Good evening. The topic of our today’s discussion is the Populist Movement, a mass political movement started by farmers in the 1890s decrying the abuses and privileges of banks, big businesses and railways. The farmers’ alliances developed populism in view of decreasing crop prices and inadequate credit services. James B. Weaver and William Jennings were main representatives of this movement. The Populist Movement promoted various reforms to help farmers. Among these is aid for farmers in times of economic depression. They also advocated increasing the amount of money in circulation by using silver, adopting graduated income tax system that would redistribute wealth from business to farmers and laborers, government control of railways, a revenue tariff, secret ballot voting, suffrage for women, formation of labor unions and an 8-hour working week.
Charles W. Macune, a leader of the National Farmers Alliance, is with us tonight. He agreed to share his point of view on the current plight of farmers, and tell us more about the Populist Movement.
D.L.: Dr Macune would you please tell us what reasons did influence the formation of the National Farmers Alliance?
CWM: As you know, our farmers are in dire straits. The prices of our crops are continuously falling. Prices of farm implements and inputs are very high. Farmers have to seek for financing to buy everything they need. It is also very costly for them to transport their crops as the privately-owned railways charge them exorbitant fees. With help of the Alliance, farmers may have a voice in demanding for reforms. Due to the united farmers’ actions, we can sell our products at a uniform level, and keep the prices at a relatively reasonable level.
DL: What reforms do the farmers and the Alliance demand from government?
CWM: Among others, we want to form the Department of Agriculture to encourage and aid the farmers especially during times of economic depression. We are also asking for the nationalization of railroads and communication systems, abolition of the national banking system, graduated income tax, a tariff for revenue only, recognition of trade unions and cooperatives, and an increase in currency through the unlimited coinage of silver to allow us to pay our debts faster.
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DL: I am sure you have heard the farmers being compared to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Why do you think that is?
CWM: Our Midwestern farmers have seen themselves as inferior, because of their difficulties, and have developed a lack of confidence. Many of them do not recognize the real reasons for their economic downfall. People think that they have drastic and illogical reform ideas. So they consider farmer to be a Scarecrow without a brain. However, believe me the farmers are very capable, astute and resilient. The reforms they are demanding are actually reasonable, and I am sure that most of them will be adopted in the future.
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