Why Did the Populist Party attract millions of supporters?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the late 1800s, the People’s Party (also known as the Populist Party) gained large numbers of supporters.  Their support was largely centered in the Midwest and the South.  This is because their message was one that was most attractive to farmers.  The Populists’ message was attractive to farmers because they were being harmed by the forces of industrialization and by the rise of big businesses.

In the late 1800s, the US was rapidly industrializing and businesses were growing bigger.  This was particularly true in the railroad industry.  As railroads spread across the country, they became vital to the farmers.  The railroads were the only way that many farmers could get their crops to market.  Because the railroads were so important to the farmers, they were able to exploit the farmers.  Prices for carrying crops rose and farmers were badly hurt.

At the same time, farmers were being hurt by banks.  Farmers would typically need to borrow money from banks to pay for their seeds and to tide them over until the harvest.  Banks could charge high interest rates and could set harsh terms for their loans. 

Because farmers were being harmed by these forces in the economy, they came to want the government to intervene and help them.  The Populist Party’s platform promised such help.  For this reason, it became very popular among farmers.

thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 3) Educator

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The People’s Party or the Populist Party was formed to address farmers’ issues. The party succeeded in attracting millions because the agenda resonated with the farmers. Farmers formed a majority in most states in the South and Midwest, and this accounted for the party’s popularity. The People’s Party was formed out of a heightened state of farmers suffering due to forces of capitalism. The farmers were contending with low agricultural prices, high transport costs, and high-interest rates. Brokers, merchants, and the gold standard led to the reduction of agricultural prices. The farmers wanted the dollar to be backed by silver instead of gold in order to counter the high deflation. Transportation costs were also on the rise because the railroad companies were not regulated and took advantage of the situation by charging exorbitantly for transportation. Agrarian margins were also extremely affected by an increase in interest rates. The banks charged high-interest rates on loans, which made agricultural activities expensive.

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