Populism Forward Or Backward Looking Essay, Research Paper
The Populist movement represented a viable plan for the future, which although failed as a third-party movement, it made thousands aware of the needs for reform. The abuses of monopolistic capitalism were spreading across the US leaving behind a trail of poverty. The call for an unlimited coinage of silver and gold at a ratio of 16 to 1 would enable farmers to pay their debts more easily as well as put an end to deflation. Furthermore, government control over railroads would prevent farmers and other individuals from being subjected to monopolistic tactics by railroad owners. Finally, the enactment of a graduated income tax would allow for a more just means of taxation.
An unlimited coinage of silver and gold at a ratio of 16 to 1 would cause inflation to occur thus augmenting the value of property and allowing farmers to pay off their debts. The United Sates was undergoing a period of depression as the value of silver and paper money kept dropping. Population and production was surging forward; more money was needed simply to keep up with economic growth. Garraty affirms, “[Yet] the government was deliberately cutting down the amount of money in circulation by retiring Civil War greenbacks. On debt-ridden farmers plagued by overproduction, the effect of this deflation was catastrophic” (100). In the Preamble to the Omaha Platform, the Populist Part declared, “The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few ” (Omaha). The depression caused many farmers and workers to go deep into debt with the banks. Therefore, the Populist Party viewed the only solution to be instituting inflationary tactics “which would increase the money supply and enable farmers to pay their debts more easily” (Norton 613).
The Populist call for government control of the railroads would prevent overcharging by greedy capitalists allowing all people to transport goods without fear of monopolistic schemes. The Populists affirm, “Transportation being a means of exchange and public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people” (Omaha). Farmers worked tediously only to see big corporations make off with most of their profits. Garraty notes, “Too many useless middlemen grew fast off the mere handling of wheat and cotton. Monopolistic railroads overcharged for carrying crops to market, unscrupulous operators of grain elevators falsely downgraded prime crops and charge exorbitant fees” (100). All agricultural states underwent the same type of harshness. The new railroad businesses, who were bent on making every farmer subservient to them “had neither souls nor consciences; profit was their god, materialism their only creed” (Garraty 100). As Mrs. Mary E. Lease noted, “It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street” (AS 124).
Finally, the enactment of a graduated income tax would aid less-income families by alleviating the tax burden on them while at the same time taxing those who earn a greater income at a higher rate. Garraty notes, “Money and property were so maldistributed that 1 percent of the United Sates population the corporate magnates and their families owned seven-eighths of the country’s wealth” (96). A graduated income tax, therefore, would help achieve a more equitable distribution of the costs of government. For those who earned a greater income than the mean, “such rates tore no holes in the pockets of the rich” (Norton 651).
The Omaha Platform of the Populist Party (1892)