What were the major reforms that were called in for the National People's Party platform?
The abolition of slavery, enforced upon the American South as a result of its defeat in the Civil War, ended farmers’ ability to depend upon slave labor to keep production costs low. The end of slavery placed farmers across the South and in the Midwest in a difficult position. As farmers were forced to fundamentally transform the economics of their way of life to conform to new realities, their finances became increasingly subject to the dictates of government and the banks from which they frequently needed to accept loans. And, they were often at the mercy of shipping agents from whom the establishment of rates frequently did not conform to the financial realities of farming. Out of the frustrations endemic with these radical changes in their way of life, farmers and others with broader agendas for reforming society like labor activists banded together to create the People’s Party. A populist movement, the party, which lasted from 1891 to 1908, developed a platform that clearly illuminated its frustrations and vision for change. Submitted in 1892, it included a preamble that began with this statement of disenchantment:
“. . . we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin."
The People’s Party Platform set forth an ambitious agenda steeped in anger and driven by a determination to regain their material independence and at least a modicum of their old way of life. Towards that end, the platform’s second declaration stated:
“Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ‘If any will not work, neither shall he eat.’ The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical.”
With respect to the aforementioned difficulties farmers and others regularly encountered in dealing with lending institutions, with the continued efforts at readapting to tax and monetary policies established beyond their control, and with the psychologically deflating experience of being subjected to northern “carpetbaggers,” the drafters of the platform also included the demand for
“ . . . a national currency . . . issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations; a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent per annum . . .”
With respect to the indignities of being subjected to the seemingly arbitrary and capricious whims of railroad owners, the farmers also included in their party platform the following demand:
“Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. . . All land now held by railroads and other corporations excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.”
In addition to these demands, the platform included a number of resolutions of support for or opposition against various government policies on pensions for civil war veterans, terms limits for the president and vice president, and elimination of the northern states’ instruments of repression, including the “large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system . . .”