Why Was the Populist Party Was Created in the Late 1800s?

The Populist party was created to unite and empower the Farmers’ Alliances that formed in the late 1800s. In 1892, the Populists ran their own candidates for U.S. president, Congress, state governorships and other governmental offices. However, after the presidential election of 1896, most Populists rejoined the Democratic party.

Poor harvests, dropping prices and dysfunctional economic infrastructures caused agricultural workers and other laborers to form local groups called Farmers’ Alliances in the U.S. Midwest and South. To bring legitimacy and political clout to their movement, the leaders united the disparate organizations to form the Populist party. Their demands included an increase in the paper and silver money supply, easier access to loans and a graduated income tax. Demands also included a limitation of the working day to eight hours and government ownership of the telegraph, telephone and railroad systems.

The Populist candidate for president, James B. Weaver, received over one million votes in 1892. Some Populist gubernatorial and Congressional candidates were elected both in 1892 and 1894. However, in the 1896 presidential election, the Populists decided to back William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate; however, they chose Thomas E. Watson of Georgia instead of Democratic candidate Arthur Sewall as their vice presidential nominee. When Bryan was defeated, the Populist movement faded into obscurity.