The Omaha Platform of 1892: Definition & Goals

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  • 0:02 The People's Party
  • 0:52 The Farmers' Alliance
  • 1:39 Omaha Convention of 1892
  • 2:23 Omaha Platform
  • 3:39 Omaha Platform Impact
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In 1892, the Populist Party formally outlined their ideology as America's third political party. In this lesson, we'll talk about the Populists and their platform, and see what it meant for American history.

The People's Party

Those of us alive today have never remembered a time when there were more than two substantial political parties in the United States. Actually, very few people across all of American history could have ever said this. For most of American history, national politics was dominated by two rival parties. So, when we get a chance to talk about the formation of new political parties, it's pretty exciting.

That's what happened in 1892 as a rural platform turned into a nationwide reform campaign, carried by the newly founded People's Party, often just called the Populist Party. Now, spoiler alert, the Populist Party didn't last. You may have noticed they aren't campaigning for the upcoming election. While the Party itself belongs to history, their ideas changed American politics to this day. I guess they really are the people's party.

The Farmers' Alliance

The roots of the Populist Party date to the mid-19th century. In 1873, the United States went through an economic depression called the Panic of 1873. This depression hit rural America hard, and farmers started talking about their lack of representation in American politics. So, they formed a political activism group called the Farmers' Alliance.

The alliance encouraged cooperation among farmers and started getting many of its members elected to town, county, and even state government positions. The main goal was to protect farmers by fighting against America's growing use of gold as the exclusive standard for national currency, as opposed to gold and silver. The Farmers' Alliance felt that silver-based currency, which was cheaper to produce, gave farmers more economic options and control.

The Omaha Convention of 1892

Throughout the 1880s, the Farmers' Alliance grew in prominence in rural states, but members were frustrated by the continued rejection of their ideas by both the Democratic and Republican parties. So, they joined up with a few national labor unions fighting for more rights for workers, namely the Knights of Labor, and they formed their own political party. The big moment for this new party came in 1892, when it was time to hold their very first national convention and select a candidate for president of the United States. At the Omaha convention, they all came together and formally set out the goals and intentions of the Populist Party. This is considered the official start of the Populist Party, and their mission would be remembered as the Omaha Platform.

The Omaha Platform

So, what exactly was the Populist Party fighting for? The Omaha Platform clearly outlined their goals, as well as practical solutions for fixing economic problems impacting American farmers. First and foremost, the Populists demanded the coinage of silver to gold in U.S. currency at a ratio of 16:1. This idea of protecting silver was so important to the populists that 16:1 actually became their main rallying cry. But what about their other goals?

To protect farmers, they proposed a system of federal loans available to farmers, thus taking away the ability of private banks to exploit rural Americans, which was a common practice. They also wanted a system of federal storage facilities for crops, letting farmers control the market for their products and thus control their own prices. In terms of the federal government, they proposed a graduated income tax, in which people's tax rate is based on their income, as well as nationalization, or federal ownership, of railroads, telephones, and telegraph lines. They also asked for an eight-hour workday and the direct election of senators, as opposed to them being elected by state legislatures. Those were the main goals of the Omaha platform, all focused on helping rural and working-class Americans.

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