Monday, March 16, 2009

Populism; It's a Family Tradition

UPDATE: For an example of CNN's distortion of populism at yesterday's Tea Parties click here:

by Janet Crain
We hear that Sarah Palin is a Populist politician. And we are hearing about various Populism movements around the country such as "tea parties". But what does that really mean? What is Populism? Few know that Populism had its beginnings a few miles from where I live in 1878 in Lampasas county, TX. I am proud to state that I have a picture of two of my great grandfathers standing side by side at a Farmer's Alliance Meeting at Rockvale, Burnet county, TX in the early 1900's. The men, Henry Thomas Lewis and Meredith Holloway, were obviously friends although it would be almost a quarter century until their descendants (my parents) would forever unite the two families. And judging by the remarks my mother passed on to me made by her father, he too was a Populist. Needless to say some of this rubbed off on me.

The story belows shows a cabin still standing where the first Farmer's Alliance meetings were held and I don't doubt it had some connection. But I have also read that the little cabin where the Farmers Alliance was formed was taken apart and transported to the Chicago Worlds Fair, reassembled and put on display. At the conclusion of the Fair, the story goes, the cabin was parceled out in small pieces to those who wanted a memento of this historic cabin.

So I suppose you can take your choice.

Building a populist coalition in Texas, 1892-1896.

By: Miller, Worth Robert,Ulbig, Stacy G.
Publication: Journal of Southern History
Date: Thursday, May 1 2008

THAN A HALF CENTURY HAS PASSED SINCE C. VANN WOODWARD argued that the success of the People' s (or Populist) Party of the 1890s hinged on construction of three somewhat improbable coalitions of the dispossessed: southerners and westerners, farmers and laborers, and blacks and poor whites in the
South. (1) The rationale for such coalitions was that supposedly both the South and the West had colonial debtor economies in the 1890s, farmers and laborers shared a common status as producers, and blacks and poor southern whites frequently shared a marginal economic situation. But the counterinfluences of post-Civil War sectionalism, rural-urban jealousies, and racism also were particularly strong in the late-nineteenth-century South. Despite these impediments, Populists experienced substantial success in bringing Woodward's coalitions to fruition in Texas.

Building a movement of the dispossessed in the Lone Star State in the 1890s was fraught with many difficulties. Then as now, Texas was an exceptionally large and diverse state. It is more than eight hundred miles from Brownsville on the Mexican border to the northern edge of the semiarid expanses of the Texas Panhandle, and nearly as far from the Piney Woods of East Texas to El Paso

Of the ten major soil types commonly "recognized around the world, seven are found in abundance in Texas." (2) The state was nearly 85 percent rural in the 1890s. Yet cities as different as southern-white-evangelical-dominated Dallas and overwhelmingly ethnic San Antonio experienced significant growth in the late nineteenth century. (3) A mixture of whites from both the upper and the plantation South, as well as a significant black population, gave the state a southern ambience. But people of Mexican, German, Czech, and Polish heritage both mingled with the native-born population and formed distinctive cultural areas of their own. (4)

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In the past, where the term populism originates, specifically in a rustic cabin in Pleasant Valley, Lampasas County, Texas, in the year 1877, populism was not yet populism, it was merely an aggregation of hard scrabble farmers in west Texas fed up with being exploited by the merchants, the bankers, and the rail roads. They weren’t going to take it anymore. They were going to bring to life again what seemed to them to be the dying promise of the Constitution that proclaimed a new government by and for “we the people” to establish Justice and promote the general Welfare, among other laudable intents.

Populist was not a term these sweaty, raw boned farmers applied to themselves. They called themselves “The Farmer’s Alliance”. They were driven by the desire to create what we call today a “level playing field”.
PHOTO BY DAVID LOWE Gordon and Judy Chapin recently donated a conservation easement on their Gravel Hill Ranch, home to numerous animal and native plant species and to a cabin built in the 1880s. The Chapins believe the first owner of the cabin participated in the Farmer Alliance, which began meeting near Donalson Creek (in Lampasas County, TX) in 1877 and evolved into the national Populist Party.

© Janet Crain

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