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One way to look at the American political tradition is to argue that there has often been a tension between rule by the elites and rule by the common people. This tension has been present in American politics ever since the days when Hamilton and Jefferson held opposing views of what the federal government should do. The platform of the national People’s Party (the Populists) located itself squarely in the Jeffersonian stream of American political thought.
Thomas Jefferson believed that American government should be very democratic. He wanted the people to have direct control over the government. He also wanted American society and the American economy to be very egalitarian. He wanted the vast majority of white Americans to be small farmers. This would make them all independent and would allow them all to be equal. He opposed policies that would contribute to a more hierarchical society.
This stream of American thought continued with Andrew Jackson. Jackson was strongly opposed to governmental policies that, he felt, helped the elites at the expense of the common people. This was seen most clearly in his “war” against the Second Bank of the United States.
The populists continued this tradition of opposing elites. They felt that they (the common farmers and workers) were being abused by rich elites. They felt that they, the common people, should have more control over the government and should make it work for their benefit. This makes them the philosophical heirs of Jefferson and Jackson. They were all part of the strand of American political thought that calls for the common people to have more power and for the political elites to have less.
(Incidentally, in modern times, the “Tea Party” can be seen as an extension of this stream of American political thought. They, too, feel that the country is being run by elites in ways that are inimical to the interests of the average American.)
Thus, the platform of this party locates itself in the populist, Jeffersonian, anti-elite stream of American political thought.
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