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The American Populists

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the C19th MidWest and Southern farmers' struggle for a better deal, claiming they suffered while industry and railroads thrived at their expense.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America's Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites who were thriving as the farmers suffered droughts and low prices. The farmers were politically and physically isolated. As one man wrote on his abandoned farm, 'two hundred and fifty miles to the nearest post office, one hundred miles to wood, twenty miles to water, six inches to Hell'. They formed the Populist or People's Party to fight their cause, put up candidates for President, won several states and influenced policies. In the South, though, their appeal to black farmers stimulated their political rivals to suppress the black vote for decades and set black and poor white farmers against each other, tightening segregation. Aspects of the Populists ideas re-emerged effectively in Roosevelt's New Deal, even if they are mainly remembered now, if at all, thanks to allegorical references in The Wizard of Oz.

The caricature above is of William Jennings Bryan, Populist-backed Presidential candidate.


Lawrence Goldman
Professor of History at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Mara Keire
Lecturer in US History at the University of Oxford


Christopher Phelps
Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Nottingham

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

50 minutes

Last on

Thu 15 Jun 2017 21:30


Lawrence Goldman at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Mara Keire at the University of Oxford

Christopher Phelps at the University of Nottingham

American People’s Party – Wikipedia

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Chicago, 1900)

W. H. Harvey, Coin’s Financial School (Chicago, 1894)



Omar H. Ali, In the Lion's Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, 1886-1900 (University Press of Mississippi, 2010)

L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz (first published 1900; Puffin Classics, 2008)

Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America (Oxford University Press, 1978)

Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America (Oxford University Press, 1978)

John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers' Alliance and the Populist Party (first published 1931; University of Nebraska Press, 1967)

Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (first published 1955; Random House, 1988)

William F. Holmes (ed.), American Populism (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History (Basic Books, 1995)

Robert C. McMath, American Populism: A Social History 1877-1898 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990)

Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (Oxford University Press, 2007)

C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (first published 1938; Martino Fine Books, 2014)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Lawrence Goldman
Interviewed Guest Mara Keire
Interviewed Guest Christopher Phelps
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 15 Jun 2017 09:00
  • Thu 15 Jun 2017 21:30

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