Political Reform in the late 19thCentury SSUSH13 The student will identify major efforts to reform American society and politics in the Progressive Era.
Farmers Struggle • By the end of the 19th Century, American farmers had borrowed money heavily to buy new modern farm equipment and to guard against economic problems like locusts and boll weevils • After the Civil War, the federal government wanted to take the paper money they put in place during the War out of circulation • This paper money was called greenbacks • The farmers disagreed with this because it caused deflation, or a drop in the prices of goods nationally due to a reduction in the money supply
Gold vs. Silver • All paper money was backed up by either gold or silver – the paper money was essentially traded for gold or silver • In 1873, during the worst time of economic panic to that point, the Congress put the country on the gold standard • This angered advocates of the silver policy, who advocated bimetallism (the use of both gold and silver) • Through 2 acts of Congress, the Bland-Allison Act (1878) and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890), the government was required to use more silver • Another panic followed in 1893 and President Grover Cleveland blamed the Silver Purchase Act • Cleveland oversaw its repeal
Populists • In the 1890s, various political parties associated with the Farmers’ Alliances began to have success in elections, especially in the South • the most successful of these movements were known as Populists
The Populist platform: • an increased circulation of money • unlimited mining of silver • progressive income tax – the percentage of tax paid would rise with the amount of income – this would put a greater tax burden on the wealthy industrialists and less on the farmers • government ownership of communications and transportation systems • The populists also sought support from the workers by advocating things like the 8-hour workday
The Success of the Populists • The party’s candidate in the election of 1892 had limited success and Grover Cleveland was reelected as President (Cleveland is the only President in U.S. History to have split terms – he was President from 1885- 1889, then Benjamin Harrison became President in 1889, before Cleveland became President again)
Election of 1896 • The Republicans nominated William McKinley, who ran on a gold platform, and the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan • Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech the Democratic Convention used imagery from the Bible while advocating the silver standard and was so powerful that the Populists nominated him too • Bryan traveled around the country and made speeches while McKinley greeted visitors from his home in Ohio • Despite his best efforts, Bryan lost the Election http://www.history.com/shows/men-who-built-america/videos/presidential-election-of-1896
The Legacy of Populism • In the decades to come, other reformers, known as Progressives, applied populist ideas to urban and industrial problems