Explain the rise of the radical populist party.

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Populist movement bore a striking resemblance to the Union movement in the big cities;however it was comprised primarily of farmers. Their primary response was perhaps best expressed in the words of Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Lease who told farmers they should "raise less corn and more hell." Another spokesman was "Sockless" Jerry Simpson, who had lost a child in a farming accident and ran for Congress thereafter. He argued that the race was between "the robbers and the robbed." and mocked his opponent (a Republican) as a patsy of rich interests. When he criticized his opponent for "soft hands and silk socks," the opponent retorted that silk socks were better than no socks at all. Rather than hurt Simpson, it became his trademark slogan.

The Party held a national convention in 1891 and adopted a platform of free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:1 to gold; an eight hour work day and graduated income tax; and nationalization of the railroads, who were considered the chief of the "robber barons."

The chief spokesmen for the Populist movement was a Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, who ran for President three times. He gained his reputation with a famous speech demanding free and unlimited coinage of silver and relief from the oppression of big business:

I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity. . . . We have petitioned, and out petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, but our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer, we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.




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