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Historical Error #22: Populism Represented the Interests of the Common Man in the 19th Century.
Ellen Brown is a Populist. The Populist movement was a far-Left political movement in late-19th-century America. It favored big government. She writes:
The popular grassroots movements that produced the Greenback and Populist Parties in the 1890s represented the interests of the common man over these corporate and financial oppressors. "Populism" today tends to be associated with the political left, but the word comes from the Latin word simply for the "people." In the nineteenth century, it stood for the "government of the people, by the people, for the people" proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln. . . .
Although the oppressor today is seen to be big government, what the nineteenth century Populists were trying to get off their backs was a darker, more malevolent force. They still believed that the principles set forth in the Constitution could be achieved through a democratic government of the people. They saw their antagonist rather as the private money power and the corporations it had spawned, which were threatening to take over the government unless the people intervened. [Web of Debt, p. 103]
Populism is associated with the political Left because it favors big government. It always has.
Abraham Lincoln was a representative of the money power and the corporations. He made his money -- a lot of money -- as a lawyer for the largest corporation of his day, the Illinois Central Railroad. The Republican Party was the party of big government. He was a follower of Henry Clay, whom Ellen Brown praises repeatedly in her book. Henry Clay was a corporate statist, the senior counsel for the Second Bank of the United States.
The Populists were opposed to the Republican Party. They were equally opposed to the Democrats. Why? Because the Democrats stood for limited government. Jefferson and Jackson were small-government people.
The Populist Party was a combination of three prior movements: the Greenback Party, the Labor Party, and agrarian radicals. Here is the Party's first platform (1890), called the Omaha Platform. It called for big government: Federal regulation of the railroads, fiat money, and a graduated income tax.
First.--That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the Republic and the uplifting of mankind.
Second.--Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. "If any will not work, neither shall he eat." The interests of rural and civic labor are the same; their enemies are identical.
Third.--We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads, and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an amendment to the Constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employees.
FINANCE.--We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations, a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent. per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers' Alliance, or a better system; also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements.
1.We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
2.We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
3.We demand a graduated income tax.
4.We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered.
5.We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.
TRANSPORTATION--Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph, telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.
LAND.--The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
The Populists wanted their share of government loot. They wanted big government for their interests.
So does Ellen Brown.
My reply to her response is here:
For a detailed critique of Ellen Brown's economics, go here: