Political realignments in the 1890s
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20. Political Realignments in the 1890s. The Party Deadlock. Post-Civil War Democratic party divides electorate almost evenly with Republicans Democrats emphasize state’s rights and limited government Republicans see government as agent to promote moral progress and material wealth

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Political Realignments in the 1890s

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Political realignments in the 1890s


Political Realignments in the 1890s

The party deadlock

The Party Deadlock

  • Post-Civil War Democratic party divides electorate almost evenly with Republicans

  • Democrats emphasize state’s rights and limited government

  • Republicans see government as agent to promote moral progress and material wealth

  • Each party has safe states, control of federal government rests with 6 “doubtful” states in North and Midwest

  • Federal influence wanes, state control rises

The election of 1880

The Election of 1880

The Election of 1884

Reestablishing presidential power

Reestablishing Presidential Power

  • Presidency hits nadir under Johnson

  • Later presidents reassert executive power

    • Hayes ended military Reconstruction

    • Garfield asserted leadership of his party

    • Arthur strengthened navy, civil service reform

    • Cleveland used veto to curtail federal activities, called for low tariffs

Republicans in power the billion dollar congress

Republicans in Power:The Billion-Dollar Congress

  • 1888: Republicans control both White House and Capitol Hill

  • 1890: Adoption of Reed Rules permits enactment of “billion dollar” program

  • 1890: Sherman Anti-Trust Act regulates big business

Of note in 1890


  • Closing of the Frontier

  • Battle of Wounded Knee

  • First Billion dollar Congress in 1890

  • Dramatic expansion of pensions for the GAR

  • Sherman Anti-trust Act of 1890

  • Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890

  • McKinley Tariff of 1890 (48.4%!!!)

Tariffs trusts and silver

Tariffs, Trusts, and Silver

  • McKinley Tariff is highest in history

  • 1890: Sherman Silver Purchase Act moves country toward bi-metallic monetary system

    • Despiteattempts to regulate trusts with Sherman Anti-Trust Act…law’s power is guttedby Supreme Court U.S. vs. E.C. Knight, clarifies that law does not apply to manufacturers

The 1890 elections

The 1890 Elections

  • “Billion Dollar” Congress alienates people

  • Republicans also assert activist government policies on state level

    • Sunday closing laws

    • Prohibition

    • Mandatory English in public schools

  • 1890: Alienated voting blocks turn out Republican legislators

Roots of populism



farmers comprise nearly 50% of US in 1890, but are too diverse, dispersed and disorganized to be an effective political force.

  • 1867 Oliver Kelley formed the Grange, as social “glue” for isolated farmers

  • Grangers gradually politicize  control state legislatures in IL, WI, IA, MN & attempt to control fees set by railroad, warehouses, & grain elevators

Deflation debt decline on the grange

Deflation, Debt, Decline on the Grange

  • “cash-crops” ties farmers to world market

  • Lack of diversification leaves farms vulnerable to fluctuations in market.

  • Expensive machinery requires going into debt and good financial management – not all farmers are skilled enough in business

    By 1890’s….

    overproduction, debt AND deflation combined!!!

    Hundreds of thousands of farms were foreclosed and farmers became TENANTS(=sharecroppers)

Selected commodity prices

Selected Commodity Prices

Experiments in the states

Experiments in the States

  • State government commissions investigate, regulate railroads, factories

  • Munn v. Illinois (1877) upholds constitutionality of state investigations

  • Wabash case (1886) prompts establishment of Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)

  • ICC prototype for modern regulatory agencies

Roots of populism1


  • 1886: Supreme Court’s Wabash decision struck down Granger laws, Grangers decline afterwards

  • Grangers replaced by Greenback Labor Party, run unsuccessfully for presidency in 1880. Then decline.

  • Succeeded by Farmers’ Alliance, led by Mary E. Lease

  • Eventually, gains momentum. At its height, Farmers’ Alliance elects 4 governors and 40 congressmen.

The fast growing farmers alliance

The Fast-Growing Farmers’ Alliance

  • 1875: Southern Alliance begins

  • Alliance movement segregated, Colored Farmer’s National Alliance

    • Destroyed after leaders lynched in 1891

  • 1889: Regional Alliances merge into National Farmer’s Alliance

The fast growing farmers alliance1

The Fast-Growing Farmers’ Alliance

  • Division in the South

    • Tillman: Capture existing Democratic party to maintain white supremacy

    • Tom Watson and Leondias Polk urge new party

  • Starting 1890, Alliance runs candidates

    • Speakers like Mary “Yellin’” Lease promote Alliance candidates

The fast growing farmers alliance ocala demands

The Fast-Growing Farmers’ Alliance: Ocala Demands

  • System of government warehouses to hold crops for higher prices

  • Free coinage of silver

  • Low tariffs

  • Federal income tax

  • Direct election of Senators

  • Regulation of railroads


    Many of these become part of Progressive platforms

The people s party

The People’s Party

  • Southern Alliance splits from Democrats to form Populist party

  • Southern Populists recruit African Americans, give them influential positions

The people s party1

The People’s Party

  • 1892: Populist presidential candidate James Weaver draws over one million votes

    • Loses South to violence and intimidation by Southern Democrats

    • Loses urban areas

  • Alliance wanes after 1892 elections

Why didn t the populists win in 1892

Why didn’t the Populists win in 1892?


Eastern workers are nervous about deflation.

Black voters fall victim to race politics in the South.




The panic of 1893

The Panic of 1893

  • February, 1893: Failure of major railroad sparks panic on New York Stock Exchange

  • Investors sell stock to purchase gold

  • Depleted Treasury shakes confidence

  • May, 1893: Market hits record low, business failures displace 2 million workers

  • 1894: Corn crop fails

Coxey s army and the pullman strike

Coxey’s Army and the Pullman Strike

  • 1894: Jacob Coxey led “Coxey’s Army” to Washington to demand relief

  • Pullman strike, joined by Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union, closed Western railroads

  • President Cleveland suppressed strikes with federal troops and Debs was arrested

The miners of the midwest

The Miners of the Midwest

  • United Mine Workers strike of 1894

  • “Old miners”: English and Irish workers, owners of small family mines

  • “New miners”: 1880s immigrants

  • Strike pits new miners against old

Everybody works but father

“Everybody Works but Father”

  • Women and children paid lower wages, displaced men during depression

  • Employers retained women and children after depression to hold down costs

Changing themes in literature

Changing Themes in Literature

  • Depression encouraged “realist” school

  • Mark Twain’s characters spoke in dialect

  • William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane portrayed grim life of the poor

  • Frank Norris attacked power of big business

  • Theodore Dreiser presented humans as helpless before vast social, economic forces

Changing attitudes

Changing Attitudes

  • Depression of 1893 forced recognition of structural causes of unemployment

  • Americans accepted the need for government intervention to help the poor and jobless

  • New voting patterns emerged and national policy shifted

  • Free coinage of silver the main issue

    • Boost the money supply

    • Seen as solution to depression

The mystique of silver

The Mystique of Silver

  • “Free and independent coinage of silver”

    • Set ratio of silver to gold at 16:1

    • U.S. mints coined all silver offered to them

    • U.S. coined silver regardless of other nations’ policies

  • Silverites believed amount in circulation determined level of economic activity

  • A moral crusade for the common people

The presidential election of 1896

The Presidential Election of 1896

  • Candidate: William McKinley

  • Silverite Republicans defeated on convention floor

  • Promised gold standard to restore prosperity

  • Candidate: William Jennings Bryan

  • Free silver promised in “Cross of Gold” speech

  • Democrats were enthusiastic

Campaign and election

Campaign and Election

  • Populist party endorsed Bryan

  • Bryan offered return to rural, religious U.S.

  • McKinley defended urban, industrial society

  • Election was a clear victory for McKinley, utter rout of Populist party

The election of 1900

The Election of 1900

The mckinley administration

The McKinley Administration

  • McKinley took office at depression’s end

  • An activist president

  • Dingley Tariff raised rates to record highs

  • 1900: U.S. placed on gold standard

  • 1900: McKinley won landslide reelection against William Jennings Bryan

  • September, 1901: McKinley assassinated

  • Theodore Roosevelt became president

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