DBQ: Populism- How much did populism impact life in the United States?
What the Populist movement lacked in longevity—it lasted barely a decade—it made up for in passion. Populist fervor swept the country in the 1890s, and People’s Party candidates won millions of votes. What made Populist ideas so attractive to so many Americans? Did this short-lived but spirited movement have a lasting effect on the American landscape?
How much did populism impact life in the United States? Use your knowledge of American history and evidence from the sources above to support your position.
“The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; . . . the merchant at the crossroads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, . . . is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals . . . are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”
—William Jennings Bryan, Democratic National Convention, 1896
“We realize that, while we [Americans] have political independence, our financial and industrial independence is yet to be attained by restoring to our country the Constitutional control and exercise of the functions necessary to a people’s government, which functions have been basely surrendered by our public servants to corporate monopolies. . . .
—Preamble from the People’s Party platform, 1896
A Box of Problems
—Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1896
“As the People’s party died, many of the disillusioned dropped out of politics. This is part of the reason the percent of eligible voters to cast ballots in presidential races dropped thirty percent between 1896 and 1924. Others continued the egalitarian struggle by joining Eugene V. Debs in the Socialist party. Many, however, returned to the reform wings of their old parties. Several farmer demands [later] became law, . . . namely monopoly regulation, banking/currency reform, and the graduated income tax. Populists had also advocated direct democracy with reforms such as the initiative and referendum. . . . America, however, adopted Populist reforms selectively and piecemeal. The result was hardly the egalitarian vision of Populism in its heyday.”
—Worth Robert Miller, The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origin of
Use your knowledge of populism and Documents A, B, C, and D to answer questions 1 through 4.
1. Which of the documents is a primary source that suggests that Populist ideas would unleash dangerous consequences for the United States?
2. Which primary source documents describe Populist ideas?
3. According to Document D, what became of Populist supporters after the People’s Party ceased to exist?
4. Writing Task How much did populism impact life in the United States? Use your knowledge of American history and evidence from the sources above to support your position.