The People's Party was able to exploit a huge gap in the political market place left by the two main parties. In the late nineteenth century, there didn't appear to be too many significant differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, both of which were broadly committed to similar policies. Yet in the 1890s, at the height of what became known as "The Gilded Age," many people, especially farmers in the South and Midwest, looked for a radically different approach that would address the concerns of those left behind by the rapid development of America's increasingly industrialized economy.
It seemed that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had much to offer large swathes of the country, mainly those that relied on agriculture. This created the conditions for the establishment of a new party, one that would champion the cause of agricultural communities marginalized by the growth of the economy's financial and industrial sectors.
Initially, vast numbers of Americans responded warmly to the Populists. For the first time since the days of Andrew Jackson, it seemed that there was a political party looking out for the interests of the little guy. Before long, the People's Party had built up powerful political networks across the rural heartlands of the South and West. Such growing support enabled the Populists to advance what was, at the time, a radical agenda designed to limit the power and influence of corporate and financial interests.
Populism gained support for several reasons. The main reason was that farmers in the western U.S. were not doing well economically, as they were suffering from droughts and the high cost of shipping products on the railroads. Populism was an organized effort to curb the power of railroads and other monopolies that were hurting farmers. Farmers responded to the promise of limiting corporate powers. They also wanted to limit the power of the middlemen who charged them for storing their crops until the crops were ready to be sold in the market. Farmers wanted grains and other crops to be stored in cooperatively owned or government-owned silos so that the middleman would be cut out of their business transactions.
In addition, western farmers were in debt, and Populism promised them a route to greater wealth. Especially popular was the Silver Standard, a way in which farmers could use silver to pay back their debts. William Jennings Bryan, a Populist candidate for President, won great support by promising an end to the gold standard and the beginning of bimetallism, or using silver and gold to pay back debts. Farmers saw in Populism the promise of a better life and a fairer economic situation in which the scales were not tipped in favor of large corporate interests.
Farmers generally supported the Populist Party. They were upset that the railroad companies weren’t treating them fairly and offered other businesses rebates for shipping products on the trains, while farmers were not offered these rebates.
Farmers were upset that the banks charged them higher interest rates than other groups were charged. The farmers believed that other businesses got loans at lower interest rates than what they were charged on their loans.
Many farmers were also upset with the federal government’s monetary policy. They believed there was too little money in the economy, and wanted the government to have a monetary system based on both gold and silver. This would increase the money supply. It also would increase prices for crops. It also should decrease interest rates.
The Populist Party worked to resolve the issues that farmers faced. They supported a money supply based on gold and silver. They advocated for federal control of the railroads and an end to the national banking system. As a result, millions of farmers in the Midwest, West, and South supported the Populist Party.
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.
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.
The initial popularity of the short-lived Populist Party, or the People's Party, grew out of frustration with the long-established two-party system in the United States. In the 1890s, there were few significant and apparent differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, at least as far as America's farmers and working class was concerned. These lower-income Americans, particularly in the South and the Midwest, saw themselves being left behind as income inequality grew rapidly. It did not help them that banks, equipment manufacturers, and railroad companies regularly practiced policies that exploited the labor of America's farmers.
Since it seemed that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans were taking much interest in the concerns of these Americans, an opening for a third party appeared. This formed into a populist movement, and the resulting People's Party championed the cause of the nation's poor farmers and workers. It promised to create new avenues of wealth for the many Americans who were feeling sidelined by the established power structures in the country. The People's Party also sought to limit the influence of corporate powers, who had been setting much of the political agenda for decades. As a result, millions of Americans flocked to this new party.