"That the union of the labor forces shall be permanent"
Historians disagree on the reasons the Populist Movement and labor failed to achieve a political coalition. Some find the cause in a backward-looking Populist ideology that imagined solutions to the problems of rapid industrialization could be found in a yeoman republic. According to this view, rank-and-file Populists neither understood nor had sympathy with the problems facing workers in the mass industries of the late twentieth century. Others see Populism as a progressive movement that accepted industrialization but sought to bring it under government control so that its material advantages would benefit all citizens, especially the producer classes of farmers, laborers, and small businessmen. These historians blame the failure of a coalition to develop on the immaturity of the labor movement; it was not intellectually or organizationally advanced enough to appreciate Populists’ shared interests with workers or to accept their offer of a coalition. Richard Hofstadter and Oscar Handlin are key scholars in the first school; Lawrence Goodwyn and C. Vann Woodward are acknowledged spokespersons for the second. This study attempts to address the coalition issue by examining the responses of Populist and Republican newspapers to the Homestead Strike of 1892 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. These strikes were selected because both were notorious for their violence and bloodshed and both elicited armed government intervention on behalf of business. Newspapers were examined around the time of the strikes to gain a sense of local Populist sympathy with labor and of its commitment to a political coalition of farmers and workers. Populist response was compared to opinions expressed in Republican newspapers to determine if significant ideological differences existed between the Parties. Reviewing newspapers throughout the state and for events that occurred two years apart served as a check on regional and chronological variations. In all, over 400 newspaper editions were reviewed. The study’s findings solidly support to the perspective that depicts Populism as actively seeking a coalition based on a realistic understanding of labor’s position in an industrial economy. Universal editorial stances in favor of labor also advance the position that this was an authentic grass-roots expression and not simply a reflection of national leadership ideology. All Populist newspapers called for a political coalition of farmers and laborers. Populist response was markedly different than Republican. With a few exceptions, Republican newspapers took the side of capital. Further, this investigation revealed no evidence of desire to return to an imaginary yeomen republic in Populist newspapers. The study also examined the newspapers for instances of anti-Semitism and nativism associated with Homestead and Pullman. There was little evidence of either. While this might not be surprising with regard to anti-Semitism since the strikes did not revolve around issues of banking or credit, it is significant with regard to nativism. Anti-foreigner sentiment was often associated with strikes and with the importation of cheap, European labor. If nativism infected the Populist Movement, as is claimed by many historians who see it as a reactionary movement that practiced status politics, it should have been reflected in the pages of these newspapers. Its absence raises questions about negative conceptualizations of the Movement.
Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept, of History.