What Did the 1890s United States Populist Movement Achieve?

The United States populist movement of the 1890s was successful in bringing previously unconsidered economic grievances to the nation’s attention, and it helped to eventually bring about significant reform legislation. Although the Populist Party, or People’s Party as it was also known, failed to achieve an electoral victory at the national level, party members won both congressional and state government elections. This led to the passage of laws regulating banks, stockyards, and railroads, and also helped to improve working conditions.

The Populists’ often impassioned rhetoric served to develop support for an activist government that would involve itself to a greater degree in reigning in what was viewed as the abusive practices of the large commercial and industrial trusts. The local and state-level successes of the Populist Party, and the related focus on the plight of workers and farmers, is believed to have laid the groundwork for many of the interventionist policies later enacted as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

By running a third party Populist Party candidate in the 1892 presidential election, the Republican and Democratic Parties became aware of the significance of the growing populist movement. The third-party candidate was able to win 8.5 percent of the popular vote and 22 electoral votes. This led to the Democratic Party building coalitions, or fusions, with the Populist Party. The Democratic Party eventually absorbed the Populist Party into its own ranks. The start of the Spanish-American War in 1898 deflected most of the attention from the issues raised by the populist movement and the Populist Party as an individual political entity soon disappeared.