuse and accept lowest common denominator (focus on free silver) or remain permanent ineffectual minority?

the struggle between mid-roaders and wishful-thinking fusionists remained
– hedge on 1896 nominating convention; the Democrats nominated Bryan and stole the Populists thunder on free silver
– at the convention a battle between those who want to fuse and nominate Bryan and those who resist dilution of the platform – they brawled on the floor of the convention
– the fusion process is traumatic for the party

the party slowly disintegrates, its adherents either drifting back to major parties or dropping out of politics altogether

legacy of Populism?
– critics see its leaders as craven and its trajectory careening towards George Wallace and David Duke – the name Populist is today associated with the right wing – is conservative populism a descendant of the 19C variety? (probably not)
– some supporters wish for better organization and that the free silver red herring had not derailed the movement
– others see current between Populism and 20C liberalism – Progressivism and the New Deal – Populism as “seedbed of liberal reform” – but in many ways the Populists were more radical than corporate New Dealers would ever be

could it have been different?
– problematically, the movement’s organizational base was limited to regions that could not carry a presidential election
– the fall of the Alliance and the Knights of Labor robbed the party of its base (why did they decline so precipitously? this is not exactly explained)
– its status as insurgency (the “Pentecost of Politics”) was compromised by its entry into partisan politics, especially at a time when the two-party system was being aggressively consolidated

a conclusion:
Does conservative Populism represent the sum of the movement’s legacy? The evidence suggests that it does not. Most studies of the last quarter century have depicted American Populism as a movement that advanced a serious critique of monopolism and offered alternative visions of democratic capitalism. Populism represented “the humane preference” in American politics (Gene Clanton), a search for the “just polity” (Norman Pollack), or America’s “democratic promise” (Lawrence Goodwyn).

Neither proto-fascists nor proto-New Dealers, the Populists fashioned a powerful movement out of the cultures of nineteenth-century reform and out of their own shared experiences. In the end they failed to bend the forces of technology and capitalism toward humane ends, and many of them shared with other Americans of their time a myopic view of equal rights, one still distorted by racism and sexism. But for all their failures and limitations, the Populists fashioned a space within which Americans could begin to imagine alternative futures shaped by the promise of equal rights. Theirs is a legacy waiting to be fulfilled.


Roy Rogers
US History Lit Survey – Part II
Dr. Johnson

Summary of Robert H. Wiebe’s The Search for Order, 1877-1920

The Basics
+ This book is a classic political and social history – magisterial, highly readable, and prone to sweeping pronouncements /generalizations. The book contains no notes.
+ Fundamentally, the book is story of the breakdown of nineteenth century “island communities” and their replacement with a modern, organized society. Urban replaces agrarian and the central organizing experience of American life.
+The hero of the story is the emerging middle (or professional) class and their expression in politics, the progressive movement.
+This is the sort of history Charles Postel is writing against in “The Populist Vision”.
The “Dissented Society”
+Through the final decades of nineteenth century American society was made of “island communities” – relatively homogenous communities which replicated themselves over generations. Even when people moved they did not create ‘new’ communities but simple reproduced their previous home in a new place. i.e. New Englanders who moved from Massachusetts to Ohio replicated their New England community in Ohio.
+These “island communities” included urban spaces as well. Urban spaces were segregated between classes and ethnic groups – rich stayed among the rich, the poor among the poor, the Italians among the Italians, etc. etc. – with very little social interaction.
+ “Small town life” was the default setting for your typical American.
+ No class consciousness was developed among any social/economic strata. Old rich were divided against new rich; working class was divided along ethnic/occupational/racial lines.
+The last decades of nineteenth century saw the complete breakdown of this society. Massive and rapid urbanization, immigration, and technological innovation irrecoverably shattered traditional America. A community could be an island no more.
+ The center of American development moved from expansion of railways from coast to coast to satisfying the consumptive needs of the expanding urban centers.
+ The pace of change outpaced Americans – of every class – ability to cope with change. This led people – from the robber barons to agrarian leaders – to seek to address short term problems. Leaders and thinkers did not take a long term view and was unable to find solutions to long term issues or root causes of problems affecting their communities.
+ Efforts at reform (temperance, immigration reform, even suffrage) in the late nineteenth century were reactionary attempts to restore a vision of American that was dead and gone.
+ The Populist movement was the ‘best’ and culmination of all of the late nineteenth century reform.
+ Tensions between reform and competing visions of economic life reached a peak in the first years of the 1890s. Politics was polarized and traditional forms of compromise/wheeling & dealing were breaking down.
+ The 1896 Presidential election (McKinley v. Bryan) was the unconsciously agreed upon final battle of between the forces contending to restore American society to its roots. McKinley’s victory broke the tension hanging over American politics and marked a victory for the business elite. Forces of reform scattered. This created the ideological/political space to fresh solutions to the problems facing newly modern America.
+ “Classical economics” was coming increasingly under practical and ideological challenge from thinkers and activists. However, these challengers continued to express their discontent in the language of and through the frame of classical economic thinking. Even the most radical thinkers (“romantic Marxists” and Social Gospelers) were unable to completely break from old ways of thinking.
+All of this set the stage for the rise of the new middle class and the progressives.
The New Middle Class & Progressivism
+ The new middle class which emerged between 1895 and 1905 was the first class to develop anything like class consciousness in modern America.
+ The new middle class emerged out of social and economic revolution within the professions (lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers, et al.).
+ During the first half of the nineteenth century the professions had undergone“democratization” where educational bars were lowered or virtually eliminated – allowing almost anyone to enter a profession. Thus the quantity of professionals grew exponentially but with that increase there was a significant decline in quality of service and professional prestige. The late nineteenth century saw a rapid rising of the educational bar of entry to the professions. This increased the professional prestige and economic value of the professions. The most obvious example is the medical profession.
+The fundamental outlook of this new class was bureaucratic. The new middle/professional class “made ‘science practically synonymous with the ‘scientific method’.” The importance of following procedure was paramount.
+ Previously social and economic problems were thought of as single issues (i.e. the ‘Labor problem’ or the ‘Negro problem’). What was now stressed was the interlocking nature of social problems and conflicts.
+The ideological focus was no longer on the individual but on the collective.
+The ideological and economic interests of this new professional class found its political expression in the progressive movement.
+Progressives fundamentally altered traditional American ways of thinking about how government should work: “The good men were no longer moral exemplars, but leaders of broad power; minimum waste implied a smoothly functioning bureaucracy, not a handful of honest men on low salaries; a rational electorate presupposed the eventual inclusion of all citizens, instead of its restriction to one class; civil service promised increasing government service throughout the nation rather than its further withdrawal; direct democracy no longer replaced the government in Washington , but strengthened it; and the harmonious society, now usually composed of interacting groups instead of isolated individuals ,depending upon the government’s presence, not its absence.”
+Progressivism had a potentially democratic impulse (the masses setting the agenda through elections and tools of direct democracy with that agenda implemented by an educated bureaucracy) and authoritarian side (an educated bureaucracy imposed its win on the masses in the name of a scientific devised common good).
The Progressive Era
+ Progressivism had two common political expressions: “business progressivism” & “state progressivism”.
+Business progressivism tied itself to sympathetic business interest that funded private reform efforts (often in health care). This form of progressivism often had dynamic reformers who could marshal contributors and bring the attention of the press. However, reform was always contingent on keeping the donors happy.
+State progressivism attempted to leverage the power of the state in the service of progressive reform. Progressive bureaucrats manned new government agencies producing statistics and reports. The most powerful tool of state progressivism was the independent commission which could set policy on its own. Was often limited by local – city and state – concerns and often worked against national policymakers.
+This period saw large scale Congressional reform. Congressmen began to become specialized in particular policy issues and they brought progressive bureaucrats into government to provide needed expertise. This allowed some bureaucrats to have large power over specific arenas. However, large scale progressive reformers, critics, and philosophers were kept out of government. Fundamentally, policy making remained in control of the politicians.
+Progressivism didn’t fully enter the national stage until the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt wasn’t a “true” progressive, but he championed specific reform efforts to further his own power and prestige. Roosevelt was “an imperious master as well as an invaluable ally.” As long as a reform benefited him politically, Roosevelt was willing to back it. Most importantly, under the Roosevelt administration, the executive branch first began to seize the initiative in government from the legislative branch.
+Taft ran on Roosevelt’s successes (an important precedent). Taft proved too cautious for many progressives, for he believed in conserving existing reforms and pursuing new change gradually. Viewed in the context of his predecessor in office, Taft was a failure.
+The Wilson administration was the first fully progressive administration but during Wilson’s two terms reform measures were often compromises and the issues taken up were things left undone by the Taft administration. The little “new” reforms were put on the table. The first large scale and somewhat systematic progressive reforms were taken up during the Wilson administration – the Federal Reserve, progressive taxation, the first child labor law, etc. Most importantly, initiative in government was now completely the realm of the executive branch. There was no returning to Congress as the dominate branch.
+Progressivism made an imperialistic and aggressive foreign policy possible. Before the coming of progressivism the apparatus of American foreign policy was weak – the army, navy, and Foreign Service were undermanned and incompetent. Beginning with Roosevelt but especially with the Wilson administration and the First World War a true foreign policy bureaucracy took shape allowing American to fully take up its great power status.
+At no point during the “Progressive Era” did progressives completely in control of any government – especially the national government. Progressive reform was always
To 1920
+By 1920 progressivism was spent as a political force. Despite the failure of many progressive reforms, the success of some had left a strong “feeling of fulfillment” among many reformers.
+Many progressive reforms reacted in honor as new groups – such as labor unions – began a
+The First World showed how transformed American had become by progressivism, despite the movement’s limitations. American society was more organized, bureaucratic, and ‘scientific’ than ever before.
+The leaders how emerged after 1920 – especially Hebert Hoover – would be the children of this new social, economic, and social context.
What’s Missing From This Story
+Women and the suffrage movement
+Native Americans
+A full accounting of the labor history of this period
+Religion – Catholic, Protestant, and beyond


Lawrence C:

Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Sets the Stage
• Secondary agenda (term not meant here as a pejorative) is stated from the onset: it is “a book about why Americans have far less democracy than they like to think.” Protest is a tricky thing. The greatest obstacle to understanding protest is grounded in modern American culture. The reigning American presumption about the American experience is grounded in the idea of continual progress. The system works. Hence, most view the numerous scattering of protests in our history as mere expressions stemming from temporary malfunctions of an economic order that usually hums along nicely. In short, people protest when times are hard. When they stop being hard, people stop protesting.
• So, protest under these conditions of “cultural narrowness” is then not only permissible in the eyes of those who rule, but also, from time to time, desirable because it fortifies the popular understanding that the society is functioning “democratically.” Such “cultural complacency” prevents a clear understanding of the meaning of Populism and the undertaking of any true democratic protest in modern America. Yet in studying the Populists, what Goodwyn considers the last true democratic protest, we can trace how this happened.
• Traditional assumptions concerning the nature of American class tensions also preclude a thorough understanding of Populism. We tend to see things as a struggle between the haves and the have-nots – agriculturally through a categorization of “gentry,” “farmers,” and “tenants.” A true examination of Populism shows the condition of being “landed” or “landless” does not, a priori, predetermine ones potential for “progressive” political action. In fact, the chief Populist theoreticians – “landowners” all – stood in economic terms with the “landless” rural and urban people of America. Thus, Populism itself cannot be discernible to anyone, capitalist or Marxist, who is easily consoled by the presumed analytical clarity of categories or class.
• It is no small thing to launch a truly democratic movement. Concerning the Populists, the sequential process of movement building involves four stages: (1) the creation of an autonomous institution where new interpretations can materialize that run counter to those of prevailing authority – the “movement forming.” (2) the creation of a tactical means to attract masses of people the “movement recruiting.” (3) the achievement of a heretofore culturally unsanctioned level of widespread social analysis – “the movement educating.” (4) the creation of an institutional means whereby new ideas can be expressed in an autonomous political way – “the movement politicized.”
Part I
• Following the war, reorientation of the American political landscape is shaped primarily by business and sectionalism. Most people “vote how they shot.” A workable hegemony within the commercial ranks pervades the Northern Republicans’ “Grand Old Party” and the Southern Democratic Party (no longer the “party of plain people”) catering to needs of “New South” entrepreneurs. North or South, Dem or Rep, business and financial enterprise achieves effective control of a restructured American party system.
• The “financial question” becomes a central issue. How will money be created? On what basis will it be circulated? Bankers and merchant capital supports a gold/silver standard. Greenbackers support “fiat” money (currency unbacked by metal) which would expand with the monetary system to keep up with population growth and commercial expansion.
• In this struggle over the “financial question” we see the emergence of two third party contenders in the Greenback Party and the Union Labor Party in the 1870s and 80 (both soft-money platforms) but each fails due to the persistence of sectionalist tendencies throughout the North and South.
• Banker support prevails for the “hard-money” approach. Result is a contraction in currency that spirals into a “cruel and exploitative burden” on farmers who see the value of their crops and capital decrease steadily each year.
• Crop-lien system becomes a plague on the American farmer. Credit is king; price of supplies and goods are markedly inflated. Merchants gradually acquire both capital and title on a large scale due to credit gauging and a complete lack of centralized regulation. Many farmers head West to escape such trappings, but the system follows them.
• “Farmers Alliances” begin to grow throughout the 1870s and 80s in response to the perils of the Crop-lien system. Men like S.O. Daws become “traveling lecturers” and drum up support for a “trade store system” – in effect a cooperative system – in which Alliance members would contract to one agent and thus bargain better terms and prices for goods bought and sold through methods such as “bulking” (pre-advertised cotton sales on a massive scale).
• The cooperative movement stirs a new kind of self-confidence among Alliance farmers. In a deeper political sense they are “experimenting in a new kind of mass autonomy.”
• In 1884-5 the movement begins developing its own rhythm of internal “education” and its own broadening of political/class consciousness under the leadership of men like Charles Macune and William Lamb. This “movement culture” develops its own mechanism of recruitment (the ever expanding credit cooperative), its own theoretical analysis (the greenback interpretation of the American version of finance capitalism), its own solution (through a sub-treasury land and loan system), its own symbols of politics (the Omaha Platform), and eventually its own political institution (the People’s Party). All in all, Goodwyn argues “ self respect” as the main driving force.
• Alliance “lecturers” spread like wildfire in the late 1880s. It is the most massive organizing drive by any citizen institution of 19th century America. Texas and Kansas provide the most support.
• This demonstrated capacity for successful widespread organizing did not simply evolve around economic conditions. Insurgent movements are not the product of “hard times;” they are the product of insurgent cultures. Effective insurgent cultures offer people hope.
• Macune realizes that though progress is being made, only a large scale tactics would have any hope of denting the crop-lien system. Texas-Exchange is established in 1887-8 to provide a state-wide “trade-store” that would offer Alliance members much better rates on supplies and goods. The idea seems sound, but is flattened by the lack of available credit extended by Northern lenders. Charging headlong, the Alliance proposes a sub-treasury system in which currency could be distributed at a massive level to be circulated at market stores and backed by up to 80% of the current crop prices.
• Sub-treasury system and the ideas articulated in the Omaha Platform are significant in that they are attempts to construct, within the framework of American capitalism, some variety of cooperative common wealth – a system of currency, rooted in greenbackism, designed to benefit everyone in the producing classes.
Part II
• Sub-treasury system fully advocated in 1889 through Macune’s organ the National Economist. Its implications would completely uproot the existing system of agricultural credit in the South.
• Ironically, Macune was against the development of a third party, but it would be the sub-treasury idea that would propel the Alliance into establishing the Populist Party. How could an idea so hostile to Dem and Rep party interests become law without such agitation? As the state-wide exchange was exposed as impossible (evidenced through the lack of credit offered the Texas exchange), the sub-treasury system was a must for Alliance farmers.
• By 1890, the movement had yet to completely politicize itself. Sectionalism and the tendency towards major party affiliation remains strong. Nevertheless, that year the Alliance begins to identity within the parties those to be considered “Alliance Candidates.” They meet with some success.
• 1892, at the St. Louis Alliance convention, Lamb and L.L. Polk cite political realities concerning the sub-treasury system and the Omaha Platform to warrant the creation of a third party.
• As a party of the “plain people” or the “producing people,” Populism has problems gaining support of urban industrial labor. Goodwyn argues, comparing Populism to the Labor Movement, that as of 1892 the latter had not developed a working class structure that combined economic and political consciousness in a way essential to the maintenance of an insurgent posture in the presence of the continuing cultural influences of the corporate state.
• Weakness of the Populists are immediately apparent in that they lacked a social theory of sufficient breadth to appeal to all those who had not yet received an education in the Alliance cooperative. America’s cities lacked the “essence of populism” itself.
• The appearance of a new party of reform was continuously battered by deep-seated sectionalism, racial tensions from white supremacists who hated black inclusiveness, and the eventual defection of Macune.
• Press coverage also hurts the movement. Economic issues raised by Populists were not pushed; instead ridiculed. Such proposals were perceived as radical to the uninformed.
• Populists thus tested the intellectual flexibility of Gilded Age America. They propagated a belief that government had fallen disastrously behind the sweeping changes of industrial society, leaving the mass of the people as helpless victims of outmoded rules.
• But the forces of traditionalism and the “sound dollar” possessed all of the commanding heights in the culture – the nation’s press, the universities, the banks, and the churches. Collectively they had power.
Part III
• From 1892-1896 the Populist strongholds were Georgia, Texas, and Kansas. Everywhere else we find the manifestation of a perversion of Populism, mostly found in some relation to the “Free-Silver Party” (a widespread political issue concerning the usage of silver to back currency which stood in direct contrast to greenback ideology and the heart of Populism).
• A shadow movement emerges, and in the process the party is split between two core factions. This shadow form in 1896 arrayed the politics of a people’s movement against conventional electoral politics. More specifically, it arrayed the democratic politics of the movement culture against the hierarchical politics of the received culture.
• Two ideologies emerge…
• The first spring from third party candidates with immediate short term objectives. Argue basically that sectionalism at present was too strong in the West and made fusion with the Democrats a necessity if victory and the reform cause were to have a firm basis on which to challenge the Republicans in 1896. The silver issue was a “vote getter,” and could put Populist candidates in a position to change things once in power.
• Countering, the veteran Populists stood firm on the fact that “free silver” would destroy the basic tenants of Populism. The two party system was defunct, and thus a third party – a “peoples party” – must hold the line and gain the middle road voters. Also, the strongest objection to Democrat-Populist fusion was a pronounced need to rescue America from the permanent corruption that was rooted not only in the monetary system but also in the power of large-scale capital to shape the substance of American politics.
• These divisions carry over to the 1895 national convention, in which after a series of dramatic events and political tactics, William Jennings Bryan received the Populist nomination for President along with that of the Democratic Party. Having folded into the realm of mainstream politics, the Populists were boxed out, politically irrelevant, and shortly thereafter disintegrated.
Legacy and Irony
• The third party movement of the Populists became, within mainstream politics, the last substantial effort at structural alteration of hierarchical economic forms in modern America.
• What emerge soon after are unchallenged political boundaries with regards to democratic participation. In short, all future “reform” movements consign themselves to operating within the existing (hegemonic) two party system. This fosters our current culture of complacency mentioned earlier.
• Evidence of such a development can be found in the panic of 1907, which corroborated an essential feature of Macune’s sub-treasury system, a crisis that materialized out of the inability of a contracted currency to provide adequate capital markets. When banks broke down, the demand for a more flexible currency was issued by none other than the banking community itself. The eventual shift was oriented not to the needs of agriculture, but to the needs of banks operating within the aforementioned political contours. “Greenbackism” was never mentioned, and the record shows that the political rhetoric of Populism had, by 1907, been removed from the American political dialogue.
• The Progressive movement further evidences the complacency that springs up following the defeat of Populism. Goodwyn argues all “reform” initiatives acted exclusively within these new contours. As such, American “reform” movements will always pale in comparison to Populism in that they operate within hegemonic parameters, often unknowingly, absent true democratic tendencies.



Joe Creech, Righteous Indignation: Religion and the Populist Revolution, University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 2006.
• Author focused on North Carolina because it had one of the largest Populist movements and it has great archival resources.
• Evangelicals who had broken away from large Christian denominations, finding them oppressive and overly centralized, wound up playing major roles in Populism in North Carolina, which focused on similar themes (oppressiveness, too much centralization) relating to state and national politics/governments.
• Populist rhetoric during the 1890s reflected evangelical ideals.
• Author doesn’t really claim that populist positions were chosen based solely on populists’ Christianity, just that the populist experience, ideals and populist rhetoric often reflected and were similar to evangelical experiences and ideals.
• The book is much more a history of 1890s populism in North Carolina than a definitive statement about religion and populism nationally.
• Populists felt they were part of a larger, sacred narrative, in which political reform was only one part of a religious, economic and social program being carried out by God and God’s servants.
• Their reform agenda rested on a “cluster” of evangelical patterns of thought that were foundational to what most Southerners thought it meant to be Christian, southern and American. What mobilized the movement was the alleged forsaking of these ideals by corporations, Democrats and Republicans, and major Christian denominations.
• In North Carolina, the movement featured white Democrats and black Republicans hoping to restore Jeffersonian democracy and Lincoln Republicanism, respectively.
• Democrats viewed North Carolina Populists as threats to party loyalty and to white supremacy.
• Historians have said Populists and evangelists of the period had similar organizational structures and rhetoric.
• Populists in Edgecomb and Nash counties, North Carolina, urged voters to “look to Jesus” in a well-circulated flier.
• The Christian groups that split from large denominations, and which were at the forefront of populist sentiment in North Carolina, were known as Restorationist denominations, for their stated efforts to restore the original church. Such Restorationist denominations included the Disciples of Christ and the Methodist Protestant Church, which had split from the Baptists and Methodist Episcopal Church, respectively.
• These Restorationist groups believed that political corruption and the centralization of denominations signaled a crisis in American Democracy in the 1890s that could lead to tyranny or “Romanism.”
• Populism opposed not industrialization itself, but what Populists charged were unfair economic practices. It emphasized cooperative stores and marketing ventures.
• In the Southwest and West, farmer populists were with Greenback and Union Labor parties. In the South, they were with the Democratic Party, for the most part.
• Populists became a national party in 1892. The Democratic Party’s nomination of William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896 complicated things for national Populists, who nominated him as well, albeit with a different vice presidential nominee.
• Populism would wane in popularity as the economy improved after 1896 and Democrats in North Carolina in 1898 aggressively used the maintenance of white supremacy as a political issue.
• 1908 was the last year of the Populist (People’s) party’s existence. Its presidential nominee that year, Thomas Watson, received only about 28,000 votes.
• While populists were progressive and countercultural, supporting governmental regulation of the economy, labor, and the black vote, they also denounced socialism, labor strikes, city life and various aspects of modernity. These contradictions make more sense when considered through the evangelical ethos, taken broadly.
• The Restorationists were different from liberal-minded progressives or paranoid reactionaries. They wanted to restore ideals of Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln, looking to the past to affect the future.
• Populists believed in political solutions to economic problems. They believed it was corruption and the loss of democratic principles that had caused economic turmoil, not the other way around.
• Urban/rural schisms played a large role in determining which evangelicals would become Populists. (It was a rural movement.)
• Eastern North Carolina had many black supporters of populism who had been disempowered by violence and other tactics used to deny them suffrage. They became disenchanted with the GOP.
• Evangelicals stressed rebirth, often in a “low-church” manner, and an egalitarianism based on the assumption that all people stood equally sinful before God. They believed in ‘freedom of conscience.’
• By the Populist era, this general ethos of evangelism was pervasive across the South, similar to Puritanism in Massachusetts and Mormonism in Utah.
• After 1900, as populism waned, Populists went in different directions. Many became apolitical, or premillenialists, or embraced the separation of church and state.
• Author believes in an assessment of Populism as a religious movement that fused political and economic goals with goals of salvation and the establishment of a millennium.
• Overall, nineteenth-century evangelicals envisioned themselves as counter cultural (they wanted to convert the world to new ways of thinking about Christian life) but they lived in the heart of southern society.
• Importantly, Populism sacralized the U.S. experiment in freedom. It was beholden to historical narratives emphasizing individual autonomy and anti-elitism.
• Here’s a great example of a church showing a populist type of sentiment in its religious life: Hebrew Christian Church, in Lenoir County, was a Disciples of Christ congregation that had lay leadership and no paid pastors. It opposed the denominational leadership of the North Carolina Christian Missionary Convention, rejecting its ‘assessment’ plan that would have required local churches to send predetermined amounts of money to the denomination as a requirement of church membership in the denomination. The church favored sending money to the denomination as its people wanted to donate, rather than as a predetermined amount.
• Denominational centralization was viewed as a “New Departure” from the New Testament’s apostolic pattern for church governance.
• Large Protestant denominations, on the other hand, saw local control of churches as a threat to order and progress. The largest among them, Methodists and Baptists, made up 75 percent of church membership in North Carolina (white and black).
• These large denominations could be simultaneously anti-elitist and elitist. Baptists, for example, were known as provincial due to members’ discipline, closed church communities, separation from society, plain-speech sermons, and refusal to drink. Yet members were up-and-comers in society. Methodist clerics, in cities, became as sophisticated as Episcopalians and Presbyterians, and had large elite contingents. Presbyterians and Episcopalians, though fewer, were overrepresented among the elite – politicians, manufacturers and college presidents.
• Among the groups splitting from denominations in antebellum American were Primitive Baptists (1827) and Disciples of Christ (1841), who split from Baptists; Republican Methodists (1792) and Methodist Protestant Church (1828), who split from the Methodist Episcopal Church.
• These breakaway groups believed their group alone had kept alive the true message and ecclesial structure of the early Church.
• One group, the Freewill Baptists, tried to bring back Biblical-era practices like foot-washing and anointing with oil. Holiness groups (which split from Methodists) ‘spoke in ‘tongues.’
• Another group, the Republican Methodists, burned their minutes each year to ensure no ‘tradition of men’ would replace Biblical instructions.
• The Primitive Baptists rejected all authority outside local congregations. No music or paid clergy; no prohibition (believe in conscience, you could drink if you want)
• Alexander Campbell’s Disciples of Christ were tolerant, Arminian and professed an “unashamed city-on-a-hill patriotism,” the author wrote. They, too, opposed the ‘tyranny of denominational centralization.’
• O’Kelly’s Republican Methodists opposed Francis Asbury’s “monarchy” and centralized authority.
• In 1890, such Restorationist groups made up a strong minority presence among North Carolina’s Christians — 658 churches and 49,756 white members. (p 14).
• These groups viewed denominations as ‘extra-biblical,’ given that denominations weren’t mentioned in the Bible. At the same time, denominational leaderships were helping organize church growth and expansion and overseeing discipline.
• By 1830, white evangelicals (except Quakers and O’Kelly’s Methodists) favored slavery.
• Large denominations interacted well with Southern society.
• Scottish-based “commonsense thinking” – stressing that all people can understand and conform to God’s principle — was a big part of the evangelical mindset in the nineteenth-century South. It stressed the ability of everyone to think and act morally, and to understand God’s ways through reason or inductive study of the Bible. It therefore stressed a freedom of conscience that was important to Populism.
• American evangelicals believed their insistence on liberty was central to American democracy.
• Among Restorationists was an anti-elitism against ‘First Churches’ with rich pastors and wealthy congregants. Mocked dandy intellectual preachers.
• Actually, within southern-style evangelism were seeds of both activist and conservative ideas related to populism and anti-populism, respectively. Evangelicalism could allow a support for conformity to rules, even oppressive ones relating to race and gender. And while evangelism could support belief in helping the poor, it also could support belief in not helping them — from belief in supporting the ‘powers that be’; that ‘we shall always have the poor among us’; and that money earned in the name of capitalism would trickle down to help church efforts.
• Some conservative evangelical tendencies helped mobilize opposition to Populists.
• Populism played on contemporary notions of masculinity. True manhood involved courage to stick to one’s convictions and show independence. A true man would not be victim of coercion by political bosses, nor of ecclesial coercion.
• In the 1880s and 1980s, there were more public calls for evangelicals to be more active in politics. The Asheville Baptist printed in 1889 that “if a man’s religion is not worth carrying to the ballot box on Election Day, it is not worthy of anything.”

• Agricultural newspapers printed articles by the Rev. Thomas Dixon (future writer of the infamous, ‘The Clansmen’) blending southern individualism and evangelical piety with a passion for reform and patriotic milleniallism.
• The Farmers’ Alliance had 100,000 members in North Carolina and influenced Democratic hands on railroad regulations, agricultural education, rural public schools, and laws for farmers and debtors. Its issues involved the growing rural/urban divide, the increased national marginalization of agriculture in politics, culture and the economy, and the debate over money/economy.
• North Carolina was the most commercially isolated state in the South, and the South as a whole was isolated from the national banking system — during and for long after the Civil War. In 1895, there was one bank for every 16,600 Americans, but only one for every 58,130 Southerners (not counting Texans). This led to a negative feeling among rural Southerners about the national banking system.
• Because of the lack of banks or available credit, farmers had to rely on crop liens, which could be devastating. Not only could it bind a farmer to his creditor for years, it also hindered crop diversification in the South, because creditors wanted farmers to plant cotton, considered a safe crop.
• Farmers worried about the increasing strength of railroads because they (farmers) would be reliant on shipping costs.
• Meanwhile, political power during the 1880s was moving in North Carolina from east to the Piedmont region.
• With rural churches less able to afford giving money to denominations, urban churches gained power in those denominations, mirroring the political shift in power.
• Churchmen helped establish the Farmers’ Alliance in North Carolina, often at meetings held in churches.
• Women had roles in the Alliance, and their presence led to a social aspect of meetings/gatherings that led to increased attendance and interest.
• Lawyers and black people were banned from Alliance membership. Part-time (white) farmers were allowed.
• The Alliance disciplined members for public drunkenness, missing meetings, or buying manure (guano) from non-Alliance manufacturers.
• When a Colored Alliance formed, it had a tenuous relationship with the white Alliance, based on patterns of paternalism and white supremacy that mixed with the belief that black “elevation” was good for the South.
• That relationship soured in 1891 when black cotton pickers went on strike against white alliance farmers. The strike fizzled, as whites roundly opposed it.
• The Farmers’ Alliance generally opposed increases in state appropriations unless they were for rural school or for charities.
• It favored the coining of silver to increase the money supply (the book has a great five-page primer on money issues which I will scan and e-mail all of you.)
• While the Alliance had some successes, they were few in the grand scheme of things. More political involvement was deemed necessary. Between 1886 and 1892, farmers’ newspapers changed in nature, with fewer articles on farming techniques and more articles on currency, specie and government.
• It would denounce partisan politics, favoring “principle over party.”
• Alliance members regularly said their groups represented Christian teachings – that is, a Southern social Christianity and evangelical notions of freedom or patriotic milleniallism.
• Democrats and Republicans opposed the Alliance, whose rhetoric linked its love of independence to God’s providential design for America. They viewed the political events before them as part of an epic struggle between liberty and tyranny.
• Alliance criticism of the two parties intensified in 1891. There were more threats of third-party action.
• Several events infuriated farmers/Alliance members. One was when the Democratic Party required all people at local nominating conventions in 1892 to swear an oath to support the national Democratic ticket that year. Democratic Alliance members began to bolt the party.
• Until 1892, Alliance acted through the Democratic party. The Alliance had become very powerful in the state by 1891.
• Rhetoric of the Farmers’ Alliance often drew on religion. It argued that corporate control of the pricing structure fouled up God’s natural governance of the economic system. It said the monopolist lobby silenced the voice of God in favoring the wealthy of the farming and producing classes. It said parties had lost the democratic and Christian principles on which they were founded. And it said “the church” had become increasingly oligarchical, prioritizing denominational strength over the proclamation of God’s principles.
• Populists lampooned Democrats’ fears of Negro rule. Democrats and Republicans would lampoon Populists for assuming rural problems had apocalyptic consequences.
• While white populist farmers were protesting against Democrats, black populists protested against the GOP. Western Democrats were upset by the county control imposed by Democratic leaders that was meant to control black people in eastern North Carolina.
• Alliance sought a 6 percent interest cap and state railroad commission to set shipping fees. It also sought crop lien laws, which never went anywhere
• Alliance promoted a “yardstick” to assess candidates. Uproar followed the Alliance’s rejection of Zebulon Vance, up for re-election as U.S. senator, in the summer of 1890 when he rejected the “sub-treasury” plan favored by the Alliance, which would have the government fund warehouses for farmers to store their excess crops (for when prices were better) and also let them borrow against those crops. The Vance issue increased tensions between Democrats and the Alliance.
• In November 1890, Democrats and the Alliance would decide to come together.
• In 1891, the legislature passed a railroad commission, more money for public schools and colleges, and antitrust legislation against fertilizer trust. Alliance members opposed several initiatives that would have helped black people. Neither the 6 percent interest nor a crop lien law passed.
• Ultimately, the Alliance felt Democrats couldn’t pass enough of their reforms. The 1892 request for the oath at nominating conventions was the breaking point.
• In May 1892, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the National People’s Party had its inaugural meeting. The national platform had a sense of crisis about it. In North Carolina, the difference between populists and Democrats was this: Populists feared a crisis in democracy, while Democrats feared the end of white supremacy.
• Grover Cleveland won the Democratic nomination in 1892.
• White populists were ambivalent about black support. Populist leaders ignored their previous black support and lost it in 1896. (Most black populists returned to the GOP).
• In 1892, the Populist presidential candidate was James Weaver, who had been a Union general (which hurt him in the south). In North Carolina, the Populist gubernatorial candidate W.P. Exum supposedly hurt his chances using profanity on the campaign trail. That year, Populists elected three state senators and 11 assemblymen, mostly with rural support.
• Populism was most popular among evangelicals living “tenuously” in the South, author says.
• Author contrasts 1890s populists to Religious Right of 1980s/1990s, saying the former wanted not just to use but to preserve and sustain the American democratic system.
• It was generally believed back then that Southerners did not mix politics and religion. Yet the Alliance in 1892 used religious dialogue. Democrats would criticize Populists for mixing church and state.
• 1894 election was good for Populists in North Carolina, who teamed with Republicans. The GOP, in this presidential off-year, put aside their national stances. Winners of Assembly elections were 48 Populists, 32 Republicans, and 41 Democrats; in Senate, 22 Populists, 16 Republicans, and 12 Democrats.
• More tensions in 1895 – Alliance President Cyrus Thompson upset Democratic evangelicals by saying “the church” (denominations) had sided with slavery against liberty. He said the church favored the “powers that be.” This was viewed by Democrats as overly critical of southern culture.
• Demands of St. Louis Platform of 1896, by national Populist party, called for national ownership of railroads, coinage of silver, end of national banking system.
• In 1896, Reform wing of Democratic party assumed national control, nominating William Jennings Bryan, who had a lot of support among Populists, for president. The Populists would nominate him too, though with Thomas Watson as his vice presidential candidate. (The Democrats nominated Arthur Sewall for vice president.) Bryan won North Carolina.
• In 1896, Populists captured 9 percent of the vote in North Carolina, down from 17 percent in 1892. Blacks in 1896 left Populists for GOP. (McKinley’s victory over Bryan led to three decades of Republican national dominance.)
• In 1898, Democrats and Populists tried to work together, over silver. But problems arose. Soon, Democrats engaged in a violent white supremacist campaign of intimidation and murder. They used their own version of commonsense thinking to claim that God’s sense of proper relations involved white supremacy.
• Denominational leaders of Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians were big detractors of Populists in 1898.
• Democrats won in North Carolina in 1898: In the Assembly there would be 94 Democrats, 23 Republicans and 3 Populists; in state Senate, 40 Democrats, 7 Republicans and 3 Populists. Democrats quickly did away with the railroad commission.
• In the future, Populists would go many ways. Many white Populists became premillennialists and Pentecostals. Bryan became a Christian fundamentalist who would represent Tennessee in the Scopes monkey trial. After 1890s, evangelicals left politics for a long time.


Yarisbel Rodriguez
Hist 8000 – Literature of American History II
Submitted Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
Outline of McGerr’s Decline of Popular Politics

Americans’ current disinterest in politics can be attributed to changes in political style that occurred in the North from 1865 to 1928. The post-Civil War generation enjoyed a vibrant political culture, in which citizens attended rallies and ceremonies bearing costumes that expressed partisan sentiments; such were the trappings of “spectacular electioneering” that culminated in the mid to late nineteenth century. However, the 1860s and 1870s also brought about changes in political style from liberal elites, and the resulting press critiques against partisanship and advent of “educational electioneering” denied many Northerners the traditional culture in which they exercised political action. Consequently, many working-class Northerners disengaged from politics, as reflected in low voter turnout trends that have been evident from the early twentieth century to this day (vii-11).

I. Chapters 1 and 2: Popular Politics and Partisanship
A. Popular Politics
1. McGerr emphasizes that one of the reasons for the decline of popular politics involves Southern elites in the 1890s. Since “the prospect of an inter-racial coalition of the poor, marching under the banner of the People’s Party, frightened conservative white leaders,” Southern elites used “intimidation, fraud, and restrictive election laws” to prevent political action among blacks and poor whites (6).

2. McGerr acknowledges that “the transformation of political parties played in important role in the drop in voting across the North” (7). McGerr correlates falling turnout with the succession of “party systems” – “distinct eras of relatively stable competition between major political parties, each drawing on a roughly unchanging constituency” (7). For example, voting peaked during the third party system, “a period from the mid-1850s to the early ‘nineties in which Republicans and Democrats battled almost evenly in national elections” (7). In contrast, turnout began to wane during the 1890s, “just after the creation of the fourth system, dominated by the Republicans” (7).

3. “Changes in the function of parties may have affected turnout” (8). After the fourth party system, neither Democrats nor Republicans relied on ethnically and religiously divisive discourse to attract votes, even though this tradition had been consolidated time and time again throughout the nineteenth century (8). Voting became even less important and incentivized with the birth of special interest groups late in the century (8).

4. Although trends concerning class and turnout are relatively well-explained for the South, similar questions abound unanswered about the North. In this context, McGerr notes that “[i]t is unclear… that the waning of ethno-religious politics, hardly absolute, can explain why some groups – women, the poor, the young – have voted less readily than others in the twentieth century” (8). McGerr also notes that it also isn’t “immediately apparent why the emergence of pressure groups and government regulation should have kept many of the poor – ironically enough, the people least involved with interest-group politics – from casting ballots” (8).

5. McGerr emphasizes the importance of studying political style, namely “the different fashions in which people perceive, discuss, and act in politics” (9). McGerr boldly contends that “[s]tyle does not exist apart from the concerns of power and policy that historians consider the substance of the past,” and that “changes in political style flowed from the needs and experiences of different classes in the North after the Civil War” (10). With the diminishing allure of partisanship came reform in journalistic and campaign styles (10).

6. The parameters of McGerr’s analysis: his study “treats [political] participation as a matter of voting because turnout serves as a rough but acceptable gauge of political interest and because elections represent the sole form of political influence available to many Americans” (11). This gauge is important for understanding the 1865-1928 period, during which “Americans tried to influence government through new devices – above all, the non-partisan pressure group” (11).

B. Partisanship
1. Popular politics “was entwined in a subjective, demonstrative kind of partisanship” that “made political participation easier than before or since” the mid-to-late nineteenth century because it was “[s]upported by the party press and spectacular election campaigns” (9). McGerr argues that partisanship was inextricable from the concept of the party, “an essentially simple creed, but one woven deeply and intricately into the pattern of Northern society” (13). In this vein, McGerr asserts that “[p]artisanship entailed more than attachment to a particular political organization,” and that “[f]or mid-nineteenth-century Northerners, party became a natural lens through which to view the world” (13).

2. The post-Civil War world afforded the press the opportunity to influence and convey “a world dominated by politics and partisanship” (14). “Newspapers and parties had developed in tandem in the nineteenth century” (14), and although “the era of near total party domination of the press” ended in the early 1860s, the press “remained overwhelmingly partisan” (14). McGerr astutely notes that “[t]he press and the parties worked together well because they needed each other,” as “[p]apers provided the communication necessary for a politics that depended on the participation of the people” (15). Through the press, partisanship was consolidated as a vital part of men’s identity (17). Part of this identity involved an absolutism that the press encouraged; black-and-white descriptions of politics made partisan politics exciting for droves of people (21).

3. Spectacular electioneering – such as participation in rallies and torchlight parades – was evident in the North throughout the nineteenth century (22-23). McGerr notes that elites organized these events with the hope of consolidating their rule because “spectacle, by displaying the generosity of the rich to the poor, could establish the upper class’s right to rule” (32). However, “[t]he mid-nineteenth century was the heyday of ‘political strikers’” who effectively took advantage of leaders’ desire for popular support by coercing candidates to buy things for them in exchange for voter turnout that never materialized (33).

4. Although public displays of intense partisanship reigned supreme during the late nineteenth century, neither the campaign literature nor the actual candidates were as visible as might be expected (35). The same applies for candidates’ national organizations for presidential elections (35). Republican values influenced Northerners to perceive candidates’ public visibility as vulgar – spectacular electioneering was all about local communities expressing partisan sentiments (35-36). In the end, however, “[t]he record votes of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties were deceptive,” because “[e]ven as turnout reached its zenith across the North, the foundations of popular politics had already begun to give way” (41).

II. Chapters 3 and 4: Partisanship Redefined and Educational Politics
A. Partisanship Redefined
1. McGerr argues that “the first decisive blow against that [the popular political] order” was delivered “not in 1896 with the triumph of McKinley, but thirty years earlier” (9). McGerr specifies that “[i]t was in the late 1860s and 1870s that liberal, upper-class reformers rejected popular politics and formulated a new, less partisan, and less democratic conception of political life” (9). Although partisan sentiments manifested in the press, many newspapers were sympathetic to liberal reformers’ ideas; this sympathy was key to reformers’ future influence in redefining politics.

2. In their quest to assume control over the political process, liberals denied natural rights (47) and promoted the idea that national, state and municipal governments have different functions; arguing that the federal government was responsible for actually governing the country while municipal government was solely responsible for upholding private property rights, liberals sought to disenfranchise urban dwellers, a move that hit the heart of spectacular electioneering (48).

3. Although liberal elites tried to impose property requirements for New York voters by lobbying for a constitutional amendment, they were unable to achieve this end because of widespread opposition among the city’s poor (49-50). After this attempt, “[a]nti-suffrage sentiment persisted quietly among the upper and middle classes in the 1890s and the new country, but few Northerners would speak openly about depriving poor white men of the vote” (51). Reformers changed tactics and concentrated on the “education of the voters; rejuvenation of the upper class; and the limitation of the party” (52).

4. McGerr explains that liberal “[r]eformers asserted their power and further developed the politics of limited partisanship through… extra-party organizations” throughout the 1870s and 1880s (58). This trend was exemplified in the liberal independents’ reformation of the late 1870s and early 1880s, which “’strive[d] to produce a habit of mind in the community differing from the present habit of mind in political matters, and indeed reversing it. A voter is now called upon to show why he should not vote with , whereas the party ought to show why he should vote with it’” (56). When coupled with elites’ financial resources, the reform movement’s support for nontraditional ideas about voters’ relation to parties proved long-lasting despite the culmination of the reform in the 1880s (57-58). As McGerr argues, “[b]y the 1890s the reformers had created a new style of limited partisanship” (58).

B. Educational Politics
1. McGerr specifies that “politicians, adopting the liberal style, replaced spectacular electioneering with the ‘campaign of education’ in the ‘seventies, ‘eighties, and ‘nineties” (9). Liberals accomplished this within the context of an evolving political culture, where “[i]ssues such as tariff and civil service reform were capturing public attention”; “[m]ore and more Northerners worried over the power of party machines and bosses”; and “increasing numbers of voters had rejected undeviating partisan loyalty” (69). The most important figure to advocate educational politics was Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York (70). Tilden had been effective in “cultivat[ing] a sense of personal contact” between himself and undecided/independent voters during his 1874 run for governorship, a now-primary strategy that attracted votes (71). McGerr notes that although political campaigns had been used to “lull[ing] the opposition by dropping public electioneering for quiet work among the undecided and the purchasable,” this strategy had been “a desperate resort” earlier in the nineteenth century (74). Now it was a major political tactic.

2. Grover Cleveland’s victory “accelerated the parties’ conversion to educational politics” (78). During Cleveland’s administration, James S. Clarkson, an editor and businessman from Iowa, emerged to transform the Republican party “into a weapon of political education” (80). During the election cycle of 1888, “[b]oth parties moved closer than before to the educational style,” with Clarkson serving as Benjamin Harrison’s campaign vice-chairman (83). The opening of the Bureau of Information marked the highlight of Clarkson’s success in promoting educational politics, although he suffered from health problems throughout his career (95). Although political parties subsequently tended to downplay Clarkson’s tactics, campaigns for the 1892 election were shocked to discover an apathetic American populace; voters, long used to spectacular electioneering, were not interested in lessons about tariff reform (100). The 1892 voter turnout was 75%, the lowest percentage among eligible Northern voters since the 1872 election (102).

III. Chapters 5 and 6: The Press Transformed, and Advertised Politics
A. The Press Transformed
1. McGerr argues that although “independent journalism” thrived throughout the late nineteenth century, “a competing political vision, alike anti-partisan and anti-liberal… emerged “from sensationalist newspapers by the turn of the century” (9). McGerr notes that throughout the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies, “a group of newspapermen, mostly Republicans, began to reconsider their relationship to the parties”: Horace Greeley and Whitelaw Reid from the New York Tribune, William Cullen Bryant and later Horace White from The New York Evening Post, to name a few (113). These men “established a new kind of paper, more independent of the parties and devoted to the impartial reporting of the news” (113-114). Journalism became increasingly liberal as a result (113).

2. McGerr observes that despite its widespread influence, “independent journalism never achieved the virtual monopoly of public discourse that the party press had enjoyed until after the Civil War” (122). In this context, McGerr reemphasizes that the mid-1880s set the stage on which sensational journalists would “challenge both traditional partisanship and liberal independence” (122). “Reaching out to an immigrant, working-class audience… [and] reject[ing] the middle- and upper-class style of educational campaigns and independent journals,” sensational journalism succeeded in discouraging popular politics in the North (122). The most prominent figures in this movement were Pulitzer and Hearst (122). By promoting lurid stories about sex and crime, sensational journalism mounted a well-entrenched challenge to the “exuberant, demonstrative partisanship” that characterized the party press and spectacular electioneering; sensationalism also challenged “the dispassionate deliberative politics of liberal reform” that characterized independent journalism and educational campaigns (137).

B. Advertised Politics
1. McGerr explains that “the electoral counterpart of sensationalism, the advertised campaign, challenged the supremacy of educational electioneering after 1896” (9). McGerr astutely observes that the advertised campaign emerged as an alternative political strategy from the consolidation of politicians’ aspirations with corporations’ business incentives. Advertised politics sought to create an intimacy between voter and candidate that ultimately failed; within the context of rapid technological advancements in the early twentieth century, “[t]he radio, the railroad, and the automobile did more to weaken the experience of community than to strengthen it” (182). Ironically, “[b]y promoting a deliberative, less partisan style, Democrats and Republicans helped to undermine their own cultural authority, their ability to speak directly to the people” (182); because new media created yet another degree of separation between voters and political candidates, the advertised campaign undermined educational politics to its own detriment (182-183).

2. McGerr argues that by the 1920s, “[t]he focus of the advertised campaign was personality, not partisanship or argument” – “[p]oliticians made the presidential campaign into a personal appeal” where “[t]he nominee began to seem larger than his party and his personality more important than his educational pamphlets” (183). Because this new style deprived Northerners of both partisanship and educational politics, voter turnout plummeted afterwards.

IV. Chapters 7 and 8: “The Vanishing Voter” and Conclusion
A. Final Synthesis
1. McGerr concludes his analysis by reiterating that American’s disinterest in politics was attributable to the following political developments: a decline in partisanship and spectacular electioneering, followed by a liberal educational politics that yielded to sensational journalism and a relatively distancing advertising campaign strategy (209). However, McGerr notes additional factors the contributed to this disinterest in politics; unfortunately these factors are described very late in his analysis and are not as well developed as they could be. Dismissing the idea that the decline of popular politics was the result “of a direct, pre-meditated assault by the wealthy,” McGerr notes that “the gradual drop in turnout across the North reflected the region’s capitalist development,” and that “[c]hanges in the forms of communication and leisure, in class relations and communal life, and in the practices of business” were also salient factors (209). These factors seem to fly in the face of McGerr’s analysis, as he structured his argument so as to emphasize how these changes were co-opted by political interests to disenfranchise the working classes in very direct and unequivocal ways…


Colin Gordon: New Deals: Business, Labor, and Politics in America, 1920-1935 (1994)

OVERVIEW: This book challenges modern interpretation of the New Deal by revealing a cacophony of vested interests—economic, political, social, individual—that worked separately to prevent the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive and effective political and economic strategy during the crisis years of the Great Depression. Gordon works within a historiography that places business interests at the very center of New Deal policy, but he adds an astute analysis of the characteristics and limits of the U.S. political system that prevented it from effecting uniform policy change.

CHAPTER ONE: “Rethinking the New Deal: The Logic and Limits of the U.S. Political Economy”
• Methodology: “rational choice” approach—individuals, collectivities, and institutions most often act in short-term self-interest (basis for capitalism), but are limited by unique historical circumstances
• Business interests at core of U.S. political economy, but gov’t is impotent to enforce any collective action that might minimize damaging business practices
o U.S. gov’t structured to disperse, not consolidate, power—so it (regionalism, municipal vs. state vs. federal regulation) actually exacerbates competitive pressures, leading to an “asymmetry between the territorial limits of politics and the looser boundaries of the markets” (22)
o Competing schemes of economic organization: regional industrial development, national investment and consumption, dispersed natural resources, urban structure of labor markets, state-to-state differences in public policy
o Business interests look to Federal gov’t to solve its problems nonetheless, since it’s their best hope of evening out competitive conditions across the board—but the more externalized the intervention, the more coercive it becomes
• Gordon therefore embarks on “disorganizational synthesis”—interplay of rational self-interest, political and economic competition, and ambivalent business-government relations (34)

CHAPTER TWO: “Competition and Collective Action: Business Conditions and Business Strategies, 1920-1933”
• Interwar years’ cutthroat competition, over-production, regional jockeying, and disagreements over international involvement split industries’ strategic and political goals and prevented traditional common-ground issues like labor policy or protectionist economic policy from uniting them. Paves way for extraordinary political program of the NRA.
o In-depth analysis (including competitive landscape, production capacity, labor relations) of: Automobiles; Rubber, Steel, and Metals (Producer Goods); Oil and Lumber (Natural Resources); Chemicals; Paper; Electrical and Industrial Goods; Food and Tobacco (cigar/ettes, meat-packing, dairy, canning, milling and baking, brewing, soft drinks)

CHAPTER THREE: “Workers Organizing Capitalists: Regulatory Unionism in American Industry, 1920-1932”
• Workers’ (understandable) short-sighted material interests resulted in establishment of “regulatory” or “business” unionism, which focused on economic, not social, gains, and was inherently conservative.
• Employers used unionization to solve underlying structural problems (access to skilled labor, systematization) or to undercut competition by unifying labor costs and squeezing out smaller competitors.
• Illustrates patterns of regulatory unionism in textiles, needle trades, bituminous coal, trucking, glass, pottery, printing, construction, electrical manufacturing
• Compares with consistently antiunion mass-production industries, who did not see as much benefit in unions’ potential cost, though “company” unions often served as a tepid compromise.
• New Deal Labor Policy born from this complex and uneven landscape

CHAPTER FOUR: “The Limits of Associationalism: Business Organization and Disorganization, 1920-1935”
• Trade associations served as potential compromise between unpredictability of market and heavy-handedness of the State—some gains were made but they were frantic and desultory, symptoms of increasing desperation with economic landscape and willingness to turn to political solutions
• Associationalism ultimately failed because members were unwilling to cede authority to the collective interest—the same competition that brought them together prevented associations’ success
• Trade associations organized competition within single industry, peak associations represented political interests of a number of industries. Both are beset by problems of representation, organization, and enforcement.
o Details histories of (Peak Assoc’s) National Association of Manufacturers, Chamber of Commerce, National Industrial Conference Board, Special Conference Committee
• Transitions into next section of book by detailing how Depression undermined the experimental private solutions detailed above (union-management cooperation, welfare capitalism and business organization)—“the promise of collective action began to outweigh its risks” (162)

“Taken together, these [first four] chapters suggest that competitive chaos and market uncertainty were virtually endemic, that business interests understood their respective troubles in narrowly self-interested terms, and that, with the exception of labor relations, the associational fetishes of the 1920s did little to organize markets or ameliorate destructive competition.” [3])

CHAPTER FIVE: “The National Recovery Act: The Political Economy of Business Organization, 1933-1935”
• NRA synthesized 3 premises that dominated business policy post-1929: relief from antitrust law, wider and more precise legal boundaries with uniform enforcement, and funding for industrial recovery
• Indiscriminately borrowed 1920s strategies (public works, business planning, “work-sharing”, anticompetitive provisions) from many different industries but applied (or misapplied) across the board—dismal failure, economically and legally inconsistent, unfairly administered and poorly thought-out. Ended by 1935 Schechter Supreme Court decision (unconstitutional extension of federal powers)
• NRA less a failure in industries where labor unions were able to enforce compliance to code provisions, and it strengthened belief that regulation was only possible with a strong federal or union presence.

CHAPTER SIX: “The Wagner Act: The Political Economy of Labor Relations, 1933-1937”
• 1935 Wagner Act (result of NRA labor code) gave organized labor basic representation and bargaining rights but standardized them under federal, not local, codes. Intended to contain social unrest
o Influenced both by legacy of interwar regulatory unionism and by two years of chaotic attempts at regulating labor under NRA
• Highly unpopular among business interests, but this hides fact that some employers acknowledged uniform labor policy to be important tool against market instability—opposition by no mean universal, reflecting less a concern for labor policy per se but instead the same diversity of understandings and proposed solutions that plagued business interests throughout this time period
• Outlines key clashes between labor and antiunionist organizations, though posits that in the end most companies found costs of labor to be less than those of resistance
• Generally, business interests acquiesced to the passage of the Wagner Act as a necessary/inevitable evil, hoping to turn its provisions to their advantage, but found it less flexible than hoped: other competitive pressures remained, costs of unionization were passed on to consumers, and the labor had a strong legal foothold that outlasted the unique social and economic circumstances under which the Wagner Act was passed.

CHAPTER SEVEN: “The Social Security Act: The Political Economy of Welfare Capitalism, 1920-1935”
• Debate surrounding SSA indicative of larger patterns of economic competition and competitive federalism
• SSA built on anti-labor principles—welfare capitalism was seen as alternative to unionization (catering to material interests of workers without giving them collective rights). “Trickle-up” effect occurred as employers sought to pass some of the costs on to states and states sought to pass them off to federal gov’t (all within framework of competition). Historical circumstance of Depression made long-term Social Security more urgent. Ultimately, SSA legislation took on more importance than originally intended because of its ability to complement Wagner Act pension and unemployment regulations.
• SSA spurred by reform and class pressures, but between its conception and formulation it ultimately became a “business bill”, responding to business interests’ desire to spread the costs of social welfare experiments rather than bearing the burden entirely—and to level competitive playing field between regional interests.

CONCLUSION: “New Deal, Old Deck: Business, Labor, and Politics After 1935”
• Post World-War II, New Deal politics refashioned to emphasize internationalism, renewed concern for managerial rights, politics and political culture of growth—“a clarification of their basic premises” (280)
• This in response to criticism—although New Deal inherently business-friendly, 4 sources of opposition: failure of regulatory policies, implicit threat to managerial policy, regional jealousies, and the undermining of national labor policy by international competition
• Projecting to future: impotence of political solutions leads to increasing libertarian sentiments after 1935, dissatisfaction with New Deal economic policies led to pursuit of a production- and international-market oriented “politics of growth” in the postwar era, organized labor settles into another “special interest” by the 1980s, partly due to constant undermining by regional and business interests
• Postwar history hinged on whether New Deal would reflect its “considerable promise or its narrow premise” (295)—and with American private interests historically unwilling to shoulder the burden of the collective good, Gordon places it in latter category, linking New Deal legacy with the modern age’s “politics of lowest common denominator” (304).
• Frames New Deal as cautionary tale—for a truly democratic political economy, business interests cannot be allowed primacy.


Katie Uva                                                                                                                                Prof. Johnson

Literature of American History II                                                                              February 23, 2011


Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in America, 1880-1925 by Melissa R. Klapper

  • Small Strangers makes no claim to provide a theoretical outlook on the historical experiences of immigrant children in turn-of-the-century America. Instead this book combines a synthesis of existing material on immigration with original research focused on children’s own perspectives.”
  • Urban reformers focused on immigrant children, who formed a middle ground between the old and new worlds, while serving as a conflicting symbol of hope and of fear.
  • Changing attitudes about children were shaping American society and culture.
    • In early America, children had been seen as dangerous and even depraved (by Protestants)
    • Viewed as miniature adults.
    • 19th century brought changes
      • smaller families w/ fewer children; more authority for mothers as fathers moved into the industrial workplace; softened Protestantism, rise of children being viewed as innocent;
      • growth of public education from 1830s on drew sharp line between childhood and adulthood for white childrenàmore intensified dependency of children
  • Second wave of immigrants, beginning in the 1880s, sought industrial jobs and flocked to American cities, many of which by 1910 had foreign-born populations of 30%.
    • Growth in urban reform, regulation/government involvementàmet with resistance by many immigrant parents.
  • Jacob Riis capitalized on 19th century notions of innocence and childhood to spur people to action; often depicted children and babies in his books and photos.
  • Immigrant children in ambiguous position: legally citizens, but often resented or feared; caught between parents’ traditions and American ones.
  • A major area of contention was childbirth—most immigrant children born at home via midwife, while hospitals births were becoming more common in general.
  • Naming practices often showed compromise—children might have an official traditional name but go by an American one.
  • Rigidity of gender roles generally consistent across cultures.
  • High rate of infant mortality (around 20% until the 1920s—comparable to native-born working-class)
    • Most outsiders found the number of immigrant children working troubling—reformers tended to call attention to this behavior in immigrant families, although it was true for native-born working-class families also)
  • Many approaches to curbing child mortality and disease
    • Milwaukee, 1895:  Keep Clean Mission baths founded, used excess water from Schlitz Brewery.
    • Boston, 1909: School of Outdoor Life offered treatment for tubercular children.
    • Many public health initiatives, particularly regarding breastfeeding and pasteurization
      • Most immigrant mothers breastfed anyway, but clean, available milk for older children a problem.
      • Clean milk depots set up in every city, but could not meet demand.
  • Public health initiatives sometimes insensitive to cultural practices, often had limited effectiveness in the face of poverty (meant little food, contaminated food, overcrowding, whole family working, etc)
    • Over time, things improved b/c: declining fertility rates, public health efforts, advances in urban infrastructure and regulation (better garbage pickup, sewage, housing reform)
  • Many immigrant mothers interested in limiting the size of their families, relied heavily on abortion (p.44-5)
    • Margaret Sanger, from a perspective of charitable interest and also eugenics, dispensed birth control information to immigrants.
  • Institutional care for immigrant children had Americanization as a motive, “changed dramatically” between 1880 and 1925
    • alternatives to large orphanages of the 19th century developedàincreased placement into private homes (most common on the East Coast);
    • in immigrant communities, churches ran preschools; also non-religious organizations.
  • Free public education important to immigrant parents; night schools established for children who worked all day.
    • Parents ambivalent about schools, feared too much Americanization
      • often also sent their kids to language schools or religion-based instruction.
  • Most immigrant families dependent on children to bring in money
    • some children worked full-time jobs and didn’t go to school; others did menial jobs (collecting rags, running errands) that served as after-school jobs and were paid little or paid in food/clothes.
  • Children of different backgrounds found an arena for mixing together and forging an identity separate from their parents in playtime
    • from 1880 to 1920, urban reformers focused much attention on organizing play (i.e. proliferation of playgrounds).
  • many adolescent teenagers of both sexes worked, many of them full-time
    • rate of adolescent employment increased during the end of the 19th century.
  • Because boys were more likely to get a job with significant pay, they were less likely to stay in school
    • immigrant girls had a better chance of graduating high school, although many immigrant children of both sexes never finished.
  • Many Americans believed that immigrants had a responsibility to Americanize
    • Struggle especially confusing for Asian children, whose parents could not become citizens and who themselves could not become citizens if they weren’t born in the U.S. (until 1943—for Chinese and 1952—for Japanese).
    • Also limiting for girls until suffrage granted in 1920.
  • American laws (custody, inheritance, jurisdiction) often undermined traditional cultural practices.
  • Primary concerns about immigrant children varied based on gender
    • Boys most punished for stealing, girls for sexual deviancy.
  • Courtship and marriage became a major battleground between parents and children
    • Patterns of dating, the right to choose one’s own spouse, the possibility of marriage outside of one’s ethnic group or religion, all caused rifts between generations.
  • By the 1920s, immigrant life in America had changed
    • Travel to the U.S. faster; generations of American-born descendants created complex gradations of assimilation, complicated the image of immigrants.
  • The Depression hit immigrants hard; second least likely group to be offered a job after African-Americans; no longer able to supplement family income with piecework, working children, side jobsàdid mean more immigrant children finished high school in the 1930s.






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