Populist Rhetoric:
This section contains excerpts from the writings and speeches of Populists and of the Populist-backed Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Note who or what Populists thought was responsible for the economic and social ills they confronted. Why were they so concerned with cheap money?Did they offer sound analyses of their problems, or were they guilty of a conspiratorial view of the world?

SOURCE I Adopted by the Omaha convention, this was the first platform of the Populist Party.
Source: The World Almanac, 1893 (New York, 1893), pp. 83-85.
Platform of the People's Party, 1892
Preamble The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery The newspapers are largely sub-sidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few,unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn,despite the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes-tramps and millionaires.
The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bondholders;a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people. Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents,and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism....
We declare, therefore-
First.-That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the Republic and the uplifting of mankind.
Second.-Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. "If any will not work, neither shall he eat." The interests of rural and civic labor are the same; their enemies are identical.
Third.-We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads, and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads,we should favor an amendment to the Constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employees. Finance We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations, a just, equitable,and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent, per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers' Alliance, or a better system; also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements.
1. We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to I.
2. We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
3. We demand a graduated income tax.
4. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government,economically and honestly administered.
5. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.
Transportation Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph, telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people. Land The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.

SOURCE 2 Watson served as a congressman from Georgia and ran as the Populist candidate for vice president in the election of 1896
The Negro Question in the South1892. TOM WATSON
Source: Thomas E. Watson, 'The Negro Question in the South', The Arena, 6 (October 1892)510-550.
The People's Party will settle the race question. First, by enacting the Austra- lian ballot system. Second, by offering to white and black a rallying point which is free from the odium of former discords and strifes. Third, by present-ing a platform immensely beneficial to both races and injurious to neither.
Fourth, by making it to the interest of both races to act together for the success of the platform. Fifth, by making it to the interest of the colored man to have the same patriotic zeal for the welfare of the South that the whites possess....
The white tenant lives adjoining the colored tenant. Their houses are almost equally destitute of comforts. Their living is confined to bare necessities. They are equally burdened with heavy taxes. They pay the same high rent for gullied and impoverished land. They pay the same enormous prices for farm supplies. Christmas finds them both without any satisfactory return for a year's toil. Dull and heavy and unhappy, they both start the plows again when "New Year's" passes.
Now the People's Party says to these two men, "You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both."
This is so obviously true it is no wonder both these unhappy laborers stop to listen. No wonder they begin to realize that no change of law can benefit the white tenant which does not benefit the black one Likewise; that no system which now does injustice to one of them can fail to injure both. Their every material interest is identical. The moment this becomes a conviction, mere selfishness, the mere desire to better their conditions, escape onerous taxes,avoid usurious charges, lighten their rents, or change their precarious tene-nients into smiling, happy homes, will drive these two men together, just as their mutually inflamed prejudices now drive them apart.

SOURCE 3 Emery, a Michigan Populist, wrote this widely read discussion of the causes of deflation.
Financial Conspiracies, 1888. SARAH E. V. EMERY
Source: Mrs. Sarah E. V. Emery,, Seven Financial Conspiracies Which Have Enslaved the American people, 2nd ed. (Lansing, Mich.: Launt Thompson, 1888), pp. 69-81.
The busy brain of avarice is ever reaching out-not after new truths-but for gain, gain, GAIN; and we next find these civilized brigands have consummated a scheme for the demonetization of silver. This act, passed in 1873, destroyed the money quality of silver, and thus produced a farther contraction of the currency. The object of this act was first to prevent the payment of the bonds, and second, to increase their value. Never in this country had there been an investment so safe and yet so reliable. Shylock , with his hoarded millions, could rest on beds of down.Neither fire, flood, mildew nor blight brought anxiety to him. He seemed to rest in assurance of the Divine favor, having obeyed the injunction to "lay up his treasure where moth and rust could not corrupt, nor thieves break throughand steal." Indeed, the entire country had become sponsor for his wealth, for under the law every producer and millions of wage-workers had been insti-tuted a vigilance committee to took after his welfare. Why should he not be opposed to having his bond investment disturbed? The government held that property in safe keeping, and did not charge a cent for the favor; it collected his interest and paid it over to him free of charge; it paid his gold interest in advance and exempted him from taxation; the insurance agent and tax gath-erer were strangers to him, they did not molest or make him afraid, and being thus fortified, he was content to let the producers of wealth eke out a miserable existence while he fared sumptuously every day. But it was not the American capitalist alone who entered into this murderous scheme for demonetizing silver.
In the Banker's Magazine of August, 1873, we find the following on this subject:
In 1872' silver being demonetized in France, England and Holland, a capital of$500,000 was raised, and Ernest Seyd of London was sent to this country with this fund, as agent of the foreign bond holders and capitalists, to effect the same object(demonetization of silver), which was accomplished. There you have it, a paid agent of English capitalists sent to this country with $500,000 to buy the American Congress and rob the American people...

SOURCE 4 Peffer was a Populist United States Senator from Kansas. His book on the plight of farmers was a popular Populist tract. The Farmer's Troubles and Their Remedy: The Farmer's Side, 1891 WILLIAM ALFRED PEFFER Source: William Alfred Peffer, His Troubles and Their Remedy (New York: D.Appleton and Co., 1891), pp. 179-184. The most pressing want of the farmer is to get rid of debts for which his home is mortgaged. It was not generally believed until recently that the clamor about individual indebtedness of our people had much foundation in truth. The most extravagant guesses upon the subject came short of the cold facts, which Mr. Porter, of the Census Bureau, is giving to us. The writer of this made an investigation of the subject, examining such sources of information as were within his reach, and came to the conclusion that $1,000,000,000 would about cover the entire indebtedness of the people in town and country for which their homes were mortgaged; but enough has already been shown by the Census Bureau to make it probable that the estimate is too short by at least 60per cent....
And, as shown further by the census report, the interest on this indebted-ness is exorbitant-three, four, five tines, even twenty times the average increase of wealth produced by labor in the ordinary form, which is about 3per cent. Farmers find that difficulties in the way of payment of their debts are increasing from year to year, that it is growing constantly harder to meet their obligations...
. ...How is he to obtain money at anything less than he is paying now? How is he to renew his loan except at the discretion of the owner of the money which he borrowed, or of the agent who negotiated the loan? He is at the mercy of his creditor, and that being true he is practically powerless, for the creditor is not a man to be trifled with. That brings us up to the question whether money can be obtained at lower rates of interest, and if so, how? For it may as well be admitted now as at any other time, the plain, naked truth is, that unless lower rates of interest can be obtained, one half of our farmers win be renters within the next ten years, and one half of the remainder in another ten years,and by the time the nineteenth century is ten years past the occupied lands of the country will be owned almost wholly by a comparatively few wealthy men.

SOURCE 5 Bryan, a spelI binder on the stump, secured his party's nomination with this rousing speech at the Democratic convention in Chicago.
Cross of Gold Speech, 1896 WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN
Source: Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, eds., The American Spirit (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1994), 11, pp. 155-156.
I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities. But this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in anthe land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than au the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity. We (Source 6 &7)was missing... [silveritesl do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest.We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them! ...
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity win leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them. You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. We reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country ...'

SOURCE 8 This description was published in the Salina (Kansas) Weekly Republican. An Account of Mary Lease, 1892
Source: Salina Weekly Republican, October 28,1892
. Well, boys, she is a plumb sight. If I had a hound dog that would bark at her as she passed by the gate I'd kill him before night. She could set on a stump in the shade and keep the cows out of a 100 acre corn field without a gun. She's got a face that's harder and sharper than a butcher's cleaver. I could take her by the heels and split an inch board with it. She's got a nose like an ant-eater, a voice like a cat fight and a face that is rank poison to the nakedeye.
more on Mary Lease

SOURCE 9 Troutman was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Kansas in 1894.
James A. Troutman on the Populist Party, 1894
Source: From a speech entitled 'The First (And Last) People's Party Government on Earth," delivered on January 9, 1894 as part of The Kansas Day Club Addesses (Hutchinson, 1901).
[The Populist Party] has crucified upon the altar of personal ambition and aggrandizement the distinctive claims of every form of industrial toil,and elevated to exalted places a class of nondescripts having no visible means of support. This party, organized as it maintains, to subserve the interest of the toiling masses, is dominated by lawyers without clients, by doctors with-out patients, by preachers without pulpits, by teachers without schools, by soldiers without courage, by editors without papers, by bankers without money, by financiers without credit, by moralists without morals, by farm-ers without farms, by women without husbands, and by statesmen out of a job.

SOURCE 10 This account was printed in a Kansas newspaper.
Description of the 1896 Populist Convention, 1896
Source: From The Weekly Kansas Chief, Troy, July 3, 1896.
The Calamity Convention at St. Louis last week, pretending to represent a great national party, was the most disgraceful aggregation that ever got together in America. Anarchists, howlers, tramps, highwaymen, burglars,crazy men, wild-eyed men, men with unkempt and matted hair, men with longbeards matted together with filth from their noses, men reeking with lice, men whose feet stank, and the odor from under whose arms would have knocked down a bull, brazen women, women with beards, women with voices like a gong, women with scrawny necks and dirty fingernails, women with their stockings out at the heels, women with snaggle-teeth, strumpets, rips, and women possessed of devils, gathered there, and sweltered and stank for a whole week, making speeches, quarrelling, and fighting like cats in a backyard. Gray-haired, scrawny, yellow-skinned women appeared upon the stage,dressed in hideous or indecent costumes, and gave performances that dis-gusted the most hardened Calamityites, until even Jerry Simpson gagged, and protested that the Convention was too much of a circus.... The gathering was so outlandish that each delegate imagined that the others were burlesquing him. To wind up the whole thing, delegates were bought up like the hogs they were.

SOURCE 11 White was the editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette. This anti-Populist editorial gained him nationwide attention.
What's the Matter with Kansas?1896
Source: Emporia Gazette (Weekly), October 1, 1896.
Go east and you hear them laugh at Kansas; go west and they sneer at her; go south and they "cuss" her; go north and they have forgotten her. Go into any crowd of intelligent people gathered anywhere on the globe, and you will find the Kansas man on the defensive. The newspaper columns and magazines once devoted to praise of her, to boastful facts and startling figures concerning her resources, are now filled with cartoons, jibes and Pefferian speeches.Kansas just naturally isn't in it. She has traded places with Arkansas and Timbuctoo.
What's the matter with Kansas? We all know; yet here we are at it again. We have an old mossback Jacksonian who snorts and howls because there is a bathtub in the StateHouse; we are running that old jay for Governor. (White was referring to John W. Leedy, the successful Populist candidate who also had the backing of Democrats. ) We have another shabby,wild-eyed, rattlebrained fanatic who has said openly in a dozen speeches that "the rights of the user are paramount to the rights of the owner": we are running him for Chief Justice, so that capital will come tumbling over itself to get into the state. We have raked the old ash heap of failure in the state and found an old human hoop skirt who has failed as a businessman,who has failed as an editor, who has failed as a preacher, and we are going to run him for Congressman-at-Large. He will help the looks of the Kansas delegation at Washington. Then we have discovered a kid without a law practice and have decided to run him for Attorney General. Then, for fear some hint that the state had become respectable might percolate through the civilized portions of the nation, we have decided to send three or four harpies out lecturing, telling the people that Kansas is raising hell and letting the corn go to weed.
Oh, this is a state to be proud of! We are a people who can hold up our heads! What we need is not more money, but less capital, fewer white shirts and brains, fewer men with business judgment, and more of those fellows who boast that they are "just ordinary clodhoppers, but they know more in a minute about finance than John Sherman"; we need more men who are 'posted,' who can bellow about the crime of '73, who hate prosperity, and who think, because a man believes in national honor, he is a tool of Wall Street. We have had a few of them-some hundred fifty thousand-but we need more...
. 'There are two ideas of government," said our noble Bryan at Chicago.'There are those who believe that if you legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, this prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democraticidea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their pros-perity will find its way up and through every class and rest upon them."
That's the stuff! Give the prosperous man the dickens! Legislate the thrift-less man into ease, whack the stuffing out of the creditors and tell the debtors who borrowed the money five years ago when money "per capita" was greater than it is now, that the contraction of currency gives him a right torepudiate.
Whoop it up for the ragged trousers; put the lazy, greasy fizzle, who can't pay his debts, on the altar, and bow down and worship him. Let the state ideal be high. What we need is not the respect of our fellow men, but the chance to get something for nothing.
Oh, yes, Kansas is a great state. Here are people fleeing from it by the score every day, capital going out of the state by the hundreds of dollars; and every industry but farming paralyzed, and that crippled, because its products have to go across the ocean before they can find a laboring man at work who can afford to buy them. Let's don't stop this year. Let's drive all the decent,self-respecting men out of the state.

SOURCE 12 William McKinley on the Bryan Democrats (1896)
Source: Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise: The Populist Movement in America (New York:Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 528.
Let us settle once for all that this government is one of honor and of law and that neither the seeds of repudiation (Repudiation is a reference to Bryan's and the Populists'demand to inflate the currency by coining silver. Opponents to silver charged that this would represent a repudiation of debt contracted with creditors.) nor lawlessness can find root in our sailor live beneath our flag. That represents all our aims, all our policies, au our purposes. It is the banner of every patriot, it is, thank God, today the flag of every section of our common country. No flag ever triumphed over it. It was never degraded or defeated and will not now be when more patriotic men are guarding it than ever before in our history More on the Election of 1896