Populism, the Grange Movement, and Monetary Policy

Start Free Trial

What role should the government play in American society, according to the Populist Party?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The largest role that the Populist party played in American politics was ensuring that the voices of dispossessed and disenfranchised did not go unnoticed.  Forming an alliance of farmers and those who were on the "bottom rung" of the American social and political order, the Populist driving force was to maintain political allegiance to these individuals.  The primary motivation of the party was to demand that government play an interventionist role in the lives of these individuals.  This is to say that government should not be entirely driven by the interests of the wealthy and powerful, but rather listen to and promote the general welfare of those individuals who lack significant economic and political power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In a laissez-faire economy where the government had virtually no regulation on business or corporate practices, the Gilded Age ran amok.  Employees in these businesses did not have the right to organize, and working conditions were typically horrible.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of the early 1890's was supposed to be a progressive law to break up monoplies and trusts, but it was instead used to break up these very unions.

Populists believed that government's role was to protect consumers, and regulate commerce in such a way that exploitation was not the rule of the workplace, and that the poorest 90% of society, especially farmers, might receive a fair shake for their hard labor.

Of course, the robber barons of the age stood to lose millions if populist/progressive reform took place, so they ensured that business friendly Mckinley was elected in 1896, and maintained the status quo.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In general, the Populist Party felt that the government should be involved in protecting the "little guy" from the rich and from big businesses.

Specifically, the Populists felt that farmers were getting abused by the rich.  They felt that the railroads and the banks took advantage of the fact that farmers needed to borrow money and to transport their crops to markets.  They felt that both gouged farmers unfairly.

Therefore, they supported government regulation of those industries to prevent them from treating farmers "unfairly."  In fact, they even advocated government ownership of railroads and telegraph systems to prevent abuse of farmers.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial